Have mercy on me, a sinner

manprayingsilThe parable that lies at the heart of our Gospel this week, from Luke chapter 18, seems at first glance to be describing a religious event. In reality, like the parable that begins chapter 18 which we heard last Sunday – the one about the widow and the corrupt judge – this parable also is really another lawsuit. Another way of saying this is that the Pharisee in the Temple has turned what should be an encounter with God into a contest. His ‘prayer’ – if we can call it that – consists simply of letting God know all about his various good points where he exalts himself by dumping on the tax collector.

The tax collector, on the other hand, because of his small and simple faith is able to see right through to the very heart of a great God, as he casts himself on the divine mercy. Jesus reveals what the divine judge would say about this: it is the tax collector, and not the Pharisee, who returns home ‘at rights with God.’ In other words he was vindicated before the judge. God finds in his favour.

The wider context of these two parables is the final law court, in which God’s chosen people will be vindicated after their life of suffering, holiness and service. Although each of us may have many enemies – both outside and inside – these parables declare that God will act to show us who his people truly are. At the present moment it is not enough to simply look for the outward badges of virtue or the observance of the small details of God’s law.

God’s intention is to put all the wrongs of the world to rights. If you want to see where this final vindication is anticipated in the present world, look for where there is genuine repentance, and a genuine placing of oneself on the mercy of God. ‘This one went home at rights with God’ – those are among the most comforting words in the whole gospel.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (8’17”)
Sunday 30, Year C.

Journey Radio Program recording


Dealing with disfunction

may6Although St Paul tells his young disciple Timothy that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, refuting error, guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy” (2 Tim 3:16) it is hard to see how that can be applied to our first reading today, taken from Exodus 17:8-13. Like so many other passages from the Old Testament it describes a bloody battle that ends with the line “with the edge of the sword Joshua cut down Amalek and his people.” (Ex 17:13) Charming. To which we all replied: The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

Like many other difficult passages the best way to understand and interpret this passage is by reading commentaries written by the Fathers of the Church – those saintly men who lived in the first few centuries after Christ and who spent their days pondering deeply upon the word of God. In addition to Origen, St Augustine and St Justin Martyr, there are wonderful insights by St Gregory Nazianzen, St Gregory the Great and St John Chrysostom. First, they point us to the other places where the Amalekites are mentioned, which give us knowledge of their origins, the meaning of their name – a sinful people – and their battle tactics. They also remind us that the whole of the Christian life is a battle and battle passages like this one speak into the truth of this reality. Let’s face it – there are certainly areas of our lives that we need to deal with. If we have a cancerous tumour, then to be told by the doctors after we have had surgery that they have successfully removed 60% of it would not make us completely happy. Likewise, when our state is faced with bushfires today that are burning on a 500km front, we would not be completely happy to learn that this has been reduced by only a few kilometres. 

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (10’44”)
Sunday 29, Year C. Luke 18:1-8

After my homily I played the reflection video Identity by Dan Stevers. Watch it and buy it here

Cured and healed

Mt Hermon - view 2When was the last time that you were so truly grateful for something that happened in your life that you had to shout out aloud in thanksgiving. Perhaps if you were a Roosters fan, it was last Sunday night? I remember as a kid growing up on the farm, we would often help dad when he went to burn off in the steep gullies that were difficult to slash or otherwise control. Usually the fires burnt away without incident, but occasionally the day was a little hotter than you thought, the ground a little drier or the wind a little stronger and suddenly you were staring down at these seemingly massive flames leaping towards you, with only a damp hessian bag to save you. Thankfully dad always seemed to be there at the right time to block the flames or move the tractor to provide a barrier and we all managed to escape with most of out hair intact. The only appropriate response at such a time is to lift your voice in praise of the God of life!

