The Beloved Son of God has spent the night in prayer. As the sun rises, He chooses 'Apostles' from the community of His disciples. He chooses them in the midst of a people who are suffering and it is crystal clear that He is choosing them to change the situation of the people who have come to Him. They are the reason He has chosen the Twelve. They are the reason He has working disciple and He has a powerful teaching to share with His Apostles and disciples before they speak or act in His name.
He details a series of Blessings and Woes in a style very close to the prophetic tradition. Jesus is much more than a prophet, but he has an unyielding prophetic sensitivity to the chasm that exists between the life that God wants for the poor and the actual life they are living. It is this chasm which evokes the Blessings and Woes.
As St. Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy (6:17-19), 'As for those who in this present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life'.
As disciples we may be poor, broken and hated but on the plus side we are living in the Kingdom of God. In other words, we have taken 'hold of the life that really is life'. Since this real life is amazing, it can coexist with hunger, brokenness, mourning and persecution. Why? Because this 'real life' will outlast the suffering and negativity which injustice brings. The unjust will self-destruct sometime very soon. Notice, too, the special emphasis on the disciples' blessedness when they endure rejection because they are followers of Jesus and are trying to embody the new humanity and the new community of the Son of Man. The rich and powerful not only resist the invitation to join them, they go on the offensive to persecute and discredit them. But instead of despair, Jesus wants His disciples to rejoice when this happens! The same joy the prophets discovered when they held out for Gods' world while they were attacked by people who only wanted to defend their own status and power.
The Woes are driven by the same energy. The rich have chosen a life that is not real life! Their consolation is now but it won't last very long. And then, a special warning to disciples who compromise on the cutting edge of Jesus' message. If they rationalise present injustices, if they tell the world it does not need to repent, they will have adapted God's Word to justify unjust situations. As always with Jesus, a choice must be made, a path chosen. Will it be Blessing or Woe?
I heard once of a woman disciple who said Yes to this paradoxical life of Blessings and Woes. She knew the life that was real life and unmasked every counterfeit she met along the way. She was wide awake while all around her others slept. She suffered because she was a true prophet. She lived without anaesthetic. She took in the suffering of her sisters and brothers because it was there when it should not have been. "We have to help them", she would say. When she died, there was uncertainty about what age she was until someone who knew her well announced that she was ageless. And this is what she, the ageless one, said:
"Whenever there is unjust suffering, you stop it. Sure, you might not know what is next. So what. You know what should not be and what won't last in the long run. If it is oppressive, it is wrong. There is a better life. Reach for it. And don't count the cost".
St. Luke notices how eager the crowds are to hear the word of God. So eager, in fact, that they are pressing Jesus into the sea. Jesus reaches for higher ground and finds it on a boat. But will those who are so eager for the word allow themselves to be captivated by it? Will it illuminate their lives and change the way they think and act? Will they allow the Light of the World to move them from darkness to light?
The Word must be heard and then integrated. The fishermen wash their nets and put out a little from the shore. This is step one. In the second, deeper encounter, the nets will be let down into the depths of the sea. Simon will be invited to move away from the shore and put out into deep water. I guess, in the end, it's a choice we all have to make; to meet Jesus on our own terms or on His.
When Jesus has finished His teaching, He invites Simon and the others to experience it for themselves. How will they make it their own? Jesus gives, what looks on the surface like a simple instruction. But, in reality, the journey which draws us to go deep inside ourselves (put out into deep water) and wait to receive (let down your net for a catch) isn't as easy as it sounds! These disciples have never had any success with these directions. They have tried them and only experienced the absence of light (darkness) and emptiness (caught nothing). Yet Simon calls Jesus 'Master' and he will have to trust that Jesus knows what He is doing. Simon is classically obedient and dubious - just like us.
And what does he come to understand? Only that trusting and following Jesus leads to abundance and fullness. If we risk opening our hearts to God, God will move in us. The disciples are replete with God's presence - their nets filled to breaking point -. They are overcome, and Simon, so deeply aware of his own smallness and fragility and now the huge generosity of God, feels dwarfed by the experience. He cannot celebrate the gift and joins a very long line of quaking humans.
