Taste and See: newness and hope.

onwards-and-upwards

The psalm sung yesterday, the 24th Sunday of the Year, invites us to prepare to come to God.

I will leave this place and go to my father.

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

I will leave this place and go to my father.

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

I will leave this place and go to my father.

O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.
My sacrifice is a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.

I will leave this place and go to my father.

Psalm 50:3-4,12-13,17,19

The response anticipates the words of the prodigal son (heard in the Gospel of the Day, when he realises the consequences of his actions.

It also has a direct relationship to our own lives. We will leave this place, this world, when death comes, and we hope and pray that, when we do, we will indeed go to our Father.

The psalm prepares us for that day. First, it has us turn to the Father and address him in humility, and in hope of mercy. Second, it has us look to God for help in repentance and renewal. Third, it has us ask God to help us to find a voice with which to praise him…

  • For what do you need the Lord’s mercy?
  • In what do you wish to be made new?
  • For what, today, would you praise God?

Onwards and upwards. London. (c) 2012, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Story and Life

rembrandt-and-some-visitorsThe Gospel passage  to be proclaimed on Sunday, the 24th in Ordinary Time, is a long one.

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:
‘What man among you with a hundred sheep, losing one, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the missing one till he found it? And when he found it, would he not joyfully take it on his shoulders and then, when he got home, call together his friends and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” he would say “I have found my sheep that was lost.”

In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance.
‘Or again, what woman with ten drachmas would not, if she lost one, light a lamp and sweep out the house and search thoroughly till she found it? And then, when she had found it, call together her friends and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” she would say “I have found the drachma I lost.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner.’

He also said, ‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

Luke 15:1-32

It is permitted ro proclaim just the first part, the parables of the good shepherd and diligent woman – but that would be to omit the parable of the father and his two sons, which is so potent a story, in terms of our understanding of God, and of ourselves.

  • Which character in any of the three parables most speaks to you? Or which situation?
  • How does it help you to refelct on yourself, on God, and on others?

Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son. (Rembrandt and some visitors). (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: breakout…

Rue de Belleville

The Gospel reading yesterday, Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent, drew us once more into an encounter with one of Jesus’ most complex and moving, challenging parables. It is a living word that, of course also brings us into a real encounter with Jesus himself.

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.
‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

Luke 15:1-3,11-32

One important issue raised is what presently tempts us to break away from the Father? To take to ourselves what belongs to the common pot? To squander on ourself what could otherwise be used for the Common Good.

As Lent comes to its end, how ready are we to repent, and return to the Father, confessing our failings, ready to work for what is better?

Belleville, Paris. (Other fleshpots are available!) (C) 2015, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of how we are and might be…

Prodigal detail

The Gospel reading on Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent, is a parable famous for the way it presents us with an opportunity to reflect on mercy, and responsibility for the ministering of mercy. It presents heartbreak and reconciliation.

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:
‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”
‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

Luke 15:1-3,11-32

The Parable is famous and complex.

  • Complex in the central relationship between father and son; and complex in the relationship between the sons.
  • Complex too in what is it that is going on in the ‘prodigal’ Son.
    • What is his attitude to his father at the beginning, end and middle of the story?
    • And what is the fault he bears for what goes wrong? What is the fault of the father? What the fault of the brother? And where is the mother in all this?
  • Then there is the question of what is put right? Is the son reconciled? Is the father right to welcome as he does: or is he going to be responsible for the elder brother breaking with the family?

If we know anything of the mess and complexity of family relationships – of life! – we owe it to ourselves not to reduce the parable to a nice little fable about forgiveness and love. It is for grown-ups and it is dark. And it is given to bring new light to our darkness.

We need to allow its light to shine and – even slowly – dispel our shadows. For that we need time in the world of the story.

In the painting by Rembrandt, a detail of which is depicted above a figure, (a servant?) stands back, present to but seemingly abstracted from the central scene. He looks at us, looks to see what will happen next.

What will happen next?

  • What moves us in the story?
  • What challenges us in what happens
  • And what impact will it have on us?
  • Will we live differently in consequence as children? Parents? Siblings? Employers? Christians?

Detail of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt in the collection of the Hermitage, St Petersburg. (c) 2015, Allen Morris