John the Baptist doesn't just see Jesus, he sees into the heart and mission of Jesus. His invitation to 'Behold' means something worth looking at is before us. John calls Jesus the 'Lamb of God' and so do we. Yet, the sin that He takes away cannot just be seen as the individual transgressions we might make. What is taken away is the experience of being isolated from God. Jesus frees the temple animals, because they are no longer needed. The disciples go with Him at the time when animals were sacrificed in the Temple and find everything they need in Him. What is needed is to have communion with the Beloved Son of God.
John also admits to what he does not know. He has to grow in his understanding and relationship with Jesus. John is granted a sacred communication that Jesus and the Spirit are inseparable. He has to work at this insight to make it bear fruit. Coming to see the truth of Jesus takes time, patience and a genuine desire to come and see what He is revealing. We see a pattern develop. John sees Jesus, witnesses to Him and creates new disciples. Two new disciples see Jesus, witness to Him and create more disciples. It seems that we have to find out the truth about Jesus for ourselves but others who have already discovered it can show us the way.
We should ask ourselves a question about our relationship with Jesus and how we share this with others. We don't do this by having yes or no, right or wrong answers but by sharing the adventure we have been enjoying. It means we have to be honest about how our faith in Him has changed and developed. This kind of uncompromising honesty means that our sense of the adventure might be complex.
I came across a story about three people who arrived at the door of a spiritual teacher. She asked all of them the same question. "Did you come to me because of others or because of yourself?" The first answered that they had been sent by others. They were dismissed. The second answered that they came of their own accord. They were dismissed. The third stammered that they had heard of the teacher from others and yet, they also felt that they had come on their own - part curious, part frustrated, part searching and a whole lot of other reasons and motives which were hard to describe. The spiritual teacher said, "You'll do." The honest, complex person was accepted.
I don't know all of the reasons I am drawn to Jesus and struggle to follow Him. But in my own mind, hallmarks of genuine testimony begin to take shape. Honest self-examination, complexity and humility. If my testimony is meant to attract others to Jesus, I worry sometimes that after hearing or seeing me they might look elsewhere. But I also see that I must not over worry on this point. If I try to package Jesus, I lose the only truth that sustains me. You might agree that giving testimony is tricky ground. But what's the alternative?
The Galilean stood high on the hill,
alone on the hill. Safe on the hill.
and he did not like it.
Like a God, Paul said, who,
alone in the Heavens, high in the Heavens, safe in the Heavens,
one day looked down to catch the eye of every human being looking up.
And the slow tear of God began to make a tear in the Heavens.
From toe to knee the tear was Compassion
for all the blood that would never again find a vein.
From knee to chest the tear was desire
to unbreak every broken heart.
From chest to eyes the tear was love,
to kiss all who must enter the cave of death.
From eyes to earth, the tear became Jesus,
watching the brown river breaking against the waist of John the Baptist,
who was busy burying people with his big shovel hands
and then lifting them fresh and new
with a force more violent than childbirth.
The Gospel is filled with stories in which people come to see and love in
themselves what Jesus sees and loves in them! Jesus sees the child of God in us with
such clarity that we begin to see it in ourselves. But first he must know it in himself. The
One who awakens others to love must first himself be awakened. In the Gospels, Jesus
walks the pathways of Love and helps us to do the same. All that he says and does -
his meetings, his stories, his teachings, his deeds - are in the service of this awakening.
I think that the way we come to reverence and love our true self is the real reason that
Jesus allows John to baptise him. He not only shows us how to allow ourselves to
welcome the Spirit, and listen for the voice of the Abba. He shows us how to disentangle
ourselves from all that is not Love. What he learned at the Jordan was this:
ONLY WHEN WE ASCEND OUT OF THE WATERS WHERE WE ARE GIVEN A NEW
HEART WILL WE SEE THE DOVE OF PEACE AND HEAR THE VOICE OF LOVE.
Last week we had the launch of the Year of the Word, the first Sunday of Advent. This week we receive a clear message from Matthew in his Gospel, a Gospel inspired in him through God, his own relationship with Jesus and those around him and through the acceptance of the Holy Spirit to guide him.
