When asked about the upcoming feast, Jesus sends His disciples, with a very detailed set of directions, including who they will meet, what they should say and what they will be shown. Perhaps He is trying to let them see that what is about to unfold has been well prepared for. At the meal, Jesus both takes and gives thanks for the bread and the cup of wine. He acts and then speaks the words of one who is actively engaged in His own destiny. He connects bread and cup with His broken body and His poured out blood. He unites dining with dying, Eucharist with crucifixion. Notice too, that even though there are only a few at the table, He spreads the cloth to include 'many'. This is a meal that strengthens the bonds of love between disciples, the One who will not be held by death, and their Father in Heaven.
A few weeks ago I turned 60! From this place I notice how younger people, the twenty and thirty somethings, struggle with the questions of who to be with and what to do with their lives. They live in a more challenging and complex world than I did at their age. In that world, they journey from mountains to valleys with amazing speed! They are thrown from clarity to confusion in a heartbeat. I marvel at their faith and how resilient they are. I worry too about how vulnerable they are. They return again and again to the challenges of companionship and meaningful work. Just like us 'oldies', they long to find people and places to whom they can give themselves. They want to break their
bodies and pour out their life blood. And when this is not happening, they know something is missing.
We might say they are trying, in their own way, to answer the call to sacrifice. Sacrifice is the work of making life better, or holy, by giving something back. Da Free John, in his "Scientific Proof of the Existence of God Will Soon Be Announced by the White House", has written (p.33-34) 'Those who cling to one or other religious or spiritual way must realise that the foundation of all such ways is the disposition of sacrifice - not of self-preservation or of immunity to life.... This must be expressed in a new, free, sober and truly compassionate disposition ... which freely anoints the world with help and intelligent consideration. Therefore ... let us give ourselves up so that each temple ... may become a temporary altar of self-giving into the mystery that pervades us.'
Catholics, of course, have been promoting this for centuries. Jesus command to 'Do this in memory of Me', is wrapped in a new Wisdom. Every word and every gesture in the last supper are a clarion call to gather up our lives and act with compassion. Our lives are a gift but they are not our own. They are given to us by God moment by moment. Holding fast to this truth increases our gratitude. Gratitude fills us up from the inside. Once filled, we overflow. The life freely given becomes the life we seek to freely give away.
On this great Feast, I encourage a new and deeper consideration of and meditation on the Eucharist. I believe this can make us smarter and more effective at sacrificing, to which we are naturally disposed. The words and the gestures of Jesus invite us to hold together transcendence, gratitude and sacrifice. We need all three for full living. If we cling only to transcendence we run the risk of becoming aloof and uninvolved in the suffering of others. Never truly 'in' the life we are living. If gratitude does not move us to sacrifice, we might count our blessings in a way that separates us from others. If we try to sacrifice without gratitude we might become
resentful. We pour ourselves out till we are running in empty. So, we short circuit and stop giving ourselves away. We might tell ourselves that we have finally wised up. But the only Wisdom worth remembering, is the one which invites us to re-enter the company of the One who knows all about breaking and pouring. In gratitude we can return to this place again and again to draw strength for the journey.
If we ponder the beauty of Rublevs Icon of the Trinity, one of the things
we might see is that the 'Three' are sitting at a table with an empty
space. They are offering hospitality to anyone who would like to sit with
them and share their banquet. It also reminds me of the answer of the
messenger, who, when asked by the Great King (Luke,3) threw a party,
how he managed to persuade people to come, answered, "I told them
that there is a feast for all who are willing to feast with all." This made
the king roar with laughter. It is only a small step from hospitality to
holiness after all.
In Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth, the man who was the scheming
architect behind Jesus execution enters the empty tomb, looks around
and, in a resigned voice announces to no-one but himself, 'Now it
begins.' A disciple might say, 'Now it continues.' The mountain where
they meet the Risen Lord is in Galilee. It is the same place where he
taught the spectacular sermon on the mount. It is this teaching that the
disciples are commissioned to bring to the nations. Jesus is handing it
on and it will go on in a new way.
