Bede, Priest, Monastic and Historian, 735
It is hard for us to imagine Eighth Century Britain. We think of it as dark, cold, and remote. The reality is otherwise. We think of it as dark, only because so few documents exist to shed light on events that took place in what we call The Dark Ages. It probably was cold, but it was certainly not remote. Britain, including the monastic community of Wearmouth and Jarrow where Bede lived, was situated on trade routes that stretched from northern Britain to India, Afghanistan, and China. Archeological studies of glass, parchments, and pigments found, or known to have originated in Jarrow, demonstrate the complex web of Eighth Century trade. It is also well known that Bede’s monastery possessed one of the greatest libraries in all Europe, with manuscripts devoted to scripture, as well as classical and secular texts. It is estimated that the library contained over 250 separate works, which was an enormous number for the time.
Far from being a backwater, the monastery where Bede spent almost his entire life, was a centre of culture and learning, and Bede himself, was probably its greatest member. In fact, it is said that Bede was the greatest scholar of his day, in all Europe, writing scriptural commentaries based on patristic interpretations, poems, hymns, and essays on orthography. He treatise on chronology, while not original, popularized the counting of time before and after the birth of Christ. The BC – AD system county years is still used throughout most of the world today. His most significant works were his Life of St. Cuthbert, and his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. All of these works demonstrated the breadth of his learning, and his care as a scholar who consulted a wide range of documents, evaluated his sources, and most importantly cited them. If it can be said that there was one person who invented the study of history, that person has to be Bede.
Luke 6:27-38, Genesis 46:4-15
There’s an old story about the author and theologian C.S. Lewis, on his way out for drinks with a friend. Approached by a beggar asking for money, Lewis emptied his wallet and gave the stranger everything. His friend then said to Lewis, disapprovingly, “He’ll only spend it on drink,” to which Lewis responded, “If I kept it, so would I.”
Today’s Gospel reading is about love. More specifically than that, though, it’s about the risk inherent to genuine love. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. …love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” This is not just about doing good and being loving; Jesus is talking here about showing others love even when it is obviously risky, even when it obviously might result in our own pain or loss.
This is not the law and order Jesus many of us may have grown up with, the Jesus who commands us to do what is socially acceptable for the sake of a well-ordered society. Equally, though, this isn’t the Jesus we’re often likely to encounter in progressive, well-educated circles either. I grew up being told not to give money to beggars, because they should get a job. Once grown, and having rejected that teaching, and having moved from a red state to a blue state, I still get told not to give money to beggars, because I should really be giving that money to a shelter, and voting for the right people to enact official homelessness policies, because I don’t want to encourage someone not to use services that may better their situation, and I don’t want to fuel a person’s addiction or irresponsible use of money.