History buffs can attest to the fact that in those nations led by monarchies or other autocratic figures, each successive king, queen, dictator or despot accedes to the throne with a certain show of power. By flexing their political muscles, a ruler asserts his/her domination over the subjects of the realm, whose loyalty is usually but not always assured. With God, however, the situation is entirely different. No force is exerted, nor is there a display of might; rather we are invited to accept God’s reign, i.e. allow the saving will of God into our lives and in doing so we walk in the footsteps of Jesus and accept the guiding help of the Holy Spirit.
In today’s Gospel John the Baptist explains by word and example precisely how we should go about preparing a welcome for Jesus. Those who came to hear John speak, in the Judean desert near the Jordan, were told, “Reform your lives!”. Reform or repentance indicates that welcoming the reign of God requires a conversion. In Hebrew, the word for conversion, or shubh, implies that a person has found himself/herself on a wrong path or going in a wrong direction and has made a complete about-face or turnaround. In Greek, the term for conversion is metanoia, which means an absolute change of mind and will. Conversion is not simply a personal decision to better oneself; rather it is the free response by someone to God’s calling. In other words, conversion means offering a welcome to God who will continually come and knock at our door and we must decide the welcome each of us will provide when, how and if we answer that knock.
Another way of understanding conversion is to look at it from the perspective of how we might identify ourselves with Jesus. One of Matthew’s objectives in writing his gospel was to help his community to explore and assert their own identity. In doing so, it was hoped that an individual would identify themselves with Jesus through every thought, word, deed and decision and in doing so would be in harmony with God. In other words, the individual would be a disciple of Jesus and welcome God and Jesus into every part of their life, provide good example and be a disciple of Jesus.
This is the challenge for each of us this Advent Season. This Advent (like every Advent) we are not only called on to reflect on our lives and to properly prepare for a celebration of the birth of Jesus but also and more importantly prepare for second arrival of Jesus coming into the world, As Christians we acknowledge through scripture that one day Jesus will be revealed to us again. This is an integral part of our belief and through the Book of Revelation are aware of what that second arrival will mean for the Salvation of the World. So, each of us needs to prepare and to look at our lives – that means how we conduct our lives and to reflect on every thought, word, deed and decision. We need to be honest and open with ourselves and seek answers to questions such as: are we in harmony with God; are we good disciples of Jesus; do we allow the Holy Spirit into our lives; are we prepared, are we ready for Jesus?
Finally, I leave you with the thought and final question to reflect on in that Matthew in the Gospel makes the point that religious heritage will no longer be enough grounds for salvation. What does this mean to us in 2019?
Clearly we are called through the Word of God to ensure that this Christmas is not only a celebration of the Birth of Jesus but is a good and sound reflective period which allows us to decide what we need to change and prepare for the second arrival of Jesus
Pope Francis has invited every Catholic to focus on the Word of God in this new year. We say goodbye to St. Luke as he fades, to create space for this year of St. Matthew. The key for a better understanding of Matthews Gospel can be found in the Lord's Prayer and especially in the phrase, "on earth as it is in heaven". In this prayer Jesus shares His inner world with His disciples, but disciples have to work to make that world their own. For while it is true that Jesus is well aware of and sensitive to every human need, He does not see this as a good starting point for prayer. Jesus begins with Heaven and encourages us to do the same. If we nurture heaven consciousness we will return to earth with heavens agenda. God's name will be forever in our hearts, we will be energised by His will and pursue His Kingdom. The prayer of Jesus enfolds us as heaven's children moulding the earth into the world that God wants. We might say that the whole of Matthews Gospel is written to remind us of that we are blessed and sent to infuse the earth with the power of the Spirit.
Matthews Gospel speaks to those who are sleeping, blind, deaf, lost, dead, and overanxious about themselves and the affairs of the earth. The Spanish poet Antonio Machado said, 'All His words were one word: "Wake Up!" Disciples are to be awake, seeing, hearing, living and found. With this growing awareness of the nearness of God and of love for all creation, especially our neighbour, disciples must act in the world. Shuttling between Sacred attention, understanding and action, of lessons learned and integration, teach us how to read the Gospel and drink from it as a well of spiritual wisdom.
