Rejoice in Joy

On the third Sunday of Advent there is the cry of joy and the imperative call to rejoice and be glad. In the midst of the craziness of this time of year it might all seem to be too much. Yet Paul quietly calls us to focus in the series of short commandments that he offers in 1 Thessalonians for our second reading. Let us take time to listen to each of the eight short teachings that Paul offers, all of which can help us to focus on this call to rejoice always, keep on praying, give thanks in all things while remaining open to the work of the Spirit, and testing all things.


Good news

The Gospel of Mark was written, most likely, around the year 65 in the city of Rome. It was a very turbulent period, after the great fire that had raged for seven days through the city in July 64. The Emperor Nero needed someone to blame for lighting the fire – although many suggest that he was the most likely arsonist – and the Jewish Christians who lived across the Tiber and were untouched by the devastating fire were an easy target. A persecution against the followers of Jesus began, that resulted in many, including both Saints Peter and Paul, being martyred.

The death of so many of the early leaders is the likely catalyst for wanting to put down in writing the good news of Jesus the Messiah. The oral stories of the life and ministry of Jesus that kept the faith alive, now needed to be kept for future generations as well.

What a story it is! Many people in the Jewish world had been looking for signs from God. Most of them wanted a Messiah that would lead them in a revolt against Rome. Few if any expected the sign would be a prophet like John the Baptiser calling them (in Hebrew) to t’shuvah.

Across the pages of the Jewish scriptures is told again and again a story of freedom from oppression and slavery. John is retelling the story of the Exodus and inviting his hearers to join in the action, to come down into the water and find life and freedom for themselves.

Just as Moses had invited the people to leave behind the slavery of Egypt, so John is now inviting anyone who will listen to leave behind their world of sin and rebellion against God. God had invited them to walk along the straight path of freedom, but they had wandered away and forgotten who they were created to be. John invites them to ‘come on home’ – to return to the path that leads to life, joy and wonder. This is what t’shuvah means. John invited his people then, and we are invited today to turn around and stop going down a road that will only lead to destruction, pain and hurt. T’shuvah he says. Stop dreaming and wake up to the new reality of the bright light of the one who is to come. He will lead you into the new life of the Holy Spirit.

+ Jesus, you call us to wake up to the good news that you are the Messiah, the Son of God. Thank you for the freedom that only you can offer. Amen.

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Advent 2, Year B.

Stay Awake

Happy new year! (Such a geeky liturgical thing to say!) We begin this new season of Advent today, and with this Sunday the whole cycle of the church’s year begins again. We switch from listening to the gospel of Matthew and begin to listen to the first of the gospels to be written, the gospel of Mark. It has been three years since we have heard the unique voice of Mark as part of our Sunday readings.

But wait, if we begin reading from Mark’s gospel today in this season of Advent, then why aren’t we beginning with the opening verses of the Gospel? Why are we in chapter 13? And if Advent is all about preparing for Christmas, why aren’t we reading about the birth of Jesus – you know, from the infancy stories that Mark tells?

In fact, if you open to chapter 1 of Mark’s gospel, you find there are no stories about the birth of Jesus. The opening lines – which we will hear next Sunday – are brilliant, but they are all about the ministry of Jesus and John the Baptist.

Today Jesus uses an image of the fig tree in full blossom as a sign that summer is near. He points to all the events that were going down around him as a reminder that the community needs to stay awake, be alert, and keep watch. The image is like soldiers standing on the fortifications that surrounded the towns of old, keeping vigil as they gazed across the landscape.

There will be no signs that we can read to know when the Son of Man will come again. Jesus is very clear that only the Father knows when the right time will be – so our task is simply to remain faithful to God, no matter how dark the night, and to keep awake, watching for the new day to dawn.

+ Jesus, keep us focussed on the new dawn of your day of justice, and help us to be attentive to all that really matters in our lives. Amen.

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Advent, Sunday 1, Year B. Mark 13

Christ, the King of Justice

Justice is something that we learn very early as children. We have this strong instinct for when something doesn’t just seem to be fair. Perhaps as a result, justice is one of the most profound longings of the human race. When there is no justice, then we know that something is wrong from deep within ourselves. Justice is both hard to define and hard to enact. This has never stopped humans from seeking it, praying for it, and working hard to find better ways of doing it. Justice means bringing the world back into balance.

The scene of the last judgement that is presented in the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 25 has burned itself deeply into our consciousness – not least because of its depiction in many paintings. The Son of Man is identified as the king who sits on his glorious throne admitting on one side the righteous to the final kingdom of God – prepared from the foundation of the world. In contrast is the other side with the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. The common image of a shepherd separating the sheep from the similarly coloured goats is used.

In this present moment, these two kingdoms are interwoven and confused through the ambiguities of history. But the kingdom of God is the only true kingdom. What appears to be the present struggle between the two kingdoms will not last forever, because ultimately only God is King!

Part of what is proclaimed in this gospel is that in the coming of the son of man, justice will at last be done. This passage comes as the climax of a whole series where Jesus has denounced his own people and especially the leaders for their failure to live as God’s people should.

