Life’s a beach


Sticks, logs, salted beams, tiny shells, great clumps of seaweed: people, places, events. Storm-whipped breakers and ragged gusts in place of time and chance – apt.
Dark mounds strewn down the years, the sandy strip at dawn stretched out, as if to walk it until dusk; else cut down at midday, gulls’ pickings.
A black shape flashes by, takes my breath: seaweed. Then the beach lifts whole, is hurled, blasting all. Collar to the storm I edge ahead, eyes clenched, searching the biting, thrusting world.
A whale!
Dark, deep flesh, singular, silent. Beset by a galaxy of grains.
One eye to the sky, one to the sandy grave, gravity has wrenched it from the waves, cast up, laid low, headlong, side-on.
Alone I cannot save it. Only wait for the sea. Pray.

Crunch time

They all looked to him – Peter knew that. And he was glad. They needed someone to look to, one of them, that is. They all looked to Jesus of course. But of the twelve – he was the man.
To be honest, Peter sometimes wondered what Jesus saw in some of the others. OK, they tagged along, they took the risks if they had to. They were faithful in their own way. But what did they actually bring to the group? They didn’t know where to stand, that was the truth. Jesus had to tell them every minute. And they still didn’t get it!
Well, Peter mused, that was Jesus down to a tee. He had to do things the hard way – the ‘right way’. And Peter bought into that. If Jesus didn’t know the right way, who did? But you couldn’t make it much harder than dragging around a bunch of dunce fishermen from the Galilee. Peter knew that from bitter experience.
One of them? Never. Peter was never like them. He understood them, but they would never understand him. He had learned to keep his ideas to himself over the sun-baked, Sea-drenched years in Galilee. Now he had someone who really knew him, someone they all had to listen to. Someone who showed them he was different, he was Peter, man of the Rock, and he mattered.
Perhaps that’s what kindled Peter’s anger as they paced the dark Jerusalem alleys on route to the Mount of Olives, stomachs full of Passover lamb, a better feed than Peter had expected for a very long time. One out of the bag – typical Jesus, again. Just what you least expected. But now this: ‘you will all desert me’.
All? That made Peter just like the rest, just one of the motley gang.
Of course they would desert Jesus. They didn’t know their top from their tail, one moment to the next. But he did. He knew where this whole thing was at and he was ready. He didn’t understand it but he was ready. Something was going down, something big. Sure, Jesus often said crazy things, but the last few days had been different. And tonight – some of the talk was pretty heavy. “Better were it for that man if he had never been born…” Peter shuddered – whoever that was, he didn’t want to know. Then again maybe he should know? It was his responsibility, probably.
They all looked to him, and time was ticking. One by one they were coming to the same conclusion – Peter knew no more about these strange sayings, or what was ahead, than the rest of them. It was just another crazy night with Jesus, but the food was a whole lot better, and the wine… If they hadn’t been walking they would all have been asleep by now.
Peter silently fumed. He remembered another time he disagreed with Jesus. “Get behind me, Satan.” It was enough to make the others know they never wanted to be in Peter’s shoes, even if he did get special treatment sometimes. Right then Peter could have left. But instead he had grown, his roots had gone deeper, slowly his singed branches had budded again. Once, though, was enough. When he felt rage knot his chest he bit his lip, and sure enough, in the course of time, Jesus untangled that knot and Peter was glad he had kept his mouth shut.
Right now though he was singed bad enough already. “They would all desert Jesus” – and Peter had nothing to say? His silence condemned him. The blanket of shame covered them all, faceless in their weakness.
“Though all men will be offended because of you, yet will I never be offended.”
No sooner had the words left Peter’s mouth than he knew it would cost him. He just couldn’t hold back, it was like the words came out by themselves. He hadn’t even known what he was going to say till he said it. Thinking on it though, that pretty much summed it up. He was ready – for something – and whatever happened, he wouldn’t turn tail on Jesus. And he wouldn’t let Jesus forget that one of them was different. He was Peter, and whatever was coming, he was different and they would all know it. Crunch time.

Looking back, it was hard to know how it happened. Judas, of course. That he should have seen. But then Jesus did keep company with the least likely types, Judas was just another one, not by any means the worst to be honest. But he should have known.
But then, himself. He had fought to stay true to his word. Yet in hindsight every step he took had led down the path of betrayal. He had walked it like a dumb animal to the trap, oblivious. Peter, Peter, Peter. Ha! What a joke. Peter the special one. Specially stupid, that was all. He was different alright. At least the others had known their lot and accepted it. Were they the worse for that? What more could you really, ever do with Jesus? All Peter had earned for himself was a doubly shameful part in the whole debacle.
It all made sense now, why Jesus had chosen them. The others, that is. Simple, supple clay, that’s what they were. Good earthy clay, soft to the Maker’s hands. Jesus’ words lodged deep in them, skirting their misunderstanding minds to sink deep in their good, earthy hearts. And they were not lost. Peter could see it now – those words would spring up in time, everything was as Jesus planned. But where was he, Peter?
Peter’s clay was lumpy, full of smart ideas. Full of himself. Full of stones – ha! Stones, from Peter of the Rock. In the end he had made a better Simon than Peter.
They had no need of him now. Finally it was settled. All his striving, his rage. He was different, yes. And he didn’t belong. One Shepherd was all this flock needed. He wouldn’t make a fuss of it, but no doubt his path would lead away, and he wouldn’t resist. All those big ideas, some special seat for himself, Jesus’ right hand man – everyone could see now what that was about. Judas the betrayer, and Peter not far behind. So much for that.

