The Solemnity of St John the Baptist

 

See the readings here

The first reading from Isaiah 49:1-6, reveals to us the message of a prophet for the Jews in exile in Babylon.  They were feeling let down by God; they did realise that they had not been as faithful to God as they should have been, but they had always thought that God had chosen them and they were his special people and he was the God who would always see them alright.  The prophet, who might have felt the same, had drawn from this experience a deeper understanding of what being chosen by God meant.  The people were chosen for a purpose and for a service in God’s purpose; they were chosen to show the favour of God to everyone, for all the nations of the world.  This was a hard message for the exiles to accept!

In the second reading, from Acts 13:22-26, Luke tells us the way the St Paul saw this notion of being chosen.  In the past king David was especially set up by God, to start a whole line of successors who would look after the people.  John started preaching and baptising people to express their re-dedication to the work of God, their change of heart – that’s what the word ‘repentance’ means here.  But John was not to be the ultimate saviour of people – that was to be Jesus.

The Gospel is from the first chapter of Luke, verses 57 to 66 with verse 80 tagged on to the end.  It leaves out the words of an ancient hymn, which is known nowadays, by some, as the Benedictus – “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for He has visited His people…”   What the reading tells us is about Mary’s cousin Elisabeth giving birth at a great age to this son who became John the Baptist.  Luke has previous told the readers how an angel appeared to the father, Zechariah, to announce this birth, but he had been struck dumb, for he couldn’t believe it was happening to him and his wife at their age; but he did know that the child should be called John which means ‘God is good to us.’

Comment

It is easy for a Christian sometimes, to feel special to God in a possessive and proud way, but to the purpose of being chosen by God, is always to contribute to the enterprise of God, namely to creating an ideal world of people, not only loved by God, but loving God and being entirely pleasing to him.  During this life here, when God’s work is not complete, there are many things in the world and society (even in the Church) which are quite a lot less than they should be; this is for us, like being in exile, but from it we should learn that the purpose of our life is to work towards the all-embracing completion of God’s work, at least in our own small little way.

11th Sunday cycle B

17th June 2018

At the time of the writing of our first reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24) the empire of Babylon, west of Israel, has taken many of the aristocracy from Jerusalem as captives and now controls their land.  Ezekiel himself is in exile in Babylon and writes to help his people through these difficult times.  He is a bit of a poet or even mystic, and uses allegories for what he wants to say.  Here he uses the image of a tree, and encourages the people, who have deserved the trouble they are in, with the expectation that a messiah will come from their race who will make them great again and as grand as they could want.  A sprig from the failed tree will grow into a new all-embracing tree under which the big empires will submit.  The idea lives on in Christianity to this day in the prayer attributed to Mary – “… He has put down the mighty from their seat and exulted the humble…” (The Magnificat).

The NT book called the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians appears to be a collection of excerpts from as many as four separate letters from Paul, but it is still, for us, the Word of God.  In 2 Cor 5:6-10, Paul was obviously addressing some particular problem his addressees had.  You might confidently think, he seems to say, that the next life would be preferable to the present – your future, true home to your home here and now – but for now you had better get on with this life here, pleasing God as best you can and as you should.  The word ‘body’ that he uses carried with it the connotation of presence in the world, so its use here does not necessarily imply a belief which many Westerners have in two parts of a person, a body and a soul; it refers rather to our presence in this world in contrast to our being as it will be in the after-life – the world to come.  Paul is saying that although we have both confidence and hope of the world to come, we should concentrate on living in the right way here and now.  These words are not just for the early Christians that he is addressing, but, as the word of God, also have something to say to us.