Notice that not everyone was convinced. The Twelve have become eleven and some of these are filled with
doubt. Can they trust Him to be who He says He is? In the Gospel of St. Luke and Saint John, Jesus shows
them His wounds as proof. But this does not happen in St. Matthews Gospel. Instead Jesus moves towards
them with the words, "All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me.' The Father has vindicated
the Beloved Son and the Message He proclaims. Even the death of the Beloved Son is part of the plan. All
competition is set aside. Thereafter, they are commissioned to go, to baptise and to teach. They are to go to
all nations because the Father is a universal reality and not bound to one house. They are to invite people
into a new community which has Jesus as its centre. Jesus, the Beloved Son of the Father is to be openly
revealed, proclaimed and situated between the Father and the Spirit. He is with them always. He can never
be lost. The commission of the disciples is to invite everyone into this new community. They take their place
at loves table and to do so till the end of time!
The Holiness of the Most Holy Trinity is revealed as endless hospitality. For me, one of the easiest ways to
begin deepening our understanding of what this might mean is this. The guiding principle of all Catholic
Social Teaching is the eternal dignity of the human person. This means that everyone is treated with
respect. It does not matter where they come from, what they own or what they have done. Their dignity is
inviolate and does not come and go or fade with circumstance. The Dignity of the Person is consulted again
and again whenever decisions are made about the big questions of life. This principle rests on the revelation
that we are made in the image and likeness of God. But since we are made in the image and likeness of
the Trinity, who we are might be much more than we ever imagined ourselves to be! In the Trinity, the gift
of Self is so complete that it makes the three One. This offers a beautiful vision for human life. But it is not
how we are used to thinking about ourselves.
We think we are closed captions who face individual triumphs or disasters. We seem to be in competition
for power over others or for a temporary hold on larger territory. Our dignity is always threatened by the
stupidity or cruelty of others who have misread their essential beauty. But. If we could see our dignity not
as mine but as ours everything changes. It is love and our loving activity that now defines us as persons. It
is love and loving activity that becomes the primary interpretation of all creation.
When we ponder the Trinity in this way it stirs a curiosity in us that is worth pursuing. Instinctively, we sense
the Truth of it. Finally, we can escape the prison of individualism and all the misery that brings. We can step
into the heart of a loving community which is God's first gift to us and which we now help grow
It is the first day of the week. A new creation is unfolding. It is evening, but earlier the Beloved Disciple and Mary of Magdala realise that Jesus is now with his Father. Now, His disciples discover that He is also with them. In His Ascension he is with God, and in His resurrection, He is with them. He is the bridge connecting earth with heaven. He is the new mediator between God and Humanity. Still, this is what He has always been, and what He will always be.
The big difference now is that the Risen Jesus cannot be locked out. He manifests Himself as Presence casting out fear. His gift is the gift of Peace. In a world where what is given one moment is taken away by the next, Jesus remains steady. He cannot halt the chaos, but He is present within it, calming the heart, bringing Peace.
The Risen One is still wounded. He shows his wounds to His disciples. By doing this He is inviting them to dive to the depths of what is revealed. How are disciples meant to read these signs? The Beloved Son is One with the Father. But this is no private affair. Their love flows outwards bringing life to all who ask to be caught up in it. The crucifixion is the supreme hour of His Glory. It is the time and the place when Gods life and love are most powerfully visible, available and present. The throes of death reveal the greater flow of life. The most beautiful images of this are the holes that Love have made on Him. As his side is lanced, blood and water gush forth, a universal sign of new birth. The open wounds in hands, feet and side are channels that make His interior life with his Father available. This is what it means to see the Lord. The mediation of the love that lays down its life for His friends is the truth that fills them with gratitude and joy. The joy that floods them cannot be taken away any more than the peace which has been given to them.
But Peace is offered a second time. The Beloved Disciple had to look twice into the tomb before he came to belief. Mary of Magdala had to turn twice before she recognised the gardener as her Teacher. Now all the disciples of Jesus hear Him speak of Peace for a second time. The first time it was spoken to expel fear. The second time it is spoken it is to confer the power of mission. What is received must be passed on. Disciples must be life givers. They can only be Life givers if two things happen.
First, they must receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Just as God breathed life into the nostrils of Adam who became a living soul, the Risen Lord breathes into His disciples who become a new creation, who live by the breath of God. The Spirit brings an end to chaos, creates community and heals what is broken. The Spirit is the great bearer of the forgiveness of sins. There is nothing more horrible. There is no higher priority for the disciples of Jesus, and for the Community of the Church,
than to end the separation that exists between God and His Creation, and between sisters and brothers. Community will not grow without forgiveness. This is our greatest responsibility. If we hold onto the sins that separate there will be no community. If we let go of these sins, community will flourish.
