19th Sunday B

From the First book of Kings we learn that Elijah was the great prophet when the nation was settling in the promised land.  He had performed dramatic miracles and successfully confronted the prophets of the pagan queen Jezebel.  Our reading (19:4-8) tells of his journey into the desert, to flee the wrath of Jezebel who had put a wanted notice out for his death; he is hoping to die alone naturally and settles down exhausted under a desert bush; but he is woken twice by an angel who gives him food  to carry on to the mountain of God, which eventually he does.  It is a story that was passed down through the generations partly because of its deeper meaning about the spiritual journey of life, with failings and then support from God and the need to press on all the same.  This is a message that the hearers  and readers of John’s gospel must learn as well, for all humans are on such a journey to find and face God;  It is an adventure which often becomes more difficult as we progress in doing what God wants of us.  But what do we expect to find?  Moses was led to the Mountain where He encountered God in a still small voice rather than in the expected noisy whirlwind, earthquake or dramatic fire often associated with the divine.

The second reading is from Ephesians (4:30 – 5:2) after last week’s second reading.  Here the writer is trying to explain the consequences of the truths that he has expounded earlier, and trying to urge the churches that Paul had set up, to keep their faith alive.  In these final chapters of Ephesians there are practical instructions on how Christians should live in the light of what they believe about Christ and His life; details are given of what not to do and of what should be their way of life; they should try to live as Jesus did, for he gave his very life for others – for them.  They are reminded of this central message of course in their celebration of the Lord’s supper when they receive Him anew in their meal – a fact referred to at the end of the gospel reading as a springboard into next week’s gospel topic! – “the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”

The Gospel is taken from John 6:41-51.  We have over the previous two weeks read from this chapter about the miraculous feeding of the multitude, and the way the crowd were excited about the miracle but missed the deeper significance of it – a reading ending with the misunderstanding of the new bread from heaven and with the provocative claim by Jesus to be the true bread from heaven.  In this day’s gospel reading we have for the first time in this chapter the people present are referred to as ‘the Jews’ rather that just the crowd.  The author has in mind the Jerusalem officials in their religion who are naturally suspicious of Jesus and His challenging words and actions.  The dialogue here has its deeper meaning about faith and the truth that Jesus expounds; and this is elaborated partly under the surface of a discussion about bread and life – even eternal life – for the word ‘bread’ was used by Jewish teachers as a word for the important truths of their religion and their recommended way of life, it is a little like the way we sometimes use the word ‘meat’ to mean some information that is very deep and important (we are more familiar with calling Jesus the Way – the way we should live for the purpose of God).  This section connects to last week’s with the topic of the manna in the desert, but we are led to think also of the simple way God communicates with people in the incident of the first reading (see above).

18th Sunday Cycle B

The first reading is taken from the book of Exodus.  It is a story that had been handed down verbally through a large number of generations before being formed into this textual version in the Bible.  It is the story of the journey of the tribes after they had escaped from Egypt, being led by Moses in the desert from which eventually they came to settle in the land of Canaan which they took as their Promised Land.  Life is full of ups and downs; the escape from slavery in Egypt seemed liberating, but then in the Sinai desert, they found life very difficult and the conditions harsh, to say the least.  But things turned out well again when they found a new source of food in the manna that appeared there each morning for them freely to gather and eat.  Our first reading (16:2-4, 12-15) illustrates for us the way occurrences can be interpreted as miracles, when there is no known explanation for them; in fact this manna was a natural phenomenon, known even to this day by the Bedouin in the desert; it is the resin deposit of insects after feeding on desert plants and it has to be gathered at dawn before other creatures get to it; manna is the Hebrew for “what is it?”  Moses had lived quite a time in the desert and probably knew all about this.  We now realise, as they did, that nature is marvellous – even miraculous – and is all the work of God, celebrated also in the selection of verses (3,23-25 and 54) in the responsorial.

