Taste and See: mercy

stoning-ost-stephen

The second reading on Sunday, the 24th of Ordinary Time, came from the first of St Paul’s letters to Timothy.

The passage we heard contains intensely personal words. Paul reflects on his active role in opposing the teaching of the early Church – present and assisting at the brutal killing of St Stephen – and on the mercy of God who has now drawn him to the service of the Church and to the faith.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, and who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service even though I used to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith.

Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance; and the grace of our Lord filled me with faith and with the love that is in Christ Jesus.

Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

I myself am the greatest of them; and if mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the greatest evidence of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people who would later have to trust in him to come to eternal life.

To the eternal King, the undying, invisible and only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

God is merciful, indeed. But so, of course, was the Church which received and subsequently comissioned, Paul, its former persecutor, to minister in its name.

The Church is constantly called to live to the truth of the present, rather than to dwell on past deeds. In and by the mercy of God, and with the cooperation of sinners, all things can be made new.

Salvation is God’s gift, and it is our duty and our privilege to bear witness to it, daily. The grace of God urges that we live what by his mercy we are, and not what we’ve been. We do not though forget our error or fault, but when remembered and related, it is less to our shame and far more to God’s glory in freeing us from sin.

  • How do, how should, we respond to those who do violence? Or support it?

Stoning of St Stephen, with St Paul in attendance. Vatican Museum. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

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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

Taste and See: Flash of recognition – new in the old

Church of BeatitudesOn Sunday’s feast – the Solemnity of All Saints – the Gospel proclaimed was the familiar text of the Beatitudes.

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:
‘How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:  they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn: they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’

Matthew 5:1-12

In a world where new is often seen as better, or at least is ‘sold’ as such, there is something profoundly counter cultural about the preponderance of repetition in Christian worship and prayer.

And yet, for those with ears that listen, the experience of repetition, new encounters with the familiar, proves again and again that this old words have so much more to disclose to us. In our new hearing, that often enough seems like a first hearing, we encounter the profound truths of the living word.

  • What newly strikes you in the text today? Or struck you on Sunday?
  • Which beatitude most characterises your life as a disciple?
  • Which present you with most challenge?

Bring your reflections to God in prayer.

Interior of the Church of the Beatitudes, Galilee. Photograph (c) 2012, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Make us yours

Eagle lectern

In all Scripture Christ speaks to us. We maybe still have catechetical work to do to ensure that all the faithful are helped to listen for the voice of the Lord in all the readings of the Liturgy of the word. There is still maybe a greater sense for the distinction between the Old Testament and New Testament than for the unity of Salvation history related through the Bible as a whole.

The Liturgy of the word gives a ritual prominence to the Gospel reading, but also through its structure indicates something of the unity of Scripture to be discovered in its various parts.

Some of that may be apparent in our celebrations on a Sunday, (perhaps sometimes highlighted in the homily). Hopefully we become still more aware of this as we dwell with the word during the days before Sunday, and returning to it in days following. And hopefully Living Eucharist is able to play its part in assisting with this.

Next Sunday is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time and it offers us a fresh opportunity to know the Lord of all as also the Servant of all.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Jesus. ‘Master,’ they said to him ‘we want you to do us a favour.’ He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’

When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

Mark 10:35-45

James and John present a challenge to the project that Jesus leads. He offers service: they seek for lordship.

And yet, their ambition is also accompanied by a passion for Jesus and his project. There surely is in them a motive that is alien to authentic discipleship, even in its contradiction, but they themselves desire to be authentic disciples. What is called for is a purification of motives, nothing more, nothing less. Jesus challenges them, and encourages them on their way to wholeness in and with him.

How important, and how touching is their assertion, in face of Jesus’ questioning of whether they can follow him in all things: ‘We can’. It may be they witness to something they cannot yet know, but they witness to it all the same.

They have some way to go, and the way will be challenging – not only in the external challenges they face, but the internal conversion needed too. Growing pains are not confined to our actual childhood and adolescence. Coming to human maturity is a life long work, even for apostles.

  • Which of your motives grate against your vocation as a disciple?
  • What resources can you call on to help with the purification of your motives?

Photograph of detail of lectern in parish church of Ditchling. (c) 2003, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: ring out good news of God’s love

The Church rings out, AssisiThe first reading on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, comes from the Easter book, the Acts of the Apostles.

 Peter said to the people: ‘You are Israelites, and it is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, who has glorified his servant Jesus, the same Jesus you handed over and then disowned in the presence of Pilate after Pilate had decided to release him. It was you who accused the Holy One, the Just One, you who demanded the reprieve of a murderer while you killed the prince of life. God, however, raised him from the dead, and to that fact we are the witnesses.

‘Now I know, brothers, that neither you nor your leaders had any idea what you were really doing; this was the way God carried out what he had foretold, when he said through all his prophets that his Christ would suffer. Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.’

Acts 3:13-15,17-19

In the years since, we have become very used to the distinction between Jew and Christian, a distinction sometimes enforced with horrifying results.

In this passage Peter speaks to his own people, his own generation: a Jew who believes in the Resurrection of Jesus to those who do not; and he speaks to. He places the greater blame on the leadership – always something quite easy to do.

But all are called to repentance, to turn from what is false and destructive and back to what is true and good and healing.

That call is extended to all in our age, leaders and led, those who think themselves in the right, and those who fear that that they may be in the wrong.

God’s love is for all.

  • What sins in yourself do you wish to have wiped away? What step to God might you take that can assist in this?
  • What sins in others do you think they should repent of? What steps might you take that would make it easier for them to repent?

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

Taste and See: reborn by baptism

Font Toledo

The second reading for Mass on Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, reminded us of the mystery of baptism. Prefigured in the old covenant with Noah, it is now fulfilled in the sacrament that makes us one with Christ, in the unity of his Body, the Church.

Christ himself, innocent though he was, had died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God. In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life, and, in the spirit, he went to preach to the spirits in prison. Now it was long ago, when Noah was still building that ark which saved only a small group of eight people ‘by water’, and when God was still waiting patiently, that these spirits refused to believe.

That water is a type of the baptism which saves you now, and which is not the washing off of physical dirt but a pledge made to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has entered heaven and is at God’s right hand, now that he has made the angels and Dominations and Powers his subjects.

1 Peter 3:18-22

The simplicity of the Rite of Baptism, washing in water, anointing with oil, lighting a candle and dressing in white, both hides and reveals the new life we receive, the new Creation we become part of.

  • For what renewal of life are you workig and praying in Lent this year?

Photograph is a font and baptistery in Toledo, Spain. (c) 2003, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Christ teaches – who learns?

hagia sophia

The Gospel reading at Mass on Sunday, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary time, spoke of Jesus as teacher and healer

Jesus and his followers went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach.

And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the ,scribes, he taught them with authority.

In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him.

The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’

And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.

Mark 1:21-28

Sunday was Education Sunday. A day for thanking God, and praying, for those who have the vocation to be teachers.

In the Gospel the people are quick to distinguish Jesus from other teachers and to identify the difference in the authority he displays and the power he exercises.

As the Gospel narrative proceeds Jesus remains authoritative and powerful, but many people prove themselves unwilling to learn from him.

It is easy to ‘blame’ teachers for people’s failure to learn, and of course good teachers often have good strategies to engage unwilling learners and tease them into helpful engagement with the matter at hand. Even so teaching and learning is always a cooperative venture.

  • What might the Lord be seeking to help you learn, that you might be resisting?
  • What might you be longing to help others learn that they might be resisting? What other approaches might you take to help their learning?

Image derived from photograph of mosaic of Christ from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul. (c) 2002, Allen Morris.