There are many layers of meaning in today's Gospel which we must explore inside and outside of time. But is it clear that the Holy Spirit is given to us, in our thirst, to empower us to recreate the world. This is the power of the resurrection of Jesus - freedom from fear, the freedom to heal what has been torn apart, the freedom to build community.
When we sit with the Gospel of Saint John, we know we are in the company of a mystic - a spiritual master. The role of the spiritual master is to help us to see that what we always believed in the most childlike innocence of our hearts to be true, is true. John’s Gospel dances to the music of the presence and the words of Jesus. Words that are music in the ears of the rejected. A presence that is a silver setting in the heart of a slum. There are no straight lines in this dance. The music spirals. His words tumble over each other, retreat, then forge ahead, so that we can savour what was only tasted before. His Gospel is a river in spate with many tributaries. As each flow and feeling moves away, it mysteriously returns. Everything in One.
John's Gospel is a feast. It has all the flavour of a first kiss, of the times when we were sure that we could touch the sky if we stood on our toes and stretched. When Jesus looks up to heaven and prays, He is simply enjoying heaven from His place on Earth. He sees, hears, smells, touches and tastes the earth as creation sustained and transfigured by its source and its destiny. He calls the One who does all this, 'Abba, Father'. He stands within God’s creative love. He stretches out His hand to the supplier of seed. This seed must be received so that it can be nurtured and grow. The Father is on the lookout for fertile ground. He sends Jesus to lure those he finds at prayer and calls them to engage in the tumultuous affairs of the Earth.
But there's more. The Fathers' heart is revealed as love without regret. His Beloved Son whispers this love into the ears of those whom the Father has sent to Him. This new community has not happened by chance. Those who come to Jesus have already felt this love. All that has happened is that when the words pour forth from the mouth of Jesus, they are received as a love letter confirming all that they had already known. They know who has sent Jesus. They welcome Him and join Him in bringing Love to birth on the earth.
But will the glue that holds them together vanish when Jesus returns to His Abba? If they lose Him, will they lose it all? Without His light, will the darkness overtake them? The lure of violence, aggression and separation is strong. So Jesus teaches his disciples to exercise vigilance in their struggle for community. None have even been lost, except the one whose character was to be lost. But even this tragedy fits into the larger plans of the Fathers' heart, plans that can only be discerned by a deeper understanding of the Sacred Texts of Scripture.
The disciples of Jesus are to become the Body of Christ in the world where the body of Jesus is no longer visible. When they are faithful, Jesus' joy floods their lives and remains full for those who continue the Father’s mission to the world. This prayer of Jesus might be misread as a passionate plea for His disciples to be creative and to bring life giving love in a world that prefers darkness and death. Perhaps it is time that we answered His prayer for community with a more convincing AMEN! But consider this. Jesus always knew that his Father answered Him because He spoke Sacred words from God's Heart, and not human words in Gods ear. The prayer of Jesus is not just plea. It is revelation!
Perhaps the intensity of this prayer for us, His disciples, was because he was less certain about us. But we have nothing to lose in this work of building community in an age of Holocaust. To be more creative, more compassionate and more courageous is the only way to go!
Can love be compared to water? In this sense it can. It is hard to slake our thirst when water arrives in an 'on and off' way at our tap. No one thrives when love is not constant. All the evidence suggests that we are the best we can be when there is a steady supply of love flowing into our lives. This is true on a simply human level. It is equally true when we encounter Sacred Love. There is a love which is uniquely revealed by Jesus. We do not have to search for it as if He hadn't already found us. To this steady stream of love, He adds some simple rules.
Once upon a time there was a king riding in a coach on a rainy day. He sees a poor person dragging themselves through the muddy road and stops and offers them a lift. But the traveller does not have much trust. "What will it cost me?" They ask. "Only that you accept it." The king replies. Simple rule number one then, is knowing how to receive the love that is on offer. And, yes, there is a catch. Once the offer of love has been accepted a chain reaction is started. The one who is loved can only bring that love to joyful completion by passing it on. We might say we can only fully understand what we have received when we give it away.
