Speak Lord: Model for our lives

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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.’

Gospel for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 10:35-45

Mark lets the mother of James and John off the hook. In his Gospel it is her sons alone who approach Jesus looking for preferment…

Jesus offers a different sort of ambition to strive for – not position, not fame, or power, but service…

And sets before us inarguable example…

 

Stained glass. St Leonard’s, Bridgnorth. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: Brother and King

crowns

In his days justice shall flourish, and peace till the moon fails.

O God, give your judgement to the king,
to a king’s son your justice,
that he may judge your people in justice
and your poor in right judgement.

In his days justice shall flourish, and peace till the moon fails.

In his days justice shall flourish
and peace till the moon fails.
He shall rule from sea to sea,
from the Great River to earth’s bounds.

In his days justice shall flourish, and peace till the moon fails.

For he shall save the poor when they cry
and the needy who are helpless.
He will have pity on the weak
and save the lives of the poor.

In his days justice shall flourish, and peace till the moon fails.

May his name be blessed for ever
and endure like the sun.
Every tribe shall be blessed in him,
all nations bless his name.

In his days justice shall flourish, and peace till the moon fails.

Psalm 71:1-2,7-8,12-13,17

The Responsorial Psalm on Sunday, tomorrow, the 2nd Sunday of Advent, has us place our trust in the king – at least in the king helped by God’s sharing of His wisdom and judgement.

Israel’s experience of human kingship was troubled and variable. In choosing to have a human king, Israel slighted the Lord, her true King. The kings who ruled were sometimes good, even very good, but often were bad and too often very bad. Israel was rent apart by the kings who ruled after her, and driven into exile.

This psalm probably has its origins in the Jewish royal cult, perhaps in the coronation liturgy. How does it function for us Christians now? In part, surely, we see it as a prophetic cry for the Messiah King, fulfilled in Jesus, Christ the King. He it is who

shall save the poor when they cry
and the needy who are helpless.
He will have pity on the weak
and save the lives of the poor.

Perhaps we might pray, too, for those of our brothers and sisters, who here, now, exercise leadership in the Church and in the world, that they also will cooperate with the grace of God; govern for the common good, and especially careful for the most vulnerable.

Stained glass. Palais des Papes, Avignon. (c) 2013.

Taste and See: The Fight

war-memorial-lichfield-cathedral

As a man dedicated to God, you must aim to be saintly and religious, filled with faith and love, patient and gentle. Fight the good fight of the faith and win for yourself the eternal life to which you were called when you made your profession and spoke up for the truth in front of many witnesses.

Now, before God the source of all life and before Christ, who spoke up as a witness for the truth in front of Pontius Pilate, I put to you the duty of doing all that you have been told, with no faults or failures, until the Appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who at the due time will be revealed
by God, the blessed and only Ruler of all,
the King of kings and the Lord of lords,
who alone is immortal,
whose home is in inaccessible light,
whom no man has seen and no man is able to see:
to him be honour and everlasting power. Amen.

1 Timothy 6:11-16

The second reading we heard on Sunday, the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, urges those who listen to fight the good fight.

The language of violence can lead to actions that utterly betray the Gospel of love and service. And it can lead people to extraordinary selflessness and sacrifice for the sake of love and the whole human family.

We hear the call, and hearing it take responsibility for how we answer it.

  • What is the ‘fight’ you fight today?
  • For whom?
  • Against what?
  • In what way do you fight and what does it cost you?

Bring your responses to God in prayer.

War memorial in Lichfield Cathedral. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

 

 

Speak Lord: Draw us to service

Peter's Primacy

The Gospel for the third Sunday of Easter, in Year C tells of Jesus’ manifesting himself in Galilee, at the lakeside.

Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. It was by the Sea of Tiberias, and it happened like this: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee and two more of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing.’ They replied, ‘We’ll come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat but caught nothing that night.

It was light by now and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. Jesus called out, ‘Have you caught anything, friends?’ And when they answered, ‘No’, he said, ‘Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.’ So they dropped the net, and there were so many fish that they could not haul it in. The disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ At these words ‘It is the Lord’, Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak round him and jumped into the water. The other disciples came on in the boat, towing the net and the fish; they were only about a hundred yards from land.

