It looks like the crowd are following Jesus but they are really following miracles. Jesus sees through their immaturity and tries to help them to grow up. They seek Him because he has filled their bellies with bread. But they have still not understood what the bread means. They are well aware of their physical hunger and are very focused on filling it. But they are less acquainted with their spiritual hunger and are not sure how to fill that. Jesus tells them that He, Himself, is the one who feeds them with 'Bread from Heaven'. Now He begins lesson number two. They ask him about keeping the law or the works of God. To be faithful, they must do what God does. He teaches them that they can only do these works (the many) if they are united to the work (the One). They must join the One who has been sent. For while, "The Law was indeed given through Moses, Grace and Truth have come through Jesus Christ." (Jn 1,29)
Now comes lesson number three. These ‘would be’ disciples need proof. If Jesus is the work of God, what work will He do that will help them to believe in Him? They know that the Law, the great charter for Justice, is from God, because Moses, the lawgiver, provided manna in the desert. The manna is the only validation Moses needs. But Jesus says, 'Think again!' The manna was not given as proof that Moses was from God. It was meant to reveal the One who put it there. The Father is the One who gives Bread from Heaven and He is giving it all the time. Now they must see that the True Bread which comes down from Heaven is given for the whole world. It cannot be contained within the borders of Israel. It is a gift for the whole of Creation. The Bread is its own reality. It does not point to something else. If you let Jesus in you will have all the proof you need!
Now, lesson number four! The crowd need time to take in the full impact of what Jesus is teaching them. For now, all they can hear is the promise of manna every day. Since the 'Bread of Life' is the spiritual nourishment that flows from God into Creation, and since Jesus is the Beloved Son of God who rebuilds the connection, He himself is the Bread of life. Whoever comes to Him will kiss eternity and they will never feel spiritual hunger or thirst ever again. The Teacher invites those who are locked in the prison of the visible, the material and the temporal to embrace the freedom of the invisible, the spiritual and the eternal. Can they do it?
Once upon a time, there was an exhausted mother who stood up at a retreat and announced that she was tired of giving. Her friends were quick to offer solutions and advice; daycare, part time employment, more husbandfather involvement. Then a voice broke through this conversation, "Honey, you gotta learn how to sing". She told the exhausted mother that she had to change her whole mind, her whole attitude. Nothing suggested so far would provide lasting help. Tinkering with the edges was no substitute for inner change. She had to transform the moments of giving into moments of meeting.
Spiritual Teachers value interior change as the forerunner to new and decisive action. They often tweak and tease the consciousness of their disciples to see things in a new way. Like the other day when I was driving back from visiting my best friend who is dying, I saw, on the billboard of a church, 'Tweet others as you yourself would like to be tweeted'. Brilliant! Or the story Jack Kornfield tells of his spiritual Teacher. 'There is a road I know well, but it can be foggy or dark. When I see someone travelling this road about to fall into a ditch or get lost in a sidetrack on the right hand side, I call out 'Go to the left.' So too, if I see someone fall into a ditch or get lost in a sidetrack on the left hand side, I call out, 'Go to the right.' That's all I do when I teach. Wherever you get caught, I say, 'Let go of that too.' (After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path)[New York:Bantam 2000. Pp268-169]
Jesus, the Teacher, knows the path well and can help others who are in a fog or in darkness. I like to see Him calling out to us, "A little to the left," or "Go to the right". And I imagine Him saying, "Don't keep hungering after wonders or miracles. Notice the deeper hunger within you for what lasts forever. Turn your mind from doing things and enlarge the inner space from which you are able to do things. Gods' work is always done with God. Stop asking, 'How will I know if this is true?' Instead ask, 'Am I in communion with God and receiving His gift of life. Manna every morning will not solve your problems. Give your heart to me and you will be satisfied for ever." This is the deeper level where Love elevates us and things become easier, less trying, happening more by themselves. If you think you need more of this, you are right.
You could read this Sunday's Gospel from the point of view of overworked and stressed disciples. If you did it would be a mistake! Yes, they are back from the mission and the Teacher invites them to go away by themselves and rest. There is a revolving door of so many people with so many demands that the disciples cannot eat. They hop on a boat but the people continue to come to them - walking faster than their oars can push. When they step ashore, Jesus sees the crowds. His Compassion trumps the plan for eating and resting. Those who are suffering must come first. No rest for the disciples. The mission comes first.