If we could just grasp this simple truth, that we are links in a love chain from the Father to Jesus, from Jesus to us, from us to each other and back again. There is no need to grab, hold or possess love as if it was scarce. His word on love moves us from anxiety to holy communion. If we understand this, we have understood what Jesus is all about. And if we know what Jesus is about, we know what His Father is about. The world of masters and servants
collapses and gives way to communities of effortless friendship. In fact, disciples of Jesus have been chosen for this very purpose.
Can we tell ourselves the story that Jesus tells and that he wants us to tell to others? Can we see ourselves as powerful links in this love chain? Sometimes the greatest stumbling block for this is that the teaching of Jesus cannot get past the voices in our heads. You know the ones I mean. The negative self-talk. The tendency to focus on the times when we were hurt. The antidote to this is to think more positively and focus on those who left us treasured memories of love in our hearts.
James Mackey, in his 'Jesus the Man and the Myth ' suggests a way forward. "In the end, the only way to give people the experience .... of being themselves, Grace and treasure is to treat them as treasure and be gracious to them. The sun may indeed rise in the evil and the good, and the same rain refresh the just and the unjust. But the lesson will likely be lost on me unless the warmth of another person envelops me, unless some other human person refreshes the weariness of my defeated days. I will simply not feel my own life, my own self, as Grace or gift of God, unless someone values me." (p.107)
Mackeys insight is that every personal experience of authentic love opens a window on our understanding of God's infinite love. So we can become sacramental carriers of such love. It does not matter how we enter the love chain. It only matters that we enter in.
Every day I give thanks to God for the blessing of serving as priest in our community. Every day, I am given many chances to be grateful again when I witness the wonderful works that are being done by so many, inside and outside of the Parish.
This weekend, your leadership team will be clearly visible and available. They are an amazing team. Working with them over the last six months has been very satisfying. I have been moved to tears at times by the depth of their understanding and their love for the Lord and for His church. I have been humbled by the amount of time they have given to bring a whole range of life giving opportunities to birth in the parish. This team is growing all the time as we ask the Lord to enrich our understanding of the real situation we are living in and respond to it with love.
The vision I am asking everyone to ponder and to embrace,
'To be with Christ and to be sent by Him to relieve the suffering of the world',
is not hard to grasp or understand. That each one of us chooses, really chooses, every day, to draw closer to Jesus and to ask Him to send us to relieve the suffering of our sisters and brothers. Here too we must include all sentient beings and Mother Earth herself who call to us for help. This vision has not been plucked out of thin air. It comes straight from the mouth of God. Jesus makes the first move. His horizon touches ours. We are elevated and begin to see everything with new eyes. This transformation doesn't happen automatically. It needs us to welcome the gift and to try to grow in our understanding of who Jesus is and what He is teaching. If you like, we have to choose to abide in Him as he chooses to abide in us. Jesus points to a wonderful possibility but it will only become real if we work with Him to make it real.
There is an old saying that goes, "Make all your cares into a single care and God will see to all your cares". In the fifth Sunday in Eastertide, Saint John's Gospel lays before us the image of the vine, the vineyard and the vinedresser! Just as the vine connects the plant to the nourishing earth, Jesus is the connection between God and Creation. He asks us to be more aware of this connection in our daily lives. He is the true vine because He never forgets or loses this flow of life from the Father. His horizon now and is Eternal, His gaze on us and on the face of God. Just as the vine grows, so He calls us to grow. Being a disciple is not static and it is not a status. It is a process, a journey. We have to want this horizon and we have to work hard with what we have been given.
The vinedresser knows the laws of spiritual and biological growth. He cuts away the dead and dying branches because He can see there is no effort to grow. But where people are trying to grow, His pruning shears are life giving. The possibility of more and better fruit is what guides the hand of the vinedresser. Anything that blocks the flow of life between us and Jesus will be cut away. He sets us free from competing agendas so that we can focus on the one thing necessary. The contrasting images of "branches bearing much fruit" and "withered and burned branches" set out the options.
The word of Jesus will, if we let it, create in us a single wish. The wish to be close to His Abba. The wish to mediate the flow of Love, which flows into us, out and into the world. He calls us to look up. To see more than we had ever seen. The new horizon grows and becomes even more attractive. Can fruit be far behind?