As soon as they came ashore they saw that there was some bread there, and a charcoal fire with fish cooking on it. Jesus said, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore, full of big fish, one hundred and fifty-three of them; and in spite of there being so many the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘Who are you?’; they knew quite well it was the Lord. Jesus then stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish. This was the third time that Jesus showed himself to the disciples after rising from the dead.

After the meal Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ He answered, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Look after my sheep.’ Then he said to him a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was upset that he asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

‘I tell you most solemnly,
when you were young
you put on your own belt
and walked where you liked;
but when you grow old
you will stretch out your hands,
and somebody else will put a belt round you
and take you where you would rather not go.’

In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. After this he said, ‘Follow me.’

John 21:1-19

The episode is full of incident: the initial accedie, the miraculous catch; the moment of recognition; the sharing of food; the conversation with Peter about love and service; the prophecy about martyrdom and discipleship. 

In such a passage it is easy to see how through the living word, Christ speaks differently to each one of us, stirring us in one but perhaps not in another incident, and engaging us in different ways in what does strike us. The same Lord speaks to all, but in a different way to each.

What, in particular, attracts your attention? Does it attract or disturb? Why?

Attend to your feelings and reaction. After quietly considering them, bring your thoughts to God in prayer.

Peter’s Primacy (the traditional site of the meal on the lakeshore, Tabgha, Israel). (c) 2007, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Goodness, Devotion

Sanctuary, CathedraleThe Collect at Mass yesterday, the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time  may have sounded rather insipid. The language used is familiar in other contexts for passing and worldly things, but here the words are used to speak of the ultimate goods, God and God’s creation.

We do well to pause and take note, and to be challenged by the words we pray.

Collect

Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God,
the constant gladness of being devoted to you,
for it is full and lasting happiness
to serve with constancy
the author of all that is good.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

‘Devotion’ here does not mean a passing affection or mere warmth of the heart. It has its roots in pagan sacrifice – my life for the enemy’s life! But the concept and practice is purified of negative and destructive aspects in Christianity, while retaining the understanding of vowed commitment, of ceasing to belong to oneself, but being gifted to another, and here to God, the source of all good, and of every good gift.

The prayer acknowledges that the good life is the life attuned to God, and rejoices in the pleasure – ‘full and lasting happiness’ – that comes from attentiveness to God.

In these days when we are newly confronted by evil and by human wickedness the love of God becomes even more important. Likewise our gratitude that we should live in its ambit and for its service.

  • Pray that others will too.
  • Pray for our own deeper conversion to love.

Sanctuary, Cathédrale de la Résurrection d’Évry. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The sweetness of the Lord’s love

Tabernacle, Arles

The Gospel on Sunday, the 29th in Ordinary Time, opened to us something of the heart of Jesus, and his spirituality.

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

It is impressive that Jesus holds the tension presented by the disciples’ agitation for power, first by James and John and then between all the twelve. He holds it, and uses it to draw them closer to him and closer to what is good.

  • Do you find the same freedom and poise in dealing with conflict and tension?
  • Why might Jesus be so good at it?
  • What is the reason for his insisting on the primacy of the servant?

Photograph of Tabernacle in church in Arles, France. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Broken Lord, speak of love

Gethsemane 2The first reading at Mass today comes from one of the ‘servant songs’ of Isaiah, widely read as prophetic anticipations of the sufferings of Christ, particularly in his Passion.

The Lord has been pleased to crush his servant with suffering.

If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.
His soul’s anguish over,
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Isaiah 53:10-11

We need to be careful though. The reading responds to an experience of suffering, even a suffering that proves beneficial for others: so a direct correlation with the suffering of Christ can legitimately be made. Likewise the servant’s offering of his life in atonement: in himself achieving what others have failed to do, and doing so to honour the Lord his Father, our Father – there is direct comparison there, and it is fruitful for our understanding of Jesus and how he lived and died.

But it is a step too far to transpose the first line of this prophecy to the situation of Jesus. For itt has not pleased God to crush his Servant-Son. It has pleased God, indeed was his will, that Jesus be true to love, true to the covenant, true to his Sonship and Service. And Jesus agonised over this in Gethsemane, and triumphed over his fears.