The Gospel reading is from Mark 4:26-34.  The whole chapter is a collection Mark has made of parables he has heard of that Jesus told, but by the time of his writing they have been preached and adapted to new situations and Mark now intends them for his readers – and they have something to say to us.  The message originally from Jesus to his first hearers, has to be changed for different audiences in order to convey the same basic meaning.  It is like the simple equation M = W r C, (Message arises from Words related to Context); if C changes then W must change as well to produce the same M.  The two parables that we have read today are suited to a local farming community.  In general the first recommends patience with life, as God is really the one in control of things, just as the farmer leaves the crop to grow once it is planted.  The second takes up the well understood experience, that the very tiny mustard seed grows, most surprisingly, into a large vegetable bush – rather like Ezekiel’s tree it will be a shelter for many.  Big things can come from small beginnings.  To a large extent we still understand the basics of crop and seed growth so it is up to us individually and as a community to see what these parables might say to us today in our particular situations. 

10th Sunday of the Year

Find the readings here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061018.cfm

The first reading (Gen3:9-15) is about God confronting Adam and Eve because they had disobeyed Him.  It is an explanation of the evil and things that go wrong in creation; it is like stories found among other nations as well.  The tempter is humiliated and forewarned that eventually humanity will overcome evil.  It has been read by Christians to allude to Jesus the son of Mary who will be the ideal human to seriously start this process of overcoming evil.  And we know from our experience that it is a long and tedious process but one in which we must all try to play our part – till all will be fulfilled in the end.

The second reading (2 Cor 4:13-5:1) is a great comfort after the realisation that the world and we ourselves are still not free of all wrongdoing and evil.  Paul has this comforting vision that – eventually – we and all people will join in the life of God that we Christians recognise as the divine/human life of Jesus, now having lived here is in the glory of heaven – yet also of course He is with us in our struggles here and now.  These thought might remove and depression caused by the meaning of the first reading.

The Gospel from Mark 3, is made up of several distinguishable sections.  After he returns home with his following, the worry from his own that he is ‘losing it.’  Then the charge from the Jerusalem scholars that he is possessed; followed by two illustrative responses from him in the form of parables.  And the passage ends with a final remark that such an accusation is unforgivable.  It is clear that Jesus is now popular and that (like some others) had been responsible for some miracles.   Matthew and Luke when writing their gospels had access to the text of Mark as well as other sources, but it is quite noticeable that the first section of our Gospel reading today is not used by either Matthew or Luke.  It is this short section that tells of the relationship at this point in time between ‘his own folk’ and He Himself – being accused of ‘beside himself.’  I would say that it most likely is a true representation of their attitude but it is also understandable how the other gospel writers didn’t want to expose this – the group would have included his close followers and friends as well as his mother.  As good news this part of the gospel can tell us that sometimes what is right can seem quite ‘uncomfortable’ to say the least.

10th Sunday

10th Sunday

Find the readings here:

The first reading (Gen3:9-15) is about God confronting Adam and Eve because they had disobeyed Him.  It is an explanation of the evil and things that go wrong in creation; it is like stories found among other nations as well.  The tempter is humiliated and forewarned that eventually humanity will overcome evil.  It has been read by Christians to allude to Jesus the son of Mary who will be the ideal human to start this process of overcoming evil.  And we know from our experience that it is a long and tedious process but one in which we must all try to play our part – till all will be fulfilled in the end.

The second reading (2 Cor 4:13-5:1) is a great comfort after the realisation that the world and we ourselves are still not free of all wrongdoing and evil.  Paul has this comforting vision that – eventually – we and all people will join in the life of God that we Christians recognise as as the divine/human life of Jesus, now having live here is in the glory of heaven – yet also of course with us in our struggles here and now.  These thought might remove and depression caused by the meaning of the first reading.

The Gospel from Mark 3, is made up of several distinguishable sections.  After he returns home with his following, the worry from his own that he is ‘losing it.’  Then the charge from the Jerusalem scholars that he is possessed; followed by two illustrative responses from him in the form of parables.  And the passage ends with a final remark that such an accusation is unforgivable.  It is clear that Jesus is now popular and that (like some others) had been responsible for some miracles.   Matthew and Luke when writing their gospels had access to the text of Mark as well as other sources, but it is quite noticeable that the first section of our Gospel reading today is not used by either Matthew or Luke.  It is this short section that tells of the relationship at this point in time between ‘his own folk’ and He Himself – being accused of ‘beside himself.’  I would say that it most likely is a true representation of their attitude but it is also understandable how how the other gospel writers didn’t want to expose this – the group would have included his close followers and friends as well as his mother.  As good news this part of the gospel can tell us that sometimes what is right can seem quite ‘uncomfortable’ to say the least.