“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?”
“Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”
“Feed my lambs.”
“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”
“Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”
“Feed my sheep.”
“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”
“Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”
“Feed my sheep.”



‘Fetch me those cords,’ Jesus said, gesturing to where they lay scattered near a table of caged doves. The merchant of the doves looked stonily at James as he approached the pile but did not meet the eyes of Jesus standing behind. The cords were a perk of the job – not worth much, but those little extras all helped. The doves had to be secured in their cages on the donkey; you bought the doves, you got the cord. James looked at the merchant, weighing whether to explain himself. He saw the man was resigned to the loss, albeit faint storm clouds crossed his eyes. James said nothing, collecting the cords and returning to Jesus.

How different this would have been, Jesus thought to himself with an unseen, humourless chuckle. How different, if he had arrived here with his team all refreshed from a miraculous feed of figs from that tree to which they had paid a fruitless visit on the way in that morning. His words alone might have propelled the tables across the floor of the temple, oxen, sheep, doves and merchants tumbling with them! What a sight, those magnificently arrayed Pharisees collecting themselves from the dust-clouded heap, brushing and plucking at feathers, hair and dung on their soiled robes!

What now? Should he even proceed? The fire was gone. Spent on that hapless tree, replaced now only by a lingering sadness, thoughts of his Father.
‘The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up’; the words passed through Jesus’ mind. Yes, indeed. He might not be eating this morning, nonetheless he should be ‘eaten’. So it must be.

Jesus seated himself on an empty wooden crate in the midst of the courtyard. The disciples were uneasy about their prominent position, making small talk, shuffling their feet, glancing around then back to Jesus. All eyes were on him, not the disciples’ eyes only. He was platting something from the cords.

It was easier when Jesus was speaking or healing people. Then he genuinely was the centre of attention. The disciples knew where to stand, what to do, responding as best they could to any enquiries, but often they were more or less ignored. That was fine. Now there was a growing apprehension in the scattered crowd as they went about their business, something was building, no one knew what. The disciples felt probably they should know, at least everyone else expected them to know, but when ever did they? Jesus was unpredictabe, that was all you could predict.

And the way he just sat down in the midst and behaved like this was his own living room! He was always like this in the temple, like nowhere else. He would lounge about, watching the proceedings. Often he didn’t even preach or minister. Now, the more he relaxed, the more everyone else got on edge. Hopefully he would soon get on with whatever it was he had planned. Several of the Pharisees had gathered and were conferring about something, their eyes like daggers probing Jesus’ position; then one of them left, apparently on some kind of errand. They were always plotting, never anything good. The less time they had, the better. Keep one step ahead, that was the best defence against them. It was a miracle Jesus hadn’t been taken into custody already.

While Jesus was working, a quiet assurance rose within him. He did not have at his disposal the hurricane of anger he might otherwise have felt, but he was certain nonetheless about what should be. And it would be refreshing to finally do something, not as always thrust his passions silently skyward to find their answer in One all-knowing, everlasting, unchanging.

The scourge – a short makeshift whip with several tails – was finished. Jesus rose. Within him rose a flood, deep, penetrating and passionate, like a force field, filling him, surrounding him in those first steps to the table of the nearest merchant. A loud crack split the air of the temple. Everyone who heard it felt it, as if it had fallen on their own skin. A sweep of the scourge sent containers and coins tumbling. Jesus said something, he scarcely knew what. ‘Take these things hence – make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise,’ was what others heard.

The tables tumbled, the merchants fled. The Pharisees stormed across to each other, then to the door, then re-entered striding with purpose, only to stop far distant, gesticulating and exclaiming to each other, like actors playing in the audience, without a part in this magnificent drama on what had been their own stage. In those with nothing to lose from the scourge a thrill arose, like the thrill of lightning and the clap of thunder when a brewing storm finally breaks. And as it broke a lightness filled the air, and amidst the tempest the gentle rain of Jesus’ tears began to fall as he sailed atop the thunder cloud of cleansing, until all was spent, and he sat again, and wiped his eyes and his brow.

It was quiet now. The Pharisees had left to some other venue to nurse their shattered prestige. A few children who had been watching from the door now scampered in, seeing in the upturned tables and absence of supervision a chance for play. They released some doves from an abandoned cage and ran shrieking after them, jumping and swinging their arms as the stunned birds fluttered away. A few pious folk came in and sat on the ground of the courtyard where the disciples also sat next to Jesus. No one touched the mess or rebuked the children; it was not known any more what should be done in the temple, only who should do it, and he remained silently seated with his eyes to the ground.