Notice how the passage is awash with spiritual symbols. When the disciples have told Jesus about their words and works, it isn't time for a bit of R and R. It is time for a deeper teaching about mission and how it is to be done. They are invited to a 'deserted place' to 'rest' and to 'eat'. Food is not normally found in deserted places. The food that is on offer is learning how to be nourished by God. They are being invited to fall into the heart of God and to be fed there. Also, 'rest' does not mean time to splash on the sun tan lotion and pick up a good novel. This is Sabbath Rest. It is the rest wherein I make myself One with all creation and with the Spirit of the Creator. Here, I learn how to receive, from the heart of God, all I will need for the mission that has been
entrusted to me.
This is not an easy thing to do. It requires a shift in awareness. So we must 'get in the boat' and 'cross over' to another way of thinking. This new way does not leave anyone behind. The problem is not the people or their needs. The problem is the way our activity takes us away from the wellspring. On the other shore, with renewed awareness, everything begins with Compassion. Everything is sustained by Compassion. In a world where nobody has any time for those who have nothing to give, Jesus is a magnet. Disciples must learn how to stay in touch with Compassion.
In our own days Compassion is seen as exhausting. We hear of compassion fatigue! When people arrive with their needs, we must find a way to empathise with them. Compassion demands a real relationship. We cannot keep our distance. But living in the world of another’s need can be draining. This is why so many 'professionals'
complain about compassion fatigue.
Yet, for Jesus, Compassion is a form of rest. How can this be possible? When we think we are in a superior position to someone in need; when we imagine that we are called upon from our greatness or expertise to help another, we very quickly act as if they are a dead weight needing to be lifted up. This is heavy lifting and it is exhausting. For Jesus, Compassion arises from sameness. This cannot be manufactured. It must be genuinely perceived. We must refrain from thinking we have the edge , the possession, the gift, the skill, the knowledge or the luck which makes us better than anyone else. This can only happen in the 'deserted place' and with 'rest'.
Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine monk lived in India for many years and worked to develop this new awareness. He created the 'deserted place' and the 'rest' by choosing the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus, Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner". This meditation brought him into community with all people. He wrote,
"I unite myself with all human beings from the beginning of the world who have experienced separation from God, or from eternal truth. I realise that, as human beings, we are all separated from God, from the source of our being. We are wandering in a world of shadows, mistaking the outward appearance of people and things for reality. But at all times, something is pressing us to reach out beyond the shadows, to face the reality, the truth, the inner meaning of our lives, and so to find God, or whatever name we give to the mystery which enfolds us".
When we realise we are the same as everyone else, our actions arise from communion. We are not steeling ourselves to exert influence in the foreign territory of another. Our mission arises from what ultimately unites us, a common humanity longing for a common compassion. Compassion cannot be achieved. It can only emerge when we recognise the deepest truth that we are all one. This new awareness is a place of rest from which mission flows easily. Whenever you find pushing, shoving, pressure or tension, you can guarantee that
Compassion has been lost.
The Kingdom of God is coming, and the signs of its arrival are clear. There is a new teaching which is accompanied by new deeds. But Teaching comes first. We welcome the teaching of Jesus and make it our own if we want to move forward. So, when we read that the Twelve were 'given authority over unclean spirits', we are not in an episode of Supernatural or Grimm fairy tales. The Twelve urged communities and individuals to rethink the 'taboos' and restrictions around clean and unclean boundaries. The truth of which they speak is that all need a change of heart and mind. The Twelve, the new leaders of the Twelve tribes of Israel, are sent to create a new community based on a new teaching about true holiness. So instead of fearing what is 'unclean', and pushing people away, they have to have faith, and mirror the God who is Mercy and Compassion. The re-entry of those who have been written off, will only be possible if the whole community have nurtured a new awareness that supports this kind of Kingdom activity.
Jesus teaches disciples and disciples teach others. If they are going to be successful, everything about them needs to be authentic. Disciples must themselves be 'at one' with this new teaching. How we work with others to create a more inclusive sense of community is as important as healing and exorcising. So Jesus gives His disciples a way of working. They must not go it alone but walk with each other. Walking stick and sandals mean that they must not settle down. A single tunic speaks of a confidence in what they bring. Without bread, bag or money, they unite themselves with those in need. Their lack of resources will elicit the compassion that is the foundation stone, indeed the cornerstone, of this new community. Welcoming disciples is the first step to welcoming the One who has sent them. Also, disciples are not to fight with those who do not accept their Kingdom activity. They are not to retaliate. They are to shake the dust on their feet as they go. In this way, those who refuse them will know that God has moved on. There are other people and other places to visit, and the Good News must be preached.