The Beloved Son of God, loves without regret, loves without end, loves to breaking point. His life is 'given' into the life of His friends. He loves unconditionally and has the safety of His friends always in His Sacred Heart. His love does not recede or vanish when trouble arrives. The Shepherd dies. The sheep live. This is what makes Him the Good Shepherd.
His disciples know well what it is like to be carried by hired hands; who really have no care for their sheep and abandon them when trouble arrives. They are only interested and concerned with themselves and are motivated by rewards. The appearance of the wolf is like a bright light which shows them in their true colours. The sheep die. The shepherd escapes.
The Good Shepherd has seen that when He is "lifted up" He "will draw" other sheep to Himself. What is so attractive about Him? Is it not that He reveals the kind of loving that transforms death into life. The power of this truth will be a magnet that will create one community from the vast diversity of people on the earth. This is how His Fathers' life works in and through His Beloved Son. Jesus freely enters the realm of death. On the surface, it might look as if His life is in the hands of His enemies. But at a deeper level, the act of, "laying it down" and "taking it up again" has always been His choice, His work.
Two lovers gaze into each other's eyes on their wedding day and say without any reserve in their hearts that their love will be true, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. A mother and father hold their new-born baby in their arms for the first time, and from some vastness of Love within themselves say, "I would lay down my life for you." A friend sits at the bedside of a friend who is dying and says, "I'm not going away". Life presents us with many moments, large and small, where we commit ourselves without reserve to another person’s life. But these are not moments that we choose. They are simply something we are. We do not boast of this love since it does not appear to be something of our own making. We can only humbly accept it for what it is. We can only accept to be unconditional love. We might say, this love chooses us.
It seems that Jesus had many ways to try and give us an insight into who He is. Perhaps this week you could look at some of these themes which always begin with the words "I Am"...... the Bread of Life, the Light of the World and so on. But perhaps there is no image as clear as the one offered in this week’s Sunday Gospel. He is most Himself when He is laying down His life for His sheep. His "I Am." is carried on the same breath as a "May you be."
And so, it is with us. Perhaps the glimpses we catch of our true self are rare. But we do see them, and they are real. The joy this brings makes us attractive. It is the magnet Jesus said it would be. If you are drawn to this revelation, you might be interested to know that the Greek word for good, 'kalos', can also be translated as Beautiful
Some people from Greece have arrived for the festival and have asked to 'see' Jesus. But this is more than a casual meeting. To 'see' Jesus is to enter into a profound revelation. In Saint John's Gospel, Jesus must be 'lifted up', (Jn, 3.14) crucified in order to be seen. For Jesus, the arrival of these Greeks is a sign that the time of universal revelation is at hand. The Beloved Son of God has come for all people. Yet, the way that He shows himself is paradoxical. The image of the single grain of wheat that falls on the ground and dies in order to grow into 'much fruit' (v.24) provides the key to understanding this paradox. For Jesus, death is never seen as a loss. It is only the beginning of a time of change that will yield greater results than an individual life.
Jesus will become more through death, not less. In death he will become universally available. Closer to us than we are to ourselves. This revelation contains crucial instructions for His disciples. It illuminates a universal spiritual process. They are asked to see it and embrace it. If we identify ourselves as individuals with
separate lives, we will lose that life. Death will eventually take it from us. But if we do not identify as individuals with separate lives, the death of that life becomes a gateway into transformation. There is no real loss here, only a crossing over to eternity. The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus will make this truth clear. But still He has to navigate the anxiety which precedes loss. He does this by turning to His Abba in prayer. His prayer is answered immediately because it is aligned with the Fathers will. It is to the glory of the Father to bring
greater life out of lesser death. This is what God has always done. This is what God has been doing through His Beloved Son. This is what God will continue to do through His disciples. Death has held sway until now but now it's reign of terror is ended. Jesus' death will not entail the universal fate of going down into the earth. In His death He will be 'lifted up from the earth'. (v.32). It is this kind of dying, as a transforming process, that will attract people to Jesus. Death as extinction will bow to death as exaltation. This will be the kind of death Jesus will die and thus will draw all people to Himself.
Wheat falls, acorns crack, and cocoons split, bringing bread, oak trees and butterflies. Seeing death as a transition is essential for any disciple of Jesus. In his poem, 'Holy Longing', Goethe has written,
As long as you haven't experienced
this: to die and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth.