More teaching is required. Simon is wrong to be afraid. If his experience of God makes him tremble and crushes him down; if he wraps his arms around the knees of Jesus, he must have fallen in his own knees. Simon cannot kiss the fullness he has received so he wants it to go away. This is not what Jesus wants. So, helping Simon to stand on his feet, Jesus instructs him not to be afraid. Instead, he must use what he has experienced to bring others to God. As Jesus has caught him, he is to catch others. Fear must give way to adventure and creativity. So they bring their fullness back to the shore. They leave behind everything they used to do (be afraid) and dedicate themselves to a spectacular catch of women and men. The Word has been heard, understood, integrated and acted upon. Or .....
Once upon a time, a boat arrived at the shore creaking with fish. The crowds were waiting. They gathered around Peter and slapped him on the back. "Peter, you sly dog! You knew where the fish were all the time and didn't let on. You are, without a doubt, the greatest fisherman in all of Galilee".
But Peter was strangely silent. He only said, "Share the catch with everyone". After that he said nothing. But later that evening in the local pub, with bread and wine between them, Peter looked across the table at the Lord Jesus and said, "Go away from me. I wanted the fish to be over them, not with them. I wanted the fish to rule them, not feed them. You go away from me. I am a sinful man". Jesus only smiled back at Peter. It was not the smile of the sly fox but the smile that moves the sun and the stars. He had no intention of going away. There were other fish to catch.
The Beloved Son of God reads the foretelling of Isaiah. This text is a prophecy that there is One who is coming, who, filled with the Spirit of God, is destined to bring about a better world. Jesus' astonishing commentary on the text is that this is no longer a prophecy but a reality. Jesus is the One who is to come. The mission of the Beloved Son of God is clear. Well it's looks pretty clear to Him. The question is, is it clear to us?
The prophecy is fulfilled but they have to HEAR it. If they do not hear it, it will not be fulfilled. At first things are looking hopeful as they seem to welcome the challenging words they hear. In Marks' Gospel, the people reject Jesus because they know Him too well and cannot take Him seriously. But in Luke's Gospel, the 'son of Joseph' has the opposite effect. As Josephs' son, the blessings of which Jesus speaks will be bestowed on the village of Joseph. The people are rubbing their hands with delight and salivating at the thought of the heights to which the 'Jesus-Ride' will take them. But Jesus does not quite see it this way. He reminds His hearers of a little unpopular strand of Jewish Tradition - that a prophet is NEVER accepted in their own country. Worst still, Jesus suggests that they were not chosen by God to form an inward looking, exclusive, members only club. In reality, the opposite is true. They were chosen to bear the blessings of the One God to the whole of Creation. If they are listening, it is clear that they have to shift their focus from 'what's in it for me?' to 'how can I live in such a way that my life is a blessing for others?' This is a shift in awareness which has transformed Jesus. To be loved means to be sent to uphold the primacy of love and to bring love to bear in every violation of love - whether that's popular or not.
Ah these fickle disciples! Their warmth turns to rage, their approval to condemnation when they realise they are being asked to be a blessing for the world. But, like those who came before and after them, their killing field will not have the last word. The Risen Saviour will walk through the midst of them, singing His song, that force cannot destroy the reality of which He speaks.
The brick walls of exclusion and privilege are built with bricks made of ‘ism’. This list is not exhaustive and I am sure you can add a few more. Racism, Sexism, Tribalism, Socialism, Capitalism, Conservativism, Liberalism, Protestantism, Catholicism, Nationalism, etc, etc, etc. The only way to dismantle the edifice, brick by brick, is to join in the good no matter where it is unfolding. Goodness dances through creation looking for partners. Sometimes it knocks on our door, sometimes elsewhere. But it always needs a lending hand and a warm heart to
increase its effectiveness. It calls on us to do something good even when there is nothing in it for us. The reward is always the same - a breakthrough into joy. The joy that enfolds us wherever we see good things happening. I guess it's only when we feel no resentment towards the widow of Sidon, or the leper of Syria, only when we celebrate an end to her hunger and his sickness that we know we have heard and understood Jesus. The prophecy of global liberation - not just our own comfort - will be fulfilled in our hearing and because of our actions.
If we read between the lines, we might see that St. Luke isn't over the moon with 'other accounts' of the 'events that have been fulfilled amongst us'. Not so much, we might say with the facts, but how these events are to be understood. St. Luke wants a 'deeper understanding' of the life, death, resurrection of the Beloved Son of God. The question is, do we?