The second reading, as in previous weeks, is from Ephesians. This week’s (4-17, 20-24) is a part of this general letter to Paul’s churches about how these Jewish and Gentile converts should live.  It draws on the dichotomies, in Jewish thought between light and dark, good and evil, now and the hereafter; but it relates more closely to the Greek way of thinking as the this-worldly and the ideal world; what we might call the superficial and the sublime – in religious terms the natural and super-natural, in more modern speak the commonplace and the extraordinary.  The writer thinks that the Gentiles lived in the natural and plain realm, but when they learnt about Christ they learnt to live in the supernatural and extraordinary – within the family of God; so he writes: put off the old and live with a new self.  Today, some Christians make this same distinction between themselves and the ‘secular’ world, but maybe our experience of life should smooth out these differences, after all there are Christians who fall far short of the ideal and non-Christians who lead exemplary lives!

The Gospel is another section from chapter 6 of John’s Gospel (verses 24-35) which will continue on the following Sundays.  This reading develops ideas after the feeding of the multitude in a way typical of this gospel; namely, there is a plain sense of the text which holds a much more sublime meaning which might easily be missed. For example when the crowd ask Jesus “When did you come here?” the text can also mean “how did you come to be here?” and then we can see the two levels of meaning; plainly, they had seen the disciples take off on a boat to this side of the lake and they came this way themselves so wonder how Jesus got here; but there is a deeper meaning about Jesus’ origin to which the answer would be, He was sent by God and is God’s Son.  In this gospel miracles are called signs because they are not just what appears at first sight but have a far deeper meaning.  The crowd had experienced the feeding of the multitude but had not seen the significance and deeper meaning of it.  So Jesus points out to them that they should put their minds to higher things that are not perishable (superficial); but they should take in the food of eternal life which is that brought by the son of man – an expected future saviour sent from God in the fullness of time.  If they would do this then they would have life –  a share in the higher life of God by living a life of faith.

17th Sunday Cycle B

There is a jotting also by me (Jeff Bagnall)

The first reading is from the Second Book of Kings (4:42-44).  This is one of the many history books of the Old Testament.  But it is not history as we like to think of it.  These accounts are not written to tell us accurately about the past; the Jewish compilers of these works believed that they were chosen by God who at their best reflected in their activities and way of life the relationship of God to people, one chiefly of love and care but also sometimes of reprimand and being taught a lesson.  These ‘history’ books are to make us think about what we should do in the present, here and now.  This reading is from a small collection of miracle stories associated with the prophet Elisha from the ninth century BC.  These tales remind us that the whole world is miraculous, and that there is always more to things and events than the immediate and prosaic interpretation that we thoughtlessly make of them; God is active in everything except sin.  The reading illustrates that God’s care even exceeds our natural expectations of things.

The second reading is from the general letter called Ephesians (4:1-6), attributed to Paul.  It contains an impressive expression of central Christian teaching for the people of that time.  It begins with an exhortation to unity and follows with the basis for this ideal of unity in the commonality of our belief.  Whatever the specific vocation of each Christian it must be conducted in a self-effacing, tolerant and loving manner – Paul himself is a prisoner for following his calling from the Lord.  The feminine Greek word often translated as humility has the connotation of self-effacement.  The seriousness of this imperative that Paul is urging on the readers arises from the acceptance of one hope towards the ultimate unity of all in God, Who is in everything that is good.  This is significant for us today when it is read as the inspired word of God.  The world is seen by the writer as a remarkable unit and the arena for the enterprise of God’s continuous and creative presence among us; a single unit of great complexity but complicated by the freedom that we humans have with respect to our calling in it.  It tells us that we humans are all related to each other and to the rest of creation; we have a part to play in all of this and we now know the attitudes necessary for us to contribute to the overall plan of God for us within the family of humanity.

