Speak Lord: persuade us you matter!

The Second reading on Sunday, the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, has us begin our reading of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians – a raw and angry justification of his mission of introducing non-Jews to  faith in Christ, and drawing them into the communion of the Church.

The Good News I preached is not a human message that I was given by men, it is something I learnt only through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You must have heard of my career as a practising Jew, how merciless I was in persecuting the Church of God, how much damage I did to it, how I stood out among other Jews of my generation, and how enthusiastic I was for the traditions of my ancestors.

Then God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother’s womb, called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the pagans. I did not stop to discuss this with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were already apostles before me, but I went off to Arabia at once and later went straight back from there to Damascus. Even when after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days, I did not see any of the other apostles; I only saw James, the brother of the Lord.

Galatians 1:11-19

It is rare for that rawness and anger to be evident in the way the text is read at Mass. Which maybe raises the question ‘why?’ Is that readers are not familiar with the source of the reading and its context, or that we just don’t ‘do’ anger at Mass.

Both are possible reasons, and both would be reasons to regret if they are true. Anger at least indicates this is about something that matters and is capable of being opposed, not just a half familiar tale of what happened way back when, and which does not really interest us, for what has it to do with us? And if our readers are not trained to understand well what they read or proclaim, our congregations are being shortchanged.

On Sunday listen and ponder how the reading is read, as well as what is read.

  • Who supports your readers in their ministry.
  • What support would they welcome?
  • And is there more that they might need?
  • And where does the work reside of introducing Christ to those who do not yet know him?

Peter and Paul. St Paul outside the Walls, Rome. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: save us from our anger and fear

Ascension Isaack, St Petersburg

The Gospel heard yesterday,  Sunday, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, followed immediately from last week’s Gospel, of Jesus’ reading from Isaiah and winning approval from all.

That latter point is repeated this week in the reading’s opening words.

And it needs to be for what follows next is so surprising and so shocking.

Jesus began to speak in the synagogue: ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’

But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’ And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

Luke 4:21-30

The reversal is astonishing. One minute Nazareth is united in admiration, and the next all join in conspiracy to murder.  It is a reversal that prefigures the turning of the crowd in Jerusalem in the last week of the public ministry.

It is a reversal that at least at first sight seems irrational, and beyond our accounting for it. There are catalysts – Jesus challenging a presumed complacency and self-satisfaction in his fellow townsfolk; their perhaps implied slur on his parentage and his (foster-)father; the implication Jesus is thought to be getting above himself… But we have to read that back into the narrative. Luke does not give us enough information to understand what is happening, as it happens. As we read the story,  visciousness seems to burst out of almost nowhere in this little community of Nazareth.

What Luke does seem to do is set before us a tale that anticipates the ‘shape’ of the events of Holy Week, accclaim, rejection, a plan to kill (‘successful’ in Holy Week), and ending with Jesus free to simply pass between them, free. Right from the beginning of his account of the public ministry of Jesus, Luke wants us to be aware of the storm clouds, of human resistance to the kingdom.

Why? Because one reason for his Gospel is that it is a work for our present conversion.

Like Nazareth we might be comfortable with our election by God, but not with the idea there is more for God, and us to do if we are to live the Kingdom life.

And surely one reason for our finding this gospel unsettling is that the seeming irrationality of the violence reminds of our own oft-times lack of control over sin and vice in our own lives.

  • What are your hidden faults and vices, maybe barely  contained beneath the surface?
  • What draws you to Jesus?
  • What might (what does) trigger anger and rejection of Jesus in you ?

The Ascension, Cathedral of St Isaac, St Petersburg. (c) 2015, Allen Morris