17th Sunday of Ordinary time, cycle C

24th July 2016

The first reading is another part of the story about Abraham (Genesis 18:20-32). The whole story is about God in discussion with Abraham deciding to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the wickedness of its inhabitants. The story has probably developed from an earlier myth that was around about the near total destruction of humanity, this time not by flood but by fire; the primitiveness of the view of God is obvious in the way God discusses this with Abraham and in that God has to go and see what is going on in Sodom having heard shocking reports of its behaviour. The part of the story in our reading is about the question of the righteousness of God – is it right to condemn a group which includes even just a few good people?   This was an important question for the Jewish people as they settled in what they called the promised land where other tribes were living. It perhaps reflects both the market-place custom of theirs in haggling for a good price and the intimacy that they felt there was between God and their ancestor Abraham.

The second reading (Col 2:12-14) is reminding the Christians of Colossae what their baptism should mean to them. They would most likely have been baptised by going completely under water, in a river or pool, and probably as adults – and rising up out of it, rising with Christ. This is how the Baptist denomination still performs the ceremony today. Some of the people of Colossae thought that God is absent from our world and that only after our death our life will be in Christ . But this reading stresses that it is here and now that we are with Christ; using unusual Greek words to emphasise this unity we have with Christ even now, with his death, with his resurrection and with a renewed life here and now; these are like our English word sympathy, synthesis, symbiosis and others that use the Greek for ‘together with.’

The gospel relates the story of Jesus teaching about praying (Luke 11:1-13), and includes Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, which Catholics more often call the Our Father. We notice particularly here the teaching skill of Jesus in the use of everyday language and easily understood examples illustrating the substance and manner of prayer that his disciples should have, what they should say and how they should say it. The language of our prayers and the way that we pray could be just the same as our approach to our neighbours and friends, and in return God’s way with us is best likened to a responsible father to one of his children. Matthew’s gospel also has the Lord’s prayer (Mt 6:9-3) but worded slightly differently.

16th Sunday of Ordinary time, cycle C

17th July 2016

The book of Genesis is not ordinary history but a tale about the chosen people and their origin and relationship with God; The stories of Abraham in Genesis, are the oft-told tales of the origins of the covenant between God and his chosen people who saw themselves a the descendants of Abraham; in the way it is told, God had already announced to Abraham (chapter 17) that his wife Sarah would give birth to Isaac although he was 100 and she 90, and now our first reading (Genesis 18:1-10) coming after this is about the timing of the birth of this God-given child. It is an intriguing short tale not only showing us the gracious custom of welcoming strangers but giving a hint of the way people thought of God communicating with them; for although it tells us that three men came to deliver this message, they seem to represent the one God to Abraham – you have to listen carefully or read the passage again to notice this.

For the second reading (Col 1:24-28) we have a continuation of the deep doctrinal presentation which was begun last week.   There is the realisation that not all is as it should be in the church, the body of Christ; He is the head but we are the body, the part which is as yet struggling and incomplete; there is much suffering for us and more to learn, understand and to bring about so as to progress towards the completion and fulfillment of our place in the glorious body of Christ with God in heaven. The overall plan is both a mystery and as yet incomplete, and we, members of this creation -His Body – have our important roles to play. Paul suffered much both from other people and from imprisonment, but now, writing from prison, he is glad to be part of this development towards the perfection which God is creating with us.

Last week’s reading from Luke included the parable of the Good Samaritan. For today we have the next story Luke tells – of Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) ; if last week’s was about ‘Love your neighbour,’ then this story is about listening to God, ‘Love the Lord thy God.’ We know from John’s gospel that Martha and Mary lived in Bethany, near Jerusalem, but Luke doesn’t mention this because he has the motif of Jesus on a journey and still quite a distance from its climax in Jerusalem.   Mary sits at Jesus feet like a student of a Rabbi, though the Rabbis would not have had female disciples, so there is quite a lesson in this alone. The story wants to make the point that hospitality, especially for a travelling missionary should not be excessive and not hinder the work of teaching and the response of listening.

15th Sunday of Ordinary time, cycle C

10th July 2016

Deuteronomy is the name of the last book of the first and principle section of the Old Testament called the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). It was mostly written down about 700 BC, when the Jews were very weak in their religious practice and when they were drawn towards pagan services and rituals. It contains appropriate sermons and a blueprint for renewal of Jewish religious practice – revival of the original Commandments given through Moses according to Exodus and expanded in the other books of the Law. The sermons are attributed to Moses to give them added authority, and they are what he would have preached in that situation. Today’s reading is from the last sermon (Deut 30:10-14) and is addressed to those who have become slack in practising their religion and maybe exiled from their own country. It encouragingly stresses the intimacy of God’s Law to his chosen people – You know it so do it.!

