Taste and See: Ministering mercy

FootwashingThe Gospel reading yesterday, Sunday, the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, returned us to Mark’s Gospel. This, the third Gospel in canonical sequence, but probably the first of the four to be written, is the one most regularly used in the Sunday Lectionary during  Year B of the Cycle.

Mark has a keen sense for the ministry of Jesus in freeing people from oppression, both that which comes from within and from without.

The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus, and they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. For the Pharisees, and the Jews in general, follow the tradition of the elders and never eat without washing their arms as far as the elbow; and on returning from the market place they never eat without first sprinkling themselves. There are also many other observances which have been handed down to them concerning the washing of cups and pots and bronze dishes. So these Pharisees and scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not respect the tradition of the elders but eat their food with unclean hands?’ He answered, ‘It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture:

This people honours me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless,
the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.

You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.’ He called the people to him again and said, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.’

Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

The Gospel is proclaimed to us to set us free from these potential corruptions, and to help us in our turn be ministers of mercy.

In his letter establishing the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis reminded (as did St James in the second reading yesterday) of the works of corporal mercy.

It is not enough for Christians to be free of sin, we are made and called to the good:

Let us rediscover the corporal works of mercy: to feed the
hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the
stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead….
We cannot escape the Lord’s words to us, and they will serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged: whether we have fed the hungry and given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked, or spent time with the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-45).
Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 15

The washing of feet. Grantham Parish Church. (C) 2011, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Speak true, speak life.

Law

The first reading at Mass today, the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary time, comes from the Book of Deuteronomy. It was chosen because of the Gospel of today’s consideration of the importance of the ‘Law’.

Moses said to the people: ‘Now, Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you. You must add nothing to what I command you, and take nothing from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God just as I lay them down for you. Keep them, observe them, and they will demonstrate to the peoples your wisdom and understanding. When they come to know of all these laws they will exclaim, “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation.” And indeed, what great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to him? And what great nation is there that has laws and customs to match this whole Law that I put before you today?’

Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8

‘Law’ often has negative connotations in Christianity. We are more attracted by the language of ‘freedom’ and ‘gospel’, sometimes opposed to ‘law’ by St Paul, and taken up in invective by reformers ever since.

Truth is the fullness of the Law is Christ, even as he is the Good News enfleshed, and perfect exponent of the freedom of the new covenant, new Law.

Learning to live by the Law, by Christ, the way, the truth and the life, can seem constraining. It does after all mean making choices. But the right choices, the choices that lead to fulfilment of our nature, and by grace, our potential… who would not wish to make those.

The gift of the Law to Moses – and through him to Israel – marks a step on the way to the revelation of the fullness of the Law, which is later made known more fully yet in a new outpouring of love, made known in Christ.

Carving of the giving of the Law to Moses. Christian sarcophagus, Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques. © 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of Justice and life with you for ever.

Judgement Autun

The Responsorial Psalm on Sunday, the 22nd in Ordinary Time, draws us into contemplation of the consequences of good and faithful living.

The just will live in the presence of the Lord.

Lord, who shall dwell on your holy mountain?
He who walks without fault;
he who acts with justice
and speaks the truth from his heart;
he who does not slander with his tongue.

The just will live in the presence of the Lord.

He who does no wrong to his brother,
who casts no slur on his neighbour,
who holds the godless in disdain,
but honours those who fear the Lord.

The just will live in the presence of the Lord.

He who keeps his pledge, come what may;
who takes no interest on a loan
and accepts no bribes against the innocent.
Such a man will stand firm for ever.

The just will live in the presence of the Lord.

Psalm 14:2-5

There could be something self-satisfied and smug about the psalmist, who it seems has accomplished all these things. Though perhaps he only acknowledges what it must be like to have achieved this way of life.

Yet either way – achieving it or pondering the potential of achieving it – the psalmist seems in proper awe of virtuous, faithful, living. These good things are real, true, and can be realised, are not beyond us, however challenging they will always be,

The psalmist is clear that to live in the presence of the Lord is the most desirable thing.

How wonderful it is that God allows us this privilege, always, everywhere, when we raise our minds and hearts to him. Even when we live lives fogged by ambiguity and weakness, he does not leave us to our own devices. He is close offering encouragement, healing, hope – through the presence of the Lord even the unjust can learn to live.

In God’s love for us is our hope, now and always.

Last Judgement from Cathedral of Saint-Lazare, Autun. Plaster cast in the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Paris. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Source of all that is good

Pilgrim martyrs

The Second reading at Mass on Sunday, the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time begins a number of weeks of reading the Letter of James – termed ‘an epistle of straw’ by Martin Luther (in other words he didn’t like it!).

You might like to (re-) read the Letter as a whole. It is short. And having that overview will surely enrich your hearing and praying with the extracts over the coming Sundays.