If this is true, perhaps we should be practicing how to die to ourselves on a regular basis! Here is a little story in this theme.
Once upon a time, a rich and generous man would freely give gold coins to various groups of people. One day it would be widows, another day the less able, another day poor students. The only request he made was that they should wait in silence for the gift to be given.
When it was the day for lawyers, one pleaded his cause with gusto. The rich man simply passed by. The next day was the turn of the lame, so the lawyer put splints on his legs and posed as such. The rich man recognised him and passed by. The next day, the lawyer disguised himself as a widow, but he didn't fool the rich man who just passed him by.
So the lawyer found an undertaker and concocted a plan that he would be wrapped in a shroud and placed in the path of the rich man. Surely he would throw some gold coins on the shroud for a proper burial. Afterwards, the lawyer and the undertaker would split the proceeds.
The rich man did throw gold coins on the shroud. The lawyers hand shot out and grabbed the coins. Then he jumped up and triumphantly proclaimed that he had deceived and beaten the rich man. "Do you see how, at last, I have received from your kindness?' 'Yes', said the rich man, 'but first you had to die'.
We must die to the schemer and become the receiver. It is the posture of contemplative silence which allows us to receive the gold that the rich and generous man is giving. As Rumi says,
" The mystery of die before you die is this:
that the gifts come after your dying and not before.
Except for dying, you artful schemer,
no other skill impresses God".
When death bites, it hurts. The Beloved Son of God comes from above and becomes death, death on a cross. If, when we see Him and believe in Him, Eternal Life will flow into us. This is the wonder of it all. That Eternal Life appears at the exact moment when human life is failing and carries us through the loss of all that we know. Eternal Life suffuses and carries us to the other side of what we cannot yet see. This truth is grasped by looking on the crucified One, who transfigures death into the servant of life.
And there is more! In Christ there is no condemnation! This is the truth. It is, if you like, the highest truth, or the revelation of the One who is behind all that His Beloved Son does. Our lives are a mystery to us and we are sustained by what we cannot really understand. But we are led to the truth that the ground on which we stand sings of the self-giving love of the Father who is dedicated to human fulfilment. This is what Dante calls, 'the Love which moves the sun and the other stars'.(Paradiso, 33.145)
The Beloved Son is sent by this Love, who cannot bear to see
His creation being unravelled by death. The Son brings life
without end. He does not seek condemnation but
Salvation. God's judgement is love and life. If we accept this gift,
condemnation cannot touch us. But if we refuse the gift we are
undone. Perhaps this is why, when we are drawing closer to
God, and the light of Love begins to shine more brightly in us,
there is a risk that when we see the full horror of sin we might
want to cover ourselves in darkness again. But the Light of
Mercy suggests another direction. A direction which begins with
gratitude for the Grace of God which is, and always has been,
the source of all the good we have done.
A choice which keeps choosing to move more deeply into the light.
When we hear the Good News that in Christ there is no condemnation we might not believe it. We are so used to being judged - and condemned - by people. Are we not always being put on the scales, weighed in the balance and found wanting? We even do it to ourselves! Husbands, wives, parents and children do it. Bosses, work colleagues, neighbours and friends have mastered the look that lets us know we are not quite good enough. So when we hear that God has abandoned judgment and condemnation in favour of Love, we may have to work on ourselves to let this Truth come home. Having done that, there is no sense of being off the hook. We are, but we are now on another one. The light of Love will reveal to us how we ourselves might live in the twilight zone of sin and the judgement and condemnation of others.
In the beautiful Parable of St. John's Gospel 8.6, Jesus bends down to write in the sand, deliberately evoking a memory of undeserved forgiveness in Exodus 31.18 where God gives Moses a masterclass in Mercy. The Pharisees claim that their only motivation for stoning the woman is faithfulness to the teaching of Moses. But Jesus, the true interpreter of Moses, wants them to drop their cover story and be searingly honest with themselves about why they are really there. He gives them a chance to come into the light. But they will not take it. They have been casting the stones of judgement and condemnation for a long time and old habits are hardest to break. The invitation to come into the light is no match for the comfort of darkness. One by one, they move away from the Light. And this preference for darkness has become a free choice for self-condemnation.