Jesus experiences Himself as God's Beloved Son, filled with the Spirit. The Spirit takes Jesus into the wilderness, where the devil tempted Him to act out as Beloved Son as a personal privilege. With promises that He would never be hungry, that he would have power and territory and religious safety, the devil casts his lure. When Jesus responds with a powerful NO! The Spirit fills Him completely. So it is, 'filled with the power of the Spirit' He returns to Galilee.
It looks as if Jesus is trying to develop a fuller understanding of 'Spirit filled Beloved Son of God'. What this does not mean has been clarified in the desert sand, in mid-air and on the pinnacle of the Temple. What it does mean will unfold in the synagogue in Nazareth. Here, the book of Isaiah is handed to Jesus. He bypasses the 'Reading of the Day' and searches for the one that will best describe the Son of God and His Mission. What the people in the synagogue hear is that He is on a mission of liberation. Wherever life is made poor, imprisoned, broken or impaired, it will become enriched, free, and well again. For Jesus, Son of God is not a Title of privilege, it is a call to transforming action!
Luke has made good on his promise. The reader now has the words to understand Him and then to understand exactly what they mean when they call themselves His disciple.
So, have you ever had an experience of God? What was it and, more importantly, what did you do with it? In The life of Jesus, the gift He received had to be continually unwrapped. A kind of spiritual pass the parcel. With each unfolding it becomes clearer what the original experience was and what it means. Sometimes for us, these events come in prayer, sometimes in nature, at the birth of a child, the death of a parent, by falling in love, by searching for truth, by practiced compassion for the poor, by working for justice. In and through these events, Gods love begins to shine brighter. But the experience needs to be courted and pursued. It's meaning must be tested and enlarged. Sacred books must be consulted if the full meaning of the event is to be understood. In short, it demands our cooperation!
And then there are the times when the very ordinariness of our life suddenly breaks into an experience of God. Michael Novak hints at the holiness of the factory worker, the shop assistant, the cleaner, the secretary, the artist, the writer, the computer analyst. He writes,
"We didn't give ourselves the personality, talents or longings we were born with. When we fulfil these - these gifts from beyond ourselves - it is like fulfilling something we were meant to do. It is a sense of having uncovered our personal destiny, a sense of having been able to contribute something worthwhile to the common public life, something that would not have been there without us - and, more than that, something we were good at and enjoyed".
(Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life [New York: The Free Press, 1996]36)
This second way reverses into the Sacred in all things. But, either way, the quest for understanding will lead us to the stream in the desert, the shelter in the storm, the rock when things are falling apart. The ever present and ever elusive Spirit will reveal God's heart to all who search for the truth.
The story of the events at Cana, starts by declaring that they took place 'on the third day'. St. John wants the reader to be aware that something Sacred is about to reach its fulfilment and that what is about to unfold is in the hands of God. This happens at a wedding feast. But in this case the 'two' who are to become 'One' are not just a bride and a groom but humanity - represented by the Blessed Mother - and God - present as the Beloved Son.
The Mother of Jesus speaks on behalf of humanity. She presents our brokenness, our lack, our pain resulting from our distance from God. She expresses this to the Beloved Son of God with the haunting and poignant words, "They have no wine". She tells it like it is. Our broken communion with God and with each other is killing us. How many times in the Gospel does this plea express itself in other ways? The official whose son is dying, the cripple who has no one to put him in the pool, the Apostle who does not have enough bread for the hungry, Martha and Mary at the tomb of their brother. Each of these sing the song of human affliction; a dirge which allows for no celebration.
In reply, the Beloved Son calls his mother 'Woman' - mother of all the living. It is a title of reverence and an acknowledgement of her vocation to seek the wellbeing of her children. And when He asks her how this 'hurt' belongs to Him and to her, He is preparing her heart for Revelation. It is the Mission of the Beloved Son to give life to the world. (Jn:3:16-17). Her answer places their concern for everything right in the middle of their relationship. Jesus supplies the wine for the imperilled marriage of the Sacred and the Human. His mother knows who to turn to when the wine runs out!
When Jesus, who lives close to the Fathers heart, saw two disciples tailing Him, He asked them to "Come and See" what this closeness was like. Later in the Gospel, when Jesus asks where they have laid Lazarus, He is told, "Come and See". As He is drawn into the tears of loss, He becomes one with those He loves. He embraces the utter vulnerability of human life. This is the path Sacred Love takes. It does not save from the outside but enters in to save from the inside. This is why, the hour, the condition for the production of great wine at the wedding in Cana, is drinking the sour wine of Golgotha. This is the truth of the 'hour' and one of the most precious truths of our faith.
