Sitting Shiva Mark 4:26-29

The Kingdom of God is like this: someone scatters seed on the ground. Whether he sleeps, or gets up, night and day, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.

A few weeks ago, there was a two part documentary on television – ‘Famous, Rich and Homeless’, in which five celebrities spent 10 days experiencing something of what it means to be homeless.

Two of those taking part were actor Bruce Jones (who played Coronation Street’s Les Battersby), and tennis player Annabel Croft. As they were paired up with homeless people, Bruce and Annabel’s first instinct was to try and help them. Faced with the reality of homelessness, they both tried to do something about the situation, and ran the real risk of making things worse, not better. In the debrief at the end of the day, they met up with John Bird, who was homeless himself for many years, and acting as a consultant on the programme. John was angry with both of them for trying to help, and lost his temper at their naivety.

He was out of order in the way he spoke to them, but I think I understood what he was trying to tell them. The most important thing for Annabel and Bruce was to be there with the homeless, and to try and experience what it is like to be homeless. To feel the sense of powerlessness and hopelessness that is part of being homeless.

I don’t know what moved them to want to help. Care and compassion, I’m sure played a large part. Maybe also some guilt and anger that this is allowed to happen. A sense that we should be able to solve the problem of homelessness.

And yet the problem is not a simple one that could be solved by finding their homeless buddy somewhere warm and safe to stay. The root causes of homelessness are complex, and they needed to learn about the problem, not provide a solution.

It reminds me of the ritual of ‘Sitting Shiva’ in Judaism. When someone has died, close family members spend a seven day period of mourning, in which they gather together to support one another in their grieving.

It is considered an act of great kindness and compassion to pay a home visit to the mourners. Traditionally, no greetings are exchanged and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate conversation.

The purpose of visiting a mourner is to comfort the mourner. Visitors have an obligation to remain silent unless the mourner initiates conversation. The mourner is allowed to remain silent, and if so, this shall be respected by the visitors. Any conversation that does take place shall typically be about the deceased. The visitor just has to be sensitive, and let the mourner choose the topic of conversation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiva_(Judaism)

The parable of the growing seed in Mark 4 tells us that we are not in control of what God is doing. Some of us find this really hard. Like Bruce and Annabel, we often want to be the ones to help. It’s as if we have failed if we don’t solve the problem. The parable tells us that things can, and will happen without our intervention. We have a part to play, like sowing the seed in the parable, or stepping across the threshold of the home to comfort mourners. But maybe that’s all we need to do. We can let God guide the rest.

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