Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Holy Innocents

GospelMatthew 2:13-18 

After the wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:
I called my son out of Egypt.
Herod was furious when he realised that he had been outwitted by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men. It was then that the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loudly lamenting:
it was Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted because they were no more.

In the days after a birth - a new reality begins to emerge. The realisation that even if you have planned with military precision how this child will fit into your life - you have already been thwarted.  Life changes life - Love changes it more. 

Love has no desire to live in isolation. Love holds your hand if you invite Her or stands watchful in the shadows if you don't. Love is Love. 

The Octave of Christmas teaches us so much about Love - the humility of God's Love; the courage of Mary and Joseph's; the persistence of the Shepherds and the conviction of the Magi. 

On his day Stephen taught us that Love is for others; yesterday John told us that there is nothing else.

Today we learn that Love is feared by Power and that, in fear, Power will try to defeat it. 

Many years from now Jesus will stand in chains in front of Pontius Pilate and tell him that he has no Power over him. 

And for that Jesus will die

But Love will live.  


Sunday, 18 December 2016

Another 'Yes'

Sunday Gospel - Matthew 1:18-24 

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel,

a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home. 

 As simple as that? That Joseph, an ordinary working man - not a priest or a prophet – would accept the memory of a dream of an angel.

That Joseph, a hard-working man, a labourer, would believe that his God would ask him to be the father of his Son.

That Joseph, as much as he may have loved her, would see in Mary the Mother of his God.

As simple as that; but surely no easier; no less blest; no less full of grace for Joseph to say 'yes' than for Mary?

In fact, for Mary the simplest proof, for her, will be the child growing within her over the next months; whilst Joseph must simply trust; must accept the dream of an angel and the word of his wife-to-be. And to trust it for the rest of his life. His, seemingly, very ordinary life. After all, how little we know about Joseph.

Yet God asks for Joseph's help; to be a true father to this child; a true husband to Mary. Joseph - an ordinary man living out an extraordinary promise.

And the miracle is that he does.
How could he have possibly, absolutely known it was God’s Will.

He didn’t know. But he made a choice - he chose not to ‘know’; he chose not to judge; he chose faith.

‘let it be unto me according to your Word’.

Mary, being awake at the time, was able to answer the angel in words; Joseph answered in action and acted with integrity. Despite the possibility that it was only a dream, perhaps from Mary it was only an excuse; but who was he to judge?

There would be years ahead of whispers and gestures made behind backs and under veils. He knew this - he knew all he could do was be himself; all he could be was a loving husband, a good father. Which is what he had planned to be all along – maybe why he had been chosen too.

We may see ourselves as ordinary people yet we all have the potential to be extraordinary. We may look at others -believing that in God's eyes they are better than us; believe others are reaching great spiritual heights; speaking with authority; working miracles amongst the poor and the homeless; being acknowledged by the great and the good. And we will say that God is with them; that we are not so great, not so graced. 

A social media friend of mine has a charity, run from home, to support the homeless and refugees. She works, seemingly, more hours than there are in the day yet receives criticism that she is too political, not political enough or that her work is no more than a drop in the ocean and is actually allowing the tragedies to go on. Phrases that build into walls of not wanting to get involved, giving the option to play it safe rather than get it wrong. Often it is this fear that stops any of us in getting involved in the messiness of other people's lives. Surely, this is exactly where God wants us to be and where the Son of God is sent to lead us. It is easy to get caught up in the complexities of life when the simple truth seems unbelievable. 

Joseph's son will be Emmanuel - God is with us.

Jesus speaks to all of us through Joseph; gives him his two great Commandments before he is even born. Asks him to love God with all his heart, soul and mind; asks him to love as he would wish to be loved– to believe Mary as he would expect to be believed, to love this child as any child deserves to be loved.