The Mother of the Beloved Son knows this and, as the spokesperson for humanity in danger, she instructs the servants - that's us- to do whatever He tells them. All our efforts to stay ritually clean with water poured from outside - the six stone jars of water - are useless. Instead, the Beloved Son fills them to the brim; an abundance of wine now, that fills from the inside. A beautiful image of the Holy Spirit. It is God who holds the communion and provides what is needed. It is the Spirit, poured into our hearts who gives life.
This 'Sign', the first, works on two levels, the sensual and the spiritual. The reader is challenged to follow the clues beyond what can be seen, heard, touched, tasted, smelled and felt to taste the truth of Jesus’ Glory and then give their heart to Him. Others will follow. Not in sequence 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 but as windows opening on the same truth. Each 'Sign' will call those who gaze through them from surface to depth, from exterior religion to interior adoration. In short, the reader has, in the words of one anonymous disciple, to dream that they danced with Jesus at the Wedding Feast, and pressing their ear to His Heart entered the secret, saving, Sacred presence of God!
Family and friends are gathering at the local church for the Celebration of the Baptism of the latest - and most
precious - arrival. Amy! Invisibly, they stand in two circles, the inner circle being made up of the parents and
godparents and then the wider circle of their community. It's snowing, and Granddad is trying to teach the
children how to catch the snowflakes that are falling from the sky with their tongues. They think they have to
chase them and create a very funny scene. One day they will learn that it is best to be still. But even so, it is
never easy to drink from the sky.
For the brief time that John the Baptist and Jesus were together
they were a team. John prepares human hearts to welcome the
One who is to come by bringing them to forgiveness. His Baptism
distances them from their sin and any mistaken notion they might
have had that this is who they are. But this is only a first
step. Turning away from sin creates the freedom to turn towards
God. As John's disciples turn, the only person they can see is
Jesus. And Jesus has just come up from the dark river, filled with
the Spirit and certain that he is 'The Beloved Son of God'. Now,
the heavens are open never to be closed and the Dove, symbol of Love, moves towards Jesus.
In the Gospels the Father only speaks twice. In Mark and Luke it is a direct address "You are my Son, the
Beloved, with you I am well pleased". In Matthew the address begins with "This is my Beloved Son...". Where
Mark and Luke seek to establish intimacy, Matthew is more concerned with identity. Both are needed.
Back to the family we met at the beginning. The priest arrives with the key which will unlock many gifts for this
little one. The rituals will illuminate exactly what these are. What name have you given your child? Her name is
spoken with reverence. The reverence that accepts that we know her but that she is also wrapped in
mystery. The parents are then asked if they will open what otherwise would have remained closed by being
faithful witnesses. They say yes but they hardly know what they mean. Still, they are willing to begin the
journey. Support will be needed. That's what Godparents are there for. They will need support, that's what family
and friends are for. Now that the inner circle is complete, everyone is invited to make the sign of the cross on
Amy's forehead. This is the call to the third eye, the eye of the heart and the soul which looks in two directions. It
gazes on the world and on eternity at the same time. With the water of Baptism the eye is awoken from sleep. The
priest is reading the Gospel about Jesus challenging his bodyguard not to push the little ones away. He does this
by embracing, blessing and laying hands of love upon them. This is how we open the third eye. This is how to
babysit a child of God.
So, family, friends and community must renew themselves for this work. This is done by a renunciation of Satan
- the accuser and the divider - by refusing the strategies of accusation and division to increase our own
power. Instead we commit ourselves to the strategies of the Beloved Son - forgiveness and reconciliation. By
freeing ourselves and opening ourselves we have created the right conditions for the water to be poured.
In our beautiful catholic tradition, nothing is ever what it seems. This is the font of the sacramental life of the
church. The water, which is not water is poured. Oil, which is not oil, will follow the water and Amy will join the line
of priests, prophets and queens who belong to Jesus. A candle, which is not a candle, will be lit. A white garment,
which is not a white garment, will enfold her. The Risen One is here, they sing. The Spirit is here, they sing. And
they are right.
Back at the house there is a party. Everyone toasts the new baby and asks that she will find true friends and live
in a world of justice and peace. They move towards the buffet, and for a moment I am left alone with her. She
begins to cry. I offer a finger to her outstretched hand and she grasps and holds it tightly. I wait until her distress,
like all distress, passes away. It is a moment to ponder. That our Catholic Faith does not celebrate the individual
seeker, the lonely exile. It begins and unfolds in a relationship where the old give the young the gift of the truth. As
I ponder what we have just done I remember that the touch of love is a revelation of the spirit. I will continue to
bless the little ones because their day is dawning. I will continue to enjoy every Baptism because it helps me
understand myself and my own Baptism more.
