Taste and See: Good news for everyone

Magi Vatican MuseumIIThe Gospel reading yesterday – the second Sunday of Christmas, and the feast of the Epiphany – came from Matthew and tells of the wise men’s search for, and finding, of the infant king of the Jews.

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’

When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,
for out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

Matthew 2:1-12

It told of wise men, number unspecified, and not kings. Later tellings of the Christmas story are rather more specific! ‘Was surely three of them, and definitely they were kings!’

In nativity plays – perhaps for reasons of casting, perhaps for gender inclusivity there are wise women with the wise men, or queens with the kings.

Earlier times than ours also played fast and loose with the Bible narrative, and did so with theological purpose. In renaissance paintings it became common for the wise men to be depicted as kings and three, but one was old, one notably young, and the other middle aged; and one was African, one Asian, one European (from the three continents known in more ancient times).

In their diversity and their all-encompassing qualities these three men were presented in a way that allowed them to represent each and everyone from ‘the nations’. Their image reminded, taught, that the good news of the Incarnation and the mercy of God was for all of us, i.e. including those we think of as ‘them’ too.

  • Who do we exclude from our world view, from ‘us’?
  • How – with God’s grace – might we reach out to them, and with them grow in grace?

 

Detail showing the  wise men from the East. Vatican Museum. (c) 2010, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of Judgement and Life

Last Judgement, NOtre Dame

The Gospel for today’s Mass of Christ the King is the great parable of the great judgement.

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.

‘Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”

‘Next he will say to those on his left hand, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.” Then it will be their turn to ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.”

‘And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.’

Matthew 25:31-46

There are many ways in which judgement could be exercised. But here the concern of the Lord is about the quality of love, the stepping out from our own needs to care for neighbour, in which – it is revealed – we show care for the Lord.

  • As the Church year comes to an end, look back, take stock, where have you shown care for others?
  • Where have others shown care for you?

Given thanks and make a new (Church) year resolution to be even more generous in your response to those in need.

Photograph is of Judgement as portrayed in the West Door of Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Make me worthy to be with you

800px-Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410

The Gospel for today, the 28th Sunday in Ordinary time, avoids any quick and easy answers to things. Used to talk of the mercy of God we may find that the conclusion of the parable is harsh. Harshness and uncomfortable truths are not things that Matthew’s Gospel shies away  from.

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a feast for his son’s wedding. He sent his servants to call those who had been invited, but they would not come.

Next he sent some more servants. “Tell those who have been invited” he said “that I have my banquet all prepared, my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, everything is ready. Come to the wedding.” But they were not interested: one went off to his farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his servants, maltreated them and killed them. The king was furious. He despatched his troops, destroyed those murderers and burnt their town.

Then he said to his servants, “The wedding is ready; but as those who were invited proved to be unworthy, go to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find to the wedding.”

So these servants went out on to the roads and collected together everyone they could find, bad and good alike; and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

When the king came in to look at the guests he noticed one man who was not wearing a wedding garment, and said to him, “How did you get in here, my friend, without a wedding garment?” And the man was silent. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’

Matthew 22:1-14

  • Where might you compromise, rely unduly on the goodwill of others?
  • What is there about your way of life that authenticates your Christian discipleship, your living out of your calling?

Mercy may not be evident in the parable. But God is merciful. Bring any regrets and failings to him in prayer, as you pray to be helped by his mercy and love.

The icon of the Trinity by Rublev reminds of the constant invitation that God, in his love and mercy makes to us.

Speak Lord: speak love

Cardinal Manning

The Gospel at Mass tomorrow, the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, comes from Matthew’s Gospel. It is one of the longer parables, a parable that draws is into a consideration of the world as it ‘is’ so that we might consider afresh how the world might be, if God’s will is done.

Jesus told this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” “Because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too.” In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’

Matthew 20:1-16

Recently the Church in England celebrated the work of Cardinal Manning in helping to resolve the agony of the London Dock Strike of 1889, and helping dockers achieve their argued-for and just pay of a tanner (6d, 2.5p) an hour.

Here, in Jesus’ parable, the issue is not the withholding of a living wage, but an exceptionally generous employer, subject of (some of) his workers’ complaints.

The point Jesus makes, is that the kingdom of heaven is not only about fairness and justice. It is also, and surely is most of all, about love. Employers and workers alike are called to live by the primacy of love.

The image bears the insciption of the Cardinal Manning Lodge of the  Amalgamated Society of Watermen and Lightermen of Greenwich. It bears eloquent testimony to Cardinal Manning, one of the great leaders of the Catholic Church in the 19th Century.