On this first Day of the year and this first Sunday of Advent, there is a clear invitation to 'stay awake' in our everyday lives. When God is around things cannot be planned in a normal way. Preparing for the day of the Son of Man is about choosing to live in this deeper awareness. In the two examples given by Jesus this inner vigilance makes all the difference to people who look like they are doing the same thing. In this context, a literal approach is not helpful. In the literal view, a day will come when Jesus will return and those who have fallen asleep and who have not been faithful will be judged negatively. There will be no time for a last-minute revision! Those who are awash with this kind of enlightened self-interest cling to scrupulous observance. Even worse, the other take which
says, 'wake me up when He is getting nearer', demolishes the real reason we should be faithful and attentive to His voice.
What if the 'Day of the Lord' or the 'Coming of the Son of Man' is really an invitation to enter into the fullness of our
lives through Christ. God is eternally present and near to us. The Beloved Son calling us to the fullness of life. It is precisely our lack of awareness of this Sacred reality which needs to change. Each time God's saving presence rises in human awareness, the Son of Man has arrived. It is a breakthrough that can and does happen at any time. When it does, and we receive it as Grace, we are dry in Noah's Ark, taken into the Kingdom, and safe in our own house. What time is it? It is now and it is the moment to wake from sleep.
Once upon a time God and a man were walking down the street and the man says to God, 'What is the world like?' God says to the man, 'I cannot talk when I am thirsty. If you could get me a drink of cool water, we could discuss what the world is like. There is a village nearby. Go and get me a drink'. The man goes into the village and knocks on the door of the first house. A beautiful woman answers the door. His jaw drops but he manages to say, 'I need a glass of cold water'. The woman invites him in and invites him to stay for lunch. 'I am hungry' he says, looking over his shoulder. 'And your offer is a great kindness'.
Thirty years go by. The man who wanted to know what the world was like, and the woman who welcomed him into her home have married and raised five children. He is a respected merchant and she is an honoured member of the town council.
One day, a terrible storm comes in off the coast and threatens their life. The merchant cries out, 'Help me,
God!' And a voice from the middle of the storm says, 'I'm still waiting for my cup of water".
Matthews Gospel is written to show disciples how not to get lost. There is always too much to do and not enough time to do it. Our busy lives can rob us of passion, purpose and real pleasure. We wrongly treat Spirit as a luxury and our spirits wilt when we do. Our desire to enter into and hold onto the fullness of our lives needs to be supported by strategies which help us to stay focused. Simple choices like a morning offering, a grace before a meal or a night prayer can help us to stay awake to the eternal beauty in which we live. I pass a Christmas tree on my way to work. It reminds me of the connection between heaven and earth and that the ground on which I stand is Holy. Then I meet someone and, I notice that they are always more than they seem. My conversation with them is more respectful, patient and has more reverence. My heightened awareness of Spirt brings pleasure, passion and purpose to my day. I see a constancy to my love growing because I have been vigilant and watchful for how God is coming into the world today and how this day, like every day, belongs first to Him and comes to me as pure Gift.
Barely disguised religious and political animosity have pushed the Beloved Son of God out to the local rubbish tip and have placed Him as a third in a trio of criminals. Jesus illuminates the text of Isaiah 53:12 by allowing Himself to be put there. Whatever they might think, He knows that He is there as a sign, as an intercessor, not just for the other two, but for those who are crucifying Him. 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing'.
The 'powerful' mock Him, and by doing so try to elicit a response different from the one He is giving. But Jesus can only live the Beatitudes he taught. But this way of living is lost on those who do not yet understand that forgiving is the very heartbeat of the Beloved Son of God. They meticulously follow the text of Wisdom 2:12-20. Surely the Messiah would leap from the cross. If He cannot, or will not do this, He must be an imposter. In reality it is they who haven't got a clue what is unfolding before their eyes. Believing that have finally beaten Him, they divide the spoils by gambling for his clothing. Unwittingly, they place Jesus in the middle of Psalm 22, forgetting how it ends. The secret purposes of God are unfolding. Jesus will be vindicated in the resurrection and His suffering will become a force for faith throughout the world.
