Growing up on a farm that had been in my family for several generations on the south coast of NSW, my brothers and I were aware of the desire that my father had that one of us would continue the tradition and farm the land. Once we had each moved away to study and work, this expectation quickly faded into the distance and we had to accept as a family that no one would take over the farm and it would be sold. But within living memory, this expectation was much more closely followed and farms and businesses would be handed on from one generation to the next with the easy expectation that the future of the children was assured as long as they were prepared to work hard enough. Certainly there is evidence that in the region around the Sea of Galilee during the first century, fishermen would hand on the trade not just across a few generations but some may have even operated over several centuries. That this seemingly unknown preacher from Galilee would call the two sons of Zebedee (who is named surely because he is well-known to the readers of Mark within the region) and James and John would immediately leave behind their father and his servants in the boats and follow Jesus is meant to be very shocking. What is the message that Jesus proclaims as he walks along the shore of the lake and why is it so attractive to those who first hear it?
The proclamation of Jesus is not just good advice, or about a new social order or spirituality. It includes these things – but it is the declaration that the kingdom of God is now on the move and in the person of Jesus the future kingdom is beginning to break into the lives of ordinary people. We are called likewise to be the receivers and bearers of this gift and to continue to say yes to being used by the Lord to share this precious gift with the world.
Sunday 3, Year B.
Jonah 3:1-5,10; Mark 1:14-20
Recorded at NET training, Weyba Downs, Qld (8min, 35secs)
Twenty five years ago this week (1990), I became a Seminarian and began my long formation journey towards priesthood and service in the kingdom of God when I joined Fr (Archbishop) Julian in his consecrated life house in Wahroonga. Nine years later, on this day in 1999, the conversion of St Paul, I became a brother with the Discalced Carmelites at Varroville. Then ten years ago in 2005, also on this day, I met with Bishop Peter Ingham who welcomed me into the Diocese of Wollongong, going on to be ordained a deacon later that year and a priest in 2006. So although I don’t know exactly what this year will hold, I do know that whenever I stay close to the heart of the Lord, his grace and mercy is always enough to allow the abundance of life to be experienced and shared.
In the Gospel of John, like in the other gospels as well, the figure of John the Baptizer is deeply significant. But here in this gospel, the story and witness of John is interwoven into the magnificent 18 verse prologue. The first section of the gospel then moves onto the testimony that John offered about the one who was coming after him as he made a straight path for the Lord. When we first meet both Jesus and John together, John declares that Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ He then concludes his witness by declaring that the Spirit of God has descended upon Jesus and that he is the very Son of God. So when we get to our passage for today – John 1, verses 35-42 – we already have heard much from John the Baptizer.
We are introduced to two of his disciples, and he again points them to look at and follow Jesus, because he alone is the Lamb of God. In the other gospels we meet the first disciples of Jesus and know only that they are common fishermen who leave behind their professions in order to follow after Jesus. But here we see that they already had a teacher and master in John. But John demonstrates his strength of character and conviction by directing his rightful followers to the true master, Jesus. “When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.”
And what happens to John the Baptizer after this? He simply disappears from the Gospel story. He has done all that he needed to do. He has prepared disciples to make them ready to meet the Lord. He introduces them to Jesus, the son of God – and then he steps away to allow them to be formed by their new master.
This holy detachment immediately bears great fruit. We are told that one of the two was Andrew, who goes to find his brother Simon Peter to introduce him to the Lord as well. First he shares with Simon all that he knows about Jesus, but then he brings him to meet the Messiah personally.
What extraordinary figures to guide us as disciples of Jesus in this new year!
Sunday 2, Year B.
The transition from the season of Christmas and the gathering around the manger scene to the arrival of the Magi to this feast of the Baptism of the Lord and the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus is a rapid one. We meet the adult Jesus who is presented as the answer to all the hopes and expectations of so many generations of faithful Jews – and yet he arrives innocuously and simply – walking into the waters of the muddy Jordan River. It is only when he emerges out of the waters of repentance and identification with the rest of sinful humanity that there is even a hint of signs and wonders. The thin curtain that separates the world where the glory of God dwells and the will of God is always done – heaven – from the mixed existence that is our ordinary experience – earth – is drawn back and the voice of the Father is heard declaring “my son”, “my beloved”, “my delight.” The gift of the Christian faith is that these declarations – while unique initially to Jesus – are no longer declared to him alone. Through the incredible gift of baptism, the Lord has shared these declarations with the whole believing church.
Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden (8am: 7mins, 30secs)
Baptism of the Lord. Mark 1:7-11.
So we arrive at the feast of the Epiphany and the customary three wise men make their way from their hiding place elsewhere on the sanctuary or in the sacristy to their appointed places in the manger nativity scene, joining the shepherds, angels and animals in adoration beside the holy family. All very standard and wonderfully historically accurate. Or is it? What our nativity scenes attempt to do is offer a mash-up between the two very different Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus – the Gospel of Luke told from the point-of-view of Mary with the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, the absence of room in the traditional lodgings, the making use of the ground floor room where the animals are usually kept, and the visit of the maligned shepherds as the first guests and witnesses to these events. Then the Gospel of Matthew told from the point-of-view of Joseph, situates the birth of Jesus within the greater story of the people of God. Matthew begins with origins of Joseph, Mary and Jesus in their genealogy and then the very simple recounting of the birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary. Chapter one gives us no details of where or when the child is born – only that he is as an act of God. Attempting to bring both shepherds and magi into the one scene felt a bit like all the extraneous characters in Peter Jackson’s third Hobbit movie – or even worse if he had decided that the most appropriate people to save the heroes (Bilbo and the dwarves) was Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore.
Epiphany Sunday. Matthew 2:1-12