There is an explosion of laughter from the sitting room and grandad is, as usual, at the centre of it. I hope she
will have time to get close to him. I think he will teach her how to drink from the sky.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is evidence enough that He was welcomed and loved by some, hated and rejected by others. As a rule of thumb, those with 'power' are among those who can't let Him in. He is rejected by the so called religious and political leaders. But one of the big surprises which visited the new community Jesus began was His acceptance by people who were not Jews. For sure, it happened in little ways during His ministry, but later there was a huge influx of new sisters and brothers from the Mediterranean. This could not be explained
except to say that the hand of God was clearly at work here.
In The Lord’s Prayer, we pray that it will be 'on earth as it is in Heaven'. When Heaven and earth come together it is a sign that God is near. This, of course, is what happens in the story of the Feast of the Epiphany. Heaven, in the form of a star, and earth, in the form of a child, align with each other. The reader is left with no doubt that Jesus has His origins in God.
The rejection of the Beloved Son is pure evil. News of His long-awaited arrival has frightened Herod and the religious establishment. The Advent of God is a threat to their positions and their power. They have corrupted the faith they were supposed to protect and their corruption is to be exposed. Herod, rather stupidly, sets out to play chess with God but he is no match for Him. The resulting violation of children, an all too familiar pattern from those who prefer the love of power over the power of love.
In contrast, the Wise Ones Rejoice! When the star aligns itself with the babe in the manger, Heaven and earth are One. The Wise Ones are not just happy, they are overwhelmed with joy. They have found the One for whom their hearts have longed. Their gifts reveal their inner
understanding of His Origins and His Destiny. What Herod rejects, the Wise Ones Adore. The Divinity of Christ is revealed to the Gentiles.
The Beloved Son of God is THE Christmas Present. Gift giving is, if you like, the way the invisible becomes visible. The way the hidden heart is made known, the way Spirit risks itself by taking form. So, the giving and receiving of gifts could be described as spiritual activity of the highest order. It is the heart’s desire to express itself in such a way that the heart of the giver, and the heart of the one who receives the gift becomes one. When a gift embodies the flow of love, it does not matter what it is, or how much it costs. It is perfect because of what it has
Can you remember a time when you received a gift at Christmas and it was very special just because of the One who gave it? Who was that and what was the gift? Notice that the gift might not sit within the 'cheap-expensive' continuum. Like the bread and wine, it cannot be rated in this way. A great example of this is the story of the Little Drummer, who is poor. He offers the gift of 'playing his drum', which draws a smile from the Beloved Son. In cash terms it is worthless. In the school of love, it is priceless.
With grateful hearts we say goodbye to St. Mark and his wonderful Gospel. Over the last year, we have sung Marks'
prayer-song that it will be 'on earth as it is in heaven'. We have nurtured this Sacred awareness of the presence of
God in our lives, and have been pulled back to earth with Heavens Agenda. We are heavens children, with the earth in our hands, shaping it into the world God wants.
And now, as we begin 2019, we continue the journey in the company of St. Luke. Take his Gospel close to your heart
now. Use it to nourish your prayer and understanding in the months ahead. The golden thread of Luke's Gospel is his unashamed inclusion and exaltation of the poor. The Parable of the relentless widow - our theme for the year -
captures beautifully the ebb and flow of justice and mercy hidden in every Parable, every encounter with Jesus.
On this first day of the new year - the first Sunday in Advent - I want to invite everyone to enjoy the Season of Advent. It is a precious time of preparation for the Great Feast and Feasts of Christmastide. If we start celebrating too early, we might lose some of the depth and resonance Advent wraps around the Christmas story, which contain the first hints of the Resurrection of the Beloved Son of God.
We don't have to look very far to hear talk that our beautiful world is falling apart. In today's Gospel, the lamps which God hung in the sky to give light are sending out alarm signals. The polluted waters are fighting back, and the earth which God raised up in the waters, to give us a place to stand, is being reclaimed by oceans which are roaring in pain. We are perhaps more frightened now than we ever were of the consequences of the sins we commit on the world. Perhaps we are reminded of Noah, and are looking for rainbows. Perhaps we are asking, 'Will God keep His promise, even though we keep breaking ours?"