Soldiers and criminals join their scheming. They are as ignorant as the leaders they serve, and they play out their own lack of understanding in a unique way. To the soldiers, Jesus is a kingly pretender. They dress Jesus up in ill the fitting robes of royalty and slap His face. There is no king but Caesar. To a terrorist on one side of Him, He is a possible means of escape. 'Save yourself AND US', he shouts. Jesus is right. There isn't one of them who know what they are doing.
Meanwhile, the people stand watching. They are not like the rulers, elders, soldiers and one criminal. The evil
which motivates them cannot be found in those who watch and who wait. And their waiting will bring them revelation. They will return to their homes beating their breasts. They are transformed by what they have seen and heard; as Jesus forgave His enemies, offered Paradise to the repentant criminal, handed His Spirit back to His Father and was confirmed by the centurion as the Son of God. They knew a terrible wrong had been done, but they did not know how God would put it right. Only Jesus knew. Well, Jesus and one of the criminals, who ditches the titles His enemies dress him up in. Only this one has the wisdom to say the Name and to ask for what only Jesus can give.
If the last three years of Brexit and the election campaign have taught me anything it is that having Integrity is a supreme value. People who talk a noble game may not have a noble game in their heart. In any good drama, the best way to unmask hypocrisy in life is to bring death into the story. Take the case of Secundus the Silent. The emperor Hadrian decided to test him and demanded he speak. Secundus refused. Hadrian sent him off with the executioner with this instruction. If he talks in an attempt to save his life, kill him. If he does not, spare his life. Secundus did not speak. He did not abandon his way of life in order to live. What He said and what he did was of one piece.
A woman in her thirties shared with Rachel Remen to story of the death of her husband. After he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and each treatment failed, he became bitter and angry, lashing out at everyone and pushing away anyone who tried to comfort him. When he looked back on his life, all he had was regret for the choices he made. He died angry and withdrawn. His wife said, "I do not want to die that way." Remen asked her, "So how do you need to live?" The woman looked puzzled so Remen asked her a second time. " How do you need to live to make sure you do not die that way? This time she got it. She gazed into the distance for a long time, turned and left. A few months later she wrote to Rachel and said she had been revising her life in the light of her death. This process had changed her profoundly and she wanted to thank Rachel for the gift she had given her. (My Grandfathers Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging [New York: Rivermead Books, 2000] 300-302)
Two examples of how death can teach us how to live. Death does this by weaning us away from the illusion of
timelessness. It encourages us to consider what really matters and gives us a strange freedom to reaffirm our
ability to lead a life of integrity. We are awakened to the danger of putting off decisions we have to make today. Death tells us to get out of our chair and fix the relationships that need reconciling and thank the people who need to be thanked. Finally, it opens us up to the possibility of cherishing today. For even though none of us know when we will die, using our death, as a guiding light can teach us how to live so that when death comes our lives will be fulfilled. And they will be fulfilled because we have practiced integrity as disciples of Jesus.
We like to think that God takes up residence in the houses that we build for this purpose. We think we can
squeeze the Eternal into these little boxes. It doesn't matter what we call them - Temples, Synagogues,
Mosques, Churches, Centres - they are all subject to wear and tear and human plunder. Even so, we
imagine that some of that Divine Eternity will rub off on what our hands have made. Jesus, the Beloved Son
of God, calmly states that this is not the case.
The Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem will be total. There will be no ruin or empty shell for tourists to
visit. Every stone will sit at ground level. If this building is a symbol of a connection to Heaven, that connection
has been broken. All arrangements and rituals no longer in play.
