When pondering the nature of God, Paul could have spoken about the various ways that God had been revealed across the centuries, the different qualities of God, the effects of God, or the ways to encounter God, based on philosophy or rhetoric – common in Greek culture. Instead Paul focuses on one basic element – the cross of Jesus. He wants us to continue to understand that the cross is everything – until we focus on the cross and allow it to make sense of our lives, nothing else is going to make sense.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (13 mins)
Sunday 5, Year A. Matthew 5:13-16; I Cor 2:1-5
The liturgy presents us with the final section (26-31) of chapter one of First Corinthians today, which means we have jumped over verses 18-25 which provides the essential context of the passage. Paul speaks in a powerful rhetoric about the cross – ironically telling us that God will destroy the wisdom of the wise. It is a little like the scene in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar where Marc Antony attempts – as a friend of the recently assassinated Caesar to speak without the rhetoric of Marcus Brutus – when Antony actually speaks in beautiful and compelling poetry in comparison to the pedestrian and uninspired prose of Brutus. Paul uses some of his finest rhetoric in this passage to convince us of the power and wisdom of the cross. None of this makes any sense according to the human wisdom that was so highly regarded by Corinthian society (as in our own) but God can transform what is weak and foolish into that which will shame the strong and the wise.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am. (12 mins)
Sunday 4, Year A. I Corinthians 1:26-31.
Corinth was located at the end of a neck of land attaching the Peloponnese peninsula to mainland Greece and having a port facing east (Cenchreae) and another with access to the west (Lechaion), Corinth was geographically predestined to be a corridor of commerce and a potpourri of cultures. Ships could be hauled across the isthmus on chariots on the 6km paved railroad-like diolkos, whose grooves can still be seen on a surviving strip. This saved mariners sailing 300km from Athens to the Adriatic, and 160km to Naples or Rome. It also spared them sailing around Cape Maleae, proverbially treacherous for seafaring.
Ships with cargo too heavy for the diolkos would unload at one port and either haul the empty boat over the diolkos or load the cargo into a different boat at the other port. For various reasons, much cargo passed through Corinth itself. Being able to excise duty on the shipping, and celebrated for its shipbuilding and its production of bronze, ceramics, and textiles, Corinth was a wealthy city. It was also one of the ancient world’s largest. Its 10km encircling wall locked into the Acrocorinth, a rocky hill rising to a height of 600m like an impregnable fortress.
It also had a reputation of being one of the most sensual cities of the ancient world.
Montague, First Corinthians (2011, p15).
Paul first went to Corinth as part of his second missionary journey, travelling there after an unsuccessful visit to the nearby city of Athens, arriving there around the year 50. Given the melting pot that Corinth was, having been re-established and re-built as a city by Julius Caesar in 44 BCE with people from all over the world, with the top of the Acrocorinth crowned by a temple dedicated to Aphrodite that was served by one thousand sacred temple prostitutes (known as Corinthian ladies) – it would not seem to be a natural setting for a thriving Christian community. Yet this becomes Paul’s home for the next eighteen months (Acts 18). It was not without its problems, which so much of this letter is dedicated to after Paul hears from Chloe about some of the problems that have unfolded.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (12 mins)
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Each liturgical year, the second readings for the first eight weeks of the Season of the Year are taken from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians. In Year A we read sections from chapters 1-4; in Year B from chapters 6-10; and in Year C from chapters 12-15. The letter is also read at key points in each of the seasons and feast days.
Like in every one of the 13 letters that are found in the New Testament that bear the name of Paul as author, this first letter to the church in Corinth begins with a greeting:
May God our Father and
the Lord Jesus Christ send
you grace and peace.
Every time that Paul wrote a letter to either a whole community or to an individual, he began with this declaration that he wanted the people he wrote to know. He wanted them to know that the gift of God that was revealed in the person of Jesus, through the unity of the Holy Spirit was all about grace – “The absolutely free expression of the love of God finding its only motive in the abundance of God” – and peace – “the creative and life-giving gift of everything that is good and harmonious in this present moment.” Which sounds rather good to me.
