Jesus & The Holy Spirit

John Glynn singer & songwriter


 

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JOHN GLYNN'S PREVIOUS THOUGHTS

This weeks thought is now on home page


FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MARK
8th July 2018

Familiarity breeds contempt, goes the old proverb. The word “familiarity” comes from the same root as “family”; we can indeed take our families for granted, treating them with less than the respect and love due to them. We would want the people who know us best, are most “familiar” with us, to bring out the best in us, sometimes by challenging us lovingly if necessary – and we would want to return the compliment.

The people of Nazareth, where Jesus had lived for thirty years, thought they knew all about him. But when he started his public ministry, travelling all through Galilee and Judea teaching and healing, the news of his activities filtered back to Nazareth. Even his family thought it wasn’t normal; they set out to intercept him and bring him “home”, convinced (as Mark says) “he was out of his mind” (3:21).

Then when his itinerant mission team swept into town and the carpenter’s son preached in the synagogue of his youth, far from being proud of him, the Nazareth locals did not recognise him. He was expected to be “one of them” and not challenge them beyond their comfort zone. The prophets of old were revered and respected; but the last thing they wanted was a prophet here and now.

The word which sums up the clash of mindsets is the word “amazed”. Mark says the Nazarenes were “astonished” at Jesus; Jesus was “amazed” at their lack of faith. There are only two instances in the gospel of Jesus expressing surprise and wonder – his amazement at the faith of the Roman centurion (Luke 7:9) and at the lack of faith of his home town.

Are we more astonished to meet hostility and indifference in others, than their goodness? God bless you and yours.

John


THIRTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MARK

1st July 2018

As the saying goes, life is what happens to you when you’re planning the rest of your life.  I think we’re all familiar with the way unexpected things happen which can alter the course of our day or sometimes the course of our life – and other lives too.  What is crucial, however, is how we respond to those moments and the decisions we make.

Jesus’ ministry was peppered with “interruptions” – indeed, he saw every “problem” or difficulty as an opportunity.  Today’s gospel has some classic examples.  He is as usual engaged with the crowds at the lakeside when Jairus, a man of rank in the community and desperate to get help for his dying daughter, pushes through and makes his plea: “Please come and heal her!”  It’s the kind of request that needs no second bidding, and the crowd migrates with Jesus towards the synagogue official’s home.

The woman with the embarrassing haemorrhage has no name or rank, but so desperate is she that she too pushes anonymously through the crowd towards Jesus, knowing her “unclean” condition forbids such action; like the leper she touches Jesus and is instantly healed.  Twelve years of misery are over.  Mark sensitively omits the details of her brave public confession to Jesus, who commends her faith and declares her clean.  No-one dares to criticise him, even when everyone realises that during the “interruption” the daughter of Jairus has died.

The raising of the little girl is as private as the woman’s healing was public.  Only the child’s parents and his three closest companions are present.  Jesus’ sensitivity here is matched by his practicality – now she’s well, she must be hungry!  And he hands her back to her parents.

What interruptions have happened to you today?

May the Lord bless you.

John & family


THE BIRTHDAY OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST
24th June 2018

Just a thought…. What will this child turn out to be? It is a question that is in the heart of every parent at the miraculous moment of birth. It was asked by the family and friends of Zechariah and Elizabeth at the circumcision of their eight-day-old son John, a name which means “God’s gracious gift”. The elderly couple who had long resigned themselves to having no children were astonished. They knew that only God, with a love and generosity beyond fathoming, could do this. Every time they spoke the boy’s name they were proclaiming God’s gracious bounty, just as another elderly couple almost two thousand years before, had named their miracle child “Laughter”. John’s parents could look back to Abraham and Sarah and laugh with them over God’s impossible and amazing grace.

And what did this child turn out to be? The last and greatest of the prophets of the old dispensation and the herald of the new, calling the people to repentance in preparation for the imminent coming of the Messiah, who fearlessly challenged the establishment of his day and was imprisoned, who finally forfeited his life for the Truth who is Jesus. But he who decreased that the Christ may increase still did not know if Jesus was the Christ. “Are you the one who is to come, or have we to wait for someone else?” was the message he sent Jesus from prison.

What will you turn out to be? Seventy years ago, when I was born prematurely, it was touch and go whether I would live. In desperation my father prayed: “Lord, if you save his life, he can be your servant.” God has a habit of answering prayers like that. What have you done with God’s precious gift of life? God bless you and yours.

John


ELEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MARK
17th June 2018

Change is part of the world in which we live, whether we like it or not. We can be in dread of it, as the author H.F. Lyte lamented: “Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” By contrast, Blessed John Henry Newman is reputed to have said: “To live is to change. To become perfect is to have changed often.” The One “who changest not” may be a rock of security in this turbulent world, but the same One is also the creator of it. Creation is not static. It is organic, dynamic, living and growing. Even the silent solid rock from which our mountains are fashioned has evolved, albeit very slowly, over millions of years. Change and decay are integral to the process of growth. In God we live and move and have our being (Acts 17).

For those who set the Creator against creation, or heaven in opposition to earth, the mysterious “kingdom of God” (of which Jesus speaks so much) is an embarrassing stumbling block. It would be easy to equate it simply with the Church, or heaven, or the realm of God. Jesus is more subtle. Instead of providing us with a neat definition or formula, he paints a picture, layer by layer, in a series of memorable parables – “the kingdom of God is like….” Today’s images from Mark 4 are all about living and growing. The kingdom has a hidden life of its own, of which we are at first unaware. What are the signs that bring it to our notice? How can it become so big, from such a tiny seed?

So, who or what is this kingdom Jesus is so passionate about?

May the Lord bless you.

John


TENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MARK
10th June 2018

Family life is central to Middle Eastern culture, and Jewish society is no exception. In Jesus’ day his own family, concerned at his eccentric lifestyle which was coming into conflict with Jewish religious authority, set out to take charge of him, convinced (in Mark’s words) “that he was out of his mind” (3:20).

Between their “setting out” and their arrival on the scene at the end of today’s gospel, when they discover that Jesus is in charge and they’re on the outside, we gain a glimpse of what concerns them. Some of the top lawyers and scribes have travelled down to Galilee from Jerusalem, accusing Jesus not only of being mad but of being devil-possessed. But Jesus counters their argument: if he (as they can clearly see from his ministry) is casting out devils, then it means in their terms that Satan is an exorcist, driving himself out! As GK Chesterton once wryly remarked, the madman is not the person who has lost his reason, but the one who has lost everything but his reason.

When the scribes cannot get the better of Jesus, they drop reasoned argument and resort to slander, marginalising him as a demoniac as a way of silencing him. Jesus brands this culpable blindness to the truth and deafness to God’s word as unforgivable. God’s forgiveness, like love, can only be effective if we are open to it – if we reject it, God cannot impose a free gift.

When the relatives of Jesus arrive, they find themselves and the scribes on the outside, with Jesus at the centre of his family of disciples. Where is my centre? Am I prepared to be marginalised and ridiculed, because I belong to Jesus?

God bless you and yours.

John


THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
3rd June 2018

Blood, pumped around our bodies by the heart, has always been a potent image of life, for without it we cannot live. Its fluidity and constant movement, its vital function of communication between and nourishment for every part of the body, are taken for granted until something goes wrong. It is precious, and any violation of it cuts to the core of who we are. It is indeed tragic that bloodshed and violence have been part of human behaviour since Cain killed Abel, but it does highlight how deeply such attitudes and actions affect us all.

This year, the readings for today’s feast focus on the Blood of Christ as a sign of the new covenant between God and his people. Moses took animal blood as a substitute for human blood, to represent the Israelites’ offering of their lifeblood to God, their willingness to give their lives in obedience to God’s will. By sprinkling the same blood over the altar (representing God’s presence), and over the people, the unity of mind and heart between them was sealed.

In Jesus, the total unity of God and humanity is embodied. There is no animal substitute. His blood is upon us and our children; his total gift of himself, Life taken by violence to the cross, brings us peace. Life is restored by love. To his love we respond “Amen!” when we receive his blood into our bloodstream.

It is love that makes the world go around, just as it is the heart that pumps the blood around the body. Maybe it is no coincidence that the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is closely followed by the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

May the Lord bless you.

John


THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
3rd June 2018

Blood, pumped around our bodies by the heart, has always been a potent image of life, for without it we cannot live. Its fluidity and constant movement, its vital function of communication between and nourishment for every part of the body, are taken for granted until something goes wrong. It is precious, and any violation of it cuts to the core of who we are. It is indeed tragic that bloodshed and violence have been part of human behaviour since Cain killed Abel, but it does highlight how deeply such attitudes and actions affect us all.

This year, the readings for today’s feast focus on the Blood of Christ as a sign of the new covenant between God and his people. Moses took animal blood as a substitute for human blood, to represent the Israelites’ offering of their lifeblood to God, their willingness to give their lives in obedience to God’s will. By sprinkling the same blood over the altar (representing God’s presence), and over the people, the unity of mind and heart between them was sealed.

In Jesus, the total unity of God and humanity is embodied. There is no animal substitute. His blood is upon us and our children; his total gift of himself, Life taken by violence to the cross, brings us peace. Life is restored by love. To his love we respond “Amen!” when we receive his blood into our bloodstream.

It is love that makes the world go around, just as it is the heart that pumps the blood around the body. Maybe it is no coincidence that the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is closely followed by the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

May the Lord bless you.

John


TRINITY SUNDAY
27th May 2018

The memorial service in Manchester Cathedral last week, to mark a year since the terrorist bombing of the Manchester Arena concert, concluded with the hymn “Close to you” (I watch the sunrise). Listening to its indifferent rendition by the congregation made me realise how much this song is now accepted as a standard favourite in our repertoire for such occasions, whether national or local. We may not realise it, but it serves a cathartic purpose. I wonder who chose it for Manchester.

God likewise can be taken for granted as a subtext in our national or personal consciousness. For some, God never enters their lives; for others, they cannot conceive of life without God; for the majority God is marginal or irrelevant, a bit of cultural baggage that is wheeled out for a crisis. But all of us are faced, sooner or later with the question: who am I? What is the ultimate purpose of our existence? What of suffering and death, poverty, hunger, and injustice, the desire for peace and harmony colliding with selfishness and lust for power?

The mystery of God we call the Trinity is our Christian way of saying that God is beyond our grasp, but paradoxically in our midst. We are made in God’s image and likeness, and we are tempted to return the compliment and refashion God in our image and likeness. But God has already done that in Jesus. Heaven and earth, God and creation, are not set in opposition but are united. That unity, that mysterious vibrant oneness between Creator and creature, we call the Spirit. God is One, to whom we can sing: “You are always close to me, following all my ways: may I be always close to you, following all your ways, Lord.”

God bless you and yours.

John


PENTECOST SUNDAY
20th May 2018

The warm breath of Jesus envelopes the apostles in the upper room, and never dissipates; they become a new creation, breathing that Spirit in every word they utter in the name of Jesus. John’s Easter/Pentecost account is complemented by Luke’s account, when the disciples “heard the sound of a mighty wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the house”. In John the breath is felt; in Luke the wind is only heard, and they saw what “seemed to be” tongues of fire. Here is human language struggling to convey an experience beyond words, gentle but effective, powerful but not violent, transformingly beautiful and irresistible.

While the experience defies description, the consequences, beginning with the remaining chapters of the Acts of the Apostles and continuing to the present day, come tumbling over each other in rich profusion, grace upon grace. If as a Church we have lost that memory of our founding Pentecostal experience, we need to reinvoke it, re-live it, rediscover it. If we have let the flame grow dim from weariness and cynicism, we need that warm Breath of Jesus to rekindle it.

Let us return this year to that upper room in Jerusalem, the “city of peace” beset today with bloodshed, division, anger, injustice and shattered dreams. Let us be united in prayer as we courageously open the doors to the sound of gunfire and screaming, to intolerance and ridicule, to the desperate longing for peace and healing and understanding. Let us walk out into the world to share the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5). The world will think we are mad, stupid and (as at the first Pentecost) “under the influence”. Well, aren’t we?

Come, Holy Spirit!

John


 

SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
13th May 2018

The days between the Ascension and Pentecost are days of waiting in expectant hope – a kind of paschal Advent, if you like. One era has passed, and another is about to come. Waiting can feel like a waste of time, an empty space between one event and another; but in fact it is a precious moment of being rather than doing. In such moments we can discover truths about ourselves and our world that might be uncomfortable but revealing. Pause for thought now might change our future course of action.

When I was young, in the days before Vatican II and the reformed liturgy, on Ascension Day the paschal candle flame would be solemnly extinguished after the gospel reading. Jesus had ascended; a light had gone from the world. But Jesus is still with us, as he promised, to the end of time. The light of faith still burns as brightly as ever. Each one of us is a paschal candle, aflame with tongues of fire, infecting the world with the gospel of Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

While the nascent Church waited in prayer in the upper room after the Ascension, the disciples did not have a timetable. “Wait until you are clothed with the Power from on high” were Jesus’ parting words. How long, O Lord? Nine days? Nine years? Nine millennia? How will we know when we are clothed with that Power? And then what?

Waiting is like that. Amazingly, God’s power depends on our dependence. I like to think that the Holy Spirit is as surprised as we are by his coming. After all, Jesus came into our world and he put himself into our hands. Can we not return God’s compliment?

Come, Holy Spirit!