The beginning of Chapter 6 in John’s gospel (verses 1 to 15) relates the story told in all the gospels of the miraculous feeding of a multitude with food and producing an excess of leftovers.  With the setting of the mountain and of the feast of Passover it clearly relates to the great event of the Exodus; this was the focus of the Paschal meal that recalled this miraculous start of the journey of the people of God from slavery towards the promised land; it was on this difficult journey of life through the desert that God surprisingly nourished the people with water from rock and bread (the manna) from heaven; for the Jews it was celebrated each year as a recall of God’s relationship to them and of the journey of their life towards the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom.  Its importance in this Gospel is this journey towards the promised land and  beyond to the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom.  The crowd see Jesus  as anticipating or bringing this to completion and want to make him king – he escapes this mistaken intention.  Over the next few Sundays we shall read more of John’s development of ideas in this chapter.

16th Sunday Cycle B

The readings

The early ancestors of the Israelites were nomadic and moved with their flocks from one to the next pasture, and even when they first settled in what is sometimes called the Promised Land, sheep-keeping continued as well as farming various crops and trees.  As their society became more structured there was still shepherding, though it became the task of the youngest son(s) or even of servants.  Most famous of these was the young lad David, who not only defeated with his sling the enemy Goliath (a giant of a warrior), but also became a highly honoured and well remembered king.  Leaders of people and kings were called shepherds and their task was to care for their people with all the dedication that a shepherd has to have in pastoring his sheep; indeed this analogy was also used to refer to God and his relationship to the people.  Even today we use the word pastor to refer to a religious leader – the bishops crosier is based on the crook that was used to keep a sheep from fleeing.  The prophet Jeremiah uses this imagery in the first reading today (chapter 23 verses 1-6).  This is at the time when some of the leaders of the people where being taken into exile by the Babylonian empire in Mesopotamia.  It was a sad period in the history of the Jews.  The cause is both the decline in morals and religious involvement that the people had, but also the corrupt and inadequate leadership in matters of policies and religious ceremonies.  It is these shepherds of the people who are berated by the prophet Jeremiah.  But he expects that the things will be better in the future, and interprets this basic hope into the expectation of the return of all to their original homeland where there will be prosperity.  There is added also a messianic expectation of an ideal leader.  All this is suitably followed with the responsorial psalm: the Lord is my shepherd (psalm 23).

Even centuries before the time of Christ there were splits between Israelite Jews and other Jews living elsewhere; but the future healing of this rift was hoped for in the book of Isaiah (57:19) where it says, “Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord; and I will heal them.”  Paul in Ephesians (2:13-18), our second reading, may have had this passage in mind.  At the time this was written (maybe thirty years after Christ), the passage seems to celebrate the potential unity and peace between Jewish Christians and Gentile ones brought about through the sacrificial life of Christ.  This is encapsulated in the words “by the blood of Christ;” this has a different connotation when we realise that ‘blood’ was seen as the life of a person rather than the actual liquid in the sacrifice of animals used in some religions and even in the Temple in Jerusalem until its destruction about 70 AD.   Our reading seems to us, perhaps, a bit over harsh when it goes so far as to say that the Jewish laws are no longer relevant because in Christ there is “a new humanity”  in which people can exist and live.  But it is this notion of the new humanity that is behind the ecumenical thinking in our days; Catholics are recommended to be more irenic in the proclamations of Vatican II   approved by about 2000 Catholic bishops just over 50 years ago.

The gospel comes from Mark 6:30-34.  The disciples have been busy touring the villages commissioned by Jesus in last week’s gospel reading, and now they need some time for rest and reflection  after what seems to have been remarkable success.  But when the enthused followers are crowding around them Jesus takes the twelve away by boat to a lovely place for a well-earned rest.  But the enthused crowd find them in their retreat and Jesus feels the responsibility to teach them as the shepherd looks after his sheep.  Religious ‘shepherds’ have such and many responsibilities.   The image of sheep needing shepherding is the reason for this choice of reading to link with the other texts read today.  