What Jesus wants the church to know is that he is already ruling the whole world as its rightful Lord. This is especially true where the kingdoms of this world treat many of our brothers and sisters with contempt, torture, abuse and too often with death. Then, as now, this passage provides great encouragement for all who work for justice in the name of the kingdom of God.

+ Jesus, as this year draws to a close, help us to rest in your amazing love. Take away any fear or anxiety, because we know that you’ve got this whole world under your care and protection. Amen.

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Sunday 34, Year A. Christ the King. Matthew 25:31-46

** This month I am in Jerusalem as part of my sabbatical program. Please pray for me! **

Hidden Talents

When you get to the end of the year, there are always tests and exams and assignments for students. Some of these may be less serious – merely serving to help teachers know what they will need to spend more time revising in the new year. But for others, these tests will assess everything that the student has learnt over the whole of their schooling and the results will shape much of the life for the student for some years.

Some people think that God has given us a syllabus to study, rules to follow, and lessons to learn. They think that when God returns he’ll set a test to work out who will fail and who will pass. We might imagine that the really good people will get a special award; the really bad ones a decent kick up the pants.

Jesus today tells a parable about a rich man heading abroad, who entrusts his property with three of his servants. A talent was a measure of money – equivalent to what a worker would earn over the course of 15 years – think of it as a million dollars. God wants us to be wise and shrewd in using the talents that he has given us. But this is not a parable that encourages capitalism or becoming an investment banker. The treasure that is spoken of is the good news about the love of the Lord.

While we must read this parable – like all of them – in the light of all that Jesus says about coming for the sick and the sinner, this parable is certainly making a positive judgement on the first two servants who have heard the message of Jesus and have responded to all that God has given to bring about something new. The parable also judges the ones who have hidden their light and kept it for themselves – the worthless servants who do not share the good news of God’s love with others.

+ Jesus, you are such a treasure for us. Help us to freely share the abundance of your love with all those around us. Amen.

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Sunday 33, Year A.


** This month I am in Jerusalem as part of my sabbatical program. Please pray for me! **

The reality of heaven

What we come to when we wish to ponder the place where Jesus has gone, and where our beloved dead have gone to – it is not another where, not another place, but another way of being. Heaven is not some place elsewhere, but it is a different way of being – the place where God is and where the will of God is always done. It is important in this month of November that we spend time reflecting on the nature and reality of heaven. Using the beautiful writings of Pope Emeritus Benedict in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi, and reflecting on the images that St Paul uses in the second reading today, we can reflect upon purgatory, hell and heaven as part of our hope for ourselves and all our brothers and sisters who have gone before us.

** I am currently away in Jerusalem on sabbatical leave. This recording is from the Archives (recorded in 2011) **

Practice your Preaching

When you are setting out on a great adventure, you want the guide who is helping you to choose all the gear, plan your route, and help you train to have hiked the same planned journey – not just watched a video about it on YouTube or Discovery Channel. All too often we have guides and teachers who are more concerned about their outward show and appearances than authentic practice.

The reading today begins the fifth and final section of teaching that you find in Matthew’s gospel. This section, which runs for the next three chapters, is full of woes and judgements and the last things. Which makes sense for it takes place during the final week in the life of Jesus, only days before he dies.

Jesus offers three criticisms: that the leaders and teachers say but do not do; second, that they burden others but do not act; and third, that they act for the wrong reasons – to make an impression. So, Jesus says what they teach is good – but they need to practice what they preach.

The warnings that Jesus makes in this chapter certainly apply to the leaders in the church – the Rabbis, Fathers and Teachers ­– but it also applies from top to bottom of all modern societies. No one is completely immune from the criticisms that Jesus levels here. All of us are social creatures who want to be known and liked and accepted by our peers.

When Jesus makes these criticisms, he wasn’t sitting on a great throne. He says these things when the cross that will kill him is already looming large. On the cross he will humble himself and be the servant to all, carrying the heaviest burden of all, so that his people would no longer have to be weighed down by all our garbage.

+ Jesus, help us to get over our little show and appearance. Help us to see that you call us to live an authentic life of service, and to follow you each day along the way of the cross. Amen.

Grace and peace.

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Sunday 31, Year A.

** This month I am in Jerusalem as part of my sabbatical program. Please pray for me! **

The law of life

The question that Jesus is asked in the gospel today from Matthew 22 was a common one that the Rabbis of the day would be asked – “which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” Since in the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures, also called the Torah, the Rabbis had discerned a total of 613 commandments or mitzvot, there were many possible answers to this question. A mitzvah is a commandment – much more than a good deed or work that you can do. They were broken up into 248 positive prescriptions – things you must do, such as to keep holy the Sabbath and to honour your parents, take care of the poor; and 365 negative prohibitions – things that you shall not do, such as do not murder, do not steal and so forth.

Jewish teachers were often asked to summarise the law in a brief statement – some have said that it was a summary that you could say while standing on one leg. The answer that Jesus gives, drawn from chapter 6 in the Book of Deuteronomy – is also common. This commandment – to love the Lord your God with all your heart, life and strength – is not just among the things that the Jews were supposed to do. It was a central part of the daily prayer of every devout Jew morning, noon and night – a tradition that continues to this day. The prayer is called the Shema – from the Hebrew word to hear.