Solemnity of Body and Blood of Christ

3rdJune 2018

Texts can be found here

In the first reading we have the account of a ceremony of the Jewish religion.  It is told as if it took place in the desert where the people had wandered on their way from slavery in Egypt towards the promised land.  Before entering this land Moses leads this service of re-commitment between the people and God.  They take part in a sacrificial communion involving the slaying of animal and the shedding of blood – it is symbolic of their covenant with God.  Since Christ, and from Him, we have a different understanding of sacrifice; it is no longer offering something of ours to God, but offering our whole life for the good of others – and this is what Christ did.

In the passage from Hebrews the author expresses the transformation of the covenant to a new dimension through the life and death of Jesus.  The inner sanctuary of the Jewish temple, which had been a tent in the desert period,  was entered only by a high priest who had to try to purify himself from his sins before entry.  Now in the era of the new covenant, the tent has become the realm of heaven, in which we can all participate.  It has been attained by the life and death of Christ, which He lived for others, with God’s Spirit in accord with God’s will.  The reference to the blood of Christ makes sense when we consider the Hebrew understanding of the word; for them blood was the life of the person, so the writer is saying that Christ offered Hid life to open up for us the sacred presence of God in our world.

In Mark chapter 14 there are three paragraphs about the last supper: a) the preparation for the meal (verses 12-16), then b) the foretelling of the betrayal (17-21) and c) the ritual of the meal itself (22-26); the betrayal foretelling is omitted from in our reading.  The first and the last of the three have been taken by Mark from different sources.  The account a) of the preparation is about the disciples preparing for the Passover meal; it follows a pattern used to set the scene for a significant divine event and is common in some fairy tales, but also appears at the start of chapter 11 of Mark’s gospel when two disciples get an ass for Jesus to ride on into Jerusalem. It is this first section that suggests that the meal is a Passover one.  The section c) does not really tell of a meal at all but only of the bread and the wine with Jesus’ significant words about each; it most likely is the set of words used in the ‘liturgy’ of the churches with which Mark is familiar.  The “giving thanks” gives us the word Eucharist.  It is worth noting the significance of key words: ‘body’ is not like our word which often for us means the physical part of our make-up as distinct from the psyche or the soul, but in the language of Jesus it referred to the whole person (as in our word somebody), but with an emphasis on the way I am with you – my presence; ‘blood’ clearly does mean the liquid, but the stress is on it as the life of the person or animal (and is so used in sacrifices); and the word ‘many’ is a literal translation of the language of Jesus in which there is no word for ‘everyone,’ but that  is what it implies.  For the reader – for us – the Passover section is about the covenant – the relationship between people and God and the community it forms us into

TrinitySunday

Deuteronomy is a book aimed at reviving the enthusiasm of the Jewish people for their religion, and re-kindling their sense of community. Centuries before Deuteronomy was even written the Jewish people had been successfully led out of slavery in Egypt, and eventually entered the land they are in at the time of its writing and which they consider to be a gift to them from God. The author puts into the mouth of Moses a whole series of speeches addressed to the people before they cross the river Jordan to enter this land. In chapter 4, (verses 32-40 omitting 35-38) what is said in the supposed context applies to the people at the time of its composition but also can be adapted to ourselves today: Look what God has done for you, do what God wants of you and all will be well! We still believe in God as a great creator, Who through His Spirit and through His Word makes us what we are, however we would not now think that we alone are God’s people or that He would give us the good things we have by doing awful things to others. Just as creation is an ongoing process so our understanding of God through creation changes and develops through time – we must never think we understand God!