Before long a blind man appeared at the door guided by men on either side. ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they called as they entered. Jesus looked up; he seemed in good spirits. As the new arrivals neared, he said, ‘Friends, what brings you here?’ The children had gathered, anticipating some wonder of healing to be seen. And as the blind received his sight, and lifted his arms heavenward, they began to jump, and run, and call, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna to the Son of David!’, the new passphrase of the temple. And among the upturned chairs and the coins lying ungathered, all was as it should be.


I saw light fall so thickly through the clouds that it drenched the distant plain in yellow gold, the soft silhouettes of trees seeming adrift in an ocean of light. And I thought, what it would be to walk in that magnificent land, saturated in the glorious light! And though the light was bright so that it would dazzle I felt I would not be dazzled but filled with light and one with the light. And is it such a land we are called to?
And I wondered, what would it be like in that land of glory to look back at the dark world of pain, emptiness, loss, grief, foolishness and frustration, in which we now live? At my life now lived? And it seemed not empty but precious – for who could help but love the Son of God, bathed in his glory, healed of all pain, filled with his light? But now in the dark adversity of this empty life of longing and pain, to love him is faith indeed! That is love indeed! That is a memory to savour in the eternity of light, and now and now only can such memories be made.
And I saw that it is not a poor life I have been given even in its most dismal failures and cruel misfortunes, but indeed these are my greatest opportunities to praise my Lord, to love him as now only he can be loved, to share even a small part of the fellowship of his suffering, which memory we will share forever.
And I left off to envy the prosperous whether deserving or undeserving, to berate myself for failing to attain their goods or standing or benefits, even those who have prospered in welldoing, to accomplish their works. For there is no thing good or bad in which I cannot thank the Lord and know his greatness and kindness. For even in my own stupidity I can praise the Lord that he loves me nonetheless, and one day I shall be wise by his grace, and not suffer then from my foolishness now.
And though I saw that in bad things there is opportunity, yet I did not despise pleasure or success or satisfaction or love, such is they may be had in this life. For being freed from the grief of failure or of love or pleasure lost, seeing now the worth of that grief, I was free also from dissatisfaction with this world’s good, knowing it instead as a welcome reprieve from darkness in which may be found good but which is hard to bear, and I no longer sought that the good should be better but praised God doubly for it!
And though I have often regretted that I did not help others more, I now see that I could not increase the greatest opportunity they already had, to look to their Lord with gratitude in every circumstance; neither can any man take it from them. Neither did I, if I have harmed any. And so at last I had peace. I saw that God is not the author of darkness, but has granted that we may walk now through it, that we may show our love for our Lord in such a way that we will forever regard as one of his greatest gifts to us, to know him in the pain of the world he died for, to show ourselves his own, such as we may never do again. Praise be to God, amen.


Seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? A fig tree is just going about its rightful business in the off season – growing leaves, storing energy, nutrients and so on, preparing to have fruit – then suddenly, for not producing an impromptu miracle, it is the subject of no small curse from the Creator of the Universe. Yet the patience of God is staggering, his mercy incomparable. So where is the patience of the Son of God, his mercy towards this hapless tree? OK, so Jesus was angry. Perhaps we underestimate the weight of humanity he was wrestling with here as God incarnate? Especially then, perhaps only days out from the cross. Did he already carry the weight of our sins? Our anger? Did he already know the forsaking of his Father which befell that instant of Jesus’ life for our sakes? Still, Jesus himself did not sin. So whatever motivated this pronouncement of doom for the fig, it was not wrong. But something was wrong. The Creator shows up at a fig tree looking for fruit, hungry belly and pleading heart looking to his Father, he ought to find fruit. Any time, any season, it should be there for him. Something was wrong, Jesus knew it. Someone was to blame. ‘Your Father! He’s let you down. Oh yes, its alright for those sinners, he heals every disease under the sun for them when they so much as touch the hem of your garment, he lays on loaves and fishes for thousands! But when you, his own son, needs a feed on the hardest day, its too much.’ That was one possibility. There were not too many other suspects. Just the tree. Very well then, Jesus decided, the tree it is. Jesus understood that his anger had to go somewhere. That is why he said to his disciples, ‘If they will not receive you, nor hear your words, when you leave that city, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.’ Again, it does not sound too charitable. But that dust is bad stuff. Best not carry it around. Nonetheless a bad day for the tree! Its sap must have positively crystalized when Jesus spoke. By the next day it had withered away. Yet how else could it be? It would have been unthinkable for anyone else to get fruit from it in future. That is why Jesus said, ‘Let no fruit grow on thee henceforth forever’. To have fed Jesus would have been an ultimate good. To have failed to feed him was an epic event. But to then feed anyone else, having failed to feed God himself, would have been a disgrace. Yet all was not lost. Because for what is a fig tree born? Is it not to make known its Creator? To satisfy him, yes. But by what is he more satisfied, than that he should be revealed in that very tree? And so it was. To this day the tree, though withered away, ‘stands’ as a testimony and a teaching about God, and a commemoration of the temptations of Jesus. Indeed the fig tree was fulfilled. And so perhaps it will stand again, barren of fruit, full of beauty, beside a river of life, in the light of one Son of God, in a world to come.