To this greatest commandment Jesus quickly adds another, taken from the Book of Leviticus, chapter 19 – to love your neighbour as yourself.

Knowing the commandments – and living them are unfortunately often two very different things. Far too often we try to obey these commandments in our own strength. But when you see them in the light of the larger Gospel story of Jesus dying for the sins of the world and rising to bring new life – along with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit to empower us to be changed – then these commandments become invitations and promises of a whole new way of life. When we live them like this, then bit by bit we can slowly allow our hearts to be transformed by his grace, so that all those bits of darkness – pride and hatred and impurity and selfishness – all of these things can be left behind and the love that lies at the heart of our faith can become a reality.

+Jesus, may we be caught up each day in your amazing story of love. Help us to receive your love by diving deeply into your love, so that we can live each day in the freedom to love you and love others. Amen.

Grace and peace!

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Sunday 30, Year A.


** Please pray for me as I undertake an Ignatian thirty-day retreat during this month near Boston, MA **

Real Revolution

As an Australian, we can often feel small and forgotten, because we seem to be so far away from where all the action is happening. Our population is relatively small, we don’t have a huge army, or nuclear weapons to protect our vast land area. Yet we are also one of the wealthiest nations, with high income, good health, long life, and enviable lifestyle. And we have an alliance with and the protection of one of the greatest military superpowers the world has ever seen. Which means that we often miss the point of many things in the bible.

For the bible was written by a tribe of Jewish people that had experienced hundreds of years of suffering and abuse living under a whole series of more powerful and oppressive empires. And the Jewish prophets kept reminding both people and leaders that the oppression they experience and the freedom they seek is for a specific purpose – to maintain justice and righteousness and to care for the weak – the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the refugee.

Apart from many trips overseas, I have lived in Australia my whole life – which means that the capitalist system has been whispering subversive messages into my ears my whole life.

The main message is: More… You need more…

You need more stuff. More money. More land. More influence. More power.

Because more, we are told, is always better than less.

Except when more is actually destructive and damaging. Sometimes more is in fact evil.

So, when we read this confrontation between the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus today with this question about taxes – we need to wade through all of our social background first as members of the victorious dominant western culture rather than the underclass.

A few revolutionaries had tried – and failed – to overthrow the Roman occupiers. Most people hated having to pay so much in tax, leaving almost nothing to feed your family. So, the question that Jesus is asked is explosive.

He begins to answer by asking for a coin. The Jews knew that they were created in the image and likeness of God, so it was wrong to put images of people or gods on things, because it could confuse people.

But the coins that people had to pay their taxes with not only had an image of Caesar on them, they also had an inscription around the edge that proclaimed him “Son of God … high priest.” So, his questioner has to admit that he carries around these hated coins that bear such a distasteful and terrible picture and title.

Jesus answers this specific question brilliantly: give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God. He doesn’t provide a policy for all time about how we must resolve every economic question that we will face as we navigate our way in the world.

The mission of Jesus was not to be another revolutionary like the others around. The kingdom of God would defeat the kingdom of Caesar, but only because the love and power of God will always conquer not only Caesar but the even greater power of death and destruction itself.

+ Jesus, help us to be reminded of your constant call to care for the weak and oppressed, and to always make serving your kingdom our first daily priority. Amen.

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Sunday 29, Year A.


** Please pray for me as I undertake an Ignatian thirty-day retreat during this month near Boston, MA **

Wedding Party

Organising a party takes a lot of work. There’s the venue to be set up; the catering, entertainment and music; the invitations. If it’s a wedding then there’s all the ceremony stuff as well. When we throw a significant party, we’re happy to do lots of work and planning so that it will be a great event that everyone will totally enjoy. But sometimes things don’t go quite to plan.

When Jesus travelled around Israel, he announced that God, his Father, was throwing a huge party – the wedding of his Son. Everyone was invited. But people in Galilee and now people in Jerusalem refused the invitation. Although God was inviting everyone, there is a sting to this inclusivity that is totally uncomfortable for us in a politically correct world.

We don’t want to hear anything about the wicked being judged, or about high standards for holiness, or a place with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Yet God wants us to be grown-ups, not babies. Part of being a grown-up is that we learn that our actions have consequences, and that character and moral choices matter.

So although everyone is invited to this amazing party and God’s love will always reach us exactly where we are, his love will refuse to let us stay where we were. When the blind and the lame went to Jesus, he didn’t say to them “You are all fine as you are.” No, he healed them. So when prostitutes, murderers and corrupt officials went to Jesus – his love welcomed them so that their lives could be healed and transformed.

When we are invited to be part of the kingdom party – we need to wear the clothes of love and truth and mercy and justice. If we don’t want to wear these clothes, then there really isn’t a place for us at this wedding. Which is such a shame. But this is the reality.

+ Jesus, help us to be so overwhelmed by your love that we long to let you continue to heal us and change our hearts to grow into your original redeemed image of our lives.

Grace and peace!

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Sunday 28, Year A. 


** Please pray for me as I undertake an Ignatian thirty-day retreat during this month near Boston, MA **