But the crushing was achieved by man, not God: God overcomes the crushing when the Father raises the Son to the glory of the Resurrection, and then extends the offer of that gift to all humankind, even those debased by their sin against the innocent Son.

God in Jesus allows himself to be crushed by suffering, in solidarity, in communion, with us. That part of the prophecy is fulfilled. But fulfilled at a slant, and with divine irony.

  • What do you suffer for love?
  • Why?
  • What would be the alternative? Would it be better?

Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Help us grow up

Gestapo

The autumn equinox has just passed. We are about as far as we can be, in liturgical time, from Easter.

This Sunday, the 26th In Ordinary Time, we continue our reading of Mark’s Gospel.

The disciples in the Gospel are journeying to Easter but they do not know it, and they seem in no fit state to enter the Mystery of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. And no wonder, for Mark says they flee, and in some of the manuscripts of his Gospel we do not get words about their return!

John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’

But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.

‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.

‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out.’

Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48

Here are challenging words from Jesus, but words spoken to unite the disciples with himself. They are powerful words, challenging words to those who know their propensity to sin, and to sin in habitual ways. But if we hear the words and use them to do violence against ourselves, let’s be careful. If our foot causes us to sin are we less likely to sin because we have only one foot. We might hobble to our sin, but hobble we are likely to do! Amputation is not the solution to our problems. But the threat of it might be a wake-up call to the gravity of sin and the need for cure

Jesus calls us to unity and trust. We will sin, sadly, but he is the remedy for sin And in his healing, rather our harming, is our hope for wholeness and holiness.

The disciples squabble with others over who has the power – last week we heard of them squabbling between themselves over which of them had most authority. Jesus calls us to simplicity and service, all of us, always.

  • Who do I find myself in competition with? Is the competition healthy or unhealthy?
  • What work for unity might I do today?

Gestapo 2

Inscription and memorial from Gestapo prison in Cracow, Poland. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: First fruits of the Kingdom

Bethlehem mosiacThe responsorial psalm on Sunday last, the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, speaks of fruits of God’s love.

In the psalm we rejoice in the goodness that is offered to us for our flourishing.

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

It is the Lord who keeps faith for ever,
who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
the Lord, who sets prisoners free,

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
who raises up those who are bowed down,
the Lord, who protects the stranger
and upholds the widow and orphan.

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

It is the Lord who loves the just
but thwarts the path of the wicked.
The Lord will reign for ever,
Zion’s God, from age to age.

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

Psalm 145:6-10

The goodness of God is not measured in things – though surely the hungry will be grateful for bread! It is demonstrated in actions – feeding, setting free, restoring sight, raising up, protection and so on. It is love, love in action.

The same action is called for from us – living lives of love: love being our first nature, should we only be able to access it. The Lord’s love for us helps set us free, helps heal us of our blocks, scars and fears.

  • How has love changed you?
  • How might you love to enrich the lives of those around you today?
  • And tomorrow?

Mosiac from the ancient Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Sharing the meal

Evry 2

The second reading  at Mass, on the Sunday of week 5 in Ordinary time, came from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

I do not boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me; I should be punished if I did not preach it! If I had chosen this work myself, I might have been paid for it, but as I have not, it is a responsibility which has been put into my hands. Do you know what my reward is? It is this: in my preaching, to be able to offer the Good News free, and not insist on the rights which the gospel gives me.

So though I am not a slave of any man I have made myself the slave of everyone so as to win as many as I could. For the weak I made myself weak. I made myself all things to all men in order to save some at any cost; and I still do this, for the sake of the gospel, to have a share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:16-19,22-23

Paul’s life has been changed by the Gospel. Now he makes of himself servant to invite others to come to find nourishment and newness in the gift of the Risen Lord.

Once an obstacle for believers, now he strives to be the opposite.

In our words, in our actions, the same calling is ours: the same privilege. Putting self second, or third, or fourth, to assist others to the glorious love and compassion of God

Photograph is of the Blessed Sacrament chapel, Cathedral of Evry, France. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.