John


SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
6th May 2018

Love, that most beautiful, sublime, underestimated, over-used and trivialised word in the English language, is in dire need of redemption. It needs to be lifted from its lowly bed in the common dust of the earth and set like a jewel as the star among the stars. The same could be said of that other little word: “God”.

Today’s readings go some way towards that redemption. Peter in the first reading comes to realise that “God has no favourites” – God’s love has no limits, whether of race, religion, social status or anything else. God is greater than Peter realises.

Likewise, in the gospel Jesus expands our understanding of love. “Love one another” is no new commandment, but “love one another as I have loved you” is. This is now the measure of our love for one another, and it is a quantum leap in love.

How much does Jesus love us? He emptied himself of glory, took the lowest place of all, and surrendered himself to death on a cross. “Will you do that for one another?” he asks. “Will you at least lay down your life for your friend, even if you cannot yet give it up for your enemy?”

While we are inspired by this challenge to keep our hearts open as wide as we dare to love everyone, we are constrained by our frailty, our woundedness, the times our love has been betrayed or tested to the limit – and we hesitate. The marriage covenant gives us the model from within which most of us are called to witness that such love is not only possible but transforming and greater than we realise. No wonder John in the second reading is inspired to equate our two little words: “God is Love”.

Christ is risen, alleluia!

John


FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
29th April 2018

Of all the biblical images of the Church, the vine has a particular resonance. In Paul’s image of the body, Christ is the Head; in last week’s image of the sheepfold, Christ is the Good Shepherd; but in this week’s image of the vine, it is the Father who is the vinedresser. Christ is the vine, we are the branches. Whatever happens to Christ affects us; whatever happens to us affects Christ. We are all in the Father’s hands, to whom we entrust ourselves completely. In Newman’s words, God knows what he is about.

So that we may benefit the most from the Father’s care, Jesus wants us to be totally at home with him. If we cannot put our feet up, so to speak, in his presence, relax in his company and so be open to his word, then we will never realise how at home he is with us. “Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.”

This “being-at-home-with-God” is often mistaken for a lack of respect, of treating “Almighty God” as “all-matey God”. But a home without a deep love and respect for the other is a cold and selfish place. It is within the security and warmth of a true home we can blossom and bear fruit. Yes, indeed, there is need of pruning back our selfishness, laziness, and lack of courage, but it will only happen within a life-giving environment. Is the Church seen to be that place today?

When what Jesus says becomes our word too, and we are happy to live by it, the Father refuses us nothing. Then, says Jesus, our lives, just like his, give glory to God. Only then can we call ourselves his disciples.

Christ is risen, alleluia!

John


 

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Good Shepherd Sunday
22nd April 2018

What is the motivation of our life? Are we living simply to get what we can out of life, to make us happy without considering anyone else, or are we seeking to give what we can in the service of others, whatever the cost to ourselves? I suspect that most of us fall between these two extremes, endeavouring to strike a balance. But today’s social media can be so invasive of our privacy that we are tempted to withdraw. Our first instinct is to be suspicious of others before we can trust them.

Jesus contrasts the good shepherd, who knows each of his sheep by name and is prepared to lay down his life for them, with the hired man who is only concerned for the money he can earn for himself. The readiness to treat others as objects to advance our own interests is frighteningly prevalent, and the breakdown of society is its fruit. But Jesus proposes a radical reversal of this policy. Modelled on the total oneness of his relationship with the Father, Jesus entrusts himself to us, even unto death, and invites us to make the same absolute commitment to him and to one another. “I trust my own and my own trust me, just as the Father trusts me and I trust the Father” (John 10:14-15). Belonging to the Church is not a cosy option. Christians are not a holy huddle of like-minded do-gooders, fending off the hostile world. Jesus reminds us that there are other sheep who are beyond our limited horizon, and he is equally concerned for them, desiring a more diverse Christian community than we realise. Tempted to withdraw? Sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors are welcome to apply.

Christ is risen. Alleluia!

John


THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
15th April 2018

Wherever people gather, there are stories to be told. When Cleopas and his companion had set out from Jerusalem to travel to Emmaus, they walked away from a community in turmoil, devastated by the crucifixion of Jesus but bewildered by rumours that he had risen from the dead. They didn’t stay to find out if the rumours were true: they’d had enough. Dejected and disconsolate, the last thing they expected was to meet Jesus on the road and finally recognise him in the breaking of bread.

Hotfoot, Mr and Mrs Cleopas made it back to Jerusalem, bursting with their news that they had met the risen Lord. How transformed they were from the unhappy pair that had left them less than twenty-four hours ago. But the disciples they returned to were just as excited: “Yes, it is true. He is risen!” It was in the midst of sharing their amazing experiences that Jesus himself stood there among them. It is as if their talking of him made him present to them. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

If Mr and Mrs Cleopas had missed anything of Jesus’ explanation of the references to him in the Jewish Bible, they were now treated to a repeat performance to the whole group. And what became even clearer to them was the constant theme of a suffering Servant, a God who shared their darkness and pain, a God who was really one with them, who now relished the taste of food and could not hide the scars of sacrifice, and only in this way lead them to life. God became one with us that we might become one with God. That is our story.

Christ is risen. Alleluia!

John


SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
8th April 2018

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” says the Jesus of Revelation (3:20). “If anyone hears me and opens the door, I will come in…” Like the Beloved in the Song of Songs (5:2-6) who comes to his loved one’s door, Jesus awaits our response. At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel knocked at the door of the Virgin Mary, and her “Yes!” opened it to receive the Word into the world.

But in the upper room on Easter Sunday, Jesus bypasses these niceties, and the closed doors do not preclude his entry into our hearts. “The doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear…” (John 20:19). The cause of fear may be outside the doors, but the fear itself is within their hearts. Jesus steps into the fear with his “Shalom!” and their fear is transfigured into joy. Only then is the stone rolled back from their minds and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they are ready to step outside the door: “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.”

Thomas was not with them. He was outside the doors, alone in the midst of the danger, vulnerable and exposed. Looming clouds of hostility between Russia and the West, increasingly violent crime on our streets, the widening chasm between rich and poor, clutch at our helplessness. Like Thomas, we need faith in Christ to survive, hope to persevere. When Thomas finds himself with the others and Jesus is there, he needs to know it is the wounded crucified Jesus, not merely a spiritual Lord. Virtual reality will not do. Jesus’ wounds in hands and side become the doors to Thomas’s faith – this is the real Jesus, who is in the midst of our vulnerability, our divided world, our dysfunctional society, not knocking on the door outside.

Christ is risen, alleluia!

John


EASTER SUNDAY
1st April 2018

Where is Jesus? We have a number of ready answers for those who ask that question. He is in the Church, in the members of his Body, as the Word proclaimed in the scriptures, in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, and in heaven (which begs a further question: where is heaven?). But he eludes us, like the time the authorities tried to do away with him in Nazareth but he had slipped away through the crowd (Luke 4:29-30). Even when we nail him down to the cross he doesn’t stay there.

When the women came to anoint his body as dawn broke, the first shock was to find the stone rolled back from the tomb, the dark interior flooded with the rising sun. And then the angel, who answers their hovering question: “Where is Jesus?” with the blindingly obvious: “He is not here.” When Jesus first appeared on earth, it was the angel who reassured the terrified shepherds: “Do not be afraid. I bring you news of great joy.” And now at the resurrection the angel calms our fears: “There is no need for alarm. Only when you are at peace will you see clearly with the eyes of faith that he is risen and goes before you to Galilee. There you will see him, because your eyes have been opened.”

Where is Jesus today? He is the poor whom we serve, the enemy we love, the homeless beggar on the street. He is also the one who serves us, who loves us when we least expect love, who is totally at home with us. Immersed in a world determined on revenge, confrontation, greed and self-seeking, but underneath it all is frightened and lost, we must live Easter fearlessly. Where is Jesus? Where are you?

He is risen. Alleluia!

John


PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD
 25th March 2018

In the Passion narrative according to Mark, there is one moment which I find particularly poignant. Jesus has just been arrested in the garden of Gethsemane in front of his disciples, who “all deserted him and ran away. A young man who followed him had nothing on but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the cloth in their hands and ran away naked” (14:50-52).

At the very moment when Jesus was taken prisoner, they all deserted him. They ran away while he was restrained, “nailed and bound to set us free” in the words of the Good Friday hymn. Those who had given everything to follow him ran away. But they were not free. They were “nailed and bound” by their fear; and only the One they had deserted could release them.

Some scholars have suggested that the ”young man” might be a cameo appearance of Mark himself. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, all he had on in Gethsemane was a loin cloth to cover his nakedness, his vulnerability; and even that was stripped away. Most artistic representations of the Crucifixion depict Jesus in a loin cloth, but almost certainly he would have been raised on the cross naked. The Romans knew how to degrade and shame human dignity. The young man had a taste of it. As Teresa of Avila said, humiliation is not humility, but it can help us achieve it.

On the morning of the resurrection, John tells us that the only evidence left in the empty tomb was the linen cloths in which Jesus had been laid, carefully folded after use. Let us leave behind us anything in our lives which prevents us from following our risen Lord.

Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free.

John


FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT
18th March 2018

“Sir, we should like to see Jesus” (John 12:21).  This polite and simple request was addressed to the apostle Philip.  As an apostle, he was close to Jesus; his Greek name made him approachable to the Greeks who made the request.

What did they want?  Two verses earlier (v.19), the Pharisees were complaining about Jesus: “Look, the whole world is running after him!”  Were these Greeks just curious celebrity-hunters?  Or was there a deeper motive?  One is reminded of the little man Zacchaeus who was anxious to see Jesus, without realising Jesus was even more interested in seeing him (Luke 19).  We do not know the mind of these Greeks, or whether they were Jews or Gentiles.  John does not even tell us if their wish was granted, and we hear no more of them.  All we know is that Philip and Andrew presented their request to Jesus: “They would like to see you.”

Would you like to see Jesus?  Before we go any further, we remind ourselves that John’s often simple language is deliberately ambiguous.  Seeing is more than the exercise of the eyes.  When the first disciples of Jesus met him and asked where he lived, he said: “Come and see” (John 1:39.  It is a call to enter his world, to enter into a relationship with him.  “Wherever I am, my servant will be there too,” he says (12:26), and that includes the way of the cross.

“Now my soul is troubled,” he says.  Yours will be too.  “Do I pray: Father, save me from the cross?”  You will be tempted to run away.  “No, whatever gives glory to God is what matters.  Can you pray with me: Father, glorify your name! when everything is dark?”

May the Lord bless you.

John     


FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT 11th March 2018
Mothering Sunday

Love that has not suffered is no real love. Gold which is tried in the crucible is purer and more beautiful. In St Paul’s words, “love is ready to endure whatever comes” (I Cor 13:7), not for the sake of suffering but for the sake of love. Jesus, out of love for us, “endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it” (Hebrews 12:2). Suffering can be a means to an end, but not an end in itself: that is masochism. We are God’s work of art; God can see the real beauty in us for which his Son is prepared to give his life; as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “if only you knew what God is offering you…!” (John 4:10). On this mid-Lent Sunday it is good to remind ourselves of our true focus, that “God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son”, not to make our lives more complicated, more guilt-ridden, or provide us with impossible hurdles to surmount, but to save us. Like the exiled Israelites in Babylon, like so many refugees or oppressed peoples today, we can at times in our lives feel abandoned, hopeless, condemned or forgotten. Elie Wiesel tells the moving story of a child in Auschwitz hanged in front of all the Jewish prisoners. As the child was dying before the shocked and silent crowd, someone cried out: “God, why have you abandoned us? Where are you now?” And Elie Wiesel felt, deep within him, a voice answering: “I am here, in this child.” Jesus is the God who hangs before us on the cross, who loves us so much. Nothing can come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8). Happy Lent! John


THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT
4th March 2018

The history of Israel begins with Abraham and his family, who put their faith in a God they cannot see but nonetheless strive to obey his word revealed in the context of their particular cultural milieu. But as the family grows and time passes by, the original vision of faith in God fades and the cohesion of the tribe is threatened. Enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years, God leads the Israelites to freedom under Moses, journeying through the desert to the Promised Land. This journey, the paradigm of the Lenten season, begins with the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.

God realises that this motley transmigration of nomads needs cohesion and common purpose. The faith of Abraham was a misty memory. Moses himself, having encountered God in the burning bush and called to lead his people, brings them to the place of his personal meeting with God, Mount Sinai, in order that they too might meet God, listen to his voice and enter into covenant with him. The terms of the covenant are enshrined in the Law, summarised in the Decalogue, to ensure there is a code of reference to guide their purpose as God’s people when the memory of the Exodus event has faded.

As with the old Israel, so with the new. The same pattern of development can be discerned in the Church’s history. The new covenant in Jesus Christ went beyond the Mosaic Law to the law of love written in the human heart by the finger of God’s right hand, loving our enemies, embracing the cross. But how often we revert to an external observance because we have lost that original fire of encounter with the living God. Lent is the time to rediscover him.

Happy Lent!

John


SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT 25th February 2018

Hills, mountains and high places figure frequently in religion as meeting places with the divine. They symbolise the reaching out of the earth for the heavens, the abode of the gods. Significant events related to the encounter between God and humankind happen there. Two such meeting places occur in today’s readings: Mount Moriah and Mount Tabor.

