Suffering, service and mission

As the liturgical year draws to a close, our readings bring us ever closer to the events of holy week and the suffering and death of Jesus. Immediately after today’s Gospel from Mark 10:35-45 we find Jesus and the disciples travelling through Jericho in the final stage of their pilgrimage to Jerusalem (next Sunday) and Mark 11 recounts the triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the day that we call Palm Sunday. Just before the Gospel passage today, Jesus gives the prophecy about his passion and death for the third time. We are told that as they journey to Jerusalem, the disciples are ‘amazed and afraid.’

So the fact that James and John come to Jesus after this third prediction, and put the same question to Jesus ‘give us whatever we ask of you’ that ‘King’ Herod had put to the daughter of Herodias before the execution of John the Baptiser – makes us also amazed. Jesus is turning the whole world upside-down, and even his closest followers who have journeyed with him for several years, can still get al this so wrong.

Into this Jesus again declares the truth of what his cup of suffering will involve, and that the places to the left and right of him when he comes into his glory will not be given to James and John, but to the thieves and brigands who share his same shameful death, alone on the cross. The reading from Hebrews today reminds us that Jesus has experienced everything that we experience – including not just physical suffering (which is why Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ got this so wrong) but also emotional and moral suffering. It is this emotional and spiritual form of suffering that Jesus and the gospel writers emphasise much more than the physical. It is this suffering that we have so much power to relieve and ease – particularly today as we celebrate with the universal church Mission Sunday.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (4’55”)
Sunday 29B 

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Life of the age to come

This week we have commemorated the tenth anniversary of the tragic Bali bombings which commentators at the time and since have called Australia’s experience of 11 September 2001. Certainly those events that ushered in the so-called ‘age of terror’ have changed the way that we travel and our sense of security. In the universal church, we have also begun the Year of Faith, which Pope Benedict called to commemorate a much more joyous occasion – the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. This event had such a huge impact on the catholic world, that many people divide more contemporary church history around it – so you get events that were before the council, and then life / liturgy / theology / music / church after the council.

At the time of Jesus, all Jewish people would have thought about time in a similarly epic way. There were two time periods: life in the present age [in Hebrew: Ha-olam hazeh] and life in the ‘Age to Come’ [in Hebrew: Ha-olam ha-ba]. In the present age people suffered and experienced lots of things – good and bad. In the age to come, which was spoken about by the prophets as the Day of the Lord, then God would act to restore everything and make all things the way that God intended them to be. In the age to come, the will of God would finally be done (as we pray in the Lord’s prayer: Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven).

When a certain man runs up to Jesus (which hints at the fact he is young; older people would not have been so undignified) and kneels down before him, this is his question: Good Teacher/Master, what must I do to inherit the life of the age to come? When Jesus questions him, he first questions why he calls him good when he is not in a relationship that recognises his true goodness – namely his relationship with God the Father. Then he states what is at one level the bleeding obvious – with a litany of six commandments. He begins with the fifth commandment (using the numbering of the Greek translation of scripture, which the early church adopted) which Jesus would have known as the sixth commandment (using the Hebrew numbering, which split the commandments into four concerning our relation with God and six for relations with others) – you shall not kill, going through to the eighth (or ninth) commandment before adding a commandment not found in Exodus 20 / Deut 5 – ‘do not defraud’ – and then finishing with the fourth (or fifth) commandment – ‘honour your parents’. The commandment that Jesus does not list is the last commandment – do not covet. All the other commandments have clear evidence that something has happened: if you kill, there is a dead body; if you commit adultery, there is a dead relationship; if you steal, there is something missing; if you bear false witness, then someone’s reputation is shattered. But I cannot tell if you are coveting anything right now. Perhaps all you are coveting is that the homily will be short? So why does Jesus do this?

Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (11’19”)
Sunday 28B. Mark 10:17-24.

Marriage in the kingdom

A line in the first reading (from Genesis 2) caught my attention today: “The man gave names to all the cattle…” I wondered how many species of cattle there are that they are worthy of a special mention? Mainly, the line caught my attention because it reminded me of growing up on our farm, and the fact that my parents gave names to all the cows. Usually it was just the house cows – the ones that we still milked – but later on Mum tended to give names to almost all the cows in our smallish herd. Family members came to the rescue in terms of supplying names for the cows – including male and female names. So, for example, Mum would take delight in pointing out which cow was called ‘Rickie’. Yep.