The answer is a resounding Yes! But it is a new Rainbow; and it is the Beloved Son of God. He appears when everything is falling apart. His Advent banishes fear and His strength empowers His disciples to stand up straight. The Beloved Son of God is the new earth, the new place to stand. The waters cannot drown Him. He offers Salvation in the midst of a perishing world.
The collapsing world weighs us down. It fills our hearts with anxiety and paralyses us with fear. There is no anaesthetic available for this pain. We try to protect ourselves from being overwhelmed. But perhaps more from being blinded to the deeper reality. If we do not do this we will be sucked in, dragged down, because alone we are too vulnerable.
The remedy offered by Jesus is prayer and vigilance. As we sink our roots into His spiritual landscape, we can reclaim that true self which cannot be destroyed. Hand in hand with the Beloved Son of God we can find a new courage, not just to survive but to engage with the endings that are to come. Far from cowering before the powers of destruction we lean into them. We hold one another through and beyond every ending which invades our lives.
It does not matter if the ending is present in Global terms, or Social Terms, Political Terms or even in Personal terms. All we know is that these things cannot be avoided. But Jesus teaches the supremacy of the spiritual because it survives whatever history can throw at it. A beautiful story from the Vedanta illustrates this.
Two birds of golden plumage sat in the same tree. The one above, serene, majestic, immersed in its own glory; the
one below restless and eating the fruits of the tree, now sweet, now bitter. Once it ate an exceptionally bitter fruit, then it paused and looked up at the majestic bird above; but it soon forgot about the other bird and went on eating the fruits of the tree as before. Again, it ate a bitter fruit, and this time hopped up a few boughs nearer to the bird at the top. This happened many times until at last the lower bird came to the same branch as the higher bird and lost itself. She discovered, in an instant, that there had never been two birds; only one, serene, majestic immersed in glory.
The spiritual instinct at the heart of this Parable is easy to grasp. How all that flows and changes and how all that
does not flow and change come together in the end. The absolute triumphs.
In the most threatening moments of our lives, the Beloved Son of God comes as a protecting shelter who will not allow final destruction. To sit with a pair of binoculars watching for 'Him coming on the clouds of heaven' is a wonderfully imaginative portrayal and study of Grace. But we should not forget, as we begin this new year, that He can only do this because earlier, and with a loud cry, 'He breathed His last' (Mark 15,37)
Politicians rarely answer questions and yet they are very good at asking them! Perhaps when we feel we have power over others we think we have the right to interrogate them.
As far as Pilate is concerned, Herod is the King of the Jewish People. If Jesus says He is a King, a rebellion can only be around the corner. Jesus is not a politician and He answers Pilates' question as a Holy Man. People are drawn to Jesus by the breadth and depth of His capacity for Love. Is Pilate interested in this or is he focused somewhere else? If His own community have turned against Him and handed Him over to the despised Romans, Pilate wants to know why.
Jesus reassures Pilate that His eye is only on the Throne of God. Since time began, every social, political and religious institution have been built of violence and maintained by force. Jesus’ disciples are not fighting to keep him out of the clutches of these systems. And the reason for that is that the Kingdom in which Jesus is King cannot be found or grown through fighting. But Pilate misses the point and sticks with what he knows best. Is Jesus saying He is a King or not? But King is Pilates word. The Beloved Son of God receives the word 'King' from Pilate, breaks it open, shakes it till it is empty and then fills it with a news meaning. Jesus exercises His authority by witnessing to the truth. Those who are fixated on power and on territory cannot find the depths from which Jesus is speaking. But those who know God's heart can. The truth they know will lead them to the truth about Jesus.
Choosing to become powerless is a huge decision. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter, not quite a Saint yet, strikes with violence and launches the ear of the High priests servant into the shrubbery. Jesus
stops him and heals the man, restoring his ear. After all, Jesus has spent his whole ministry opening people's ears. He knows, only too well, that violent words and actions spell the end of the dialogue. Ears have to be restored for dialogue to resume and for violence to end. The power of The Word is paramount for Jesus. The world He inhabits relies on Love as its only strategy and protection.
Jesus is, of course, THE revelation of God's unconditional love. And He is also a mirror for the unknown territory of the human heart. People somehow get themselves when He is around and the poor find Him to be very attractive. Even the 'other sheep' who are not of this fold move towards Him with joy. But before the cruelty and might of his own leaders, and of Rome, He shows no muscle, no force and instead offers the magnet of revelation.