As Jesus speaks, His hearers are keen to know times and dates. Will there be a warning that is it about to
happen? The more they know, the better they can prepare for the end. But the answer that Jesus gives is
unnerving. Things with God have become strained. A community created to be passionately dedicated to
Love and Justice have sold out and have violated the Covenant. They give lip service to Gods commands but
their hearts are elsewhere. They have locked God up safely in the 'Holiest' part of the Temple and have
isolated themselves from each other. God, who is mercy and forgiveness, has sent Prophets to restore
faithfulness. But these have been rejected and killed. Against their lack of Compassion, how long will Gods
As Disciples of the Kingdom, we position the life, death and resurrection of Jesus within this tension. In a last
attempt at reconciliation, God sends the Beloved. But the killers continue to push their own agenda. And
even though God vindicated the message (the Gospel) and the messenger (Jesus) in the Resurrection, His
death really does signal the end of Gods patience. The social orders that destroyed the Beloved will
themselves be destroyed.
Out of this destruction, a new community will arise. A community who will
follow Jesus and take to their hearts the patterns of his living and dying
and rising again. As they move across the earth bringing transformation,
Jesus will always be with them. And so He advises His faithful disciples
not to over react to circumstance; not to get hung up on signs or sucked
into panic. Why? Because the end, when it comes, it will be unmistakable.
They will see social and cosmic upheaval as the heavens mirror the events
on the earth. This will happen because people did not seize the chance
when it was offered on a plate. The worlds efforts to destroy God and
those created in Gods image, will bring about the end of the world.
Disciples must continue the pattern of the life, death and resurrection of
Jesus. If they did it to Him, you can be sure they will arrest, put on trial,
betray and execute His disciples. This will be their opportunity to witness
to the greatness of God, because God will give them the Gift of Wisdom which the enemies of the Kingdom
will not be able to contradict. The Passion of Jesus is never over; it continues in those who walk with Him.
They choose to walk with Jesus because Wisdom has taught teach them that Resurrection is the deeper and
more abiding truth. Not one hair of their heads will be lost. In the face of persecution, disciples must pray for
the courage to endure; that this courage will take up residency in their hearts and souls. To these disciples
Jesus speaks. "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame
you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in
heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the Prophets". (Lk 6:22-23)
I sometimes wonder about these apocalyptic sayings of the Jesus in Luke's Gospel. I sense that Jesus is
preparing us to understand the meaning of the suffering we face for the sake of the coming of Gods
Kingdom. As we move to save and transform the world, to enfold it in life instead of death, we often enter the
violent night of a way of living that is coming to an end. As we labour towards a new dawn, as we work
together to bring a new and better world to birth, we must cling to the love that does not fail and which holds
us in safety. The demands and the rewards of being a disciple are crystal clear and there is no one more
experienced or better qualified to teach us this than the Beloved Son of the Most High
As a community we have just celebrated a period known in the church as All Hallowtide, a period lasting three days when we remember those who have died. The word hallow means “to honour as holy” so for us it is a period when we remember all those who have died whom we have the highest respect for, and we hold them in great esteem.
The All Hallowtide triduum commences on the 31 st October All Hallows Eve, continues into All Saints Day and concludes on All Souls Day. This is a three-day period of remembrance and reflection on those who have impacted our Christian lives. We then move into the month of November and continue a period of remembrance. So may their souls and the souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace Amen.
In the Gospel today we have the story of Jesus meeting Zacchaeus.
In Jesus' day, tax collectors were not popular people. They were collaborators with the Romans and were despised by many Jewish people. The tax system allowed them to charge more than what was required so that they could make a profit for themselves. Thus, they were considered sinners by their countrymen. Observers in the crowd that day grumble because Jesus dines with a sinner. Throughout Scripture, Jesus' choice of dinner companions set him apart from other observant Jews of his time. In first century Jewish culture, to dine together was to show a bond of fellowship and peace among those at the table. Observant Jews did not generally dine with foreigners and sinners. Yet, Jesus chooses to do the opposite of what is expected and stays in the home of Zacchaeus and shares a meal at his table.
Even before Jesus comes to his home, Zacchaeus shows himself to be someone in search of salvation. Zacchaeus, described as short in stature, climbs a tree in order to see Jesus. We know from Luke's description that Zacchaeus was no ordinary tax collector; he was, in fact, the chief tax collector and a person of some wealth. In his search for salvation, he humbled himself by making a spectacle of himself by climbing a tree.