When disciples become an invitation for others to undertake a spiritual adventure, great things happen. We come to see that Jesus is not asking for goals to be reached, but paths to be walked. Paths that will lead us to deeper awareness.
Jack Kornfield tells the story of following the injunction to bow. As a young man, and the only westerner in a Bhuddist monastery in Thailand, he was instructed to bow to every monk that was older than he was. If he respected an older monk, there was no problem. But when he had to bow to some of the others, he struggled. Nevertheless, he bowed. He wrote, "I began to look for some worthy aspect of each person I bowed to. I bowed to the wrinkles in the retired farmers eyes, for all the difficulties he had suffered and triumphed over. I bowed to the vitality and playfulness of the young monks, the incredible possibilities each of their lives held yet ahead of them". (After the Ecstacy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path. ix-xi)
From following the injunction to bow, he learned how to be open to whatever life brings and learn from it. This reminds me of a beautiful poem by Rumi, from The Guest House, in The Illuminated Room.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
They may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Can you see it now? The disciples return with walking stick, sandals and one tunic and still without bread, bag or money. As they tell Jesus what they did and what they taught, He asks them, "Did you lack anything?" The say, "Nothing". "Ah!" He says.
The Teacher has come home. He is met with astonishment in some and a desire to bring Him down a peg or two by others. If the astonished can follow their astonishment to its source, they will see that Jesus has His origins in God. Even if they 'know Him' at an ordinary level, this knowledge will not prevent them from seeing his nearness to God. They will welcome and walk with Him and they will see great deeds of power: healing, exorcisms and deeper truths. But for some, His words and His works cause His rejection. They know Him. They know His work. They know His family. They know He is overreaching Himself. They 'put Him in His place'. He is an ordinary bloke who should be doing ordinary things. He should be making tables, not speaking a new Wisdom, curing the sick and casting out demons. In their minds, his ordinariness undercuts and refutes the greatness they have heard about and now have seen for themselves. They cannot explain, or stomach Jesus Wisdom and Grace. His ministry might be big potatoes elsewhere, but in Nazareth it only causes offence. And so, His revelation, not received with faith, lacks the cooperation necessary for mighty deeds to be done.
One of Mark Twain’s memorable lines was, "Familiarity breeds contempt and … children." Familiarity happens when we get to know people a little better. We tell ourselves that we know them. We know how they look, how they talk, about their health, how old they are, what they like or don't like etc, etc. We might include knowledge of their work and how they like to chill out. We like to know where they have travelled, what successes they have achieved and what failures they have endured. We gather features of their personalities. Are they shy or outgoing. What are they passionate about etc? What happens next is that we tell ourselves we have them 'nailed down', or 'boxed in'. Either way they cannot move.
It isn't easy to hold what we think we know about other people lightly, especially when it is confirmed time and again by the things they say and do. That is why it is very good to be blessed by the experience of overhearing about the box other people have put us in. We will almost certainly be offended by what we hear and reject their categories. All they have done, we will tell ourselves, is lopped away everything about us that didn't fit into the box they made for us. We know that we are infinitely more than what they have nailed down!
And now we are presented with a challenge. Can it be true that we are always more than other people think but other people are exactly as we describe them? In Nazareth they will not let Jesus out of the box they have put Him in. But you can bet anything you like they think that they themselves are beyond boxes. The way to face this challenge is to stay aware of how comfortably we fit, if we fit at all, into the boxes others have made for us. We must realise that while we are busy analysing and predicting the behaviour of others, not too far away someone is doing the same to us. This creates space for the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". The key word is 'do'. We start a new ball rolling. We grant the others a universe in which to unfold. This is the right and just thing to do. We can only hope that they do the same for us. When this happens we are always given the gift of surprise. We have to accept the fact that any box we make will be too small, or we have to reject the one who had the courage to break free.
I like to think that we all break the boxes other people put us in. They did not think we had it in us - but we did! But as a wise person once said, there are no enlightened people, only enlightened behaviours. They look at us as if we are strangers, while in reality we are just being ourselves. Familiarity has been overcome. Or to put it another way. When we love someone, we find that we have very little to say about them. It is the ones we do not love that we speak about mostly, and therein lies the key to our freedom. And to our silence!
Jesus stays close to the sea. He teaches there. The crowds gather and He casts His net. He teaches with authority. His words and His deeds are movements of the same dance. So, the sudden appearance of Jairus, the leader of the Synagogue, allows Jesus to let a new story unfold.