It is a strange truth that preferring darkness is easier than we might think. We do not always recognise our habitual ways of relating as darkness, so first we have to see it for what it really is. Only with the arrival of the Light does the racist, sexist, classist and separatist character of our thinking become clear. It is easier to create a cover story for our bad behaviour than to engage in painful self-examination. Other people seem eager to buy into our cover story and join us in our self-deceit. They are happy to not look at what we will not look, at as long as we agree to return the favour. The light is not welcome. It calls for a decision to change. Perhaps this is why some prefer the darkness. In this fourth week of Lent, let's pray that this is not us!
To some people, the Gospel story for the Third Sunday of Lent, unfolds in the Temple in Jerusalem. But
Jesus has another name for this building. He calls it, 'My Father's House' (v14). We can see the problem. If
the building is a Temple, there is business to be done and deals to be struck. Here, worship is a commercial
venture. Exchange is the name of the game. Worshippers give God something and God gives them
something. The basic exchange is flexible enough for all the versions of, "You scratch my back and I'll
scratch yours." And if you can offer an animal without blemish, you go to the front of the queue. The mindset
of the marketplace so fills the Temple that it has become a place for making deals with God.
Jesus’ Father is not a deal maker. He does no exchange favours or forgiveness for sacrifices. The Father
is Free and the flow of Love from His Heart cannot be bought, bartered, bargained for or gained with a
bribe. Hard cash and animals are useless to those who know they are in the Fathers House. So, you set
the animals free and you chase out the cash converters. They may be needed in the Temple but they are
not needed in 'My Father’s House' (v.16). What is more, when Jesus entered into a conversation with a
woman who came to draw water at a well, He tells her that the building itself isn't necessary. (Jn 4:23-24)
Worship can unfold right where we are. We don't have to move towards anything. Anyone who asks for the
gift of the Holy Spirit and is moved by the Spirit is worshipping The Father! Since Jesus is the fullness of
Grace and Truth from whom all receive the Spirit, (Jn 1:14,16) His presence stirs up a sense of the
Sacred. Jesus may be doing more than a clearance of the Temple, He may be replacing it!
This isn't going to be well received by the Temple Authorities. What Jesus has done is dangerous. His zeal
will consume Him and it will provoke conflict. He will be consumed by the anger of others who profit from
Temple commerce. They arrive on time and they know that His cleansing actions and words can belong
only to the Messiah. So they ask for a sign of authenticity, a miracle or two might do. But what He offers
only baffles them. They take literally what is offered symbolically. They cannot see the spiritual
revelation. So Jesus says, 'Destroy this Temple - His Body - the dwelling place of God - and by the power
and presence of God he will rise again because of His communion with His Father. Their malice and violence
will only reveal more of the Fathers face. But the sign they seek is a sign they cannot read.
So let's go back to our favourite pastime - deal making. It isn't hard
to see how an activity that is so embedded in our lives could be
carried into our spiritual lives. How do we get what we want from
God and how does God get what He wants from us? We think we
have to bargain with the Father to get what we want. This is more
than a little theological error. It is a huge obstacle to any real
spiritual development. And it can turn ugly when so called religious
'elitists' set themselves up as brokers of the deal. Jesus rejects this
approach. "Beware of the scribes who ... devour widows’ houses
and for the sake of appearance say long prayers" (Mk 12:38).
These intermediaries are being paid to pray to God for poor
widows. It is an unscrupulous manipulation by callous people. But
the sad truth is that it is easier to destroy the Temple than to
eradicate the deal making God.
In the film, "A House of Sand and Fog", the son of an Islamic man is shot. His distraught father instinctively
begins to pray for him. He says to God, "If you let my son live, I will lay in the park, put bird seed in my eyes,
and let the birds eat out my eyes". The deal emerges from the depth of his suffering and wells up to the heart
that he shares with all people. Stress, hurt and tragedy bring it out of hiding. For most of us it is hard to move
beyond the deal making default. Or perhaps the Father of Jesus who is often not at home with images of
buying and selling, is at home when we are grateful for the gift of life and serve life in any way we can. We
can receive and give, and when both make us truly happy, we can be said to be at play in God's Temple. In
fact, we have been admitted to the 'Holy of Holies' (Heb 9:3). Here, our 'sacrifice' mingles with the divine
'sacrifice' which makes life holy by pouring Himself out. The challenge and the gift is not in making a good
deal, but in getting beyond deals and into .................
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