Saturday, 10 December 2016

The consolation of being wrong

GospelMatthew 11:2-11 

John in his prison had heard what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ Jesus answered, ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.’
  As the messengers were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the people about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the breeze? No? Then what did you go out to see? A man wearing fine clothes? Oh no, those who wear fine clothes are to be found in palaces. Then what did you go out for? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: he is the one of whom scripture says:
‘Look, I am going to send my messenger before you;
he will prepare your way before you.
‘I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.’

The consolation of being wrong

I knew what the message was
I thought I knew what the message was
I knew what the answer was
I thought I knew what the answer was

I knew I was right
I thought I knew I was right

I knew how it all was going to end
I thought I knew how it all was going to end 

I didn't know my birth was the end and the beginning
my birth was the end and the beginning

I didn't know that it wasn't all up to me 
It wasn't all up to me

I didn't trust in what I am seeing
trust in what I am seeing

I didn't know the kingdom is already here
the kingdom is already here 

I didn't know the answer is love
the answer is love


Sunday, 4 December 2016

Entering into chaos

GospelMatthew 3:1-12 

In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said:
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’

The Church chooses these weeks of Advent to begin again;to turn again.  You will notice that the mass books have changed and where we were once in Year C we are now in Year A. The years follow the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. 

The Church doesn’t even try to fit all of John into one year but keeps his writings for special occasions. For some feasts we only ever hear John’s voice but the rest of the year we get to hear similar accounts from three different people.  Similar; but not the same. It seems that at no time could the Good News be constrained to a single account; the ministry of Jesus has never been reported through just one set of eyes; between the Gospels, Paul’s writings and the letters we have always heard the Good News in more ways than one.

Is this meant to confuse us; to keep us on our toes? Or does it reveal Jesus in a more human way? If any group of people were asked to talk about a friend there would be differences of opinion; of experience; of sharing.  

Which is what the Gospels give us; which is why they are worth reading; not just listening to on a Sunday when you have missed the rest of the week – like watching a soap opera with missing episodes – but sitting and reading them as full accounts. Or even reading two or three side by side and noticing the nuances in the voices. 

Mark and Matthew seem very alike; perhaps because they are both Jews. Alike, but not the same. The later thoughts of Matthew sometimes tremble with anger and a need for retribution. Matthew’s people are suffering; they are being cast out of the Temple; they are being told that they are no longer Jews.  Matthew puts the words of his frustration into the mouth of the Baptist.  

Matthew's words give us an understanding of the early church; its fears and its trials.  He speaks up against those who have tormented them and calls the Baptist's prophecies to rail against those who have hurt his community. The people who nodded in agreement to John's visions are the ones who had been turned away from hope.  Now that we are the 'organised church' which side of Matthew are we  standing on?

At this time of Advent we listen to John calling us to ‘turn again’ –to find our own path that doesn't rely on tradition or expectation but in faith in a God that desires justice and mercy. It almost feels like a Lenten message of penance and reconciliation; much as the early church celebrated Advent. 

I recently heard a wonderful description of mercy passed down from the Jesuit priest Fr James F Keenan. 'the willingness to enter into the chaos of another'.

Faith isn't a place of safety; it's the decision to undertake the journey into the unknown.  We make our own paths straight only by supporting other people in the reconstruction of theirs. At this time of year we are surrounded by requests for shows of 'mercy'. We are asked to enter into the chaos of poverty, homelessness and fear; for food and necessities for the Foodbank, tents and clothes for the homeless, nappies and feminine hygiene items for those human conditions we would rather not think about. 

Preparing the way for a struggling couple, in a land of strangers, trying to find a place for the woman to have her baby has never been more relevant than it is now. If we do not want to believe that John's curses are against us, then we are surrounded by the means to prove it. 


Sunday, 17 July 2016

Such devoted sisters

GospelLuke 10:38-42 

Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’

For a Gospel of only four verses, Martha and Mary can certainly create a debate. Enough to be sure that the sermon will not be of a similar length…

The Gospel is known as Martha and Mary, not Martha or Mary, yet the temptation is very much to take sides and certainly the most vocal supporters tend to be  ‘Martha’s. There is often a great pride and justification in this – at least in the Martha we think we are – whilst at the back of our minds wishing that it could be our turn to sit and let someone else take the strain.