Jesus recognizes the faith of this tax collector exhibited in his search for salvation and calls him down from the tree. In the hospitality he extends to Jesus and in his conversion of heart, Zacchaeus is raised up by Jesus as a model of salvation. In doing what he did Jesus exposed himself to ridicule and questioning of his faith and lifestyle. However, we all know Jesus came into the world to show us how we should live our lives and how we should look to mould society to what God wishes rather than what man wishes.
In baptism each of us was marked with Holy Oils as a sign we are consecrated to God and anointed by the Holy Spirit. Our anointing was also a sign that we are joined to Jesus and share in his three-fold ministry of prophet, priest and king. We recognise a prophet as a messenger sent by God, a person who speaks for God; a Priest is a mediator, or bridge between God and human beings; a king is a person who has supreme authority over a territory.
In the coming weeks we are going to be bombarded with what various people think and the result of our decisions will shape our lives for the coming period. Before each of us decides. We should all pray that we are discerning in our choices and that we look to those who will bring Jesus alive in our world, just as Jesus brought Zacchaeus to feel alive in faith.
Last week, we started a reflection on what a contemplative life looks like. In Luke's Gospel, it is clear that the prayers we pray, however we pray them, are the powerhouse from which we draw strength to transform the face of
the earth by committing ourselves to the works of Justice and Peace.
This week, the teaching takes us a little bit deeper. Luke begins by identifying the 'audience' for the Parable which is coming. They are people whose relationship with God and others has become split and twisted. Instead of coming to God as the source, the wellspring, they only trust themselves. This mistake earns them the title 'self-righteous'. Worse still, over focusing on ego unfolds into contempt for others. The self-righteous can't get through life without looking down their noses at others. This is how they elevate and inflate their sense of themselves. The end result is a complete breakdown of the Love which builds community. The self-righteous have no genuine gratitude to God for the gift of life and have no genuine connection with their sisters and brothers. This Parable unmasks them and offers a better way.
Two ways of praying are contrasted. The stand-alone Pharisee displays snobbery and isolation. An attitude that will permeate his brief but revealing prayer. Although he begins by thanking God, this is mere politeness. He proceeds to blatant self-promotion rather than a true understanding of why he should be grateful. His true appreciation is for his imagined superiority to others which makes him 'different' from everyone else. As it turns out, he isn't speaking to God at all. The pronoun 'I' is used four times. He is the only centre of his prayer. As he rolls out his virtues for inspection he gives away his tendency to perfectionism. Here is a man who goes above and beyond the call of duty. As proof, he sneers at the tax collector, who is the real focus of his prayer. All he succeeded
in doing was pushing God away.
The tax collector is the polar opposite of the Pharisee. He stands humbly. He has no achievements with which to boast. He bows in reverence as he asks for mercy for his failings. He can breathe the mercy of God with the same breath that he confesses his sins. He takes note of no one else. He is simply open to the gift that is coming.
In conclusion to the story of two men at prayer, Jesus offers a teaching. To everyone's surprise, the Pharisee got it wrong and the tax collector got it right. The Pharisee built a dam which blocked the flow of grace. The tax collector
simply opened the door of his heart. Genuine prayer arises from an awareness that everything is a gift from God; gifts which are given to build up the communion of love. This double sensitivity unites us with all who are lost and all who have lost their way which is, of course, everyone. The need for and the openness to mercy is the foundation stone on which the new community will be built. Paradoxically this is what begins the process of exaltation. God's Grace flows into the hearts of all who call to Him, exalting them into a community bound together by a common gift
and a common quest for Justice.