In the days when the sacrifice of a human life to God was the custom, it would have been hard but no surprise to Abraham to be called upon to sacrifice his only son Isaac to God. But since Isaac was God’s gift to him in the first place, it must have tormented his mind and heart to obey as he set out for Moriah. As Job expressed it many centuries later, “the Lord gave, the Lord has taken back. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

God spared the life of Isaac when he saw the faith of Abraham. But God’s Son climbed the Hill of the Skull to give his life for us. This is the climax of our Lenten season, as the Father embraces the Crucified One and restores the gift of life to his incarnate Son, and so to all humanity. The foretaste of Easter is given us today on Mount Tabor, where the transfigured Jesus lets us see our hidden divinity shining out of our frail and fearful mortality. In showing us who he really is, he shows us who we really are.

In these bewildering days when human sacrifice on a huge scale is still practised relentlessly in our world, we need to know that we are precious in God’s eyes, that not one of us is worthless. Are we prepared to transfigure our world’s distorted self-image with the light of God’s glory, shining in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4)?

Happy Lent!

John


FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT
18th February 2018

Lent is a time to get back to basics. The first reading tells of the aftermath of the Flood, when the waters had swept away the old order and left the seeds of a new dispensation; new life emerging from the chaos, heralded by God’s covenant with Noah. In the northern hemisphere, Lent is springtime – new life, new growth, colour irrepressibly breaking through the bleak greyness of winter. It is time to remember our roots – of our faith, of our purpose in life, of the meaning of our existence – so that our direction can be reset, re-focussed on the gospel of Christ.

Today’s gospel states succinctly but powerfully how Jesus did his spring-cleaning. The Spirit “drove” him into the wilderness, into the chaos from which he had come to redeem this created order. It was not a gentle business, and likewise our Lent can feel like a rough ride. But in Mark’s laconic way he sums up Jesus’ desert experience thus: “he was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.” Lent is a combination of challenge and consolation. In the desert we face our demons, our fears, our falls, our sinfulness. The danger is to succumb to the temptation that we have to face them alone, that it is all down to us to fight or to flee. We forget that the angels are looking after us. God’s messengers come in many different guises; but perhaps the most surprising is when we confront the wild beast of (say) resentment and anger only to find the angel of compassionate love gazing back at us.

Forty days may seem a long time to persevere, but like springtime Lent is time for growth that cannot be rushed or avoided. Give God the time – and he will give you eternity.

Happy Lent!

John


SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MARK
11th February 2018

Leprosy is now a curable disease, although there are still areas of the world where it lingers on. But the word is applied today to minority groups, tribes and races who are deemed “unclean” or “untouchable” by a majority. Classic recent examples are the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany, the caste system in India or apartheid in South Africa, the treatment of the aboriginal peoples of Australia. Today we can cite the plight of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar or in Britain the hardening of racist attitudes, the stigma still attached to mental illness, and the widening gap between rich and poor.

While the world is becoming increasingly divided and aggressive, the policy of Jesus is to walk along the hard borders and courageously straddle the widening gaps, drawing our attention to them. He willingly makes himself accessible to the leper, who then has the courage to approach him for healing. “If you want to, you can cure me.”

The conditional question (“if”) posed by the leper is met immediately with Jesus’ unconditional response. “Of course I want to! Be cured!” And he touches the untouchable, closes the gap, heals the rift, in the process putting himself, from the majority perspective, “on the other side”. He is consigned to quarantine, the ghetto, the leper colony. Nevertheless, “people from all round would come to him”. It is not a question of bringing the leper back into society – it is bringing society to embrace the leper. The health of a society, a people, a nation, is judged on the way it treats its weakest members.

Even Christians build barricades, to exclude people as “evil”, “sinful”, or “beyond redemption”. Have we the courage to love like Jesus, to build bridges, not walls?

May the Lord bless you.

John


FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MARK
4th February 2018

In many ways, the National Health Service in Britain (NHS) is a victim of its own success. Advances in medical science have contributed greatly to the nation’s health and well-being. But these improvements come at an increasing cost. Many diseases and previously incurable conditions can now be treated more effectively. But not everyone in our world has access to these benefits. The battle for health (and the healing process that goes with it) will always be part of our human condition.

In becoming one of us (Philippians 2), Jesus put healing at the centre of his ministry, in both word and deed. His actions teach us; his words heal us. Watch his compassionate heart at work in today’s extract from St Mark. After his confrontation with evil in the synagogue at Capernaum, he does not rest; he returns to Peter’s house where he heals his wife’s mother, before continuing into the night with the endless stream of sick and disturbed people at the door. One is reminded of the beleaguered doctors and nurses in war-torn hospitals in places like Syria, Yemen or Sudan.

What might appear startling after this exhausting schedule is that the next morning “long before dawn”, Jesus is up and away to a quiet place to pray. Without his own “healing” encounter with his Father, he cannot continue. It is his lifeline. If Jesus the Son of God needed to pray, how much more do we? Prayer is not a luxury, even less a leisure activity. The busier you are, the more you need to pray. Jesus’ prayer helped him discern it was time to move on to other people and places, so that his healing mission would spread. Are not we, the Body of Christ, part of his healing team?

God bless you and yours.

John


FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MARK
28th January 2018

“O that today you would listen to his voice!” Each day the Church begins her public prayer with these words from Ps 94. As each day dawns, as the first sounds and voices of the day break into our consciousness, we are exhorted from the start to tune in God’s wavelength, to “hear what the Lord God has to say” (Ps 84). All too easily other voices, other noisy distractions, demands and anxieties crowd out the deceptively “still small voice” (I Kings 19) and push God to the margins of our lives. He does not cry out or shout aloud (Isaiah 42). To hear him, you have to listen, to give him your attention. And that is not easy today.

All too often the voices we hear are those that make most noise – the strident politician, the slick advertiser, the entertainer, the world leader. They proclaim a message that sounds convincing but their lives contradict their words. One could point to the sheer relentless procession of scandalous behaviour exposed in every area of society, including the Church, which makes one wonder where goodness, integrity and holiness can be truly found.

Authority is believable if those who exercise it practise what they preach. Jesus’ authority was instinctively recognised because his words and actions were integral, consistent and effective. He could confront evil firmly and directly, as he did in the synagogue in Capernaum; he could show compassion and sensitivity to the sick and the sinner; he could quietly take the bread and the wine at supper, pronounce they were his body and blood, and offer his life on the cross to prove to the world he meant it. Can the world listen to our words and know we mean them?

May the Lord bless you.

John


THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MARK
21st January 2018

The earliest gospel gives us today the first words of Jesus, which are a summary of his preaching content in four bullet points:

         • the time has come
       • the kingdom is close
       • repent
       • believe the Good News

Jesus’ first point is that the time is now. Not last year or next week, nor even tomorrow. St Paul echoes it in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “Now is the acceptable time; this is the day of salvation.” When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they left their nets “at once”. He called James and John “at once”. Others he called hesitated or “went away sad” like the rich young man. Lord, you are here before me now, calling me into this present moment. Am I one who says to you, “I will follow you, but….” (Luke 9:57-62)?

The kingdom is close. Just how close is God’s loving presence? Jesus says, it is not down the road or around the corner. It is closer than that: it is among you (Luke 7:21), you can touch him with your hands, the Word who is life (I John 1:1). Do I live as if he is that close? Am I at ease with his loving presence?

To grasp that God is here and now in Jesus, we are called to repent. Repentance means changing. It means seeing things differently, not taking anything for granted. It is what happens when we obey the Advent injunction: “Stay awake!” Repentance opens our eyes, enables to see everything with the eyes of Jesus. But nothing happens until we respond to that invitation. God gives us the key, but it is up to us to open the door. Believe the Good News. “News” is by definition always some thing new and fresh. How good is our God!

May the Lord bless you.

John


SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MARK
14th January 2018

The economy of John’s language in the Fourth Gospel is well-known, but the directness of today’s extract is particularly striking. The Baptist sees Jesus passing by; he not only sees him, he sees beyond the outward appearance to his real identity: the Lamb of God. The Baptist’s two disciples recognise the force, if not yet the full meaning, of their master’s words. They leave his side and follow after the Lamb of God. 

We cannot always identify the precise reason for the irresistible curiosity which draws us to leave the familiar and launch out into the deep. God has a way of making it seem as if we take the first tentative step towards him, like the child learning to walk. But it is God who has planted the seed of his restless Spirit within us from the start. At some point on our journey, the one we are endeavouring to follow turns round to face us, and asks us: “What do you want?” Jesus asked the same of those who came to arrest him in Gethsemane, and of Mary Magdalen outside the tomb on the first Easter morning: “Whom do you seek?” 

The disciples’ response to Jesus’ question is the classic one of the lover to the beloved: “Where do you live?” What I want is to be where you are, wherever that is. I want to share your life, your breath, your space, your everything. What do I want? I want you. 

And Jesus invites us into that space, into his life, into the intimacy he has with the God he calls Abba. “Come and see.” As he came to be where we are, so we are invited to be with him for ever. 

May the Lord bless you. 

John 


THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
7th January 2018

“Look at the stars and count them, if you can,” said God to Abraham. “Such will be your descendants” (Genesis 15:5). In the light-polluted atmosphere in which most of us live today, the sheer profusion of stars in the night sky is rarely appreciated. The bewildering number and variety of heavenly bodies is of breath-taking wonder and beauty.

Of all the stars in the firmament of our life, which one do we follow? We are drawn by so many glittering attractions vying for our attention. The Magi, who made it their business to study the stars, were able to discern the one that really mattered. It is our business as Christians to read the signs of the times in the light of the grace of Christ, or else we will lose our way. The Magi knew which star to follow, and kept referring to it throughout their journey to ensure they were still on course. Once we have found faith in Christ, we need constantly to keep our eyes on him, our ears listening to his word, amid the dazzle of distractions and the clamour of confusing voices.

And as the day dawns and the stars begin to fade, all that remains is a stable, a manger, a Mother and Child. Today these icons have become so familiar that they need to be refreshed by contemporary equivalents: the hostel for the homeless, the soup kitchen, the gaunt Yemeni mother holding her starving child. If we cannot recognise God’s radiant glory in these unexpected guises, where else will we find him? The Magi did not hesitate to leave their precious gifts, brought carefully from far away, with the humble huddle in a smelly stable. Where will you find Love in 2018?

Blessings for the New Year!

John


CHRISTMAS DAY
25th December 2017

The process by which Britain is leaving the European Union is encapsulated in the term “Brexit”. The significance of this word is that it signals a departure, but makes no reference to a subsequent destination. It is a protest movement. It has plenty to say about what it rejects, but is extremely vague about a constructive vision for the future. As the book of Proverbs (29:18) says: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” It is not just about what we want – more importantly it is discerning what we need. What we need is what Advent has been all about – hope.

The Christmas story is not about leaving but arriving. The Son of God does not come to earth as a protest against heaven but to bring heaven and earth together. Mary and Joseph did not set out for Bethlehem as a protest against Nazareth, nor did the wise men follow the star through the wilderness to escape an oppressive regime at home. They may not have known exactly where they were going, but they travelled forward with hope as their star.

When the angel appeared to the shepherds, he did not say: “Throw off the yoke of Roman oppression, declare your independence, and you’ll be free to rule your own destiny.” What the shepherds heard was: “Do not be afraid, I bring you news of great joy, to be shared by everyone without exception.” And what is this news?

A Child is born for us, Emmanuel, God-with-us. New life has entered the world, a new beginning is made which will transform all creation and expand our horizons beyond all imagining. This hope comes to us as fragile and vulnerable as a baby. Welcome him, treasure him, open your hearts in wonder at his trust in you.

Happy Christmas.

John


THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
 17th December 2017

The brief extract from the end of St Paul’s earliest letter (to the Thessalonians) which forms today’s second reading provides a succinct summary of how to live the Christian life. But is it realistic? “Be happy at all times.” Great idea, but can we always have a sunny disposition? Might even the most optimistic of us occasionally feel down? Christian happiness comes from our security in God. Whatever happens to us, if we keep reminding ourselves of that truth, and choosing to live by it, then it will overflow into our relationships. “Pray constantly.” Again, our first reaction might be: yes, prayer is vital, but how can I pray 24/7? I need to work, eat and sleep as well! If we limit prayer to saying prayers, then of course it’s impossible. Once we allow our faith and trust in God to become a permanent experience, then we discover that prayer is much more about what God is doing in us than what we are doing ourselves. “For all things give thanks to God.” Yes, everything, even the failures and disasters, because by giving thanks we are recognising everything as gift. “For those who love him,” Paul writes to the Romans, “God turns everything to their good.” “Think before you do anything.” This is one of the most disregarded counsels in our present world of tweets and text messaging. In these days of instant communication we are given no time to think. Therefore our communication is often thoughtless reaction instead of considered response, with all the consequences of misunderstanding at best and international conflict at worst – as the current president of the USA exemplifies. “God has called you and he will not fail you.” With God on our side, who can be against us? Come, Lord Jesus! John

 


SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
10th December 2017

voice cries in the wilderness. What does this voice cry? Is it a cry of distress, of triumph, of hope, of despair? Is it a command of thunder or a whimper of fear? Is it a meaningless sound or does the voice utter words of great significance? And who is speaking? It cries in the wilderness, a wild desert place where few would choose to linger or to make their home. Who would hear the voice? Only those who are lost and confused, in danger and defenceless, surely. But there will be some who have chosen the desert because there the voice can be heard more clearly in the uncluttered silence. Advent is a time to befriend the emptiness of our lives when we are tempted to escape its apparently fruitless waste. A voice cries in the wilderness: “Prepare a way for the Lord: make straight his paths.” God himself is coming into our midst. How can we prepare his way if we know not whence he comes? The way lies through the human heart. The paths to be straightened are not a civil engineering project but a spiritual realignment of our moral compass, of our social attitudes and values. Our world today is spinning crazily out of the divine orbit and seems bent on a mission of self-destruction. We have lost our way. But the Way himself comes to us in Jesus Christ if we have ears to hear and eyes to see. Now we can begin to grasp that our emptiness has a purpose. The greater our emptiness, the more the Word of God can resonate in us. And then we find that the voice in the wilderness is our own. Our lives are his Way which leads a tottering humanity straight to the manger. Come, Lord Jesus!