There is many a spiritual guru who will coin the term that we should be  ‘human beings not human doings’ and defend hours spent in silence and stillness as opposed to attending to the busy demands of life. And most of us will raise our eyebrows and huff. After all, families and homes don’t look themselves; we don’t get paid for contemplating the universe.

It certainly touches a nerve in parish life too. Prayers are important but the stalls for the summer fair didn’t put themselves up, the flowers arrangements don’t grow out of the stonework, the grass in the churchyard does not limit itself to two and a half inches of growth. I’m sure I could go on.

The Gospel of Luke particularly calls us into service; the sending of the seventy two; the parable of the Good Samaritan – go and do – go and serve. It seems almost  ironic that Jesus speaks in support of Mary. We follow Jesus, because Jesus, so rarely sits still.  But even when he’s still – Jesus teaches.

Mary is a  student sitting at the Rabbi’s feet; engaged in scriptural and spiritual enlightenment.

Whilst women were expected to understand the Torah enough to complete the rite and rituals to fulfil the Law, this was the limit of their necessary education. Mary’s choice is a life changing one. She is no longer the sister/servant sitting at the door welcoming visitors. She is the beloved in the presence of the Beloved. No longer a woman of little value or standing, Mary is a disciple. Even to her own sister, she has lost her name as she focuses on what really matters. She can’t be called away – she can’t move – for now – she is in the good place.

Martha’s resentments are echoed in the story of Abraham and the angels – making the invitation; providing the hospitality at great expense, standing by anxious and fretful, only to see Sarah as  the one who is blessed. Only to see Mary as the one who is blessed.

Like Abraham, Martha is suffering – like Abraham it is not the act of service that is all wrong but the attitude that goes with it.

The parable of the Good Samaritan tells us that there are different ways of serving – the obligation to serve the law that justified the priest and the Levite and the obligation – the commandment -  to serve Love.

Martha’s invitation, we must believe, was made with love.  When Jesus entered their lives he brought an open hearted desire of all that God has to offer. An invitation to a relationship of growing intimacy.  An invitation that Mary grabs with both hands and that Martha allows to trail through her fingers.

One of the Salesian sisters that I work with told me – that Jesus comes into our door so that we can enter out through his. So what does this mean?

At some point in our Christian life, no matter who we are , we are offered God’s invitation.  In Baptism we are assured, with an extravagance of signs and symbols, that we are precious children of God. In moments of revelation during our lives we are bathed in the knowing peace that before we are anything else, we are God’s.

They may be in quiet moments of prayer – but they could equally be in the midst of family and work life - preparing a meal, washing the dishes, caring for a patient, helping a child make their first steps, listening to the same old stories of an elderly relative,  driving home after a hard days work, walking the dog, or fixing a washing machine.

As long as, unlike Martha, we haven’t left God somewhere else whilst we are doing it.

Why didn’t Martha invite Jesus into the kitchen?

Because that wasn’t the accepted thing to do?
Because she was the elder, the woman of the house, the host?
Because she was meant to be in control; it was her house, her kitchen, her life?
Because she thought she could do it all by herself?

The world tells us to grow up; to be responsible, to be adult. The world tempts us with achievements to aspire to, ambitions to fulfil. The world tells us we can have it all. It doesn’t tell us how to deal with the fact that we don’t and we can’t. Except to push us a little further.

We believe our lives divided between the spiritual and the mundane. So we become distracted.

We judge ourselves by what we could be doing if only… if only….So we become anxious.

We spiral into a fear of getting it wrong….So we become fretful.

So we stand in the doorway and bemoan that Jesus does not care and that he is clearly too busy with the ‘holy’ people to have time for people like us.

If this is being a Martha, then something is very, very wrong.

