Taste and See: Falling and Rising

Felled trees, Sutton Park.The Gospel on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Lent, sets before us a Jesus who is pragmatic. He refuses the sort of shallow, myopic  and fanciful reading of history where only good things happen to good people, and bad things happen only to bad people.

Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’

He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”’

We might well prefer it if the bad always end up worse off than the good. It would make life so much simpler! But again and again it seems to be even the opposite: the good meet with trial and testing, or worse, and the indifferent or malign seem to get the best deal…

In Ignatian spirituality there is a great deal made of ‘indifference’. The Christian is encouraged to be indifferent whether their striving for God’s will leads to reward or to suffering. The desire, at least, is that the goodness of God should be enough. If good things come, great – but they are never to be allowed to distract from the greater good that is being pleasing to God… And if bad things come, so be it, but our sorrow at these too, must not distract us from the desire to do the best for God.

Felled trees, Sutton Park. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

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Speak Lord: That we may remember we are remembered.

Olive Tree​The first reading at Mass today, the 3rd Sunday in Lent, speaks of God’s love and care for his people – a people who in the earlier verses of Exodus seem rather to have forgotten about God.

Moses was looking after the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law priest of Midian. He led his flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the shape of a flame of fire, coming from the middle of a bush. Moses looked; there was the bush blazing but it was not being burnt up. ‘I must go and look at this strange sight,’ Moses said, ‘and see why the bush is not burnt.’ Now the Lord saw him go forward to look, and God called to him from the middle of the bush. ‘Moses, Moses!’ he said. ‘Here I am,’ Moses answered. ‘Come no nearer,’ he said. ‘Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers,’ he said, ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this Moses covered his face, afraid to look at God.

And the Lord said, ‘I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I have heard their appeal to be free of their slave-drivers. Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that land to a land rich and broad, a land where milk and honey flow, the home of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.’

Then Moses said to God, ‘I am to go, then, to the sons of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you.” But if they ask me what his name is, what am I to tell them?’ And God said to Moses, ‘I Am who I Am. This’ he added ‘is what you must say to the sons of Israel: “I Am has sent me to you.”’ And God also said to Moses, ‘You are to say to the sons of Israel: “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is my name for all time; by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.’

Exodus 3:1-8,13-15

There is something truly stirring about God’s promise to intervene,passionate for his people’s well being.

At the same time there is something disconcerting about the gifting of the land of others to his people….

More disconcerting yet is how such a sense of privilege again and again sours the relationship between many religious people and the rest of the world.

Our being loved should free us to love in our turn – and love especially the poor, the needy- more than it should give us a sense of entitlement and special status.

  • Pray for justice.
  • Pray for a deeper sense for hospitality toward your neighbours.

 

Not the Burning Bush, but a holy tree in a holy place. Olive Tree. Upper Room, Jerusalem. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Even to warn us

Judean Desert nr St George's Monastery

The Second reading at Mass tomorrow comes from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. Paul reflects back on Israel’s experience of journeying through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land, during the Exodus, and what Christians might learn from this.

I want to remind you, brothers, how our fathers were all guided by a cloud above them and how they all passed through the sea. They were all baptised into Moses in this cloud and in this sea; all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, since they all drank from the spiritual rock that followed them as they went, and that rock was Christ. In spite of this, most of them failed to please God and their corpses littered the desert.

These things all happened as warnings for us, not to have the wicked lusts for forbidden things that they had. You must never complain: some of them did, and they were killed by the Destroyer.

All this happened to them as a warning, and it was written down to be a lesson for us who are living at the end of the age. The man who thinks he is safe must be careful that he does not fall.

1 Corinthians 10:1-6,10-12

The Destroyer is the destroying angel who carries out God’s punishment in Exodus, the slaying of the first-born of Egypt.

However we understand that, and however we understand the warning here, it is presented as a matter of life and death. We are offered life and urged not, instead, to choose death.

We presently make our journey through Lent, a season given us to help us consider how we make our journey through life.

  • Let us notice the choices we make and the choices we refuse.
  • Where are they leading us?
  • What would be the best choices we could make? Why might we not make them?
  • Ask the Lord to send his Spirit to help you in your following of Christ.

The Judean desert, near St George’s Monastery. (c) 2012, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of mercy, speak of mercy…

Alternative momento aix 2014

Honouring the Divine?

The Responsorial Psalm on Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, has us sing of the Lord.

Debate – especially in the ‘developed’ West – rages about whether there is a God or not: but in the Church we profess not simply faith that there is a God, but that there is one God and God who is One is also compassion and love.

The Lord is compassion and love.

My soul, give thanks to the Lord
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings.

The Lord is compassion and love.

It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion,

The Lord is compassion and love.