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, (8:14-17), he writes among other things of the role of the Spirit in our lives. The effect of the movement of the Spirit is what we read of last week on the feast of Pentecost. The whole of the letter is a well structured discourse about life in the Spirit brought through Christ. Each verse leading up to our reading is in the original connected – using for, therefore, indeed, but or however – and literally our reading starts “Who indeed by the Spirit of God are being led, these are sons of God.” As the Son takes on our humanity, so we, by the influence of the Spirit, share in this sonship, forming a community both of suffering and of glory. Paul’s ideas are a radical development from the much narrower view of God’s activity that he would have had as a Jew. It is he who radically wrote earlier to the Galatians (3:28) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. What would he write today about non-believers, adherents of other faiths and different Christian denominations? The mystery of the Trinity is surely partly about community in oneness.

The Gospel from Matthew (28:16-20) is the last paragraph of his gospel. He has found a good way to conclude his work. The disciples see Jesus in Galilee; something that has been planned before when the women at the tomb are told the disciples will see Jesus in Galilee. They recognise Him, but with some hesitancy. What they must do, not just in Galilee but for all nations, is bring people into the community that they have; they will use the Baptismal formula that was in use in Mathew’s own church community; it names together the Trinitarian nature of God, which throughout the Gospel has been seen under the different roles, of Father, Son and Spirit; people will be incorporated in some way in the community of God.   It wasn’t really until 400 years later that some understanding of Trinity was officially formulated, but even to this day it is a mystery in which we are involved.

Pentecost Sunday

20th May

Luke’s ‘history’  (Acts 2:1-11), writes of the fulfillment of the promise given by Jesus before His Ascension “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, see also Luke 24:48-51); it has the role of an introduction to the theme of the book of Acts, namely, the extension of the gift of the Spirit across the known world.  It is set at the time of the Jewish feast of Pentecost (sometimes called Weeks) which is 50 days after the Passover festival, both of which started off as harvest festivals; but Pentecost had come to reflect the renewal of the covenant at the foot of mount Sinai after the exodus from Egypt.  The message is mostly about the spread of the Spirit; so as there was fire and wind at Sinai, so here the Spirit comes on the first followers of Jesus as the initiation for the work they had to do.  The Hebrew and Greek words for spirit are closely related to the word for wind, contributing to this description in language traditional for encounter with the divine.  As part of this introduction to his theme, Luke also tells us that a large cosmopolitan crowd were present and understood and accepted what Peter said in his preaching to them.  The idea of speaking in tongues plays on the two senses: ecstatic utterance and language differentiation.  The words of Scripture in whatever language, are in some way the word of God for us if we but understand it properly.

In the alternative second reading Paul writes to the Galatians (5:16-24) of a more personal role of the Spirit in the lives of individuals; with the Spirit each of us can avoid sin and falling short of the mark, and we will receive the endowments for humanity at its very best, sometimes called the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience … self-control.”   It is always easy to misinterpret what others say or write; it is hard to capture the full meaning across from one language to another; but in this reading we are also crossing the boundaries of culture and nearly two millennia.  The word translated as ‘flesh’ is the most awkward; it seems to refer to what we sometimes call the secular world; but just as Paul’s and the early church’s thinking developed, so now we want to emphasise the sacredness of the secular.  This development is because of our incipient realisation of the presence of the Spirit in the whole of created being.  Some of our traditional prayers represent this of which the sequence(Come, Holy Spirit) is one which enumerates with delightful and poetic language, the various corrective actions of the Holy Spirit upon the world and its individuals; it ends as a prayer for the Spirit to act upon us, which is really a way of urging ourselves to let the Spirit work through our lives.

In the Gospel (John 20:19-25), we have part of a group of speeches presented after the Last Supper; they are in reality addressed to the churches for whom the gospel is written and, of course, as the word of God, they have something to say to us.  After the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the Spirit will come as an advocate advising us Christians how to live out in our own situations the true kind of life for which we exist.  It is a message that will come to us each in our own culture, age and particular circumstances.  For it is our role as followers of Christ to live out the truth as witnesses for all.  The passage implies that the truth (of beliefs and of way of life) will need to develop and adapt to ever new situations.  To the extent to which we can bring ourselves to live as God wants we will enhance the glorious presence of Christ in our world. We celebrate and renew our efforts at this particularly time of Pentecost.