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.
A dishonest 'manager' has been caught in the act of stealing. He sees his life unravel and visits to the jobcentre don't hold out much hope that things will improve. Then, like the wasteful son in the Parable of the Prodigal Father, this man reviews his situation and comes up with a survival strategy. His back is to the wall and he's not going down without a fight. His strategy is to seduce others to collude in his dishonesty. He tells himself, that once the trap is sprung, he can enjoy their support for a long time to come. Sound familiar?
With His usual creativity, the Beloved Son of God - having just painted a surprising portrait of what God is like for the wasteful son - portrays the dishonest managers' employer in a strange light. His only response to the loss he has endured is to praise the dishonest manager for his cleverness and cunning! A bit like those scenes from a mystery film where the detective from Scotland Yard gazes into the empty bank vault and says of the robbers, "Credit where credit is due. They knew what they were doing".
Keep in mind that the Parables of Jesus are about spiritual matters. The dishonest manager knew how to survive when his physical and social life was threatened. The disciples of Jesus need to have the same 'wisdom' to act decisively when their hearts are at stake. The Children of the Light appear to Jesus to be lacking in this regard. They are threatened on all sides. Powerful internal and external forces are at work to lead them astray. If they are not alert to these, if they do not have a plan which galvanises them into action, they might be swept away by the darkness.
Specifically, the Divine Teacher suggests that we should not allow money to make us dishonest. Put simply, if we use it for the service of Love we will have mastered it. But if we swap the first commandment and make money our first love it will have mastered us! And He knows that if we try to build our security on what we own it will fail us. It's only use, in Kingdom terms, is to see it as a resource that builds community. If we use our resources to relieve the suffering of others, and to strengthen the bonds of friendship in our community, we will have used them in the way God intended.
Our trustworthiness with the baubles of earthly 'wealth' is a sign that we are doing well with the genuine riches of the Kingdom. Becoming a person who can be trusted is a step in the right direction, which will allow the Spirit of God to reveal the deeper richness in our own soul. In both cases, it seems that for Jesus, our spiritual growth cannot be pursued in isolation from the life that we are living, and the people we are living with here and now. We have to choose, in this context, what is most important to us and make everything else a servant of that choice.
This choosing is very important. We must choose friends who are not just spiritually surviving but thriving! Instead of hanging around people who collude with our sin, we have to hang around people who inspire us to be the best that we can be. Sometimes our friends, if we let them, can see us more clearly that we see ourselves and sometimes they have the answers that we cannot yet see. This is why, in our friendship group, we should have at least one person who loves us unconditionally and at least one person who can challenge us to continue to grow. These guides will help us to be more alert to what is destroying our spiritual development and help us to act effectively to guard the treasure in our soul.
If, after reading this, you are asking yourself if you have lost some of the music of the Gospel in your soul, stop what you are doing and don't go on until you find it again.
'Tax Collectors and sinners' are a social group of people who have been excluded from the community. 'Pharisees and scribes' are a social group of people who have not been excluded from the community. These complain that Jesus is welcoming those who have been excluded and is eating with them. Is He approving of their sin? They think He is! But while they fear Jesus has gone over to the dark side, Jesus clearly sees Himself bringing the two sides together. He was a person of reconciliation in a world that had accepted, and may have even enjoyed, divisions. Jesus is struggling to pull together what others wish to pull apart.
He offers two parables for their reflection. The first about a wandering and lost sheep, the second about a lost coin. So He knows they are lost. But what is new is that He is searching for them, including them in the community of the 'already found' and inviting the community to a celebration of their inclusion. Notice how Jesus wants his listeners to recognise the parables in their own experience. ' Which of you....' 'What woman ....'. Jesus seems pretty sure that His parables are revealing something about the best in human nature.
Then it gets even more interesting. In Sacred Scripture numbers are very symbolic. One hundred and Ten connote completeness, fullness and wholeness. There is a pull in every human heart towards this wholeness. The shepherd and the woman of the parables are creating a social wholeness which will open the door to spiritual wholeness - the integration of heaven and earth. All Jesus can see is that His community is split into two camps and they must re-engage in the struggle for community. The shepherd seeks the One sheep to add to the ninety-nine. The woman seeks the one coin and adds it to the nine. In this way, a divided community can become whole.
This longing to find the missing one represents the realignment of God with Creation. God wants unity. This is why the angels rejoice much more when a whole is created by the inclusion of what was excluded than when an incompleteness - even a just incompleteness - leaves the community short. The synchronised rejoicing in heaven and earth is The Sign that things are the way they are meant to be.