John


FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
3rd December 2017

The word Advent, from the Latin “adventus”, means literally “coming towards”. It was originally applied to the feast of Christmas itself, but later came to be used of the preparation time for Christmas. It is not a static concept, but a dynamic one; Advent is a process, not a fixed point in time. From the same word we derive our word “adventure”, with its overtones of journey, risk, surprise and discovery. Whether we reflect on the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem or the universal pilgrimage of creation towards the Parousia at the end of time, now is the season to recapture that sense of adventure which the Christian life entails.

Mark’s gospel today uses the image of a man on a journey. In Mark’s time there were no emails, text or phone messages he could send home to alert his servants to the date and time of his return, but they were expected to expect the unexpected. While occupied with their respective tasks, they had to keep a weather-eye open and an ear cocked for his arrival. Watching and waiting are not passive but active modes.

How is your journey going? Are you lulled to sleep by boredom, preoccupied with the frustrating routine of daily living, fearful of the future of our planet or sucked unwillingly into the selfish and negative attitudes prevailing in our world? Although you can see no light at the end of the tunnel, do you want to walk by faith and not by sight, to renew your trust in the God whom no eye can see and no ear has heard? Allow the God who is our Father to re-shape us and mould us in his image: we are all the work of his hands.

Come, Lord Jesus!

John


SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING
26th November 2017

What sort of king is Jesus? In today’s gospel he appears in glory as judge of the world at the end of time, but when first he came on earth his throne was a manger and his power was weakness. The kingdom he preached was a kingdom of justice and mercy, love and service, righteousness and peace. “It is not those who say to me ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7). The test of love is not in words but in deeds.

Hence we who live between his first coming and his last are given a graphic description today of precisely where our King is now. Because he has already come to us as a beggar, a criminal, a refugee, cold, homeless, hungry, sick and poor, that is exactly how we are called to serve him now. If we do not recognise him there, we “miss the many-splendour’d thing”, as the poet Francis Thompson puts it.

And we cannot miss Christ the King today because those “disguises” of his appear on our television screens and our streets and our homes so constantly that their very familiarity begs us to neglect him. The temptation is to be so overwhelmed by the plight of the world that we withdraw from its relentless demands in helpless despair.

Resist the temptation. You are not God. You cannot do everything. But you can make a difference. Christ has no body, no hands or feet, no mind or heart but yours: let him live in you where you are at this moment. What you do for the least of your sisters and brothers, you do for him – you are him.

May the Lord bless you.

John



THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
19th November 2017

“What are you going to do with this one wild and beautiful life that God has given you?” asks Donal O’Leary. Over the years he has put this question to young (and not so young) people as they try to discern, day by day, the next step of their life’s journey.

All that we have, all that we are, is a gift from God. If we believe that, then our life is not ours to do with what we like. We are to follow our Maker’s instructions. Only then will our full human potential be realised.

If our unique and precious life is God’s gift, then it follows that we in turn are to be gift – to one other and to God. The first point that Donal makes is that we each have only one life. We can’t change it for someone else’s life. God has determined that who we are is a unique encounter with him. He has given us a purpose no-one else can achieve.

The parable of the talents is a tale about living the gift of life, not locking it in a safe. Our responsibility is to “launch out into the deep” (Luke 5), to trust the Maker’s instructions and risk the adventure of love and service, just as our prototype Jesus embraced his Father’s will and entered our world as a vulnerable child who was led to a cross. Donal speaks of life as “wild”, untamed, unpredictable, daunting yet exciting. If we do not set sail, we will be like the third man in the parable who took the money but not the risk.

Finally, Donal says, our life is “beautiful”. God does not make rubbish. Each life, amazingly, is a reflection of divine beauty. Do you believe that?

May the Lord bless you.

John


THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
Remembrance Sunday
12th November 2017

Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” ends with the lines:
       And we are here, as on a darkling plain,
       Swept by confused alarms of struggle and flight,
       While ignorant armies clash by night.

Written before two world wars, these words describe today’s world as vividly and accurately as Arnold described his late Victorian world. Remembrance is not an exercise in nostalgia or opening up old wounds; it is neither wishful thinking nor resentment, but re-membering, putting back together the sundered members of the human race. In the context of the mission of the Christian community, it is about reconciliation and healing. Christ’s death on the cross put us back together again; as he was torn apart for us, in that instant he made us whole. That is why at every Eucharist, as we break the bread, we repeat his words: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Arnold’s image of the “darkling plain” captures the gloom and uncertainty of a benighted world. Today’s gospel parable of the ten bridesmaids is set in the hours of darkness, watching and waiting for the bridegroom who arrives unexpectedly at midnight. The “darkling plain” is the setting for Christ’s arrival, the Light of the world coming “upon the midnight clear.” Are we drowsy with torpor and despair at our hopeless world, or do we keep alight our lamps of faith, hope and courage, ready to join the Bridegroom coming to claim us, his Bride, the Church, in his mission with her to re-member the world?

The “confused alarms of struggle and flight” that assail us daily in the news ensure we do not forget. But neither must we take our eyes off the One who is our peace and reconciliation.

May the Lord bless you.

John


THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
5th November 2017

The searing honesty of today’s psalm is both refreshing and unnerving. The psalmist declares, unselfconsciously, that pride holds no attraction or temptation, because he/she is at peace. Pride only unsettles the mind and renders the heart restless and dissatisfied; a haughty eye judges and condemns others, and is on guard lest its superiority is challenged.

“Ambition comes when early force is spent,” the poet TS Eliot puts in the mouth of Archbishop Thomas Becket musing on his life shortly before his martyr’s death. When we are strong and capable, we put on our own belt and walk where we like (John 21:18); but when we realise we cannot achieve our human dreams we can become angry, cynical and bitter. The psalmist has recognised and walked away from this trap: “I have not gone after things too great, nor marvels beyond me.” Instead, the decision is made to be rooted and grounded in silence, listening to the heart of God, becoming aware that the “marvels beyond me” are only attained in total trust in God.

The image which exquisitely and delicately captures this state of mind and heart is of the child, full-fed and content, resting on its mother’s breast, warm, secure and loved. In this peace we find that God is everything; we do not need to go looking elsewhere, because there is no “elsewhere”. The psalmist ends with the prescription: “O Israel, hope in the Lord, and never give up hoping.” That will refresh the peace and keep it green.

St Paul picks up the same image in the second reading, comparing his apostolic mission to a mother caring for her children. If we live in peace, we will radiate peace to others – service with a smile!

God bless you and yours.

John


THIRTIETH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
29th October 2017

In Britain we live in a society that has largely lost its moral sense. By that I mean that an instinct for what is right and what is wrong has been privatised, and there are few and fewer generally accepted standards of behaviour. What is wrong for me may be right for you, and vice versa. It is a recipe for confusion, conflict and ultimately anarchy. It is the antithesis of the Judaeo-Christian law of love.

In order to provide social cohesion in this situation, the powers-that-be resort to legislation. The law can only serve to control and restrain, not transform and encourage people to be loving, caring, kind and forgiving citizens. In the absence of a law of love written on the human heart, we are reduced to a love of law written in the statute book.

In the context of the Jewish Law (the Torah), the Pharisees had reduced God’s Word of love to a love of words, and they were asking the Rabbi Jesus what in his opinion was the greatest commandment of the Law. He did not reply by quoting any of the Ten Commandments, which were mostly prohibitions about what not to do; but instead he chose a text from Deuteronomy (6:4) which every Jew recited daily from memory (or, better, from the heart), and another from Leviticus (19:18), ranking love of God and love of neighbour as inextricably one. He turned the love of words into words of love.

In practice, the living of these two commandments happens in reverse order. You have first to love yourself. Only by being kind, caring and forgiving towards yourself can you truly love others to the same degree. Then you, and they, will glimpse the greatness of God’s infinite love for us all.

God bless you and yours.

John


TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
22nd October 2017

When the Son of God was born into this world two thousand years ago, he did not come as a member of a powerful important nation but as one of an occupied people ruled and oppressed by a foreign empire. The “Pax Romana” was the ironic name of the method by which the Roman authorities “kept the peace”, imposing their law, language and culture in a brutal military regime. And perhaps their most feared punishment was death by crucifixion. The “peace on earth” announced by the angel to the shepherds at Christmas was clearly not the “Pax Romana”. Jesus himself spells this out in St John’s gospel: “My peace I give you…. a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you” (14:27).

Given the injustice and cruelty of the occupation, with puppet king Herod unwillingly colluding with it and the Pharisees trying to resist it, the unlikely alliance of Herodians and Pharisees approaching Jesus about paying the Roman taxes looks on the surface like an obvious “justice and peace” issue. But Jesus’ famous response does not address the question of whether or not to pay, in full or in part. Yes, indeed, pay Caesar what he is owed (Jesus does not stipulate how much) and pay God what God is owed (again, Jesus does not give an amount).

It is only right and fair that we should give proportionately towards the well-being of our nation. Our civic responsibility should be exactly that – an ability to respond, not simply taking whatever we can get away with. But God has given us everything we have and are. We belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God (I Corinthians 3:23). We owe him nothing less than everything.

May the Lord bless you.

John


TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
15th October 2017

Lack of commitment is all too common. Often I find that, having made an arrangement or appointment with someone, they decide that something better has cropped up the same day, and commitment to the existing engagement is dismissed. Sometimes they don’t even bother to tell you they’re not coming. Delivery companies are a classic example.

This policy of thoughtless (or even calculated) rejection is an extension of last week’s theme of the selfish tenants in the vineyard. This week the setting is a wedding feast, within which are two parables. The first is about the invited guests who either don’t bother to reply or beat up the postman who delivers the invitation card. Their over-reaction is shockingly familiar today. Why do people reject God’s invitation so vehemently and violently? What provokes this hostility? Why are love, trust, respect, compassion so inflammatory?

There is a deep fear and insecurity at the heart of our world which God came to redeem in Christ, and it prevents many from recognising and embracing the cure, which presents itself as a threat to their self-centred world. Better behind the barricades of familiarity than facing the freedom and vulnerability of unpredictable love.

The guests who do come to the wedding had never dreamed of being invited. Their worthiness is not the criterion – “bad and good alike” – but their response to the impromptu invitation. This is where the second parable of the man without a wedding garment fits in. Do I appreciate what I have been given by God? Is my life transformed by this encounter with Christ? Is my gratitude revealed in the readiness to wear the garment of love, a commitment to put the needs of others before myself? RSVP.

May the Lord bless you.

John


TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
8th October 2017

Where we live is surrounded by an extensive vineyard. Some years ago a local fruit farmer invested in grape-growing on a big scale, and he tends his vines with great care. He recently won an international award for one of his white wines.

In the Old Testament the vine often features as a symbol of Israel. “To sit under your vine” denoted not only material prosperity but spiritual well-being, implying you were steeped in the Scriptures, drinking in the word of God. But the Bible also talks of the vine as unproductive.

A classic example is the song from Isaiah (5:1-7) in the first reading. So is Ps 79 which provides the responsorial psalm. On both these texts Jesus draws for today’s gospel parable.

This parable is a vivid thumbnail sketch of the whole history of salvation. God made special provision for his people, surrounding them with his protective love, giving them the means to understand his word (the winepress) and watching out for them. Given God’s loving nature, he did not hesitate to entrust this enterprise to his chosen people as tenants. But his trust was abused, as the tenants’ only care was for themselves, not their master. Time and again he sent prophets to warn them, but in vain. Despite this he still trusted them, finally sending his son and heir – surely they will respect him? But the Son of God was nailed to a cross.

This is not a parable about rejecting the unfaithful Jews in favour of the faithful Christians. That would be too facile and smugly dangerous an interpretation. The key words for us are “trust” and “respect”. God’s trust in us, his expectation of respect, are to be mirrored in our lives, whoever we are and however we may be provoked.

God bless you and yours.

John


TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
1st October 2017

Actions speak louder than words. Or perhaps “fine words butter no parsnips”. It is only by our actions our words will be verified. As with last week’s parable of the vineyard, the parable of the two sons is designed to put our thinking on to a different wavelength. The deceptively simple question Jesus poses to the Pharisees: “Which of the two did the father’s will?” elicits the obvious answer. But then Jesus turns the tables on them. They think that merely by being members of the Chosen People they are destined for the kingdom. To them, being saved is a matter of privilege, not faithfulness to actually living the Covenant. We Christians can smile to ourselves and think, “Well, of course we’re not like that, are we?” before realising that, if that’s true, we have happily identified ourselves with prostitutes and tax-collectors. Conversion, growth in faith, the sometimes slow and painful process of becoming a Christian can never be considered completed in this life.