Thomas Merton saw and embraced this bond of humanity in a moment of grace. He wrote, " In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the centre of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realisation
that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation. This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: 'Thank God, thank God that I am like other people, that I am a person among people’. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes terrible mistakes; yet, with all that, God Himself glorified in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race!" (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander [New York,Doubleday,1966]156-7)
Merton's insight into our bittersweet truth leaves no room
for praying like a Pharisee. God cannot resist giving us
the gift of mercy, or resist filling the empty cup. Sacred,
unconditional love is unleashed in the very moment we
give up the pretence of self-reliance. Teresa of Avila, that
amazing contemplative, expressed it like this. “Humility is
the Queen without whom none can checkmate the Divine
King". That's worth consideration. (Karen Speerstra, Divine
Sparks [Sandpoint,ID:Morning Light Press, 2005]206)
Now children, I'm going to tell you a story about a jealous woman who will destroy anyone who threatens her
position as Número Uno in the palace of life. Once upon a time there was a little girl called Snow White......
Storytellers rarely give the game away at the start of the story as those who hear the story like to make it their
own. Yet Jesus chooses to 'leak' the point of this Parable before He has begun! He doesn't give the ending away
but He positions His hearers to consider the story in its fullness, as we will do now. Knowing this story is knowing
how to keep our heart in the heart of God (praying at all times) when it comes to wearing down injustice. The
temptation to 'split' the Parable and mis-interpret it is headed off by the introduction.
Ordinary folk know well the impersonal places where ruthless, hard and cynical people take advantage of the
weak. So the unjust Judge is immediately recognised. There is no point appealing to his better side because he
doesn't have one. His weekly visit to the synagogue only masks his rejection of the Charter for Justice and the
Compassion it demands. His total lack of respect for God and for people make the unjust Judge an 'immovable
object'. What he didn't bargain for, however, was the 'irresistible force' of a widow who would not be put off by his
ignorance. She knows she cannot count on any decency from him. As a widow, she is quite literally, "one who has
no voice", and yet her voice is all she has! How will she use it?
At first the unjust Judge is unmoved by her plea, but instead of losing heart, she keeps going. The Judge caves,
but we are left in no doubt as to the reason why. Saint Luke opens a window into his mind. His reputation is at
stake and up for grabs and he can't bear it. He wants the
whitewash of justice on the outside even though his heart is not in
it. His hypocrisy is a vital piece of information for the listener.
As the story ends, the Beloved Son of God guides a reflection on
it. As we listen to the inner dialogue of the unjust Judge, we learn
that he can be defeated. What He fears most, - exposure,
vulnerability and reputational damage - will drive him to do what is
right even if he does so with some reluctance.
And then the teaching is driven home with full authority. The hearts of widows (of those with no voice)are sustained during their relentless quest for justice if they pray day and night. As they do this, God will pour the strength of His justice into their hearts. God suffuses the hearts of those who pray with a passion for Justice, and then, Hearts empowered, they bring Justice to bear on the affairs of the earth. God does not intervene as a separate agent but can only bring that justice which is created in the hearts of those who pray and act with Justice. The commitment to transform the face of the earth may be difficult to sustain. Injustice is everywhere. It may be overcome here and there but is never unmasked and dissolved everywhere at once. So the effort is endless and leads to the question of endurance. When the Son of Man, whose passion is to transform the earth, comes, will He find the strength of God grounded widows still at work, or will they have given up the quest for Justice as a lost cause? Will the power of those who have no reverence for God and less for creation have worn down the widows? Only those who understand this Parable have the answer.
It would be a big mistake to read this Parable as a teaching about twisting Gods arm. If you don't get an answer to
your prayer, pump up the volume and God will cave in. It would be a big mistake because it separates what Jesus
is trying to hold together. My commitment to being a disciple and the quest for justice are two sides of the same
coin. Praying is praying ourselves into being Justice-Makers. God answers the cry of the poor by pouring His
Justice into the hearts of those who pray, and they will endure because they have sunk the root of their heart into
the heart of God. This channel is never closed and provides a steady stream of justice into the world. When the
powerless at prayer take down the powerful, a careful investigation will uncover the hidden agency of God. It is
mediated through the widow but it does not originate in her. Justice happens because of her communion with
God. Can you pause here to consider who in our own times has done this?