I find myself smiling as I watch, listen and contemplate this strange behaviour of Jesus. And I also find myself seriously challenged by His teaching. It's too easy to accept the loss of relationships as inevitable. When we fall out with and lose family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and even members of our own parish community, when we lose our creativity and energy to do something to fix it, when we lose our desire to contribute to the wellbeing and future of all creation, we may have been overly impressed by the inevitability of loss. We may just shrug off our losses rather than searching for and reclaiming them. We can become numb to the
pain of missing what was once crucial to our lives. Instead, Jesus, the Beloved Son of God is not resigned. He is searching the wilderness and sweeping the house. He will not settle for loss. "For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost." (Luke19:10). And He does not see these as private reunions which take place behind closed doors. When He finds the One who restores completeness, the whole community are gathered. One whole, invites and creates another whole! Getting back what we have lost, receiving into our heart and soul what makes us complete overflows into party time. This joy is contagious and the whole community are infected. Perhaps it is the same Angels rejoicing in heaven who spoke to the shepherds at His birth and said, "Good news of great Joy for all the people." (Luke 2:10)
Throughout the timeline of our lives, we walk with one another, and there are times in everyone's life when there is a getting lost and a coming home, of not being there and suddenly being there again. Jesus is an artist of relationships and his exquisite teaching creates the spaces we need for spiritual encounters to happen. It seems that when we pursue reconciliation, the angels are quick to get in on the act and all creation comes along for the ride. I guess the question is, who needs to come off my hit list!
Someone asks a question about salvation. This is religious talk for health and wellbeing. Jesus tells them that there is a door, in the age to come, where God is hosting a banquet. Everyone is trying to get in and the owner solves the log jam problem by rising from the dead and shutting the door!
The people outside beg to be allowed in. But the Lord answers that He does not know them. It seems that relying on vague contact with Jesus is not enough. Jesus does not join in the man’s quest for numbers but invites him to put all of himself behind the quest. So many are trying to be saved the wrong way. They think that 'who you know' rather than 'who you are' is what matters. But notice that the door does not open to the well connected.
Jesus only recognises His own. He knows us if we are like Him. Jesus speaks from a heart set on God alone and works with the Spirit to transfigure His heart into one which loves all people. This is not easy. It is a lifetime’s work.
There will always be people who want Salvation on their own terms. They want to stride into the feast adorned in titles and lists of who they know. And then there are those who struggle for community and for the mighty love. These will learn the great lesson of Grace - that all who strive to love must die, and surrender all to the One who has the power to save them. They are considered by the first group to be the last because they do not compete in the world of ego. But in the Kingdom they are first because they have found in their heart what Jesus knew in His Heart - the divine love that makes us one. When we know this, the narrow door widens to become the widest of doors.
Someone once asked Fritz Perls if he was saved. He answered,' I'm trying to figure out how to be spent!'
What does Jesus mean when He says, "See that you are 'dressed for action' and have your lamps lit". (Lk:12.35). To help us understand this, we need to turn to the story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. You remember that their wisdom was celebrated because their lamps were lit! What does that mean and how does it work?
Quite simply it means that we speak and act in a way that inspires others. When they look at how we live, how we speak, and how we act, they are given a living pause for thought and the path is lit for the way they need to walk. It would be sad if, when they listened to the words we speak, or observed our life, they decided that we had nothing to offer or that we were hypocrites. Or, to put it a little more directly, Jesus had very severe words for those who extinguish the light of love in another person’s heart.
Now here's the thing. The foolish ones are always rushing to the wise ones when it's too late to ask for some of their oil. It's too late because, the problem is, it can't be given. I can't turn to you on my deathbed and ask you to give me the value of the good that you have done. This is a serious warning from the Teacher. Today I have to decide that this is the right thing to do and do it.
I love the image of God as Bridegroom but I'm a little more curious when I think of God as a burglar. You may remember that I had a visit from one of these shortly after I arrived in Bracknell. It's not a pleasant experience. But
it was, in one sense, my own fault because I went out and left my window open. Jesus says that The Son of Man is
coming, like a burglar, at an hour we do not expect. Wouldn't it be great if we were ready, welcoming Him with
the words, I've been waiting for you, Light of the World. And more to the point, I have been doing what you
asked of me. I shine bright and clear as a sign of Your Love for others. Now look what happens. "I tell you solemnly, He will put on an apron, sit them down at table and wait on them." That's worth consideration!
It doesn't matter if it's the rich or the poor - I have seen families torn apart and destroyed over questions of inheritance. As if they believed that the precious relationships of their life were less valuable than the baubles which helped to hold them together!
In cash terms, all of us, no matter who we are - how young or how old - try to juggle many 'financial' balls. A job I love, or a job that pays well. Can I have both? Rare. Now I'm working with people I don't like, but the money is good so I'll endure. My boss is awful, nothing is worth having to face that one every working day. And so it goes on, with the great question, when will we ever have enough - too much would be better - to live the life we want. Then.....