We are given the stories of a number of individuals today who have every reason to be truly grateful to the God of life – for curing them of their dreaded skin diseases. In 2 Kings 5 there is the story of Naaman, a commander in the Syrian army inflicted with leprosy who hears through one of his Hebrew servant girls that there is a prophet in Israel who could heal him. With gold and silver and fine linen piled on him he and his soldiers set off to visit the king of Israel. Unfortunately, with the diplomacy of the time, the king suspects that Naaman is only there to spy out the land or otherwise cause trouble, so he doesn’t receive this request to be healed very well. Elisha the prophet hears about Naaman and sends word for him to come and visit the home of the prophet. Naaman expects a great show with Elisha performing perhaps a complicated incantation and dance while waving his hands over the leprosy to effect the cure. Instead Elisha merely sends word through one of his servants to Naaman that he should proceed down to the river Jordan and wash seven times in its muddy waters. Naaman is offended by this treatment and leaves, preferring to wash in the more abundant and cleaner rivers of Syria, fed as they are by the snow melt and springs of Mt Hermon – but after the pleading of one of his servants he finally agrees to wash – and he is cured.

But it is one thing to be cured of disease – it is quite another to be healed. All ten of the lepers in the Gospel today, from Luke 17, are cured. But only one is truly healed. Only one returns in gratitude to worship the God who restored his life. Many are called – but only few respond in grateful worship.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (10’05”)
Sunday 28, Year C.

Faith enkindled

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Societies have always been constructed around complicated systems of honour and appearance. Some people are part of the ‘in crowd’; others are not. This week I caught up with two families that each have fourteen-year-old daughters who were born only a few days apart – so they have grown up like sisters. Before they go out to a party with their friends they Skype each other to check what they are wearing to make sure that they are each wearing similar things but that one of the girls doesn’t wear something exactly the same that someone else is planning on wearing. St Paul when he writes to his young disciple Timothy wants to reassure him that even though Paul has been arrested and is a prisoner for the sake of proclaiming Jesus to be the true Lord, and so definitely not in the ‘in crowd’, that Timothy should not be ashamed. Paul encourages him to step out in faith. Timothy perhaps doesn’t know how gifted he is.

When the disciples say to Jesus ‘increase our faith’ it is not actually a pious prayer but an excuse to get out of doing what Jesus has just asked them. In fact it is not about the size of our faith – but about the power of God that we have faith in. This is what matters. 

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (10’59”)
Sunday 27, Year C. Habakkuk 1,2; 2 Tim 1; Luke 17:5-10.

On earth as in heaven

sinaiIn the first three books in the New Testament, which we call gospels, that tell the story of Jesus there are about forty parables. Parables are stories that Jesus tells that compares something in ordinary life with what is happening in the kingdom of God. Parables are always important, because they give us an insight into the very heart of God the Father. When Jesus tells a parable it is about something that is already happening now – not just some timeless truth.

Today we hear another parable that is unique to the Gospel of Luke. In chapter 16, Jesus tells us about two men – an unnamed very rich man – who acts like a king, dressing in purple and fine linen who feasts magnificently every day. At his door, but unnoticed by the rich man, is a poor man in a terrible situation. Unlike the rich man, the poor man does have a name – Lazarus.

Both of the men die and go to Sheol, the place where the dead wait for the resurrection in the Jewish understanding. But now there is a great reversal: Lazarus ends us in a place of comfort, while the rich man is in torment.

Remember, Jesus is regularly accused of welcoming outcasts and sinners. So it seems he is putting into practice now in the present world what will happen in the future one. The age to come is beginning to break into the present one.

So Jesus is reminding the Pharisees, as he continues to remind the church today, and anyone who is a great lover of money, that he is about bringing the law and the prophets to completion, and fulfilling the whole story and kingdom-mission of Israel.

There are only two parables that speak about a judgment of someone that leaves them in a place of torment. This is one; the other is the story of another rich man who ignores the needs of the many poor people around him when he receives a bumper crop and decides to build even bigger barns, rather than sharing the wealth. It really makes you think about how we can do more to let the kingdom of God come, and do everything now, ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’

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Journey Radio Program