There is a jotting also by me (Jeff Bagnall)

15th Year B

Many would have thought of Amos as a fairly uneducated peasant farmer, but it was this man who was called to go into the cities and reprimand the people for their lifestyle.  In the book of his name he seems to have done this in a very skillful way; he felt called by God but was also drawing upon his natural dislike for their fancy way of living in the city.  At the time of our reading he was preaching in Bethel in the northern kingdom of Israel; he has heard threats from God of a plague of locusts to punish them, then of a fire burning up the land; but Amos begs God and He relents, but then God has had enough of people failing His expectations and Amos has to convey this message – the king will die, the people will go into exile.  At this point the priest addresses Amos in our reading for today (Amos 7:12-15); he tells him he is not a real prophet and should leave them alone and go back to where he came from; but Amos retorts that it is not by choice that he does this but is impelled by a command from God Himself.  In the words of the responsorial psalm (Psalm 85: 8-14) we seem to overlook any message Amos might have for us, expecting rather God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The second reading is from Ephesians 1:3-14.  This passage is just after the usual Christian opening to a letter. This is a letter that was intended to be passed around the different churches that Paul had established, like an encyclical nowadays; we have the copy that had the Ephesians as its addressees, but in some of the oldest manuscripts no addressee is named.  After the introduction there is a grand accolade in the style of Jewish hymns of praise to God for all the blessings received.  It is positive like the Psalm read before it, and we praise God for it tells us of the remarkable privilege it is to be who we are – children of God.  The eleven verses in our translation are just one sentence in the original Greek and it details the believers’ great benefits within the overall scheme and process of God’s creating, leading eventually to His final and glorious kingdom for all, and the hymn praises God for it all.  Notice the strength and positivity of the words used: by the Father we are blest, chosen, destined and graced; through the Son we have adoption, forgiveness, revelation and vocation; and we have heard and believed and are guaranteed our redemption through the Spirit of Christ and God.

In Mark’s gospel there are accounts of two pairs of followers called by Jesus (1:16ff) then the twelve appointed (3:13ff) followed by accounts of Jesus’ parables (chapter 4), miracles (chapter 5) and rejection in His home village,  and now we read, this Sunday, in Mark 6:7-13 of Jesus sending out the twelve on a mission.   However, were you to read the rest of the gospel you would realise that they knew very little about Jesus and never really grasped what he was about – until perhaps after the resurrection.  This circumstance is a reminder to us that a gospel is neither history nor biography that we are reading, but it is good news for the readers and for us.  The original recipients lived in the late part of the first century when the church was expanding through the work of what we might call today, missionaries.  The instructions about what to take and even what to wear on this mission are in some places the opposite of how this is told in Matthew (10:5-15) and Luke (9:1-6); the reason for this is the different intentions and primary recipients from those of Mark’s gospel.  Now we live in a quite different setting and even with more developed understanding of Jesus and God’s intentions for His creation, intentions which as a community we have to try to grasp and fulfill.

14thSunday Ordinary Time

Chapter 1 of Ezekiel describes in an excessively elaborated way a vision of God speaking to the man as he reached the age (of 30) for practicing as a priest, and initiating him as a prophet among the exiles by the rivers of Babylon. Our reading (2: 2 -5) tells of God calling Ezekiel to be the mouthpiece of God (that’s what being a prophet meant). It seems to be a harsh message that God wants delivered to what He calls a rebellious people, though we notice that God does not tell him specifically what to say. However we know that it is going to be a telling-off for neglecting their religion. Prophets generally interpreted any misfortune or disaster that befell the chosen people as a punishment from God; the foreign conquest of the chosen people is not what is to be condemned, but the people’s rebellion against God. We notice that even in this 6th century BC the Old Testament will use the terms spirit of God and word of God which later will be seen a reflecting the novel Christian doctrine of the Trinity; and at the time of Christ the phrase ‘son of man’ had in addition to just meaning ‘a human,’ the more specific reference to some heavenly being who would come at the end of time to bring liberation to the people of God – with the definite article it is used by Jesus of Himself (the Son of man).