Jesus sent His disciples, without cloak or coin, His word their only possession, like troubadours with a single song. They broke over Galilee like a summer storm, cleansing air and earth and leaving a fragrance as fresh as the time before the first scream. They came back to Him, having broken the back of pain and He said, 'Come aside and rest awhile'. So Jesus pulled them away to a desert place where they reclined on the green grass of His soul. "We have done great things," they said. 'Your feet are dusty, I will wash them,' He said. "We will have a time of no more hunger, no more thirst,' they said. Jesus said to them, "People who would end hunger may be hungry themselves. Here is Bread. People who would do away with thirst may be thirsty themselves. Here is wine. Eat and remember or the earth you shake will swallow you. The mountains you move will crush you. The sin you stalk will in turn stalk you".
Then Jesus opened his hands and a story fell live to the ground.
'Once there was a rich man
and the over-generous earth opened to him
with the gift of 1000 suppers of wheat.
At the sight of such abundance
his mind became a ledger
and he broke down his bins and built bigger barns
To house his new self-sufficiency.
I will never be hungry again - he shouted.
He never was. That night he died.
Eat and Remember!'
(Adapted from John Shea, The Indiscriminate Host)
The Beloved Son of God is not tied to the prescribed prayer times of the Temple. He lives instead a rhythm of
contemplation and action - swimming in the waters of God and the waters of the world. His disciples have been
watching Him at prayer and they want whatever He is having! Perhaps, if they can connect with God like He
does, they will have less difficulty with His unpredictable attitudes and behaviours. "Lord, teach us to pray," they
His words lack any solemnity. He speaks to God with the intimacy of a friend. The Jaw dropping use of the word
'Abba' a clue about what is to come. His disciples unite heart and soul in reverence for their Abba and unite in the
only activity worth doing, working for the coming of Gods Kingdom. The prayer of Jesus transforms the One who
prays it into a unity of being and doing. Now, as they walk the earth they are an open invitation into the heart of
God. Those who are still alienated from the Love which is their life see the truth and the beauty of what is before
them. The disciples sow seeds which are destined to become a tree which attracts all the birds in the air.
And if it should be the case that those who are alienated from God reject their offer and attack the ones who offer
it, they will not respond with violence or threats. Only love must be returned should trials come.
Now that they have the words and the illumination they're bring, Jesus moves to
stage two. The first Parable is outstanding, because it suggests first that God is
also praying to us to act with justice. God arrives at the door of His 'friends' to tell
them of hungry travellers who need rest and nourishment. If their friendship with
God does not move them to act with justice, God will just keep on asking till they do
it if only to get some peace! The second Parable follows the same theme and
celebrates that fact that people in bed and evil parents will overcome the obstacles
to compassionate living and give what is needed.
Now back to Abba - the one who gives with no obstacles. He is overflowing with the desire to give the Holy Spirit
to anyone who asks, seeks and knocks. For Jesus, prayer is the art of opening ourselves to the gift that is already
there. Praying the prayer of Jesus as illumination is learning what to ask for and how to receive it. The Holy Spirit
floods the hearts of all who ask and creates a bond that jump starts the adventure of being a disciple of Jesus.
The tragedy would be if the prayer which is His gift to us is repeated mindlessly. If it is memorised and repeated
in a way that never expresses the thoughts of our minds or the feelings of our heart we have lost it and we need
to apprentice ourselves anew to the divine Teacher.
One of Leo Tolstoy’s mystical short stories explores this theme. A bishop on a ship is told that there are three
hermits living on the island they are passing. The bishop insists on going to meet them and he asks them how
they pray. They tell the bishop that their whole life is a prayer. The words they use, "We are three. You are
three. Have mercy on us." The bishop teaches them the Lord's Prayer and tells them to use that instead. A few
years later the bishop is back in the area and as he is considering a second visit, a ball of light comes out of the
island and moves towards the ship. As the ball of light gets closer, the bishop sees the three hermits are
within. They are telling him that they have forgotten some of the Lord's Prayer and they need more
instruction. But the bishop is jolted by a new awareness and awakened to the true holiness of the hermits. A
holiness that has come without the repetition of words. He answers, "Go home, and when you pray, say, "You
are three. We are three. Have mercy on us".
This is not an argument for ditching the learning of prayers but for making them our own. Perhaps, since we use
Matthews version of the Lord’s Prayer in the liturgy, we could try using Luke's version in our personal prayer to
keep it where Jesus wants it to be. It's potent coupling of phrases prepares the heart for self-giving, generative
justice and love. It is the Love which God pours without reserve into the empty hearts of all who ask. This is a
cup which is destined, as Psalm 23 celebrates, to overflow
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