The Lord does deeds of justice,
gives judgement for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses
and his deeds to Israel’s sons.

The Lord is compassion and love.

The Lord is compassion and love,
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
For as the heavens are high above the earth
so strong is his love for those who fear him.

The Lord is compassion and love.

Psalm 102:1-4,6-8,11

  •  What are the experiences that have helped you affirm these qualities in God?
  • What experiences have made question whether this is indeed how God ?
  • What other qualities do you recognise in God?

Honouring the Divine? Aix en Provence, France. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: The Judgement is Mercy…

Toppled Pillar
The Gospel on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Lent, comes from the Gospel of Luke, and sets before us the matter of how does God, (and how do we), deal with those guilty of wrong-doing – or failing to do the good, for which we are ordered, for which we are made.

Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.

He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”’

Luke 13:1-9

The issue of do bad things only happen to bad people is considered by Jesus but he passes on to a parable which sets before us the gift of Mercy, of which he is witness and minister, and which is our hope.

Rather than a concern with the righteousness of others Jesus challenges all to consider how they respond to mercy this year, now.

Not a tower, and not at Siloam, but an earthquake-toppled pillar at Beth Shearim. Might have killed people! Earthquake damage. Beth Shearim, Israel. (c) 2007, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Mystery and clarity

Christ the Teacher, Rome

The Gospel for Sunday last,the 2nd Sunday of Lent told of the Mystery of the Transfiguration. This year we read from the third year of the three-year Sunday Lectionary, Year C, the Year of Luke.

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. Suddenly there were two men there talking to him; they were Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.

Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they kept awake and saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ – He did not know what he was saying. As he spoke, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud the disciples were afraid.

And a voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’ And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen.

Luke 9:28-36

This is an exceptional moment. Its principal features are

  • The transfiguration of Jesus himself
  • The appearance of Moses and Elijah
  • The cloud that envelops the group
  • The voice that comes from the cloud

Each of these is a mind-blowing experience: together they collapse time and space; overwhelming the the distinction between Creator and Created.

Of the four, it is the last and first that seem the clearest in meaning.

  • The voice from heaven has been heard earlier in Luke’s Gospel, at the Baptism of Jesus, declaring Jesus to be God’s well-beloved Son.
  • The change in Jesus appearance indicates his exceptional nature, his having the two natures – fully human and fully divine.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of these two mysteries – Baptism and Transfiguration – as interlinked, and of their significance for us:

On the threshold of the public life: the baptism; on the threshold of the Passover: the Transfiguration. Jesus’ baptism proclaimed “the mystery of the first regeneration”, namely, our Baptism; the Transfiguration “is the sacrament of the second regeneration”: our own Resurrection. From now on we share in the Lord’s Resurrection through the Spirit who acts in the sacraments of the Body of Christ. The Transfiguration gives us a foretaste of Christ’s glorious coming, when he “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” But it also recalls that “it is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God”

CCC 556

The Gospel account points too all that is achieved for us through Christ’s self-gift and our response in faith and Baptism. Our sharing in the Paschal Mystery of Christ achieves our incorporation into Christ.

As always we have freedom day by day to live to this en-graced state of life, or to turn from it, frustrating its potential, our potential.

  • In which way today will you embrace the godly?

Mosaic of Christ the Teacher (with Peter and Paul – but echoing the transfiguration?) Basilica of Santa Costanza, Rome. (c) 2002, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Look and judge…

Prison, Tre FontaneThe second reading at Mass on Sunday came from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

My brothers, be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us.

I have told you often, and I repeat it today with tears, there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things. For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe.

So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. I miss you very much, dear friends; you are my joy and my crown.

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Jesus tells us not to judge others, lest we be judged and found wanting.

Paul tells us to judge: to study the field and pick those who are winners and model ourselves on them, and avoid imitating those destined to be lost.

A couple of points.

First: Jesus was surely warning against a spiritual arrogance that leads us to condemn others, careless of our own faults and failings. Paul has found another way to encourage us to seek improvement in ourselves – and not giving the top priority to crticisng others seems a pretty good place to start!

Second: though Paul was not slow in offering his critique of those who failed to see how israel’s faith found its fulfilment in Christ, how in the Paschal Mytery we had the ultimate demonstration of God’s faithfulness to us – he also, again and again, put himself on the line in service of his own people, Israel, and of the Gentiles.

The test of faithful living is service, love of God in love of neighbour, our ‘vertical’ and our ‘horizontal’ relationship offering in their intersection the perfect place for our own growth and nurturing in love.

  • What helps you judge right?
  • What blurs or distorts your vision?

Prison in which St Paul was held prior to his execution at Tre Fontane, Rome. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.