In turning to Mark 10, we begin a section of the gospel that looks at living out discipleship in everyday life, addressing topics like marriage, children and work. The first trap that is set before Jesus concerns the question of divorce. Unfortunately, we are not given verse 1 which provides the geographical context for the question posed by the Pharisees. That it takes place in Judea beyond the River Jordan immediately evokes the ministry of John the Baptist, who had been killed by ‘King’ Herod for challenging his marriage to his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. The reason that the question that the Pharisees put to Jesus is a test is because it is not just marriage in general, but this marriage specifically that the question is about. They hope to trap Jesus in the same way that John was caught up in this political intrigue. The fact that ‘back in the house’ (code for the church) Jesus gives two possibilities: both a man and woman divorcing – when the Jewish law only allowed the male to initiate divorce is also an indication that this is really about Herodias. [It could also be provided for the Roman Gentile community who were the recipients of this Gospel, where the law allowed men or women to divorce.]

The first answer that Jesus offers is, in Rabbinical style, to ask a question about the teaching of Moses. He refers to the only commandment contained in the Torah concerning divorce, namely Deuteronomy 24: 1-4. Here the case is posed of a couple who have married, but the wife ‘does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her.’ The law allows the man to ‘write her a certificate of divorce …and send her out of his house.’ Scholars indicate that this text and law is primarily about the protection of the woman and her rights. When she entered into the marriage, her family would have offered a dowry which the first husband would keep. However, once she enters into a second marriage, she was able to keep the second dowry for herself. The law forbade her to return to the first husband, probably out of fear that he would take her dowry. Complicated enough?

The Rabbis debated among themselves about what constituted something that was sufficiently objectionable to justify a divorce. The three famous schools from the previous centuries all had interpretations to offer. The school of Shammai (noted for his hard-line and strict interpretations) said it could only be where the wife had been unfaithful to her husband. The more liberal house of Hillel suggested it was objectionable “even if she spoiled a dish”, whereas the Rabbi Aqiba suggested it was sufficient grounds if the husband simply found someone else prettier (and hence that rendered the first wife objectionable!) It is noteworthy that Jesus usually follows the interpretations of Hillel over those of Shammai, but in this case he takes the more hard-line interpretation. Why?

Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden, 10am (12’00”)
Sunday 27B: Genesis 2:18-24; Mark 10:2-16


Heaven, hell and God’s love

This workshop was presented during the Ignite Conference 2012 – Awaken. It is in part a response to the book written by Rob Bell, called ‘Love Wins’ which was published in 2011. This is the description of the workshop:

Rob Bell challenged the Church to rethink heaven and hell in his book Love Wins. This seminar will look at the teaching of the church on heaven, purgatory and hell in the context of the resurrection of Jesus and the belief in the new creation and look at the recent writings of Pope Benedict that help us to see that the truth is something very different from what we probably grew up with.

“Every single person – whether they believe in God or not – wonders at some point about what happens when and after they die? Ghost stories have always been popular: in part because they provide a hint of another (unknown) world. Further, our sense of justice makes us wonder about a life after death, because “far too many good people die without receiving in this life a sufficient reward for their goodness, and many wicked people die without being compelled in this life to pay for their wickedness. If God is just, it seems there has to be some state of being, some place in which these injustices are set right.” [Rob Barron, Catholicism]

Opening questions:

  • What happens when we die?
  • What do we hope for after death?
  • What is the cause of our hope?
  • What, indeed, is the ultimate Christian hope?
  • What does it mean to be saved?
  • What do we understand by heaven?
  • What do we understand by hell?
  • Where does purgatory fit in?
  • Why did Jesus live?
Link to Prezi presentation: (helpful to follow along with this while you listen)

See also: the Q&A session at the end of the workshop

New Media Workshop

The internet and social media are replacing TV, print and telephones as the primary communication tools. This workshop will look at basic communications theory and the current technical landscape before considering practical guidelines for how to use the resources that we have to provide a welcoming and informative presence. Tools will be provided for assessing the style and effectiveness of a current website or new media presence.