Jairus is unusual. He does not watch and disapprove of Jesus like many of his colleagues. They have Him as a lawbreaker because He works on the Sabbath, and as unclean because he embraces those who have crossed the impurity line. Now, his daughter has carried him to the feet if Jesus. He is desperate, afraid and impotent in the face of her sickness. Still he can see that God is working through Jesus and he wants some of that. Will one touch be enough?
Enter the sick woman who has been let down by every GP and Consultant she has met. Worse still, they have emptied her bank account. The crowd is moving and pressing against Jesus. But when she touches Him, something is different. Jesus' desire to manifest compassion and love is matched by her readiness to receive it. Saving power has gone out of Him and into her. But to complete her healing He calls her to tell her story. Since God has touched her, she can now be touched by others. Her loneliness is gone. She has been restored in herself and restored to the community.
Now back to Jairus. The news breaks that it is too late. His daughter is dead and there is now no need for the Teacher and His miracles. But Jesus instructs Jairus not to let the fear of death dominate his heart. He has just witnessed one restoration and will soon witness another. God’s love turns death into sleep, and those who are sleeping can be awakened. The crowd are dismissed because they believe that death rules life. Jairus and his wife must hold onto the love of God that makes all things possible. They must remain steadfast against the wailers and the mockers.
Jesus does not pray to His Abba to bring the little girl back. He takes her tenderly by the hand and speaks to her. His voice, and the intimacy of his touch awakens her. The One who is stronger than death has arrived. However, the full unfolding of this love will be revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The little girl is given a share in the story of the Eucharist. If she eats and drinks at loves table she will know eternally what she knows in time. This is the whole truth. This is the story that must be told.
We have five senses. Sight, Hearing, Touch, Smell and Taste. Perhaps we do not reflect enough on what it means to me touched by God and how touch is a powerful way of experiencing the Spirit. Rachel Naomi Remen, a doctor who works on humanising the world of medicine speaks often about healing and touch. In her workshops with doctors she invites them to touch one another with healing intent. One doctor described his experience,
'At first, I thought I would just play it safe, but after Jane (his touching partner) told me about the pain she usually has in her back I decided to take a chance and tell her about my divorce. How hard it had become for me to trust women. She asked me where I felt this pain, and I couldn't actually say it, so I touched my heart. She nodded then put the palm of her hand on my chest. I was really astonished by how warm her hand was, and gently, and tenderly she touched me. A little at a time the warmth of her hand seemed to penetrate my chest and surround my heart. I had a strange sort of experience. For a while there, it seems as if she were holding my heart in her hand rather than just touching my chest. That's when I felt the strength in her hand, how rocksteady she was. In a funny way I could feel she was really there for my pain, committed to being there, and suddenly I was not alone. I was safe. That's when I started to cry.' (Kitchen Table Wisdom, [New York Riverhead Books, 1996] 240)
I love this story because most of us keep our pain to ourselves and in so doing we isolate ourselves from the human companionship that is so necessary to get through it. Pain and loneliness are often to be seen walking hand in hand down the street. It seems that only touch can build a bridge, so that neither invading nor abandoning the person who is suffering we offer them a real experience of our Presence. The touching person can become a conduit for the flow of divine love and whether it heals the sickness or not, the offering of inclusion always heals. The isolated person is no longer alone and, here the mystery deepens, more safe.
Jesus' long day, teaching in the school of love, is over. The crowds have heard Him, but have they understood Him? It is one thing to hear everything explained, but it is another to 'get it', and integrate it into our life. Jesus gives personal tuition to those closest to Him. He invites His disciples to "cross over", and, as the story unfolds they will understand what He means.
The disciples do not hesitate to begin the crossing. They take Him in their boat, thinking they will be steering the ship. Also, they take Jesus "just as He was", a teacher, who sets out to catch people. "Just as He was", means He is still teaching and the lesson is how to let go of fear and fall into trust! The other boats, tell us that this is a teaching all disciples will have to hear, and make their own.
But, they cannot do it. They cannot make the crossing from fear to trust. The storm terrifies them and fills them with doubt. So, they awaken the Teacher. He seems not to notice the storm and asks them to look instead at themselves. They seem not to hear his question. They just keep puzzling over Him. We know this place so well. We are daily ambushed by physical and social dangers. It is so hard not to identify with what threatens us. This is our personal version of the 'wind and the waves'. When we are frightened we cannot make the Wisdom of Jesus our own.