Becoming powerless also includes making no threats. The revelation of unconditional love is here. If we do not get it or, if we are honest, not really attracted to it, Jesus will not become a terrorist and scare you with the prospect of disaster either side of the grave. Finally, torture - in all its forms - and death can no longer be used as a way to win disciples. We might say that many of the strategies that His 'disciples' have used had already been rejected by the Holy One who simply offers the revelation once more.
Violence is replaced by dialogue. This is quite different from discussion, which has the same root as percussion and concussion. All of these suggest striking something in order to gain territory. Dialogue invites a free flow of meaning that becomes shared by all those involved. It looks as if this is Jesus' preferred mode of influence. As a way of being it was completely lost on Pilate. What did he miss? Only this. Christ is King not because He can bend human will with all His might. He is King because out of love He embraces powerlessness and continues to talk
The disciple is impressed by the power and grandeur of the Temple. After all, it is the religious and economic centre of his world. Every decision that is made there, touches every life in the community. The disciple thinks this will last forever.
Jesus looks with different eyes. He sees the foundations cracking and the facade crumbling. This building does not need minor repairs. It is falling down and will fall apart. It is a tree which bears no fruit. It has become a den of thieves.
Saint Mark describes Jesus as sitting opposite the Temple and opposing all that it stands for. He has predicted its ending and his close disciples clamour for details. They need to get ahead of what is coming. But Jesus description of what is coming is a bitter pill to swallow. Things will have to get worse before they get better. The destruction of the Temple will happen alongside other catastrophes. Nations will go to war, there will be all the usual horrors associated with that. Out of this chaos, false prophets and leaders will emerge, promising a way forward. But tragically they will only lead the disciples more deeply into the land of loss. This is how it begins. The death of this way of life is the birth pangs of something better.
Few people get through life without facing the major collapse that Jesus predicted. Our spiritual, social and political landscapes - which gives us a sense of meaning - can suddenly vanish. The sudden death of a loved one, the unpredicted redundancy, the loss of love or trust are unwelcome visitors who arrive unannounced at any time. No matter how resilient we think we are, we cannot skate through these events. Sudden change or slow transitions often leave us feeling lost, feeling we have no compass and, worst of all that there is no end in sight.
One of the most powerful images of this in-between time is of the trapeze artist who has let go of one bar and has not yet grabbed the other. It is mid-air living. Our old world is gone and the new has yet to arrive. People notice we are not ourselves. We grow tired of people asking us how we are doing with the same intensity as we are hurt when they don't. Our friends try to push us through by telling us to 'hang in there.' We'll find a way to deal with it, to adjust, to go on. The losses that we will never get over we try to get beyond.
But is there any value in these moments? Spiritual Teachers think there
is much to be learned in mid-air living. They seem to agree that this is
the only place we can learn that we are more than what is happening to
us. Just when we thought we were drowning in loss, we watched
ourselves rise above it and our soul caught a glimpse of the unchanging
Love which is our life. In other words, when it's all going our way, this
spiritual truth does not come near us. God is always giving us a place
to stand and it is paradoxically found in the space between the
bars! The Sufi Mystic Rumi wrote that when the gift of this spiritual truth
comes to bless us we should, "enjoy this being washed / with a secret
we sometimes know / and then not".
(Stormy Water in The Essential Rumi 1995)
This seems to be the way of God. We remember the infinite holiness of our lives when we need it and forget it when we don't. But moments of change, transition and loss can bring a clearer vision. When the dust of ordinariness is washed away, we grasp the truth in a way no other time will grant. Rumi does not condemn this state of affairs or how easily we forget; instead he invites us to enjoy the surprises that come between the bars
CATHOLIC PARISH OF ST JOSEPH & ST MARGARET CLITHEROW
St Joseph’s Church. 39 Braccan Walk, Bracknell, Berkshire, RG12 1BE (Directions)
Tel: 01344 425729
South Berkshire Pastoral Area
The parish is part of the Diocese of Portsmouth.
Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust registered charity 246871
St Joseph’s Church. 39 Braccan Walk, Bracknell, Berkshire, RG12 1BE (Directions)
Tel: 01344 425729
South Berkshire Pastoral Area
The parish is part of the Diocese of Portsmouth.
Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust registered charity 246871