One of the things that holds us together as teams in Urban Neighbours of Hope is our shared communion times and Common Devotionals. As we meet on most mornings throughout the week, we find a space together to listen to God’s voice, to dwell in the Biblical texts, to pray and to share communion.
As we explore the Biblical texts together, we do so with lenses coloured by the neighbourhoods we live amongst. Naturally, reading in marginal contexts often causes people to ask questions that they might not otherwise ask. What hope might the Bible have for a family who have lived for generations in a south-east Asian slum? What is good news for asylum seekers in an Australian detention centre? In wrestling with Bible stories in these and other contexts, fresh and dynamic ways of hearing God’s voice can emerge, and new and renewed challenges arise.
It is our hope that others can join us on this journey. By following through these Common Devotionals, we pray that your faith and hope may be deepened with ours, and that you may be encouraged and challenged anew.
Over the coming months in Common Devotionals, we’ll be walking together through the book of John.
Matthew: A Story from the Underside
Imagine you’re part of a community in an ancient city of the Roman Empire. Perhaps you’re there because you’ve fled, like many others, from the brutality of the Jewish war to the south some ten or fifteen years before. Or perhaps you’ve come more recently because your family lost their land—land on which they’d lived and worked for generations—as wealthy urban elites consolidated their landholdings to grow their profits. Perhaps still you’ve been here longer, part of a diaspora who’ve lived away from your people’s traditional homelands for tens or even hundreds of years, holding onto your identity and hope that one day you’ll return. Though there are a few in your community with some resources, most struggle.
Life is tough here. Conditions in the city are rank. The quarters where your home is are overcrowded and filthy. The stench of open sewage fills the streets. Infant mortality is high, and disease is common. Many who live hand to mouth, struggling to keep their heads above the rising waters of debt which threaten to engulf them, are just one bout of sickness or bad luck away from destitution. Tensions in the city are high. Different cultures and peoples—each themselves conquered by the Roman forces—clash. These Roman imperial powers control the city and its surrounds, exploiting the people through exorbitant taxes. Whether through these taxes, or the many monuments and inscriptions to imperial power throughout the city, you are reminded at every turn that you are part of a subjugated people.
Into this world, Matthew shapes his story of the life of a Galilean peasant—Jesus of Nazareth—who lived some fifty years before. It is a story which has formed a movement of those who live on the underside, yet hold onto a hope that, into such hard times, such hard places, there could still be good news. This is that story.
As we read and reflect through Matthew’s Gospel together, we invite you to journey with us—to take a plunge into Matthew’s world to hear, as best as we are able, this story from the underside, that we might find creative and imaginative ways to live out the story in our lives today.