The Second reading is from the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians (12 : 7 – 10).  It is an extract from  a letter to a particular group or situation in the church at Corinth. It seems he may have been accused by them of  being too gentle or hesitant in his preaching, or perhaps of having his own ideas rather than Christ’s.  He seems to have been compared unfavourably with some charismatic preachers who even charged for preaching or with others who are trained public speakers.  Paul is led to boast; like any of them, he is a Jew and a servant of Christ, indeed he has suffered many beatings and imprisonments for his work, many mishaps and catastrophes.  He also boasts, just before the passage we have, that he has had visions, revelations and even mystical experiences.  But we read that he has some ‘thorn in the flesh’ – and no one knows what that could have been.  But he knows he shouldn’t boast except of his weaknesses given to him by Christ.

The gospel is from the first 6 verses of Mark chapter 6.  At the time Mark is writing, the number of Christians was increasing, but mostly not from those who were Jews, but from Gentiles.  This seemed strange because it was the Jews that God had prepared and who were expecting the Messiah and it was among them that he worked and taught and he himself was a Jew.  The gospel reading today is yet another attempt to make some sense of this.  Jesus comes to his home town where he is known as just an ordinary person, even the son of Joseph a local carpenter; it is difficult for those who knew him this way to think of him as the Messiah even though he seemed to have wisdom and miraculous powers.  The proverb about the prophet not being accepted by his own and being powerless to work miracles among them, is in other gospels, but Matthew (13:53-58) and Luke (4:14-30) soften Mark’s bland statement that he was powerless to work miracles among his own people.

There is a jotting also by me (Jeff Bagnall)

13th Sunday of Ordinary time.

There is a jotting also by me (Jeff Bagnall)

The book of Wisdom is thought to come from the Jewish intellectual setting of Alexandria in Egypt.  It was written in the Greek language and was not part of the Jewish Hebrew Bible.  For this reason it is not part of most Christian Bibles yet Roman Catholics have it as part of their Old Testament; it was written only about 50 years before the birth of Christ and is classed in a group of books called deutero-canonical (roughly meaning of secondary value).  It shows the influence of its origin in two ways; firstly its literary quality is very systematically and attractively structured with sections and subsections with definite numbers of poetic lines; and secondly though it draws on the earlier books of the Bible, it deals with issues that arise from the philosophical thinking in the Greek culture at that time.  This approach is somewhat parallel to that of the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes (The Church in the Modern World), but the author’s purpose may also be to oppose those Jews who had taken on the secular and worldly style and aims of life common among many citizens of Alexandria at the time.  Our reading today comes from two separate sections (chapters 1:13-15 and  2:23-24) but both are parts of the first six chapters in praise of wisdom.  Firstly God’s Spirit organises creation wisely and we should live accordingly for we are made for life in a world that is basically good.  The second section is based on the Greek belief in a real life after death (unlike that of most of the Hebrew Bible) and so we should not live selfishly which is the work of the devil bringing the fear of death into the world; indeed in the book of Genesis, death was seen as a punishment by God for sin.

The second reading, as you can see by the reference (2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15), has some of the sentences missed out in between the three groups that the five verses are in.  Despite this arrangement it doesn’t make bad sense as an enchanting appeal for a donation from a richer group towards another to bring about some equality.  Yet we might be more interested in the whole section (Chapter 8:1-15) and in learning something about the early churches in the third quarter of the first century AD.  In the Corinthian Church two groups are significant; one comprises converts from the Jewish religion who do not want to abandon the religious beliefs and practices that they were familiar with and think that all Christians should be like them; the other group are influenced by and enthusiastic for modern thinking and their new Christian religious beliefs and practices.  But, surprisingly, the two are in some sort of agreement in their opposition to Paul; the Judaizers (as they are called) disliked Paul’s disregard for some Jewish rules – about food for example; and the more sophisticated and self-assured group were disappointed with his easy-going and non-dogmatic attitude to beliefs and practices.  He sees this tentative unity as an opening and so praises them highly for many virtues and invites them to make a donation for the less well-off Christians in Macedonia from where he writes.