Fortunately, as the psalms and lamentations reassure us, even this is relationship. Even our fretful complaints and demands are enough for Jesus to reach us through the smallest crack of our heart’s door.

And guide us to our Good Place – where the Commandments are reversed – and we rest in the knowing that God loves us with all God’s might and strength.  And that God loves us just as much as any of our neighbours.

This is the Martha and the Mary coming together in Christ. The contemplative in action; the freedom of service; the ministry of peace.

In Eucharist, Jesus offers the invitation. He doesn’t mind if you are distracted, if it is too hot to concentrate, if it’s too noisy to pray, if there are other things on your mind. As long as you are here.

For all of us who live with a sense of needing to be useful; of wanting to be worthy, I would make an appeal. Give Martha permission to sit with Mary - at the foot of the table, at the feet of Jesus.

Let the world wait. 

Be here – where Jesus is – let him fill you with all that is good. Let him feed you for the journey and welcome him as he walks with you in all that you do.

May you be the wholeness of Mary and Martha.

May you be blessed and be a blessing to others.


Saturday, 9 July 2016

Go and do the same

GospelLuke 10:25-37 

There was a lawyer who, to disconcert Jesus, stood up and said to him, ‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? What do you read there?’ He replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘You have answered right,’ said Jesus ‘do this and life is yours.’
  But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him. Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said “and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.” Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands‘ hands?’ ‘The one who took pity on him’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Go, and do the same yourself.

The lawyer and the surrounding people knew the story of the Good Samaritan. It was a common teaching tale, told to make fun of the priests and the lawyers. A way to poke a sideways dig at the pomp and ceremony of the hierarchy with the oneupmanship of the commoner. Because the story usually ended with the hero being one of them; an ordinary Jew. 

Jesus must see them waiting with baited breath for the third traveller; ready with the cheers and bluster that the story allowed them. However, Jesus is a master storyteller and not so predictable; an ordinary Jew is not enough of a surprise. After all, an ordinary Jew had an agenda all of their own; it was a way for the 'have nots' to criticise the status quo; the them and us - whilst creating a 'status quo' all of their own.

It's an easy game to criticise 'them' - we do it ourselves with the politicians and  media stars.  We find ways of judging the Other and  the Stranger. 

A Samaritan isn't just a stranger; they are the worst kind of stranger; the disowned family. Once they were children of Abraham, now they are  alien, enemies. And yet, look at what this black sheep of the family did.

So the lawyer has the good grace to admit to the truth. The people around are challenged, and hopefully changed. 

And so the story plays out today, and we watch our own priestly clan leave the lost, abused and forsaken by the wayside - naming them disobedient, unforgiveable and abominations. 

In a time of the Church's desire to regress, regroup and restore, look who is becoming the 'stranger'; the Samaritan on the highway - a 80 year old, South American chemist 'turned' priest - turned Pope. 

Jesus is the master storyteller and the Holy Spirit breathes a twist into every plot - the semi-retired diplomat, John XXIII or the fisherman with a foot in his mouth, Peter.

Francis' actions have been an uncomfortable example to many. From washing the feet of the unclean to embracing those treated as lepers; nurturing the young offender including women and Muslims; welcoming the unwed mother and her child - and the disabled child. Being a neighbour to the next person he meets, no matter what the seeming divide. And consistently inviting us to do the same.

There are many who wonder if there is nothing he wouldn't do - no expense he wouldn't spare -  in the name of Jesus. And perhaps there isn't - so what does that mean? And what does that mean to the likes of us as the choice to look one way or the other gets closer and closer?

The story of the Good Samaritan irritated a lot people. People who were happy that their limitations were protected by a self-centred identity of who they were. 

Who do you think you are?


Sunday, 3 July 2016

Times of Crisis

GospelLuke 10:1-12,17-20 

The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.
  ‘Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house.
  ‘Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’
  The seventy-two came back rejoicing. ‘Lord,’ they said ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name.’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’

When I speak to people about Vatican II there are still many who are surprised by the responsibility and dignity given to the laity in the expression and formation of faith. The Council document, Lumen Gentium, was extraordinarily clear in the right and privilege of those outside ‘religious’ life to follow ministries of their own within the fellowship of the Family of God. Pope Francis reminds us, in his weekly sermons,  that we are still the Light that Jesus intended us to be. 