It is all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change. By his own choice he made us his children by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all that he had created. So do away with all the impurities and bad habits that are still left in you – accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.

Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

James 1:17-18,21-22,27

The translation of the Scriptures used in our Lectionary is from the Jerusalem Bible. In this case, the translation of the first line of this passage introduces an idiomatic English structure which, particularly when read without the previous verse, may make the sentence less clear, and some readers to stumble.

It could however simply read: ‘All that is good, everything that is perfect, is given us from above…’

This is a staggering profession of faith, a confession of thanksgiving. One of the reasons Luther was less than keen on the Letter was because of its emphasis (elsewhere) on our good works. But here, right at the beginning, James sets out his stall. All that is good begins with God. All we can do, and should do, and must do, is by way of response to the God who is Good, and who shares with us his love and goodness in an infinite number of ways.

  • Count the blessings of today.
  • Give thanks to God for them.
  • Think how you can best make use of them.
  • Do your best.

Carving of St James and pilgrim martyrs, Musee Calvet, Avignon. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Call us to truth

Christ the lawgiverThe Gospel reading on Sunday, the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, sees us return to the reading of Mark’s Gospel, which is characteristic of the Sunday Lectionary in this Year B of the Cycle.

And the reading returns us to scenes of controversy and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes…

The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus, and they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. For the Pharisees, and the Jews in general, follow the tradition of the elders and never eat without washing their arms as far as the elbow; and on returning from the market place they never eat without first sprinkling themselves. There are also many other observances which have been handed down to them concerning the washing of cups and pots and bronze dishes. So these Pharisees and scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not respect the tradition of the elders but eat their food with unclean hands?’ He answered, ‘It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture:

This people honours me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless,
the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.

You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.’ He called the people to him again and said, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.’

Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

The first reading on Sunday affirms in a strong and beautiful way the power and goodness of the Law. The controversy is not about Law, but how human beings can so easily subvert its purpose. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes by mistake.

Human frailty is God’s speciality. When we fail, and however we fail, deliberately or by mistake, his mercy, his help, his love are ours, always.

  • Where do you need that love, now.
  • Take a moment to ask for it, admitting your need, and confessing God’s love.

Carving of Christ as Law-giver. Christian sarcophagus, Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques. © 2014, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Rejoice, sing with joy

The Church rings out, AssisiThe First reading last Sunday, the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, told of the extraordinary promise of the people to serve the Lord, grateful for his love and care for them.

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel together at Shechem; then he called the elders, leaders, judges and scribes of Israel, and they presented themselves before God. Then Joshua said to all the people, ‘If you will not serve the Lord, choose today whom you wish to serve, whether the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are now living. As for me and my House, we will serve the Lord.’

The people answered, ‘We have no intention of deserting the Lord and serving other gods! Was it not the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery, who worked those great wonders before our eyes and preserved us all along the way we travelled and among all the peoples through whom we journeyed? What is more, the Lord drove all those peoples out before us, as well as the Amorites who used to live in this country. We too will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’

Joshua 24:1-2,15-18

There is pride, joy, thanksgiving in the voice of the people, as they respond to Joshua’s challenge.

The tragedy is that the voice gestures towards a wholeness of relationship that Israel cannot live up to.

The wonder is that – despite the failure of the people to continue to honour their relationship with God in all circumstances. – God remains faithful to them in all circumstances.

That same love, that same faithfulness is available to us, always, everywhere. And faced by such wonders we too face the same choice – to follow the Lord, or not. To enter into newness, trusting in theresence and support of the One God, or not. It sounds like a no-brainer. The scriptures remind that it is not. If we are to follow, we have to choose.

  • When has the absolute gratuity of God’s love made a difference to your life?
  • How might it make a difference now?

Photograph of Bell of rejoicing in Assisi. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: For the Lord is very good

Blessed Sacrament chapel, Aix en Provence

On Sunday, the 21st Sunday of the Year, the Psalm chosen and put on our lips as the Church’s song tells of gratitude and blessing: our response to the goodness of God.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

I will bless the Lord at all times,
his praise always on my lips;
in the Lord my soul shall make its boast.
The humble shall hear and be glad.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

The Lord turns his face against the wicked
to destroy their remembrance from the earth.
The Lord turns his eyes to the just
and his ears to their appeal.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

They call and the Lord hears
and rescues them in all their distress.
The Lord is close to the broken-hearted;
those whose spirit is crushed he will save.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Many are the trials of the just man
but from them all the Lord will rescue him.
He will keep guard over all his bones,
not one of his bones shall be broken.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Evil brings death to the wicked;
those who hate the good are doomed.
The Lord ransoms the souls of his servants.
Those who hide in him shall not be condemned.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Psalm 33:2-3,16-23

  • From what has the Lord saved you?
  • For what has the Lord saved you?
  • How do you express your love and gratitude?

Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Cathedral, Aix en Provence. © 2014, Allen Morris