Sunday, 30 November 2014

Travelling home

Gospel Mark 13:33-37

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’

Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the Gospels; the oldest and, in many ways, the most down to earth. It doesn't seem to have the agenda that the Jewish Matthew puts on his or the Gentile Luke on his. It’s a fast paced Gospel to read – perhaps the memories of Peter; a straightforward man. So this End of Days chapter is not really about the End but about the Now.

My relationship with Jesus, has grown stronger by the reality of his humanity. I have a relationship with the type of person he is to me. I often pray to him as a brother - as he tells us to, and feel comfortable with the idea – although, obviously the most ideal of brothers.

And that can be a problem – that we forget that Jesus always carries within him that otherness that is God; that is as much him as his humanity. The Incarnation isn't a body going spare with God in it – he is God made Man. And so his mission isn't just three years of walking and talking; it isn't just the healing and feeding; it isn't even ‘just’ the trial and the crucifixion. He is already looking ahead; to the ‘what happens next’ – for each and every one of us.

And that is it; Jesus is, was, will be the Word. Whatever led to his presence on earth, the Word was, is always here. He has his place in the Trinity, pointing always to the Father, encouraging trust in the Holy Spirit.

His living ministry plants seeds, makes wine and bakes bread; feeds the hearts of those who want to build this Kingdom. And that Kingdom needs to grow, knowing that the world is against it. It needs to grow strong, knowing that the world is devious and will try to overcome it. It needs to grow in love, knowing that the world needs it.

That is our task and it is not easy; we are warned not to be fooled by an imagined future because every day is a time of harvest and who knows when it will be our time to be weighed. 

The Gospel suggests that this coming was within the disciples lifetime and that was hard enough. We have spent two thousand years listening, watching, guarding – and for what? We have given ourselves a clue. Advent - Adventus - Coming. We stay awake for the signs of portents of God's presence on earth. We are on guard for those sons and daughters of Man who reveal God in themselves. We remember that we are the doorkeepers to a renewal of the Salvation story that begins with a baby's cry. And who would want to sleep then?


Saturday, 22 November 2014

And yet

GospelMatthew 25:31-46 

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.
  ‘Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”
  ‘Next he will say to those on his left hand, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.” Then it will be their turn to ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.”
  ‘And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.’

And so, giving me no quarter, on the feast of Christ the King Matthew continues his fearful warnings. The final warning that must mean that the majority of us, and certainly me, are heading towards the eternal nowhere - as Private Fraser used to say in Dad's Army - 'we're doooooomed'.

And we must be, mustn't we? There is not even a penny balance given in this judgement - 'whenever' you do this or that. The virtuous life if one we all hope for and it can't be achieved simply by choosing which side of the fence we consider ourselves to be on. In the Beatitudes, Jesus blessed those who found themselves on the margins. This scripture asks us to stand in solidarity and compassion with those people.  In our prayers, we ask for the grace'ful life where we can act as God wishes - trying to do 'this' and trying to avoid to do  'that' but I definitely with Paul on this one  - I still do and don't do - every day I am both a sheep and goat - every day.

Today I wonder why this is the reading for Christ the King - this judgmental God who finds it easy to separate the wheat from the chaff.  I believe that we are a people intended to love God and each other. We are a people led to offer God's gift of love to others, no matter what.  but where is the 'Love' here?

And then I remember that this is the last Sunday before Advent; before John comes to tell us that there is a new way; before the old laws are set aside. Because, whatever Matthew says, our King does not judge us solely on the Book of the Law.

Everytime I go to Mass I say it - I admit I have sinned; it was my fault; I am not worthy

and yet...

I believe that my King does not sit on a throne of Judgement but on a throne of Mercy

I humbly admit that I sinned through my fault, through my own most grievious fault

I have faith that my King stands not before me but beside me

I accept that I will never get myself into Heaven - never

and so, it is for you, Lord of Mercy...

Only say the Word and I will be healed.


Sunday, 16 November 2014

The question is...

Sunday Gospel - Matthew 25:14-30 

Jesus spoke this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out.

‘The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

‘Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made.”

‘His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”

‘Next the man with the two talents came forward. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”

‘Last came forward the man who had the one talent. “Sir,” said he “I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”’

Yet another year when I find myself weeping at the apocalyptic threat that brings Matthew's gospel towards its end.

Can I blame Matthew with his folk feeling abandoned and expelled by those who do not listen, do not want to listen? Can I blame Jesus, who has taken the Good News to the people who should be watching with their lamps lit, only to find the doors bolted and the rooms in darkness? Can I blame the priests and pharisees who dream of a time when their 'chosen-ness' will really mean something? Can I blame the crowd who are delighted to weave their own abandoned wailing and grinding of teeth into a creation of doom-laden prophecy for those who are not like them?

Trouble is, it all feels like the worse kind of 'Christian'. The Christian who, feeling very self satisfied with their own place in the Kingdom, feels that they have been given the right to parcel out grace as they see fit. The one who, like the Sons of Thunder, are picturing themselves sitting there on God's right hand. Or the Christian who has given up on the whole thing. Who, through fear and loss has, not only lost the will to believe, but lost all hope. The one who sits holding their unworthiness and unbelief so tightly in both hands that grace drips off their fingers along with their tears.

It's the worse kind of God, who winds his people up like so many tin soldiers, then rejects those who lose their balance and fall when he wasn't even there to pick them up again.

It's the worse kind of God who teaches that faith leads to prosperity and a 'holier than thou' attitude.

It's the worse kind of God who relishes fear and punishment after telling us, 365 times, 'do not be afraid'.

So, how do I read this? How do I come to some reconciliation with this scripture that goes against everything I believe about God and grace?

The only way, for me, to imagine a missing piece of punctuation. To believe that, as a great teacher and student of human nature, Jesus knows the value of rhetorical questioning.

'This is what the kingdom of Heaven is like?'

Really? This is the God that you believe in? This is how you want God to treat you; to judge you; to punish you?

Well aren't you going to be surprised.