The fact is that this document was produced over 50 years ago and yet this message of having personal, spiritual involvement and influence in our faith has seemed to have passed by both the laity and the Church who is responsible for teaching it. I attended a recent conference about the refugee and asylum seeker issues in our own area and was not surprised, though dismayed, to find that most of the clergy and the lay people were of the age who were inspired by the original 'sending' of those documents. Their will and their desire were as strong as ever. Their concern, quite literally, that they were a 'dying' breed; that the message needed another generation to carry it.  

For any Christian, it is not 50 years since we heard this message; but two thousand years; since this sending out of the seventy-two. Who are these seventy- two meant to represent? These disciples with no names; no gender; no country; no status, are ‘the rest’.  They are us, however we are,  and we are the way that the Word of God goes out to the world.

Going back to the significance of numbers in Scripture, among other inspired references, the number 72 refers to 'many in totality' so seventy two nations, and seventy two Hebrew names for God. The Lord sends God out in all His many guises; as father, mother, lion, brother, wind, fire. As many personalities and characters that the seventy-two possess; God is in them; just as God is in us in our uniqueness, our gifts and our talents.

Jesus, being no fan of the Law, does not limit the seventy-two; the rules are few and very clear.

Don’t surround yourself with stuff, making yourself look more than you are, creating a self-image that is not about God’s work but your own standing.

Bring peace, first and foremost. We are not here to put ourselves in the position of judge and jury. We are not here to add to conflict or distress. If peace is not possible then be prepared to walk away, in prayer.

Be grateful; we may want more that we have been given but it may be all that there is… accept hospitality with thanks and grace.

Care for others; the Word of God heals, forgives, reconciles. Even when the world might condemn or ignore, our duty is to bring the Kingdom closer, to make it real, living in Love not judgement.

And if you feel that you have done all you can and you are still refused or rejected, then walk away. No-one can be forced to believe – no-one. Your insistence may be the worse thing you can do; if you have shown your love by your actions and they are not welcomed, leave them to God.

Every one of those anonymous seventy-two had something; a gift, a talent that they took out into the towns and that brought them back rejoicing. It is no different with us. Our mission, our duty is to bring peace, to build the Kingdom of God with whoever we are – just as a city needs all its different tradespeople and craftsmen – be all you can be.

And lastly, remember who you are working for - not yourself – but for love. This is not the place for ego or recognition.

If the world never knows your name, but people are changed, healed, reconciled because of who you are - then that is enough. Who can deny, more than anything, that this what the world needs now. You are what the world needs now. 


Sunday, 26 June 2016

Follower or Settler

Luke 9:51-62

As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem and sent messengers ahead of him. These set out, and they went into a Samaritan village to make preparations for him, but the people would not receive him because he was making for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ But he turned and rebuked them, and they went off to another village.
As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me’, replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’
Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

The ‘would be follower’ asks for only a moment to settle their affairs and so is refused. The people who turn Jesus away are protected from punishment. Like the disciples we can only wonder – why?

James and John are indignant; furious enough to call fire and brimstone down on the township. Young Turks, firebrands no doubt; their nickname ‘Sons of Thunder’ – both as bad as each other. Even though as faithful Jews they would have never had a good word for the Samaritans at any other time – the fact that the Samaritans have the nerve to say no to them is just too much. And knowing that the power is there to wield they expect righteous punishment to follow.

And Jesus says ‘no’ – well, says more than no, in fact, rebukes them – tells them they are wrong.

Why are they wrong? – Because they are thinking about retribution and revenge – they are thinking that the power is there to punish and to defend ‘them’. And it is not.