For the second reading we have what might be adapted from an early Christian hymn in the beginning of the letter to the Colossians (Chapter 1 verses 15-20). This letter contains an understanding of Christianity that has developed from what is found in the early letters of Paul (Galatians, Corinthians and Romans). It links well with the first reading, but speaks of Christ rather than of the Law; instead of rules we have a way of life to live by and live with. Christ is the very representative – icon – of God with us. The first verse of the hymn is about Christ being involved in all creation, and holding everything in existence together. The second verse is about Christ’s relationship with the Church as its head, pouring out his life and thereby lifting us all into the fullness of the life of God.

In the extract from Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:25-37 ) we have a passage that is in the form of a dialogue between a student and a teacher, the rabbi. The student/disciple asks about the Law because it seems unclear as to how one should live one’s life. And the reply is in the typical form of rabbinic teaching, with an illustrative story ending with a question for the would-be follower. Luke presents it as a scholar trying to outwit Jesus who responds with a challenging story and question – especially critical of the clergy and the self-righteous. From this story we have the phrase ‘a good Samaritan.’ The Jews, especially the priest and clerics in the story, would have judged Samaritans to be less religious than themselves, but… on what understanding of religion?

 

 

14th Sunday of Ordinary time, cycle C

3rd July 2016

The reading is from the last chapter of the book of Isaiah (66:10-14) which is a section of poetry concerning the Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon to the ruins of their temple and city. They had uncertain emotions about the reason God had allowed this to happen and about his relationship with them. Ideas about the nature of God vary throughout the Old Testament and even in the New Testament and throughout the history of Christianity. In some situations, both of nations and of individuals, it can seem appropriate for God to be presented as harsh and even angry, but in others and at other times it seems preferable for God to be seen as forgiving and loving. So, in the reading, God is associated with the perfect Jerusalem, which in the New Testament would be called the coming Kingdom of God and is today what Christians call heaven or the future fulfillment of God’s plan for creation. In this poetry it is an image of a loving mother with a suckling and bouncing baby – an image of warmth and love, as the love of God for his people. But interestingly the section set out for our reading omits the second half of the last phrase which in full reads as “to his servants the Lord will reveal his hand but to his enemies his fury.” This would make it more like the Last Judgement when the just shall be saved and others not.

For the second reading we have the last few verses (Gal 6:14-18) of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It reminds us that not only is the Kingdom open to non-Jews but that we are already living as new creatures in this life here and now – as expressed and illustrated in the other two readings.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus’ public work is told as a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem; it is a time for drawing people to him with his message of God as a loving and forgiving Father; in this Luke follows the pattern of Matthew and Mark; and so the gospel journey comes to an end with the death and raising of Jesus to be with the Father in heaven. But the geographical movement in Luke is interrupted by chapters 10 to 18. Before that Jesus has already chosen the twelve and even sent them out to preach – twelve is the number of the Jewish tribes and it is these and those who join them, that are thought of as being drawn towards the Kingdom of God. The reading for today (Luke 10:1-20 – omitting the woes on unrepentant cities) begins this interruption with an account of the selection of seventy ‘missionaries’ sent out in a similar way. Luke knew that in the Bible (Genesis 10 and 11) after the flood there were 70 nations that filled the whole world; so this story shows that God’s Kingdom is open to all people, not just Jews; and so the 70 should eat whatever food, never minding the Jewish dietary rules; but the spreading of this good news will be difficult – they will be “like lambs to the slaughter.” The last section of today’s gospel reading tells of their success but they shouldn’t rejoice about this though they will be named for heaven.

The 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Year C

29th June 2016

God has called Elijah to the sacred mountain of Sinai (also called Horeb); it is on this mountain that there is fierce wind, an earthquake and fire, but God is in the silence that follows, and it is there that God tells him to pass on the mantle of his job to Elisha. When Elijah does this, as we have in our reading (1 Kings 19:19-21), Elisha ceremoniously leaves his life as a successful farmer, and after a meal with his friends and relatives, obedient to God’s call, sets off to start his new life following Elijah – at least to begin with then becoming a prophet in his own right..

In the second reading we hear Paul continuing to instruct the Galatians; the chapter is introduced with the words “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”   But the main message (Galatians 5:13-18) is not easy for us to grasp because of the significance of his use of the word ‘flesh.’ ‘Flesh’ is sometimes just a way of saying ‘human’ rather than divine as in the well-know phrase “the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us” (John 1:14) which just means the Son of God became human – one of us. But sometimes the word ‘flesh’ is used to imply a human way of living that is in opposition to what God wants and is not even helpful to our fellow human beings; this is not dissimilar from what was sometimes called ‘original sin,’ namely, the situation in which we live that falls well short of what it could and should be. In contrast to this flesh is the spirit; ‘spirit’ can mean the uplifting and contagious spirit that we have as humans for the good of ourselves and others, but also, for Christians, it can refer to the Spirit of God that is in us enabling and encouraging us to live as true followers of Christ, showing love of others to the bitter end. The passage makes sense when we understand something of this.