But that should be a source of consolation and hope, not despair. Jesus is called the Word of God because his whole life speaks to us of God. And we who are called his followers are his word to the world. Rather than despair of ever being good enough for the job (we can’t be, without his grace), we keep our eyes and heart so focussed on him that we are being transformed into his likeness the more we realise how great and good he is. Our actions, imperceptibly to us, become his actions. Blessed John Henry Newman said: “To live is to change; to become perfect is to have changed often.” What new adventure will the Lord lead you into today?

God bless you and yours.

John


TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
24th September 2017

As we have noted before, the kingdom of heaven in Matthew is not a clear-cut concept but an attempt to name a mystery. It is not merely about “heaven” as “somewhere else” (in Bert Richards’ words), nor a “kingdom” as an earthly territory ruled by a king. It is perhaps why Jesus can only put us in touch with the kingdom through the accumulation of images provided by the parables. Thus we come to realise that the kingdom is an experience of God in Christ, moving among us and beyond us. It is a relationship, not a “place”, although we can access that relationship through the Church.

Today’s parable of the kingdom draws attention to the contrast between human and heavenly justice. It is not that God’s justice is an upgraded version of human justice; the kingdom exemplifies a wholly different outlook. The workers in the vineyard are promised the going rate for a day’s work. Some workers arrive later but are promised a “fair” wage. We know that they received one penny, the rate for the whole day. What does Jesus mean here by “fair”? Isn’t he creating discord unnecessarily, a “them and us” situation which divides instead of unites?

Our Christian life is ultimately dependant on God’s grace, not our human endeavours. Whether I am a great sinner reconciled to God on my deathbed, or Pope Francis, I have an equal opportunity of salvation. “Why be envious because I am generous?” is Jesus’ punch line. All are welcome. It is in living by faith and trust, not quarrelling about who is the greatest, that the kingdom is gained. And it seems to me that our world is sorely in need of just those gifts.

God bless you and yours.

John


TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
17th September 2017

Mercy and forgiveness are at the heart of God; they are God’s middle names, so to speak. Jesus lived out that divine identity on earth. And his followers were most closely identified by these characteristics too. “Blessed are the merciful,” says the Lord, “for they shall obtain mercy.” Mercy from whom? Most certainly from God. But from others? It would be lovely to think that if we show mercy to others, that mercy would always be reciprocated. But tragically that is happening less and less in our world. Instead of being the healers and peacemakers, the merciful are regarded as the wimps of the world, weak and despised, like the Son of God.

Why? Because forgiveness demolishes strongholds, removes the defences of fear and renders powerless the instinct for retaliation. The cycle of tit-for-tat violence is broken, and in that instant the violent are confronted with the terror of their vulnerability. They cannot trust that their “enemies” will not take advantage of their exposure.

We are taught to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses in the same measure as we forgive others”. Pray this prayer with caution – there’s a condition attached. We are giving God permission to forgive us only to the extent we are prepared to forgive others: not just seven times but every time we are wronged. Today’s parable of the unforgiving debtor teaches us that if we have never grasped the breath-taking magnanimity of God’s forgiveness of us, supremely in Jesus, then we will never have hearts open and wide enough to see others as he does. When we are deeply hurt, forgiveness can be a long and difficult journey. But it is worth it. It is the only way to freedom. It is the way Jesus has already undertaken for the world.

God bless you and yours.

John


TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
10th September 2017

Today’s gospel might be entitled: “How to conduct relationships in the community when things go wrong”. While Jesus’ words are addressed to the Church, his wisdom applies to all human society. There are four clear steps in the process.

First, if someone wrongs you, tell them so. Don’t complain about them to someone else before talking to them yourself first. The one in the wrong may not even realise they have done wrong.

Secondly, if they ignore or refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoing, despite your best efforts in all charity, then talk to them again about it in the company of two or three others. It may be that you have failed to explain the situation properly, and witnesses may help you to see things with fresh eyes. On no account send others without going with them yourself.

Thirdly, if this doesn’t work, then you can go public and report it to the wider community. In the case of the Church, this will probably be your local parish: the parish pastoral council or parish priest. But your responsibility in the matter is not abrogated but enhanced by authority. In all things charity is paramount. You are not dealing with an enemy but a brother or sister in need of correction.

Finally, if they still refuse to listen, then they are no longer considered part of the community, unless and until they repent and ask to return. In this whole process, the door is always open unless the wrongdoer closes it. The quality of our listening and discerning is crucial to the enterprise.

When these guidelines are ignored, gossip thrives. St Dorotheus in the sixth century said (of monastic community life): “The reason for all disturbance is that no-one blames himself.” May the Lord bless you.

John


TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
3rd September 2017

“Suffering is part of your training,” says the author of the letter to the Hebrews (12: 7). There has been a tendency in the past (especially in the Church in which I grew up) to consider all suffering as good for you, and even implying that it was sent by God. It was as if any pleasure was suspect as tainted with evil, and any pain was to be welcomed as a blessing. It certainly didn’t do God’s image any good, whether in the Church or outside it. It was precisely this false teaching which drove many people away from the Church.

Today we live in a world of unbelievable suffering and pain, the scale of which (through instant global communication) is overwhelming. No-one believes it is good for us. It is too much to bear, and we try to cast it out of our minds and busy ourselves with something more pleasant. We have gone to the opposite extreme. How can suffering be part of our training?

When in today’s gospel Jesus begins to speak of his passion and death, Peter’s first instinct is panic. This is not the direction he thought things were going after his declaration that Jesus was the Christ. He is bewildered and frightened. The desire to escape the clear implication of Jesus’ impending suffering is overwhelming. All of a sudden, Peter the rock has become the stumbling stone, an obstacle in the way of the cross. How can the cross, that cruel deadly instrument of torture, be good for us? Only by being embraced by Jesus, not because he loved the pain but because he endured the pain for love of us. In the words of Julian of Norwich, “Love is his meaning.” Like Peter, we still have so much to learn about love.

God bless you and yours.

John


TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
27th August 2017

“The kingdom of heaven” is Matthew’s phrase for the presence and action of Christ in his Church, both on earth and in heaven. It is an elusive phrase, because it is not simply another way of describing the Church’s mission on earth, nor is it confined to heaven as the place where God dwells, to which we are destined to come in the fullness of time. It is as if Jesus, in using the phrase, is sharing the mystery of the inner life of God, the dynamic of the Trinity, and daring to say that he wants us to be part of it. It is not enough for him to enter our world and share our life and death; he wants us to enter with him into his divine life.

So Jesus’ question, “who do you say I am?” far from doubting his own identity, is a call inviting us to make the leap of faith from accepting him as “one of us” in his humanity to recognising ourselves as “one with him” in his divinity. And Peter, in a moment of grace, on our behalf responds to that call. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He may not at that moment grasp the full implications of that extraordinary declaration, but it is enough. To him is given the keys of the kingdom. Through him the whole Church is given access to the intimate heart of God. We as Church have the enormous responsibility of binding and loosing, and, further, discerning what is to be bound and what is to be freed. Pray for Peter. Pope Francis has an awesome burden. But as members of God’s Church, do we bind others or set them free?

May the Lord bless you.

John


TWENTIETH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
20th August 2017

Today’s gospel challenges us to enlarge our horizons. There is the ever-present temptation to settle into a comfortably manageable exercise of our Christian faith, however generous and laudable that level of practice may be. The higher up the mountain we climb, the wider the horizon expands.

The encounter between the Canaanite woman and Jesus is surprising for one unexpected reason. When she makes her request of him to cure her daughter, Jesus seems to imply that his ministry is limited to the people of Israel. But her persistence, tempered by a sense of humour, wins from him a change of heart. The parable of the widow pestering the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) and Mary Magdalen’s perseverance at the empty tomb are two further examples of women who push at the boundaries because of their faith, prompted respectively by injustice and great love. The early Church’s realisation of its mission beyond Judaism (see Acts 13-15) came about, as much by the Gentile hunger for the gospel as by the initiative of the apostles’ preaching.

The Church’s mission currently seems to be aware of what we might call this pagan hunger today, but wary of developing brave new ways to satisfy it. The scale of the problems and terrors of our world, together with enormous opportunities, are hustling us along at breakneck speed, denying us the opportunity to ponder and evaluate what it is all about. The temptation is to hide in the rocks while the tempest rages, to withdraw into our safe religious comfort-zones. It takes great courage to stand on the mountain before the Lord, listen for the still small voice and let him expand our horizons. God has a habit of turning up in the most unexpected ways.

God bless you and yours.

John


NINETEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
13th August 2017

At the Transfiguration of Jesus which we celebrated last Sunday, the disciples heard the Father declare, not only: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight”, but added: “Listen to him.” Our mountain-top moments teach us not simply the wonder of the divine Presence, basking in the radiance of God’s love, but making us more open and sensitive to the voice of God in our everyday lives when we return to the foot of the mountain.

Elijah in the first reading today, fleeing the wrath of Queen Jezebel, comes to Mount Sinai trembling with fear. Alone and terrified, he needs an answer to the only question he can hear pounding in his heart: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” What am I fleeing from? Where am I going? What do my own hopes and fears, dreams and darknesses tell of you, Lord? The only authentic place we can do God’s will is in the present moment, the here and now. And our answer to “what are you doing here?” must be utterly honest. Political correctness has no place in genuine prayer.

When we stand on the mountain before God, we face our personal storms, earthquakes, and fires, which can consume all our attention, keeping us from moving on to the listening silence of the Word. Listen to him, not yourself. When the Lord spoke to Elijah in the still small voice, he asked the same question: “What are you doing here?” And Elijah gave the same answer. The situation had not changed. But Elijah now saw the way forward in hope, empowered to let the Lord do his work through his powerless availability. “O you of little faith, why do you doubt?” asks Jesus. Why indeed?

May the Lord bless you.

John


THE TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD
6th August 2017

With a silent flicker of dark green saltire the butterfly alighted on the stone bench where I sat, folded its wings and paused while the breeze plucked at its perch. In its fluttering flight, one hardly noticed the delicate emerald body and wingtips which were revealed in its stillness. Together with our elderly black Labrador, we three sat together in companionable silence for what seemed a long time, but was probably only a few moments. Then with a shrug which seemed to say: “Time to move on”, the green visitor flittered away, its colours disappearing into the grass.

When Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain alone, it was in the midst of their everyday routine; there was no hint of what was to come. But on that mountain-top the familiar Jesus became radiantly different from the familiar. Indeed, everything looked different. The ordinary had become extraordinary. And yet, in one sense, nothing had changed, because he wasn’t someone else. In a strange way, they realised it wasn’t Jesus that had changed but their perception of him that had changed. A veil had been lifted from their minds, or cataracts removed from their eyes. It was the reverse of what was to happen at Emmaus, where the risen glorified Lord appeared in ordinary.

Such transfiguration moments in our own lives can never be manufactured or programmed: they are unexpected gifts, glimpses of glory which are pure grace. But often they happen when we are in certain places in our lives, when we have hearts open to an encounter with God: silence on the mountain, a sudden awareness of beauty, creation vibrant with the divine presence, a butterfly pausing on the warm stone.

May the Lord bless you.

John


SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
30th July 2017

We met a man who couldn’t wait to tell us that his father was famous for discovering the Hoxne Hoard, a fabulous collection of gold Roman coins now in the British Museum. It was literally “a treasure hidden in a field” at Hoxne in Suffolk, revealed using a metal-detector, and it transformed the lives of an ordinary working family. It was the highlight of their family history.

Who or what is the “treasure hidden in the field” of your life? What is it that compels you to stop complete strangers (as we were to him that day), bursting to tell them the story?

In the parable of the weeds among the wheat, Jesus identifies “the field” with “the world”. The treasure which he calls “the kingdom” is not in heaven or in some other place; it is here, hidden in the stuff of this world. The operative word is “hidden”. How do we find this hide-and-seek God? Is there a “God-detector” to help us?

Yes, there is. First, it is other people whose faith touches us and who share their treasure map. Then there is the searchlight of God’s word in Scripture to look beneath the surface. Then there is prayer, our trusty spade which helps us persevere, accompanied by the Holy Spirit.

If we have found the treasure, others will soon know of our discovery; they will want to know the secret of our joy, our peace, our sense of purpose. Like love, it is impossible to keep our faith in Christ to ourselves. If they do not ask us the reason for the hope we have (cf I Peter 3:15), then we have not yet found the treasure. Keep digging!

May the Lord bless you.

John


SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
23rd July 2017

At this time of the year in England, the crops are beginning to be harvested. The fruit of careful planting and nurturing is dependent on both human effort and the vagaries of the weather. I can look at the fields around us here, or even in our own garden, and know how our best efforts will come to nothing unless we cooperate with nature. Similarly, our lives in this created world will only flourish and blossom if we are in harmony with the Creator.

The three images Jesus gives us in today’s parables vividly illustrate this. First, the weed. Gardeners don’t like weeds, because they deprive other, more productive or beautiful plants of space and light, ultimately killing them. But weeds are only flowers growing in the “wrong” place (for the gardener). Understanding the difference between wheat and darnel, which initially look like each other, is a process of discernment over time. Good and evil can look remarkably alike. Why did God create weeds?

Both the yeast and the mustard seed are images of phenomenal growth (gardeners would say that’s true of weeds too!). Yeast works from the inside out, its hidden power fermenting and expanding. Most of what God does in our lives happens within, where it cannot be seen, like the seed sprouting in the darkness of the earth (Mark 4:27). The mustard seed is almost invisible, yet once sown it grows into a large shrub. Don’t underestimate the little, insignificant, seemingly trivial activities of creation; they disguise their divine Creator at work.

