Speak Lord: Saviour

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.

‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’

Gospel for the 1st Sunday of Advent, Year C
Luke 21:25-28,34-36

We hear this gospel passage at a time when there is political and social uncertainty; and fear and anger are engendered by this insecurity.

Such circumstances fret at the fabric of society – not that said fabric is especially strong and resistant even at the best of times. Society has a tendency to degrade and atomise when there is a sense of risk and danger, and when there is opportunity to make a quick buck for yourself or yours.

Over the coming year Luke speaks of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of the Kingdom, and of the community forced in faith and grateful response to the love of God.

Maybe we will find remedy in a daily Advent reading from the Gospel of Luke – a chapter a day will be available on our sister Blog, Prayer from the Catholic Tradition.

Stained glass image of St Luke, Lichfield Cathedral. (c) 2017, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of Prayer

pharisee-and-publicanJesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else: ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.

The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.”

The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

Luke 18:9-14

The parables that are such a significant part of Luke’s Gospel are the source of the Gospel again, this coming Sunday, the 30th In Ordinary Time.

The Pharisee prays ‘to himself’. It’s a telling phrase, descriptive of the prayer, and revealing that despite the words said the prayer is not in fact being spoken to God but simply it is the speaker, the supposed ‘pray-er’ speaking to himself. In this case it is the Pharisee who doesn’t speak to God, so taken up is he, with himself.

It is the tax collector, who knows his limits, and to his shame, who does speak, directly to God. And who is heard, and who is saved.

  • To whom do I speak in prayer? What proportion of the time is given to God, and how much to self reflection?
  • Doe the self-reflection precede the prayer to God? Or follow it?
  • How do I take responsibility for my prayer?

Pharisee and Publican: Tewkesbury Abbey. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Send us out

Ascension Vatican

The Gospel on Sunday –  in England and Wales, Ascension Sunday – comes from the Gospel of Luke

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.

‘And now I am sending down to you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.’

Then he took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.

Luke 24:46-53

The Gospel of Luke ends almost as it began, in the Temple of Jerusalem. In Chapter One of the Gospel Israel represented by the barren priestly family of Zechariah and Elizabeth. In Chapter 24 it is fishermen and tax-collectors who inhabit the Temple of God. A new fulfilment has come to Israel, and Israel will not be the same again…

And in the days that follow, when the fulness of the Spirit comes, the disciples  will venture out of the city into the rest of the world, and the world will never be the same again…

Joyful Mysteries. Vatican. (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