Recorded at Ignite Summer Camp, Mapleton (14 mins)
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One small piece of wisdom that has come down from the ages (it was first stated in Greek philosophy, and then offered into the Christian tradition through the writings of the Eastern fathers, St Augustine, and then codified in scholastic philosophy through the writings of St Thomas Aquinas) is the Latin phrase: omne/omnia ens est unum, bonum, verum et pulchrum. Literally translated this means: All being is one, good, true and beautiful. Since I first discovered this teaching, it has deeply impacted my life. So as we begin this new season of Advent and this new liturgical year (in fact as we restart the six-year Sunday and weekday cycle from the beginning*) it seemed to be an appropriate time to begin with the very fundamental teachings that an understanding of the transcendentals provides.
The transcendentals remind us that God leaves traces of Godself in everything that has been created – that is everything. We may have learnt in our childhood through the old Baltimore Catechism that the answer to the question “Where is God” with the answer “God is everywhere.” Yet, although we have taught this, we have often minimised this belief, saying rather that God, although everywhere, is really only truly present in much more limited ways – like in our church, or our sacraments, or in the people who are part of our group (and then probably only when we really like them!). The transcendentals can help us to break out of this stingy and narrow understanding of God.
This week we begin with the concept of God as one. ‘One’ is a very common word in our scriptures – used 2,222 times in the Hebrew scriptures (most in the book of Numbers), and 1,569 times in the New Testament (most often in the Gospel of John). Most of the time the word one just highlights that something is in the singular, rather than the plural. But at times it points to something deeper, emphasising the very nature of Gd, such as in Deuteronomy 6:4, which is the Shema prayer recited each day by Jewish people: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The word ‘one’ here is the word ‘ehad and is the basis of the Judeo-Christian belief in monotheism. But this belief began to become more nuanced with the claim made by Jesus (for example, in John 10:30) that “the Father and I are one” which would become part of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
All of this is pointing to the dynamic nature of God. Too often we have limited God to a very static and boring understanding, when there can be nothing that is more dynamic. The only way to know God is through relationship as a subject, not an object. If we begin to grasp this, then we can begin to live in an elevated sense of freedom, goodness, truth and beauty.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am Mass. (14mins)
* The Sundays are arranged in a three-year cycle, starting in Year A with the Gospel of Matthew; Year B with the Gospel of Mark; and Year C with the Gospel of Luke. The weekdays are arranged in a two-year cycle, with the same Gospel readings, but different first readings (drawn from both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures). Over the six years the cycle runs: Year A/I; Year B/II; Year C/I; Year A/II; Year B/I; Year C/II.
If you want some background reading, the following articles may be of interest:
The Feast of Christ the King is a relatively new feast day in the Catholic scheme of things. This is the ninetieth time that it has been celebrated, since Pope Pius XI instituted the feast day through an encyclical letter called Quas primas (In the first) which was published on 11 December 1925. Initially the feast was celebrated on the last Sunday in October (the first 45 years), but with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the revised celebration of the liturgical year in 1969, it was moved from 1970 to the thirty-fourth and final Sunday in ‘Ordinary Time’ each year (the last 45 years). Many Anglican churches have now also adopted the feast day. It seems that in the wake of the First World War, that Pope Pius was concerned about the continuing secularisation of the world and the decline in temporal power of the church, especially in Italy after the reduction of the Papal Estates. So this very ‘spiritual’ feast day has a fairly political history.
The second problem is the place that the monarchy has in Australian society. Although we live in a Constitutional Monarchy, the place and power of the monarch within Australia is very carefully defined and constrained by the constitution and even more so by custom and tradition (especially after 1975). Even the visit last week of the likely future King of Australia in the person of Prince Charles and his wife impacted us very little – perhaps I should read certain magazines directed at women to get a better idea of what went on?
As we know, in most of the ancient world for most of the time, Kings were the total thing – they controlled every aspect of a person’s life. For Jesus to claim this title of being the King of the Jews is so totally huge. Step by step we need to begin to make sense of what kind of kingdom we are living in and how we are meant to be part of this great, beautiful world that God has given us to be stewards and co-builders of the kingdom and co-creators of the world.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (7.30am also available)
Sunday 34, Year B – Solemnity of Jesus Christ as Universal King
Bad sheep and good goats
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, and now, this passage provides great encouragement for all who work for justice in the name of the kingdom of God.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8min 47sec)
Solemnity of Christ the King (Sunday 34, Year A)
We celebrated the reception of Holy Communion for the first time for 305 Year 3 and older children over 6 special Masses this weekend, when the temperature rose to over 42 degrees (hence the reference to cold weather.)