There is no earthly reason for the Samaritans to allow them safe passage; they have no idea who Jesus is and he has not the time, this time, to talk to a woman at a well, to find a place to eat. So, instead, the Samaritans follow a cultural blueprint; acting within the confines of an age-long feud with the Jews. They don’t need any further punishment – the very fact of the act; the very lack of hospitality condemns them – as it would the Jews in their retaliation.

Jesus’ ‘No’, saves the Jews this time; even if it is just James and John, for once the to and fro of this bitter feud is halted in its path. For once, but maybe a lesson learned; every slight does not deserve a response, every bad word should not lead to an argument; just because it always was doesn’t mean it always is; every mis-step does not have to lead mindlessly down the wrong path…

…and you can take that from the one who leads the way.

And the non-sense continues…

These are people who see the way; who recognise something in Jesus that makes them want to follow – except….

….there is something else…something that draws them back…that stops them from making that final commitment. And what Jesus seems to be saying is that it is harder for these people. To get 50/70/90% of the way and then to turn away for even a moment; amazing that Jesus finds this unacceptable. What a human emotion, you would think, that you should be all his and no-one else’s.

You should be all his and no-one else’s

That Jesus uses the image of the plough gives us a cultural clue from the time. The ploughing of a straight furrow is an skill and an art. To follow the lay of the land and the line set before is one of those actions that look easy – until you try. And when you try – the most important piece of advice is to keep your eyes on where you are going. In looking ahead you see the way, your body moves in balance, the blade of the plough follows the lead.

But how tempting to see how you are doing, to glance off at distractions, to look back over your shoulder at where you have been… and then the line falters, the blade bites into the previous furrow, winds off at an angle or turns a stone you didn’t see and is buckled.

To walk with Jesus means you have to keep your eyes on the Kingdom; to not be of this world; to be ready for the journey whenever you are asked to follow. It’s not easy – probably most of us don’t manage it, certainly not in one go.

We have built ourselves refuges and called them Church; we have separated ourselves from the ‘others’ and called ourselves ‘better’; we have seen the Commandments become laws and rulings and feel ourselves justified. We have put down roots; become part of society. We have 'settled'. Christianity is accepted and acceptable in many parts of the world but was it meant to be? Jesus tells us we will be criticised and condemned; that our brothers and sisters will turn against us; that we will have nowhere to lay our head. But that’s not the pattern of Christianity many of us live.

When I was younger – the one aspect of God that I didn’t get, was Jesus, he was portrayed as someone altogether too nice, too kind, too meek and mild. There was nothing really God-ish about him. I didn’t want an angry, judgemental warrior God but nevertheless, Jesus upsetting the moneylenders was one of my favourite Gospel events. And I thought, why couldn’t he always be like that? 

In truth he is- except it is me he challenges - he upsets the applecarts of my worldly life; challenges my sense of what is right; defies what has become my ‘tradition’ and that is something that I don’t always want to face or have questioned. I may be a Christian but the question is – am I a Follower?

Jesus never settles– he moves on; he moves on; his eyes always on a distant Kingdom. Jesus lives in the Here Now; where there is no security but God and only to know that is to live without fear. It is not comfortable or secure – we are not promised either. Living without fear means having courage in the known and the unknown. We are supposed to be followers not settlers – the Way is an unending road this side of Heaven. Through the refuge that is Church we can take comfort and be fed by our sacraments; be held by the family of God; be assured by knowledge that God loves us in our mistakes as much as our successes. But the work is on the road; with eyes that are fixed along the line of the plough and know that there is no looking back.


Sunday, 19 June 2016

Not just sheep

GospelLuke 9:18-24 

One day when Jesus was praying alone in the presence of his disciples he put this question to them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ And they answered, ‘John the Baptist; others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ It was Peter who spoke up. ‘The Christ of God’ he said. But he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone anything about this.
  ‘The Son of Man’ he said ‘is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’
  Then to all he said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it

In school we have a lesson to reflect on the Sunday Gospel each week. It has been a revealing lesson for all of us. One of the students commented today that the Jesus she had learnt about in 'little school' was nothing like the one she was thinking about in our lessons. She remembered sheep and donkeys; angels and shepherds; more sheep and then the Cross and really nothing much inbetween. She wasn't the only one. 