The gospel is from Mark (chapter 5:21-43).  The permitted shorted reading leaves out  verses 25 to 34, (the cure of the woman with an issue of blood), and presents us with the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter.  Two things stand out in this story; that Jesus raised the twelve year old who was considered dead, and that he asked the few people with him to tell no one what had happened.  Christians believe that death is not the end of life, but a dramatic development of the life of Christ which they share even here and now.  As to the call to keep this all hush-hush, it clearly was not adhered to; it is quite likely that Mark puts this in many of his accounts, because he couldn’t imagine how any Jew wouldn’t have become a Christian if he had known all the miracles that Jesus did.  Jairus, as elected president of the local synagogue, would have been a respected person and like the majority of Jews scornful of upstart and fake but popular preachers even working miracles – and Jesus came under that heading.  But when his daughter is on the point of death he steps out of his social position and even begs Jesus for help.

12the Sunday B

There is a jotting also by me (Jeff Bagnall)

The book of Job looks like a tale about a happy family man whose goodness is tested by God to see if it survives ill-fortune.  Even in translation it is quite poetic and has contributed various phrases to our language and themes to our literature. Nearly all of the 42 chapters of the book are long poetic speeches, mostly by his friends telling him to repent because he must have done wrong to be so treated by God; they were the first “Job’s comforters.”  But Job keeps interrupting these speeches proclaiming his innocence and wanting an explanation from God Himself.  In our reading (Job 38:1,8-11) God begins to speak, accompanied by a whirlwind; but it’s not quite what Job is looking for; God reminds Job that He is the one who is creating this wonderful world; with remarkable imagery God likens His act of creating to that of a mother giving birth, yet we know that this creating can be a struggle over a period of time.  So is the message for us that like an infant we should just take what comes and love our Mother, creator?

 Whereas in Job creation is an ongoing and developing, sometime awkward process, in our second reading (2 Cor 5:14-17) Paul expresses the Christian understanding that since Christ we experience a new dimension to creation; through His life and death in our ordinary world, there is a transformation – the impact of His resurrection manifesting the availability of a new way of living for all.  We don’t know quite what he meant by “for all” because generally at that time and perhaps ever since then, Christians have assumed this graced and elevated life was just for believers, not for anybody.  There are different translations into English which indicate the difficulty this idea is for some Christians: the International Standard Version has [with my emphasis] “Therefore, if anyone is in the Messiah, he is a new creation. Old things have disappeared, and—look!—all things have become new!”  The King James Bible has “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” The New International version has” Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  Some versions seem to limit the new creation to Christians, others to the whole of creation.  At least Paul is saying that we who are followers of Christ should be living in a new way; and this is a message for us.Though God is the powerful creator and there is a higher dimension to the life in the world, yet there are always going to be difficulties and always a way through them though not necessarily out of them.  So now after his collection of parables, Mark begins a new section with miracles, of which we read the first in Mark 4:35-41 this day.  It is the account of a mighty storm at sea as the darkness sets in; it is bad enough to really scare the disciples in their boat, despite the fact that many of them are fishermen and should be used to this weather.  The crossing has been suggested by Jesus and it is from Jewish territory to Gentile territory; this reflects one of the stormy arguments in the early church about admitting Gentiles to join the followers of Jesus; it is really unimaginable for some people, but Jesus if called upon can calm the storm.  This is another instance of the process that goes on in our world where problems and difficulties arise, but God is ultimately in control of everything.   The reading is a lesson for us Christians today, not just for the first recipients of the gospels, for we experience this very process of storms and calming in our lives, in the church and in the world as we know it.

11th Sunday cycle B

There is a jotting also by me (Jeff Bagnall)

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. 


See Jeff’s ‘sermon’ notes here.

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.