Speak Lord: Mercy

poussin-calf

The First reading at Mass today, the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, presents a people in revolt, and a step towards reconciliation.

In this passage – part, of course, of a much longer and complex narrative – God seems reluctant to forgive, seems persuaded to relent until persuaded by Moses.

The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. “Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.’

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: “I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.”’

So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Exodus 32:7-11,13-14

It is interesting to note the grounds for Moses’ argument. God must be faithful to his promises, is about God not losing faith. The argument is not about love – which is the quality which comes to the fore in the Gospel of the day.

Wherein lies the development? A change in God? Or a change in understanding of God?

As for ourselves, our motives are often mixed. Sometimes we act for self interest. Sometimes for love of the other. Which predominates at present?

Poussin, Adoration of the Golden Calf. National Gallery London. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: of your promises…

Street, ArlesThe First reading at Mass today, the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, speaks of the night that presaged freedom and the fulfilment of God’s promises to his people: the night that opened the way to the Promised Land.

That night had been foretold to our ancestors, so that, once they saw what kind of oaths they had put their trust in, they would joyfully take courage.

This was the expectation of your people, the saving of the virtuous and the ruin of their enemies;
for by the same act with which you took vengeance on our foes
you made us glorious by calling us to you.

The devout children of worthy men offered sacrifice in secret
and this divine pact they struck with one accord:
that the saints would share the same blessings and dangers alike;
and forthwith they had begun to chant the hymns of the fathers.

Wisdom 18:6-9

What ‘night’ does Wisdom allude to? Certainly the reference is to the night of the first Passover in Egypt (Ex 11.4-7), but also there is probably a reference back to the night time promises  with Abraham and Jacob (Gen 15.13-14; Gen 46.3-4). In the deepest darkness comes the sure promise of eternal light and life: God covenants with his people

The promises of the Old Testament lead the people forward – if they will hear them, and put their trust in them. But as the Second reading at Mass today from Hebrews makes clear, the people of the Old Testament, what ever their faithfulness, did not receive the ultimate gift that was to come only in Christ. They lived and died in faith, but awaiting the fulfilment in Christ. The Promised Land itself is but a stage on the way to the Kingdom.

Today, we too are called to live in faith – as the Gospel too, today, makes perfectly clear. We too are called on into the Kingdom that is so very near: already but for us not yet, not quite yet.

Yet already through faith in Christ we are incorporated into him. As Paul says we already share his death, and so share in his resurrection. Of ourselves we are called forward and called to seek after the kingdom, but in him, already and securely, we are part of that reality. In him we seek our true selves.

  • What in God’s promises draws you forward?
  • What in this present ‘land’ might hold you back from faithfully answering his call to move on and move forward?

A street in Arles. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: love, live.

Sacred Heart, Piarist Church, CracowThe Second reading at Mass on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Lent, drew on images of Exodus to help make sense of the newness of life won for us in Christ, but still ours to receive and live.

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

There is nothing automatic about salvation. There are no restrictions on it. God does not run out of love, but sometimes, it seems, we run out of opportunity to respond to that love.

It is of that St Paul warns us, as did Jesus in the parable we heard Sunday, and the warning about our possible perishing if we do not repent and embrace the goodness of God.

God is not capricious: how we might please and delight God is very straightforward. The two commandments are love of God, and love of neighbour (love of God in neighbour?). And in fulfilling these we live to the potential of our human self, living in healthy love for ourselves.

Sacred Heart, Piarist Church, Cracow. (c) 2013, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Mercy – past, present, future

ChorazinThe ‘default’ first reading for this Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, was from the book of Exodus.

God spoke all these words.

He said, ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

‘You shall have no gods except me.

‘You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God and I punish the father’s fault in the sons, the grandsons, and the great-grandsons of those who hate me; but I show kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

‘You shall not utter the name of the Lord your God to misuse it, for the Lord will not leave unpunished the man who utters his name to misuse it.

‘Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath for the Lord your God. You shall do no work that day, neither you nor your son nor your daughter nor your servants, men or women, nor your animals nor the stranger who lives with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that these hold, but on the seventh day he rested; that is why the Lord has blessed the sabbath day and made it sacred.

‘Honour your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God has given to you.

‘You shall not kill.