Finally, don’t despise gardeners. Didn’t Jesus disguise himself as a gardener so that even Mary Magdalen was fooled (John 20:15)? And Jesus called his Father the gardener of the Vine (John 15:1).

May the Lord bless you.

John


FIFTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
16th July 2017

Jesus begins the parable of the sower with the word: “Imagine…” To grasp any of the parables, we need imagination. Imagination is more than simply visualising the sower sowing or the seed sprouting. We are called upon to engage with the deeper meaning of what Jesus is saying. “Why do you talk in parables?” his disciples ask. “Why can’t you tell them straight?” Because they won’t listen. A parable is a subversive way of drawing people into a story before they realise they’re listening. Once they engage with it, there’s the fear (!) they will understand (Matt 13:15). And once they understand, having to make the choice to accept or reject the message, they are already hooked. In the kingdom, Jesus is master of “sales talk” about God.

In a way, the parable of the sower is a parable about how all parables work. If a seed is to grow, it has to put down roots, it has to engage with the soil around it. It is what seeds are designed for. Similarly with God’s word. If it falls among stones or is snatched away before it can take root, it is shut out from making contact with the earth. Stony hearts do not receive but reject the word of God. If the word does take root and grow, but is stifled by the weeds of weariness and the thorns of hostility, we can fail to persevere and lose heart; imagination is crushed and our understanding choked.

Jesus understands all that. He knows how we tick. He is one of us. But because he is Son of God as well as Son of Man, we too who are made in God’s image long for that freedom to grow and bud and blossom, and reach for the sky. Imagine!

God bless you and yours.

John


FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
9th July 2017

“Shoulder my yoke and learn from me…. my yoke is easy”. A yoke is a symbol of servitude and control. Oxen or horses were yoked together to pull the plough. They had to pull together, walk at the same pace, each constrained by the other. Similarly, slaves or prisoners were chained together, hampered or hindered by each other’s movements. In a three-legged race, the secret of success is in synchronised partnership, not self-assertion.

So, when Jesus invites us to shoulder his yoke, we can be afraid he is out to enslave us, to bind us and control us. However, note that it is not a command but an invitation. We freely choose to join him. And note also that he is choosing to join us: he is conditioned by our joining him. We are his body.

In carrying our cross in tandem with Jesus, we are learning his movements, his heartbeat, his rhythm, his reactions and decisions, his joys and sorrows – and we are living up close to his divinity. We become part of him. Sometimes we may want to be independent of him, but we find to our surprise that we are less free than in union with him. As St John says, his love sets us free.

“My yoke is easy,” he says. We walk with him, alongside him. He is our “Paraclete”, the one who stands by us always and steadfastly takes our part – so that when he left his disciples he assured them: “I will send you another Paraclete to be with you always….the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16). The prayer attributed to St Ignatius expresses it well: “Lord, help me to remember there is nothing in this world that you and I cannot handle together.”

God bless you and yours.

John


THIRTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
2nd July 2017

“You should make hospitality your special care” (Romans 12:13). These words of St Paul summarise well the theme of today’s readings. The letter to the Hebrews (13:2) adds: “Always welcome strangers, for by doing so, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” The woman who spontaneously provided a welcome at her home for the prophet Elisha was convinced he was a man of God. Offering true hospitality always honours the guest for who they are, without expectation of return. As Jesus says elsewhere, “When you give a lunch or dinner, do not welcome your friends or rich neighbours in hope of return favours; ask the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame who can’t pay you back” (cf. Luke 14:12-14).

But Jesus’ words to his disciples in today’s gospel are not about offering hospitality but about how to accept it. According to St Paul, Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), but Matthew implies that it is sometimes more blessed to receive. If anyone offers you a cup of water to drink, Jesus says, don’t refuse their kindness or belittle it. Acknowledge the gift graciously, for it is I who am giving it you. There are many of us Christians who are so busy serving others that we never allow time or space for others to serve us. Are we refusing Christ the opportunity to wash our feet?

Likewise, when we do offer hospitality, welcome and kindness to others, it is Christ who is offering these things through us. Others may not recognise this, any more than we do; but that is God’s business. The disciples at Emmaus entertained more than an angel without knowing it. Christ is the unseen guest at every table.

May the Lord bless you.

John


TWELFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
25th June 2017

The prophet Jeremiah in the first reading has everything stacked against him. He feels vulnerable and under threat, doubly so, because those who oppose him used to be his friends. They believe they are doing a holy deed in denouncing him. They feel threatened by his message which he claims comes from God. They even quote the saying: “Terror on every side!” Jeremiah is seen as a terrorist. They must be terrified. Revenge is in their hearts. Who is in the right?

Two and a half thousand years later, we are caught in the same dilemma. Terror breeds terror. In the heat of the moment, the tension of fear, the temptation to revenge is simple and overwhelming. Destroy those who threaten us, and we shall be safe. The logic ultimately justifies mass destruction: “Thank God for nuclear deterrence!” Threats can never bring peace.

Jeremiah doesn’t go down the wide road of revenge but the narrow path of peace. And Jesus goes to the root of the tension. First, he disarms the fear. In today’s gospel he says three times: ”Do not be afraid…. do not be afraid…. there is no need to be afraid….” Fear is not a need, but a reaction to our powerlessness. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. He says: ”I am your light. Everything now hidden will be made clear.” Secondly, he reassures: ”Trust me. Your life, however weak and vulnerable, is precious to me. I love you with an everlasting love. If that is true for your unique beauty, then it is true for every unique part of creation.” Thirdly, it follows that each of us should treat his/her neighbour accordingly. Perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:18).

“Be not afraid; I am with you always.”

John


SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
18th June 2017

In the wake of the horrendous tower block fire in London this week, there has been anger, grief and blame. But as with the Manchester and London terror attacks in the previous two weeks, there has also been the heroic response of the emergency services and the extraordinary generosity of ordinary people who have given money, basic necessities and their precious time to the victims and their families. It is only natural to react with anger, point the finger of blame and rage against the pain. But if passion is to be transformed into compassion, something grace-ful has to happen. It is instructive to ponder how these events provoke the worst and evoke the best in human nature.

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ was transformed into compassion when he said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” as they nailed him to the cross. It was transformed in his dying words: “I thirst”, as his yearning love for us knew no death. It was transformed as he broke the bread and said: “This is my body, given up for you.” Yes, it hurts; but only if you don’t care, you don’t notice, or are too absorbed in yourself. It was during the Last Supper that he said: “Love one another, as I have loved you,” St John’s equivalent of the Synoptics’ “Do this in memory of me.”

It was in the breaking of bread that Jesus was recognised at Emmaus. We only receive his Body because we are his Body. He sweated blood for us that we might recognise his Blood in the blood and tears of the earth. Not for nothing is Luke’s account of the early Church called, not words, but Acts.

Behold the Bread of angels!

John


TRINITY SUNDAY
11th June 2017

After World War II the nations of Europe came together in an economic union, to help prevent the divisions in the continent which had led to two major wars in thirty years. Now another generation is presiding over a fragmenting of that union, as Britain seeks to assert its independence from the European Union. And within Britain itself there are calls for Scotland to be independent from the rest of Britain.

“Community” is a word that is bandied around without much thought about its real meaning. It implies a people with a common sense of identity and purpose, working together with shared values. But it is often used today in a much looser sense, as describing merely the people who happen to live in the same area. Do we emphasise the unity or the diversity? Are we a collection of uniformly faceless individuals, or a bunch of fiercely competitive ones, only interested in our own personal agenda? Or somewhere in between?

The Church describes herself, the Christian community, as “koinonia”. This Greek word roughly translates “communion”. We are in communion with God and one another, in a certain way mingled together without losing our unique individuality created by God. The Eucharist, “holy communion”, celebrates this koinonia while deepening and strengthening it. At another level, the sacrament of marriage does the same.

The source and origin of this koinonia is in God who is Love. God is the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, not to condemn the world but to save it” from fragmentation, division, oppression and evil in order to bring life, love, forgiveness, compassion and a share in the divine communion. Are we Christians living our Trinitarian life to the full?

May the Lord bless you.

John


PENTECOST SUNDAY
4th June 2017

Inspiration! Enthusiasm! Take a deep breath…. That’s the Spirit!

The Holy Spirit may appear to us mortals a poor substitute for Jesus, exchanging the flesh and blood reality of an identifiable human person for a….what, exactly? The disciples had finally come to believe that the invisible, ineffable, mysterious Godhead was here among them, communicating directly with them as one like us. And just as this enormous truth suddenly flooded their minds, Jesus had disappeared from their sight, could no longer be touched, the sound of his voice a vivid memory.

Two things happened simultaneously at that moment. The invisible, ineffable, mysterious God became more awesome than ever; and Jesus became closer and more real to them than ever. Far from being a contradiction, these two truths were experienced as one reality: the Holy Spirit.

What happened to those disciples happens to us….doesn’t it? In the end the Holy Spirit is not a theoretical concept but a power for transformation. Jesus disappears from sight because he is now in us, his Body. He is not outside, somewhere else. But we can recognise him when we look within, into our hearts, into the eyes of the poor, in the breaking of bread.

Inspiration, breathing in the Spirit, fills us with new life and hope. Enthusiasm (which means literally “God within us”) energises us with joy and purpose. We take a deep breath, breathe in God’s life, and Jesus comes alive in us, his Word enriches us, our witness to him bears the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, courtesy, gentleness, self-control. The Spirit is not interested in self-advertising – only revealing God to us in Jesus. In a self-serving world full of suspicion, anger, and confusion, it’s a breath of fresh air.

That’s the Spirit!

John


SUNDAY OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD
28th May 2017

The final five verses of Matthew’s gospel cram an enormous amount into a small space, which needs expanding to discover its richness. In Matthew’s account, this is the first meeting of the apostles with Jesus after the Last Supper. It is a moment of faith: will they acknowledge him as their risen Lord? Most did, “though some hesitated”. Hesitation implies that they did acknowledge him, but doubted a moment. Is this Matthew’s version of the Thomas story of John’s resurrection account? For some, faith is immediate; for others, it takes time. Growing in our relationship with the Lord is a process. It is not always love at first sight.

One would expect the risen Lord, reunited with his apostles, to take the lead. But no. He tells them to take the lead. Hardly have they arrived in Galilee at Jesus’ summons when he says: “Go! You are my body, you are my voice, you are my witnesses. As I have formed you, so go and form others to be my disciples, catching fire through your lives. Don’t restrict yourselves to Galilee and Jerusalem – the ends of the earth await you. And when through the wisdom given you by the Spirit you see these disciples ready to follow me through death to resurrection, baptise them into the community of my Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As I push you, my fledgling Christian community, out of the nest, do not be afraid of falling. For even if it appears I have withdrawn from you into heaven, know that I am with you always, even to the end of time. Do not look behind you but ahead, at the Way I am before you. Go in my name!”

Come Holy Spirit!

John


SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
21st May 2017

Philip the deacon seems to have been a particularly successful evangelist. Perhaps because he himself was a Greek-speaking Jew of the Diaspora (like his namesake Philip the apostle), he was more familiar with the Gentile world. When his fellow-deacon Stephen was martyred, Philip, like most of the Jerusalem Christian community, fled the city for safety (Acts 8:1). Whether by chance or divine design (one suspects the latter) he ended up in Samaria, whose people were heretics and pagans to the orthodox Jew. Perhaps Philip had heard the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman; in any case he was emulating Jesus’ compassion and love for the despised and marginalised. As a result, his preaching to them of the Christian message, in word and deed, brought about their baptism.

Something of his evangelising technique is demonstrated later in the same chapter (Acts 8:26-40) in his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. Just as he “happened” to go to the Samaritans, so Philip “happened” to be walking the road south from Jerusalem to Gaza when a chariot passed by. To be fair, it was an angel who gave him the tip-off. But who was the angel?

The pagan African official from the margins of the known world “happened” to be reading the prophet Isaiah aloud as he rode along. There were questions he wanted to ask about what he was reading, and there was Philip on hand to answer them, right on cue. It led ultimately to the baptism of Ethiopia.

Being there when we are needed, being ready to answer an enquirer’s questions, being aware of the opportunities God is giving us – all these are hallmarks of the evangelist. Where will you “happen” to be when, in the least promising of circumstances, God wants an angel?

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

John


FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
14th May 2017

“Nations are in tumult, kingdoms are shaken” sang the psalmist two and a half millennia ago, but his words are just as relevant today. So much of the world is plagued by unrest, conflict and violence. Political and social upheavals in countries once thought secure, stable and “civilized” add to the general uncertainty. Britain and the USA are significant examples of the latter.

Into this turmoil the words of Jesus speak directly to us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” It is only natural that we are troubled by these things which threaten to overwhelm us. But Jesus says we must not allow this inevitable trouble to disrupt our hearts, that inner place where the Spirit dwells. So his next words are: “Trust in God still, and trust in me.” Trust is what is missing. Once upon a time, trust, respect, compassion and kindness were foundational values of British society. They underpinned our attitudes and behaviour, even when they weren’t always practised. Now these values have become marginal, not central. They are not only harder to find but harder to practise.

Trust in God and trust in me, says Jesus, even when you cannot trust anyone else, including yourself. Even when my closest disciples let me down, says Jesus, I never gave up on my Father, and he never gave up on me, even on the cross.