The parable of the talents has a number of unusual qualities. Unlike most of the parables, which seem to be aimed at farmers and fishers and other country folk, this parable is aimed at people who are familiar with the workings of a market economy. So while it was good, prudent and standard Jewish practice to bury treasure in a field to safeguard it, within the market-based understanding that operates in this parable’s worldview, all that results in this practice is the diminution of the market value of the item – in this case a single measure of money called a talent, equivalent to 15 years of wages of a labourer (4500 denarii). This is a rare parable because it praises the risk-taking activities of the first two traders who both manage to double their master’s investment. The problem is that this pro-capitalist reading also tends to leave us wondering if the Christian life is simply going to culminate in a great test that will measure how great a return on the Lord’s investment we have managed to make as the basis of our salvation. Such a reading tends to move in the direction of a heresy called Pelagianism that imagines that we are essentially responsible for our own salvation. As a more careful reading of this parable demonstrates – which is confirmed by the rest of the gospels and the Christian scriptures – the God that we worship is a generous and gracious God who freely offers us all that we need and more. We cannot claim to truly possess anything that we can offer – since all is based on what we have received directly from the Lord. (All that we can claim any credit for is our own sin!) What we can offer in return are acts of thanksgiving and service that flow out of our experience of salvation.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (11min 5sec)
Sometimes it can be helpful to return to first principles and ponder more deeply about the purpose and deepest nature of things like the Church. Thankfully our readings today provide us with this opportunity. After the Second Vatican Council, reflection upon the nature of the church has revealed that the reality of the church can be expressed in three closely related terms which describe her purpose and pastoral reality: kerygma-martyria; leitourgia and diakonia. For example, Emeritus Pope Benedict in his first Encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (2005) expresses the reality of the church is this way (n. 25):
The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable.
The first reading (Exodus 22:20-26) expresses the call of the community to share in the compassion of the Lord for the poor and vulnerable (diakonia): Foreigners, widows and orphans. The second reading is an example or the fruit of the kerygma – when the Gospel is proclaimed, then people are set free from all manner of idols to become servants of the rel and living God (I Thessalonians 1:5-10). Finally the Gospel, which allows the rabbi Jesus to provide his answer to the commonly addressed question: which of the 613 mitzva / commandments is the most important and which can help to provide a summation of all that is important in the law and the prophets. In answer, Jesus quotes first from the greatest prayer text of Israel, the Shema, to declare that to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind is the greatest and first commandment; but the second is also essential: to love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40).
Sunday 30, in Year A. Radio recording also available.
In trying to understand the bible, for me, one of the most important questions to ask about any particular passage is – what is the context? Where does this passage fit within (for example) the ministry of Jesus and in this case – the Gospel of Matthew. Once we do this, it should become quickly clear that the primary interest of Jesus in giving the reply to this unlikely coalition force of the Pharisees and the Herodians is not to answer for all time the question of the proper relationship between the church and the state. Although many more conservative church leaders have used this text in this way, it should be clear that in these final days before his arrest Jesus is dealing with the situations that are being presented to him. The leaders of the Pharisees send some of their disciples with some Herodians – the pro-Roman supporters of King Herod. Since the Pharisees are mostly made up of ordinary and sincere followers of the Torah who would have rejected the Roman rule and authority and would certainly have opposed the hated additional tax that Rome had imposed. The question that is put to Jesus is very clever and brilliant as such things go. Jesus is set up for a fall if he answers this badly, since to say yes – it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor would have put him offside with the majority of the population who hated the tax; but to say no would make him liable to accusations of treason and his immediate arrest by the Romans would have been inevitable. So he asked for one of the denarius coins that were used to pay the tax. These Roman issued coins were forbidden from being in the temple area, because they were considered to be clearly blasphemous and idolatrous, containing as they did the image of the emperor and the title which claimed that he was divine and the high priest. Such coins should have been exchanged outside the temple for the Jewish equivalent which did not contain such images. In declaring that we must ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperors, and to God the things that are God’s’ Jesus reminds us that in fact all things properly belong to God: all of our lives and all that we possess are gifts that we have received from the Lord.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (9m12s)
Sunday 29, Year A. Matthew 22:15-22