‘You shall not commit adultery.

‘You shall not steal.

‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his servant, man or woman, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is his.’

Exodus 20:1-17

The commandments circumscribe the good life – life lived in healthy, honest relationship with God, neighbour and self. To live this way, freely and willingly, is to live a good life.

Such rules, such guidance is helpful, it steers us towards the right and good.

However, is all lost if we cannot keep them? Or have not kept them? Have we passed beyond the pale and become out-laws?

Maybe there is a prophetic tense at play in the commandments also. Maybe the Lord is saying too what will become possible even for broken, sinful human beings, who hear his voice, and know his love, and seek to respond.

‘Not yet are you free of selfishness, and lust and lies. But, with grace, in time, you shall not…’

Heard this way, the commandment becomes a promise of future health, and of the grace of the healing and mercy won for us by Christ and freely offered even to the greatest of sinners.

Says Pope Francis in Evangelium gaudium: ‘No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’

No one is too bad or too messed up so that the joy offered by Christ is not for them. And no one is too good or so self-sufficient that they do not need it.

  • From what sin or failing do you ask the Lord to free you?
  • Make your prayer to him, asking for the help of his grace.
  • For what graces of God do you want to give thanks,  that even now help you resist sin and overcome temptation?
  • Give thanks and ask that by God’s grace you might share this gifts with others who are in need of them.

Photograph of the Chair of Moses from the synagogue of Chorazin, Galilee. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of Law and love

Commandments, DissThere are choices to be made with the first reading at Mass on the third Sunday of Lent.

Those using the readings for Year B have the option of using a briefer version of the reading that follows, or the full text, as given here.

In parishes where the first Scrutiny is being prayed, with those preparing for Baptism, a different reading altogether is used,  to complement the reading from John’s Gospel of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well: the celebration of the scrutiny requires the use of the readings of Year A – which are also optional for use in any year, even when the scrutiny is not celebrated. You will find that alternative first reading at the end of this post.

God spoke all these words.

He said, ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

‘You shall have no gods except me.

‘You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God and I punish the father’s fault in the sons, the grandsons, and the great-grandsons of those who hate me; but I show kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

‘You shall not utter the name of the Lord your God to misuse it, for the Lord will not leave unpunished the man who utters his name to misuse it.

‘Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath for the Lord your God. You shall do no work that day, neither you nor your son nor your daughter nor your servants, men or women, nor your animals nor the stranger who lives with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that these hold, but on the seventh day he rested; that is why the Lord has blessed the sabbath day and made it sacred.

‘Honour your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God has given to you.

‘You shall not kill.

‘You shall not commit adultery.

‘You shall not steal.

‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his servant, man or woman, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is his.’

Exodus 20:1-17

The reading sets before us a properly ordered way of life – based on love of God and respect for the moral order. Law here sustains the good and noble life: it is a way to defend love.

Law gone wrong, or law ignored leads to disorder and disconnection.

But Exodus 20 reminds of how it should be.

  • What law do you find less convenient to keep? Why? And with what consequence?
  • What law helps you to come closer to God, yourself and your neighbour?

– – –

The first reading for when the first Scrutiny is celebrated is as follows:

Tormented by thirst, the people complained against Moses. ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt?’ they said. ‘Was it so that I should die of thirst, my children too, and my cattle?’

Moses appealed to the Lord. ‘How am I to deal with this people?” he said. ‘A little more and they will stone me!’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take with you some of the elders of Israel and move on to the forefront of the people; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the river, and go. I shall be standing before you there on the rock, at Horeb. You must strike the rock, and water will flow from it for the people to drink.’ This is what Moses did, in the sight of the elders of Israel. The place was named Massah and Meribah because of the grumbling of the sons of Israel and because they put the Lord to the test by saying, ‘Is the Lord with us, or not?’

Exodus 17:3-7

The reading anticipates the Gospel’s talk of thirst, not for water only but for living water that quenches every thirst. Grumbling Israel is offered the very best but hardness of heart prevents it being received.

  • What provokes grumbling in you?
  • What does the grumbling prevent you from seeing/receiving?

Photograph is of 17th Century Commandments Board in the Parish Church, Diss.
Photograph (c) 2011, Allen Morris.