Jesus uses an image to describe the community of those who follow his trusting example. His Father is a house in which each of us has a room. This room is made ready for us by Jesus himself, who accompanies us to it. He is the Way. Without our trust in him, his mission will never blossom into even greater works.

Alleluia! The Lord is risen.

John


FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
7th May 2017

Jack, our elderly black Labrador, has a habit of lying down in doorways, so you have to step over his prostrate form if you are to get through. He has probably two intentions in doing so. The more noble purpose is to protect us from intruders. The more selfish one is to make sure he’s in the way and we won’t forget he’s there, especially if there’s food around.

It was for the more noble purpose that the shepherd of old would sleep at night in the narrow entrance to the sheepfold. If a wolf or other intruder were to try to steal or attack the sheep within, they would first have to get past the shepherd. The “gate” of the sheepfold was not a barrier made of wood or metal, but a human being.

When Jesus refers to himself as the gate, he is fulfilling the shepherd’s double function of keeping the sheep safe while (literally) laying down his life for them. In relation to his first role, he says of his disciples, “Father, I have watched over them and not one is lost” (John 17:12). His second role, seeing off the wolf to save the sheep by sacrificing himself, is described at his arrest in Gethsemane. He says to those arresting him: “If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go” and the evangelist adds: This was to fulfil the words he had spoken, “not one of those you gave me have I lost” (John 18:8,9).

All who follow his voice are called to be like him. What sort of Labrador are you? Are you an opportunist, making sure you don’t miss out? Or are you laying down your life for others?

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

John


THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
30th April 2017

“He’s dead, mister,” says a disillusioned Thomas being interviewed about Jesus after the crucifixion. “He’s dead, and that’s the end of him.”

Hope is all the harder after hope has been shattered. The gospel today catches two of those disaffected disciples walking away from their broken dreams. The stranger who interviews them begins from that experience: “What are you talking about?” They stop, their faces downcast. They look at the ground, not at the speaker. The larger picture has gone. There is nothing left but the dusty earth. “We had hoped….” they begin.

What the stranger does next is to reconnect them with the larger picture they had lost. He doesn’t condone their pessimism. He challenges them to look again at their experience of discipleship, to reignite the flame of faith, remind them of the evidence of resurrection throughout the scriptures. “Didn’t you realise that the Christ had to suffer? Can’t you see that he had to embrace death with its sting of hopeless finality? Only by passing through death could he overcome it. Only thus could he come to resurrection.”

As the Word unfolded the word, their faces slowly lifted from the earth until at last, as he broke bread at their table, they looked into his eyes. “And their eyes were opened and they recognised him.” For Thomas it had been the sight of the wounds. For the Emmaus disciples it was exactly what we have today: the Word in scripture and the breaking of bread. It seems ridiculously simple and laughably ordinary. But it is the risen Lord. All we have when he has vanished from our sight is the sound of his words and an everyday gesture of sharing food. But that is our hope. He is everything.

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

John


SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
23rd April 2017

The doors were closed, but Jesus came and stood in the midst of them. He did not, as in the Apocalypse (Rev 3:20), stand at the closed door and knock, and wait till we are ready to admit him. For the risen Lord, there are no doors. “With you I can break through any barrier,” says the psalmist (Ps 17:30), “with my God I can scale any wall.” His presence is not an intrusion into our closed world: we have already said yes to him, and he dwells now in our innermost heart. If he’s still knocking on our door, it’s from the inside of our heart where he lives, as if to say: “Don’t lock me away in some secret religious retreat – I want to reach out through you to all creation, and break through the barriers of injustice and scale the walls of selfishness and pride.” “Our life is hidden with Christ in God,” says St Paul (Col 3:3), and God is hidden in Christ in us.

Any closed doors in our lives are of our making; and they betray the presence of fear. St John in his first letter says: “God is love…. In love there can be no fear, but fear is driven out by perfect love” (4:8,18). Trust is the first thing to go when fear and suspicion rule our lives, as is all too evident in our world today. The doors were closed to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born, so he’s no stranger to rejection. But the Divine Mercy still persists, and will never cease. Isn’t that our hope and our model, as nations close their doors to one another and shrink back behind the barricades? Trust has no walls.

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

John


EASTER SUNDAY
16th April 2017

“Why look among the dead for one who is living?” As children of the resurrection we can appreciate these words of the angel to the women at the tomb. We do not visit the cemetery in hope of seeing the living – quite the opposite. The angel makes the point for us when we do: “He is not here – he is risen.” We can visit the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, but he is not there. Our temptation is always to pin Jesus down to a place, whether it’s the Holy Land or the tabernacle in our parish church. He is not exclusively here, or there – he is risen. He goes before us into Galilee, wherever that may be for us in any given moment. 

And yet he is everywhere. “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of time.” Wherever we his people are, we are his presence, his body, his being. We have had no problem in identifying with Jesus this last week, in his all-too-human experience of betrayal, loneliness, pain and death. Whether personally or through our share in the passion of the world, these are realities we are comforted to know God has suffered and redeemed. 

But when we move beyond our present experience, to our life beyond death, our journey beyond time and place, the neither here nor there of “he is risen and goes before you”, we hesitate and wonder if it’s the same Jesus we’re talking about. How can we be his body, his presence in the world, if we have not yet risen as he is? 

Through our baptism we share in the death and resurrection of Christ. If we believe in his real presence in the eucharist, why do we not believe his risen presence is really in us now? 

Alleluia! The Lord is risen! 

John 
 


PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD
9th April 2017

Palms of peace are waving in the light wind. The children cheering, the crowds exultant as the donkey bearing Jesus is coaxed through the narrow bustling streets of the city. Hope is in the air again. He has done so much for us: healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, cast out devils, even raised the dead, some say. Can he be the one to cast off our yoke of slavery, the oppression of sin, and restore the kingdom of God? Everything, everyone, every expectation clusters round this one man. Is he our saviour?

It is five days later. Through the same bustling streets comes another procession pushing through a fearful and hostile crowd. The hated Roman soldiers bully the crowds to one side, hustle the three condemned men bearing their crossbeams through the sullen mob, jeering as the crowd cowers before the terrifying reminder of the cruelty of Rome. One of the condemned wears a crown of thorns roughly thrust into his scalp. Is this our saviour?

Lifeless bodies of children, women, men, old and young, victims of cluster bombs, chemical warfare, ideological anger, fanatical violence. Listless survivors, half-dead from physical and mental torture, homeless refugees. seeking healing, hope, a reason to go on living. The streets of the city are ruinous tatters of their one-time grandeur. It is two thousand years later.

Walk with us, our God, into the streets of our cities and the heavy hearts of the world, where the palms of peace lie scattered and forgotten and hope a distant dream. You have chosen us to bear witness to your Son the Beloved, to be his presence now as he emerges from the tomb. For he truly is the Saviour of the world.

Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free.

John


FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT
2nd April 2017

Illness and death are an inevitable part of human existence. Because there have been such advances in medicine and healthcare, with people in the developed world living longer and healthier lives, we can find ourselves dismissing or putting off considering these issues until we are forced to face them. But in many parts of the world, not least the war zones of Syria, Iraq and Yemen or the famine-stricken countries of East Africa, death is a daily companion.

What Jesus tells us is that death (and all that goes with it) is part of the journey to God. St Basil uses a vivid image drawn from the Olympic Games of his time: “As in the double course (where the competitors must run to the turning point and back to the start again) a halt, a brief respite separates the outward run and the return, so also for a change of life it seems necessary that death intervene between the two lives, to make an end of all that went before and a beginning of all that follows.”

Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the grave, but it was not so that Lazarus could continue his old life. Resurrection is not simply resuscitation. For the Christian, death is not annihilation but a means of transformation, even as it was for Jesus. The “descent into hell” which is consequent to the cross is our sharing in the suffering and alienation of the weak and the weary, the victims of war and famine and exploitation. In solidarity with them, we choose to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, not around it. Resurrection is not wishful thinking or pie in the sky. It is Jesus saying to us, as he did to Lazarus: “Unbind him, let him go free.”

Happy Lent!

John


Mothering Sunday
26th March 2017

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void; there was darkness over the deep; and God’s Spirit hovered over the waters.”

These opening words of the book of Genesis sketch our beginnings in a dark and shapeless chaos. We can often experience our world in similar images, captured in the poet Matthew Arnold’s lines:

“And we are here, as on a darkling plain / Swept by confused alarms of struggle and flight, / While ignorant armies clash by night.”

But Genesis continues: “And God said: ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.” The darkness which clouds our minds as well as our eyes is lifted. The unseen chaos which breeds fear is seen for what it is: the unlikely material over which the Spirit broods to bring forth life.

The opening of John’s gospel, which deliberately echoes the opening of Genesis, takes up the story: “In the beginning was the Word…. All that came to be had life in him, and that life was the light of us all…. a light that darkness could not overpower.”

John’s account of the cure of the man born blind in today’s gospel is the story of all of us. That is why he has no name, for he is Everyman. His journey from darkness to light is the journey of every catechumen in Lent, every child who emerges from the womb, everyone who comes to faith in Christ. We are on that pilgrimage our whole life long; if we think we have arrived already, we are still blind. “The one who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God” (John 3:21).

Happy Lent!

John


THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT
19th March 2017

Among the last words of Jesus as he hung dying on the cross is the cry “I thirst.” He was not simply expressing a desperate human need as he hung dehydrated in the blistering afternoon sun on Good Friday. In that cry he was giving voice to his deep longing for each one of the human race, as he thirsts for our love and our response to his love. However fervently we pray Psalm 62 (“O God, my soul thirsts for you”) we cannot match the infinite depth of his longing for us.

When the woman of Samaria, thinking no-one else would be about in the midday sun, comes to the well to draw water, she is disturbed to find someone is there. Relieved, she sees it is a stranger, not one of the locals who know her shameful secrets. And he’s a Jew who, like all Jews, avoids and hates Samaritans.

Except this one doesn’t. He initiates the conversation with the cry he will make from the cross: “Give me a drink.” Her thirst for love and acceptance and an end to her isolation and pain is not being met; on the contrary, this hated Jew is demanding his thirst is met. What an insult! “You ask me for a drink!” You can almost hear her unspoken retort: get it yourself!

Jesus’ unexpected response disarms her completely. “If you only knew what God is offering you!” She thinks the only thing God offers her is shame, guilt, condemnation, a wagging finger of disapproval. If only she knew!

Her bucket remains empty, and Jesus doesn’t get his drink. But from being an outcast she brings the whole town with her to Jesus. “He told me everything I have ever done” – and did not condemn me.

Happy Lent!

John


SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

12th March 2017

Three thousand years ago, a nomadic family set out from Ur near the head of the Persian Gulf towards Haran, 600 miles to the north-west. The wandering Aramaean Terah brought with him his son Abram and Abram’s wife Sarai. Haran became their new home, but after Terah’s death God called Abram to move on again. “Leave your country, your family and your father’s house, for the land I will show you. There I will make you a great nation.” So Abram went.

Abram’s journey is symbolic of our own life’s adventure. St Augustine famously wrote in his “Confessions”: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The danger inherent in the Christian life is that we are tempted to settle down when we find a comfortable place, a conducive church, a cosy spirituality. The season of Lent urges us to our feet again and directs us to the nomadic wilderness, where we can discern what is essential for the journey and jettison what is not. The lighter the load, the easier the journey. Like Abram, we are not going to the land of our dreams, but the place the Lord will show us. O that today we would listen to his voice!

That voice calls us to take up our cross and follow Jesus. He leads us today up the mountainside to be alone with him, to catch a glimpse of his glory, to spur us on to the suffering of the cross and the unbelievable hope of resurrection.

Three thousand years after Abram, refugees from Ur (Iraq) and Haran (Syria) are forced from their homes on the dangerous adventure to an uncertain promised land. Where will Jesus lead us in our Lenten journey?

Bon voyage!

John


FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT
5th March 2017

Temptation is a normal and necessary aspect of life. If we had no temptation, we would have no choice. Our choices in life depend on weighing up the options. Otherwise we would have no options.

Being tempted is being tested. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation”, we do not believe the Father is leading us into sin, but that when we are drawn in that direction by temptation God is testing our Christian reflexes. We do not want the temptation to sin to overwhelm us. We want rather to succumb to the temptation of grace, to have an in-built tendency to choose the good, to have a spiritual sensitivity. In the words of Paul (Romans 12:2): “…to know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.”

Victory in spiritual warfare, as in a military campaign, depends on an understanding of the tactics of the enemy. C.S. Lewis’s book “The Screwtape Letters” is a classic demonstration. It is an imaginary correspondence between a senior and a junior devil, the apprentice learning from his experienced master about how humans behave and how to take advantage of their weaknesses.

Jesus’ confrontation with the devil in the wilderness teaches us not only about the devil’s tactics but (far more importantly) about what Jesus does when his Father leads him into temptation. The tempter tries to diminish him, to doubt his divinity (“IF you are the Son of God….”). But Jesus steadfastly refuses to even consider his strengths or weaknesses. He looks only at his Father. His answer is not in terms of himself but of God’s word. We would begin Lent well if Scripture comes first to mind when making our choices.

Happy Lent!