It seems, that with the best of intentions, Jesus has become a pseudonym  for being kind and good without any evidence of what he is kind or good at, or even if he is kind or good (he says he isn't- at least the 'good' part).

I guess this is something of an issue when making an icon out of a person; there will always be something missing. I remember reading that Picasso painted his women in their strangely deformed abstractness because he wanted to include everything he found interesting about them. But no matter how artistic a licence you may have you will always be producing an image rather than  an original. Aternatively you quickly skim the surface, leaving behind a shadow that can be interpreted as a cloud, a cat or a sheep. 

The surface skimming crowd sees similarities; points of reference; something they have heard before. They retreat into traditions and memories  of elders who have passed through time; safe in their context of history rather than the uncertainty of here and now. 

Here and now, Jesus is a bit of a challenge. Unwilling to fit the role, the many roles that may have suited, he's a one of kind. At least Peter sees this. He may not know what 'Christ of God' even looks like but Jesus is unique enough to deserve the title. 

The title brings its own rewards and there's not many who would step up to accept them. The challenge of being unique can be a painful one. My students know how that one feels. When they hear Jesus talking about having to walk a path he would rather not, some of them know that too. 

Suddenly, the 'sheep' thing becomes less important. Here is a man doing his best against the odds; a man with a life outside his control; a man who accepts that what he might want is way down on the list because there is much more at stake. A man acting out of Love; a love that they don't even have a name for yet.

This man they will come to; they will bring whatever their cross is and whatever it is made of. For each of them Jesus will be someone different - the one they say he is - and he will share their life and he will save their life. If they will let him. 

And that is my prayer.


Saturday, 11 June 2016


Sunday GospelLuke 7:36-8:3 

One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to a meal. When he arrived at the Pharisee’s house and took his place at table, a woman came in, who had a bad name in the town. She had heard he was dining with the Pharisee and had brought with her an alabaster jar of ointment. She waited behind him at his feet, weeping, and her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair; then she covered his feet with kisses and anointed them with the ointment.
  When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who this woman is that is touching him and what a bad name she has.’ Then Jesus took him up and said, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Speak, Master’ was the reply. ‘There was once a creditor who had two men in his debt; one owed him five hundred denarii, the other fifty. They were unable to pay, so he pardoned them both. Which of them will love him more?’ ‘The one who was pardoned more, I suppose’ answered Simon. Jesus said, ‘You are right.’
  Then he turned to the woman. ‘Simon,’ he said ‘you see this woman? I came into your house, and you poured no water over my feet, but she has poured out her tears over my feet and wiped them away with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she has been covering my feet with kisses ever since I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. For this reason I tell you that her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love. It is the man who is forgiven little who shows little love.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Those who were with him at table began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this man, that he even forgives sins?’ But he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
  Now after this he made his way through towns and villages preaching, and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God. With him went the Twelve, as well as certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments: Mary surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and several others who provided for them out of their own resources.

It's a risky business being a churchgoer. So easy to become comfortable with our place in the scheme of things; our right to be acknowledged as a follower. We can include Jesus in our lives with a simple prayer of invitation and believe that the Jesus we believe in is all that Jesus is about.

It depends, I suppose, on whether you experience God as a 'want' or a 'need'.

For Simon, it is clearly about status; particularly his status. It is a matter of pride that he is the one to offer hospitality to the infamous Rabbi who has been filling the countryside with his teachings of justice and generosity. Perhaps his intention to show Jesus that he not one of 'those' Pharisees. And now. whilst his mouth says 'Master', his thoughts say 'Fool'; and perhaps 'More fool, me' for being taken in by a charlatan. He stands erect and in judgement - of everyone but himself.