But look at Jesus, asleep with His Head on a cushion! A picture of peace in the heart of the storm. The windswept disciples ask Him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" The danger makes them wonder if all this talk about the Fathers love is just talk. Danger makes them uncertain of His Love. The storm has split them in two. And so the awakened Teacher shows them how to cross over. He rebukes the power of fear. He commands silence and Peace into the air His disciples breath. Does God care? His answer is a resounding
YES! But this truth cannot unfold in the doubting mind. The Teacher directs them to this task. "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? (v.40)
But now a new fear grips them. They are filled with 'awe'. The literal Greek text says, 'they feared a great fear'. But even awe can work against faith. It pushes disciples to talk about Jesus and his abilities. What Jesus wanted was for them to talk about how their fear evicted their faith. When Jesus the Teacher cannot be received, Jesus the Saviour is born! And that is the nub of the dilemma. It is much easier to worship Jesus than to follow Him. We have to make His Wisdom our own. As Evelyn Underhill admitted, "It is far easier, though not very
easy, to develop and preserve a spiritual outlook on life, than it is to make our everyday actions harmonise with
that spiritual outlook." (The Spiritual Life, p,60)
Fear and Faith are big code words in Saint Mark's Gospel. They are the constant and daily challenge to everyone who wants to walk with Jesus and cross over to the other side. In the four Gospels, the disciples do not seem to be able to move into a deeper trust. It is written that they even fled 'in fear and amazement' from the empty tomb! But here's the thing. I believe it is impossible to walk with Jesus and not be afraid. And this argues for a daily commitment to find what He had found. The love that is stronger than death. The love that does not fail. The love that has no end. The love that loves to breaking point.
"My friend isn't back from the battlefield, sir. Request permission to go out and get him".
"Permission refused," said the officer. "I don't want you to risk your life for a man who is probably dead."
The soldier went, all the same, and, an hour later, came back mortally wounded, carrying the corpse of his friend.
The officer was furious. "I told you he was dead. Now I've lost both of you. Tell me, was it worth going out there to bring in a corpse?"
The dying man replied, "Oh, it was sir. When I got to him, he was still alive. And he said to me, 'Jack, I was sure you'd come.'"
Jesus uses Parables to teach about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is being born, is coming to be, in and through His disciples. Their struggle for a new humanity and a new community will drive all darkness away. It is not something we experience only on the other side of the grave. It is here! It isnow! It is in the very heart of us! And boy do we know it when it speaks and makes itself known!
Parables are not like other stories. They are laden with depths of meaning which cannot be accessed by the casual listener. Serious apprentices listen over and over again to the Parable so that it might reveal its meaning and offer up its treasure to us. Ordinary events illuminate spiritual realities. The Kingdom of God is like this, but it isn't not like this either. The images are deliberately open ended. They open a territory but do not map it. They discipline the heart to look in certain direction, but they do not tell the heart what it will see. What the teacher is trying to do is to raise awareness, to heighten the consciousness of the disciple.
This Sunday, we are given the gift of two Parables. The first is about seed and soil and urges us to trust the natural growing process. Once contact has been made between the seed (the word) and the earth (the receptive heart) a process of development begins. This process is more mysterious than we know and we should not interfere in it. We can live our lives and we can sleep easy. Sower Control is not permitted! Hence the story of the farmer who wanting to see it all, poked around his crop every day and ended up with nothing. For those who lack trust, nothing grows! But for those who trust, the miracle unfolds. Step by wonderful step we gaze on the ripeness that will be harvested to become bread for the hungry.
The second Parable is very reassuring. God likes to hide in small things. The greater is contained in the lesser. What we now know may be as small as a mustard seed. But once the seed has been sown into mystery it will grow. What will be harvested will be the enhanced ability of disciples to defend, shelter, protect and comfort others.
The Gospels make it clear that Jesus does not want casual listeners among His disciples. He wants to give His words to serious apprentices. His words are wings. He sees more in us than we see in ourselves. It takes real humility to know ourselves as mustard seeds and to sit in the presence of the One who sees us as the sheltering tree of life.
Paul Murray's poem, 'Know Yourself' captures some of this energy.
There is a world within you no one has ever seen,
A voice no one has ever heard, not even you.
As yet unknown, you are your own seer, Your own interpreter.
And so, with eyes and ears Grown sharp for voice or sign
Not to these words
But to that inward voice, That impulse beating in your heart like a far wave.
Turn to that source, and you will find what no one has ever found.
A ground within you none has ever seen.
A world beyond the limits of your dreams horizon.
(The Absent Fountain [Dublin:Daedalus Press,1991]12).
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.
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