Finally, as Jesus showed with utter clarity in the Garden of Olives, 'staying awake', sustaining communion with God,
is vital if we have any chance of being faithful to His Mission. Sleeping Apostles become as violent as those who
have come to arrest God. But Jesus only allows the Peace of God to suffuse His Sacred Heart and inform his action
and reactions. Widows must not just keep going when things get difficult, they must also step forward with love
and keep faith with the ways of Peace. The temptation when wearing down injustice is to become more unjust than
what we are attempting to wear down. We cannot really win if we join the unjust in their violence. As the Psalmist
sang, "Mercy and Faithfulness have met. Justice and Peace have embraced. Faithfulness shall spring from the
earth. And justice look down from heaven"
Spiritual Parables sometimes present the 'rich' person as a hero of justice, sometimes as a miserly villain. Today's Parable from the Beloved Son of God has mighty imagery. The extravagance of the rich man is played off against the utter destitution of the poor man. The rich man is not a miser. His problem is that he is numb to the presence of the poor and inattentive to their needs. While Lazarus starves, he has Sunday lunch seven days a week. Where Lazarus is covered in sores, the rich man is covered in the finest threads. Lazarus lies at his door and it is a door that never opens. The rich man needs to become more sensitive to the poverty and suffering in front of his eyes.
Death brings a reversal. The rich man is given a proper burial while beggars rarely are. But instead of saying that the body of Lazarus was devoured by beasts, the story has angels carry him to the bosom of Abraham. Now Abraham was a rich man of the first kind - generous, heroic and a master of the art of hospitality. No poor person would ever have lain unnoticed and unattended at his door. His door was open and the poor would have been clothed and sat at his table.
In some teaching stories, when the rich man finds himself in hell he sees the error of his ways and asks for a second chance. But this story does not go in that direction. The rich man is not interested in repentance or second chances. When he asks 'Father' Abraham for help, he is told that the real children of Abraham are those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and create for the lonely a home, a community where they belong. The rich man will not get the hearing he wants. Notice too how he can now see Lazarus very clearly and that he calls on him for help! Abrahams' reply gives no explanation for the reversed situation but he empties the rich man of his last vestige of hope by pointing to the uncrossable gulf that makes help impossible. The time before death is the time for repentance. The message of the story is clear. Don't waste your precious time: repent NOW!
The rich mans' torment cannot be relieved but he might be able to save those he loves from the same fate. But his request to send a resuscitated Lazarus to warn them, only galvanises the storyteller to drive his point home all the harder. The way of change is not to fear the future but to listen and act on the prophets call for justice now. The rich man is not convinced. People will change if they see something spectacular, like say, a resurrection. Abraham is now the one who is not convinced. Moses and the Prophets are the key to understanding the life, death and resurrection of the Beloved Son of God. They don't need something more. They must attend to what they already have. The story ends by stating clearly that the rich man’s fate was sealed when he refused to listen to Moses and the Prophets. They were absolutely clear that caring for the poor of the earth is the only show in town. But the rich man misunderstood his wealth and saw it as an advantage over the poor. When he did this, he put himself at odds with God's purposes.
This story, although it unfolds and is told in the afterlife, is not intended by Jesus to scare his hearers, or to try and paint a picture of life beyond the grave. The real target of the story are the assumptions and attitudes of people living here and now on planet earth. Vivid stories about heaven and hell are told to make clear the truths that may be obscured in the murky dealings of the world. The way the world works is not the way God works. The class systems and social arrangements of the world are not sanctioned by eternity. Any theology that sees wealth as a blessing from God and poverty and sickness as a divine curse is mistaken. And if this theology is used to keep the gap between the rich and the poor as wide as possible it is insidious. The Beloved Son of God teaches His disciples to rearrange the wealth of the earth in such a way that all people share in them. Abraham thinks the rich man should have known this all along - and he is right. There is no excuse for his appalling behaviour. Something more is not needed. There is enough already.
The directive to bridge the gap between rich and poor is clear; but how we should do it isn't always so clear. Change can only come from those who have heard the Parable and ask themselves, how, in this situation change can be created. Every disciple has to know how to translate spiritual truth into social fact. On one side of the door, the rich Feast, on the other side of the door, the poor starve. Who holds the Key? The answer is to be found in the universal truth that doors can only be opened from the inside.
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