For the woman, who has no status, it is about offering hospitality before any sense of pride; the hospitality of the gestures and intimate offering of her own self - echoed in the value of the ointment. The tears that flow mix with the perfumed oils, emptying from the broken body of her sinfulness. She is poured out on the floor believing that she, of everyone there, is unworthy.

There is a tension between the two - high and low - suspicion and surrender. 

Jesus sits between the two - challenged to bring it all back into balance. 

When Jesus announces 'It is the man who is forgiven little who shows little love,' there is no doubt to whom he is speaking.  Simon is judged by his owns standards and there is, in all honesty, no place for him to go but to his knees.

To be able to 'go in peace', the woman must get up; she is raised up into a place of honour; all her sins are forgiven; a gift given only by God. I imagine her helped to her feet and held by Jesus, the Son of God.  The ointment and the tears - of joy this time - imprinted on both of them, a scented prayer of thanksgiving. 

In the meantime the rest of the party draw back, embarrassed and defiant.

The willingness to surrender is often illustrated by  the women in Luke's gospel; those who are knowingly overpowered by the world are spiritually empowered by Love. I am continually caught by the instruction in the Lectionary that indicates that the final paragraph which includes the women disciples, is not required to be read out at Mass. How lovely, this week, to hear that Mary Magdalene has been acknowledged as 'apostle to the apostles' and her memorial day elevated to a feast day.  

Of course, you don't need to be a woman to know that feeling of being overwhelmed but you do need to have the willingness to let go of the control you believe you have over your life.

 Jesus is, by no means, an easy guest; he may come by invitation but he stays for his own reasons. What he calls out of you may not be what you want him to see. Yet it will be the part that needs him; the part that will surely be raised up in healing, reconciliation and his divine love. 


Saturday, 4 June 2016

Widow of Nain - Carpenter of Lampedusa

GospelLuke 7:11-17 

Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside.

The Gospel of Luke plays with time, just as we so often do. Written in a theatrical way it plays with flashbacks and portents like an epic story where the audience is in on all the acts.

Jesus has only just answered the prayer of the Centurian. The prayer that we say at every Mass - 'I am not worthy to have you under my roof but only say the word and my servant will be healed'. The faith of a Gentile; a Roman soldier at that, surprises even Jesus. in a buoyant mood and with the crowd at his heels he enters the next town to be faced with the saddest of sights.

The death of an only son is hard enough but for a widow in a desert town it brought the promise of hardship. Surrounded by sorrowful townsfolk for the moment, their sympathy will go only so far. With no-one to care for her the widow could be forced into destitution or begging.

Is this a moment of foretelling? Does Jesus see his own widowed mother grieving over his own lifeless body in the sadness of the funeral procession? Or is there the simple compassion of knowing that he has the ability to help and so he does.

The mere understatement of the miracle must have been part of the wonder; in the midst of tragedy God acted in the midst of his people.

The news reports are full of tragedy these days. The numbers of people lost to the sea crossings almost defy our sensibilities. To think of each as a son or daughter, mother or father is heartbreaking. To consider those left behind wondering if they had done the right thing even more so. The grief wells in our hearts and we feel faced with the choice of two evils - to believe we can do nothing or to believe that nothing we can do will make a difference. 

Francesco Tuccio felt that same helplessness when only 115 migrants from a boat holding nearly 500 made it to shore on his home island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean. As he looked at his carpenter's hands, he wondered what help he could be. The answer came from the gifts God had given him. He collected the wreckage from the shore and made crosses of hope. Full story here

Now one of Francesco's crosses is displayed in the British Museum. Others are on pilgrimage around parishes to connect us to the reality of the fear and the hope that drives people into the sea. With our support, charities do all that they can. Jesus walks among the lost, the forsaken and the grief-stricken offering food, clothes, companionship through the hands, feet and hearts of the many volunteers who cannot just stand by. 

Maybe we can't bring the dead back to life but with compassion and a determination not to be dismayed, we can bring the living to a hopeful future.