In the gospel passage, Luke’s theme that Jesus’ public life is a journey surfaces, and this is a key moment in His journey; it is not a geographical one, but a spiritual one; from now on Jesus realises that it is through pain, suffering and apparent failure that He will fulfill the will of the Father for Him.   There are clear echoes here of the account of Elijah’s decline from power, of the moment of Elisha’s call to follow him and of Elijah’s being ‘taken up’ at the end of his life. Jesus is a Prophet and more, is a leader like Moses – but more – but they share in and illuminate His life for us. In the reading (Luke 9:51-62) we have a message for us if we are to be true followers of Jesus.

 

 

12th Sunday: Cycle C

12th Sunday: Cycle C                        19th June 2013

The first reading is from a section of the book of Zechariah (12:10f) that was added later – about the year 200 BC. The reading seems to refer to some defeat of an enemy, maybe even the assassination of some leader; but it says the people will repent of this when they realise whom they have ‘pierced,’ and then they will be forgiven by God – a fountain will wash away their sin. This may have referred to the death of their historic king Josiah in the early ‘good old’ days of the nation. Part of the reading is better known because it is referred to in John’s Gospel (chapter 19:37) when it says Jesus’ side was pierced and it flowed with water and blood (the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist). There is often an intimation that events in the New Testament echo something in the Old Testament; and this is because it is the same God for both, who deals with similarly stumbling people in the same sort of way – and it’s the same in our lives too!

For the second reading (Gal 3:26-29) we have another short section from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We already have read that it is his God-given task to bring Christianity to the Gentiles. Now he makes a logical jump in his understanding of this impartial attitude that God has to people, affirming that in God’s eyes all are of equal value. This even applies equally to women and to men – even to people of radically different classes – free people and slaves. This equality in the eyes of God is, however, for Paul limited to those who are baptized and who are in some way children of Abraham.

The gospel is a passage in Luke (Luke 9:18-24) found also in Mark and Matthew with some differences. It is a central point in the story of Jesus and who He is. We know that the Jews in their occupied country had particular ideas about a saviour who would come sent from God. The word ‘Christ’ might be used now like a surname for Jesus, but in His day it was the Greek for the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’ which literally means anointed; the majority of Jews thought that it meant a great king, leader and liberator like how they imagined king David had been, and now hoped that Jesus with his powers and followers might be. But in the Jewish Bible (which we call the Old Testament) there are different expectations and one, that was easily overlooked, was that of a servant coming humbly to help and even to suffer at the hands of those who didn’t want such help. In reply to Peter’s acclamation that he was the Messiah, Jesus uses the phrase Son of Man and adds that He will inevitably suffer and that is the way for his followers too.

The Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time: Year C

12the June 2016 

The first reading is the prophet Nathan speaking to King David. Peoples’ idea of David is of an excellent king; for centuries afterwards folk hoped for a similar king and he became the ideal for the Messiah that they hoped would make their nation the focus pinnacle of all the world. Even the genealogies of Jesus trace him back to this king. On his accession to the throne, David had many blessings from God, but we know from 2 Samuel (12:7-13 passim) that he wanted the wife of another man, Uriah, so he had him posted to the front line of the battle where he was soon killed and king David took his wife. The prophet expresses God’s anger at all this. But David admits that he has sinned and the passage ends with God’s forgiving David. ‘Passim’ means omitting some of the text, in this case verses 11 and 12.

The second reading (Gal 2:16-21 passim) was one of the passages used at the Reformation when the Christian church in the West split into Catholics and Protestants. The cause was complex but is often simplified down to the question of what is it that makes us saved – or justified, as they put it; it was faith alone said the Reformers, but you need good works retorted the Catholics.   The works referred to in the reading are the rules that the Old Testament and its interpretation laid down to be obeyed. Before the Reformation the church itself had many rules and encouragements that it put upon its followers; it was these that the Reformers objected to. But Paul was arguing his usual line, that the Gentiles could be followers of Christ without needing to keep the Jewish rules and law. Justification – a right relationship with God – is brought about by God’s relationship to us and our response to this – our living faith.

The gospel is a long one intertwining two separate plots and one parable (Luke 7:36-8:3). There was Simon a Pharisee devoted to keeping the rules and law of his religion who had heard of Jesus’ preaching and activities. He invited Jesus to his house for a meal. There was this sinful woman in the city, probably a prostitute, who also had heard of Jesus’ attitude to people and to God. She came into the house and up to Jesus and greeted him as a guest should be greeted – washing his feet etc. Simon thinks (Luke writes “said to himself”) surely Jesus knows she is a sinner and shouldn’t have anything to do with her. Jesus responds to this with the parable of the two debtors – the one who owes the most loves the most when released from his debt. The story ends by applying this to Simon and to the Lady – obviously she loves the most. This is just one example among many in Luke’s gospel of Jesus’ forgiveness of sinners and sharing in meals