John


EIGHTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
26th February 2017

On the Sunday before the beginning of Lent, how do the readings prepare us? The key message is a call to trust in God’s providence. It is instructive to compare the opening of today’s gospel with the readings on the day after Ash Wednesday. Jesus highlights the choice we need to make between God and money. We cannot serve both. Which one has the last word in your life in practice? And likewise Moses in the first reading next Thursday says: “God puts before you life and prosperity, or death and disaster. Choose life, then.…” It sounds obvious, but can we discern what is life-giving from what is death-dealing in every situation?

Trusting God is a choice we make. It is not the default position if we don’t make a choice, like the birds of the air or the flowers of the field who have no option. But in the process of choosing we worry. Will it work out? What if things do not go according to plan? Will we be able to keep it up?

Notice how these questions focus on us and our part. Worry takes over when we take our eyes off the Lord and gaze at our problems. Well, no wonder we’re depressed! So Jesus uses images to help us. “Look at the birds in the sky, or the flowers of the field.” Look. Focus on them, not yourself. Spend time contemplating their existence. Nature has a wonderful way of putting things in perspective. Prayer always puts the focus back on God. “Seek first the kingdom…. and then your needs will be met.”

If our Lent is to be fruitful, we have first to pause and ask God trustfully for his agenda, and have the courage to follow it.

May the Lord bless you.

John


SEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
19th February 2017

“Love your neighbour as yourself”. The lawyer in Luke’s gospel famously asked: “And who is my neighbour?” to provoke the parable of the Good Samaritan. That gives a memorable answer to the question, but leaves the crucial last two words “as yourself” in the air.

Love your neighbour as you love yourself. But how, and to what extent, do you love yourself? It can sound like narcissism or self-importance. But that depends on the meaning of that crucial word “love”. To help answer that dilemma, consider Jesus’ words in John 15: “Love another as I have loved you.” Now try saying to yourself: “I am to love myself to the extent that Jesus loves me.” How does that feel?

St Paul’s famous description of love in I Corinthians 13 provides a practical answer to the question: “What do you mean by love?” Love is always patient and kind. Am I patient and kind to others? Am I equally patient and kind with myself? Love is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. Do I criticise and condemn others, or am I ready to excuse them? Do I excuse others readily, but am not so forgiving towards myself? Do I trust myself?

When we are at peace with ourselves, we are more effective in making peace with others. And it all begins by realising that first and foremost we are loved for who we are. God loved us into being. Our life experiences, many of which are beyond our control, have given us a more or less awareness of that truth. Our task is to show people how much God loves them. If I don’t believe how much God loves me, how will they know?

May the Lord bless you.

John


SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
12th February 2017

Fanaticism, with its offspring terrorism, appears on the surface to be in turn the child of passionate conviction. But dig beneath the surface: the roots of this tenacious conviction are buried in a violent reaction to insecurity. The resolution of the conflicting ideologies that tear our world apart today lies in facing honestly these insecurities, naming them for what they are, sharing our fears and concerns in a safe environment, and listening constructively and compassionately to each other. 

The difficulty in following this obvious path is compounded because we have had ample opportunity to do so in the past but for too long have chosen to ignore the signs. We have been too preoccupied with fortifying our own castles and nurturing our own insecurities. The niggling molehill has been allowed to become an overwhelming mountain. 

Jesus is right to say that anger and violent language are on a level with murder. In today’s gospel he reminds us that murder, adultery and breaking solemn promises do not happen out of nowhere. They are the ultimate consequence of a series of attitudes, thoughts and actions that have been allowed to develop unchecked and unquestioned. What Jesus does is to send us back to the beginning of the process, to recognise our underlying attitudes and to question the next step we take. Further, he then proposes effective counter measures. “if you recognise an unhealthy relationship with another, sort it out before you go any further. Be reconciled before you make your offering,” he says. 

Reversing our current trend of violence and confrontation, and substituting reconciliation and respect for one’s neighbour is not easy this far down the road. It seems a pathetically ineffective path. But Jesus took it to the cross. Is there any other way? 

May the Lord bless you. 

John


sFIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
5th February 2017

Jesus concludes the eight Beatitudes with a ninth. Unlike the first eight, which begin: “Blessed are those…” it starts: “Blessed are you…” From then on Jesus addresses us directly. He is not making some generalised observations – he is talking to you and me.

“You are the salt of the earth.” I cannot escape the immediacy of his words. I am not simply on the way to becoming the salt of the earth. Jesus is not calling me to salthood. He is telling me that I am salt, now. But am I salt worthy of the name? Do I taste of Good News? Is my Christian living relished by others?

Salt was so precious a commodity in Jesus’ time it was used as currency – we still refer to our wages as “salary” or salt money. Do I know how valuable is my witness to Christ? Do I make myself available to be gospel currency in our global society?

“You are the light of the world.” In John’s gospel Jesus declares: “I am the Light of the world”, a light that darkness cannot overpower. Here in Matthew he identifies us with himself: we too are “light of the world”, his light. My part is to be his light wherever I am. If I hide my light under a bushel, I am concealing Christ. Perhaps I think I have little to offer compared with others. But if I am comparing myself with others I am taking my eyes off Jesus. Only he knows my full worth, my unique contribution to his kingdom. We may be surprised at the motley collection of people who through our good works (unrecognised by us) are moved to give praise to our Father in heaven.

May the Lord bless you.

John


FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
29th January 2017

The Beatitudes are not simply a charter for Christian living. They are primarily a self-portrait of Jesus. Just as the prologue of the gospel of John summarises the themes of his gospel, much as an overture signals the themes of a symphony, so the Beatitudes of Matthew’s gospel distill the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7). In them Jesus reveals eight aspects of his innermost self and invites his followers to reflect on how these characteristics are mirrored in their own lives.

Jesus is poor in spirit – i.e. totally dependent on God. Are we?

Jesus is gentle, sensitive, humble. He is not aggressive and does not impose his agenda.

Jesus knows the experience of grief and loss. He emptied himself.

Jesus has a passion for justice. He is the advocate of the victims of injustice. He is one of them.

Jesus is merciful, forgiving, non-judgemental. He sees the best in everybody, especially when they fail to see it in themselves.

Jesus has an undivided heart. He is not distracted by the many things which can tear us apart, but focusses on the one thing necessary: his Father’s will.

Jesus is a peacemaker. He works to bring people together, to help them understand each other better. Reconciliation is hard work.

Jesus is persecuted in the cause of right, which is a direct consequence of being a peacemaker. The cross is the price he is willing to pay for it.

How do you feel when you read the above? Are you uplifted by Jesus’ attitudes but back away from translating them into your everyday life? Blessed are those who find it impossible but give it a go anyway! Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

May the Lord bless you.

John


THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
22nd January 2017

When Jesus inaugurated his public ministry, he made his home base at a crossroads. Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee was a meeting place of Jew and Gentile, a melting-pot of different races and cultures. Through it ran the trade highway known as the Way of the Sea, from Damascus to the Mediterranean. The gospels often refer to Jesus “on the borders” of places, mixing with the marginalised.

He came to a people “who walked in darkness, in the land and shadow of death”. It is not unlike our world today. What will an apparently maverick president of the USA turn out to be? What of the unknown future of a post-Brexit Britain? Will the seemingly endless conflicts in the Middle East ever be fully resolved? The immediate answers of Trump (“get the foreigners out of America”) and Brexit Britain (“give us our country back”) are turning a crossroads society into a series of cul-de-sac nations. The clarion call is not progress but retreat.

In the land and shadow of death “I will fear no evil”, Psalm 23 confidently proclaims. The people who walked in darkness “has seen a great light”, says Isaiah. Jesus walks with us in the shadows of our fear and confusion to be our light and our strength. The light of his word scatters the distorted images of our shadowy vision. His clarion call is: “Repent! Think again. The kingdom of heaven is here, which has no frontiers, no passports, neither rich nor poor, slave nor free; all are welcome. Do you prefer darkness to light? Can you not rise to the challenge of Good News, and be a people of hope, forgiveness, healing and above all, love? If yes, then come, follow me.”

May the Lord bless you.

John


SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
15th January 2017

Paul begins his first letter to the Corinthians by reminding them that they are holy. The Corinth of Paul’s day was not celebrated for its holiness; it was a seedy seaport of questionable moral standards. The fledgling Christian community was drawn from them, yet Paul confidently refers to them as “the holy people of Jesus Christ”.

Paul also wants to remind them that they are not isolated from the wider Christian world. They are called “to take their place among all the saints everywhere”. They are but one cell of the body of Christ, one holy people amidst the holy People of God, one church of the Universal Church. And what distinguishes the Christian, wherever he or she may be, is that they “pray to our Lord Jesus Christ”. “He is their Lord no less than ours”. Jesus has no favourites; there is no Christian community greater than another: all are equally Christ’s.

We might well remind ourselves of this as we begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Wednesday this week. There is a feeling, at least in Britain, that the ecumenical movement has run out of steam. The great impetus towards unity triggered by the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago seems to have withered as the dialogue between the churches did not produce the expected fruit. The temptation to return, disillusioned, to our embattled little denominations or (worse) dismiss the whole ecumenical endeavour as muddying the pure waters of the “real” (i.e. “our”) Church is divisive and frankly heretical.

I believe we have lost heart, not because we were too far apart but because we were getting too close for comfort. We need this week of prayer more than ever. Now is the time to say to the fainthearted: “Courage! Do not be afraid!” (Isaiah 35).

May the Lord bless you.

John


THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
8th January 2017

Unlike the shepherds, who were Bethlehem locals and among the lowliest and despised members of Jewish society, the other visitors to the infant Jesus were from a distant unknown land. In contrast to the shepherds, they were clearly men of rank, wise and learned. Matthew’s gospel calls them Magi, astrologers, trained to interpret the signs of the times. As with the shepherds, we are not told how many Magi there were. Tradition has settled on three, corresponding with the number of gifts they brought.

At the time, Judea was a volatile province on the eastern fringe of the Roman Empire. The local Jewish King Herod resented being under the thumb of the Romans. When the Magi appeared, looking for the infant king of the Jews, Herod was terrified. He already felt under threat from the Roman occupation; he was despised by his own people as a Roman collaborator. Now there was a potential usurper in his kingdom. A desperate situation demanded drastic measures – a wholesale slaughter of infants. Unlike the shepherds, Herod never heard the angel say: “Do not be afraid!” The Magi came to worship the Prince of Peace, but as far as Herod was concerned, all he heard from them was the threat of war.

When we come to worship the Christ child today, we do so in a world full of fear, insecurity, political instability and terror. The message of peace and reconciliation sounds hollow and helpless, an impossible dream. Can emperor and king, wise man and shepherd, terrorist and peacemaker, sit down together to listen to each other’s fears and hopes? At the crib we face in wonder who we really are, and meet only love. How can we help others to encounter that same Love, however distant it seems to them?

May the Lord bless you.

John


THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
8th January 2017

Unlike the shepherds, who were Bethlehem locals and among the lowliest and despised members of Jewish society, the other visitors to the infant Jesus were from a distant unknown land. In contrast to the shepherds, they were clearly men of rank, wise and learned. Matthew’s gospel calls them Magi, astrologers, trained to interpret the signs of the times. As with the shepherds, we are not told how many Magi there were. Tradition has settled on three, corresponding with the number of gifts they brought.

At the time, Judea was a volatile province on the eastern fringe of the Roman Empire. The local Jewish King Herod resented being under the thumb of the Romans. When the Magi appeared, looking for the infant king of the Jews, Herod was terrified. He already felt under threat from the Roman occupation; he was despised by his own people as a Roman collaborator. Now there was a potential usurper in his kingdom. A desperate situation demanded drastic measures – a wholesale slaughter of infants. Unlike the shepherds, Herod never heard the angel say: “Do not be afraid!” The Magi came to worship the Prince of Peace, but as far as Herod was concerned, all he heard from them was the threat of war.

When we come to worship the Christ child today, we do so in a world full of fear, insecurity, political instability and terror. The message of peace and reconciliation sounds hollow and helpless, an impossible dream. Can emperor and king, wise man and shepherd, terrorist and peacemaker, sit down together to listen to each other’s fears and hopes? At the crib we face in wonder who we really are, and meet only love. How can we help others to encounter that same Love, however distant it seems to them?

May the Lord bless you.

John


SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
1st January 2017

Eight days after his birth, a Jewish boy would be circumcised and given his name. The name is not just a descriptive label; it is the unique identity of a human individual. When you hear your name being called, you instinctively respond. As with many other races and religions, Jewish names have a meaning. And so the Son of Mary is named “Yahweh saves”. It is the same name borne by the warrior leader who led the Chosen People into the promised land of Canaan: Joshua. But our Joshua, or Jesus, is the one who saves us from our sins and leads us and all humankind into the Promised Land of heaven. Jesus tells us who he is and what he has come to do when he comes into this world. And his mission continues to the end of time. 

The beginning of a new calendar year signifies new beginnings in our lives – hence the custom of new year’s resolutions. Unlike the Son of Mary, we are not always faithful to our calling, we do not always live up to our name of Christian. We need to start over again and again. 

“Jesus, mercy! Mary, help!” To these holy names we can add the names of other holy men and women, perhaps those saints whose names we ourselves bear. For example, I take my own name, John (Johanan), which means “God’s gracious gift”. Am I always gifting God to those around me? Am I a gracious giver? 

The proof that we are sons and daughters of God, Paul says in Galatians, is that we have the Spirit of God in our hearts. This Spirit cries out continually “Abba! Father!” Allow the Spirit to keep crying out in your heart, until your “Yes!” to God is as complete as Mary’s. 

May the Lord bless you in 2017. 

John

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