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
Another strange parable in a series of strange parables. The parable that Jesus tells about a king throwing a huge wedding feast takes on a strange form in the Gospel of Matthew – especially when it has the additions that are unique in this gospel – namely the king taking the time out in the middle of the wedding feast (with all of this abundant food already sitting there on the tables) to go off and wage war against those who failed to come to the banquet – and then the four verse addition that is not found in Luke’s version of this parable (but is found in the Gospel of Thomas) about the king throwing out a wedding guest who had come in off the street because he was not wearing a wedding gown. Both elements are quite bizarre and many have struggled to make sense of them over the years. As in the previous two parables in this three-parable set directed very pointedly against the religious leaders of Israel after Jesus has made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem only a few days before he is arrested and tried by these same leaders – it seems that Jesus needs to speak very loudly and directly to these leaders because they are just not getting it. They don’t understand how tense the political situation has become and how much is at risk if they continue to lead Israel down the same path of violence and rebellion. God in Jesus continues to call his people back inside the wedding celebration. He longs for us to celebrate with him and especially to be ready to party with him in the banquet at the conclusion of all things.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (12 min)
Sunday 28, Year A. Matthew 22:1-14
The homily from Dawid and Ha Wojcik’s wedding is also available here.
One of the things about spending the first half of September walking 320km across Spain was that it forced you to slow right down. Literally. Now that I’m home again, it can be tempting to revert back to the usual pace of life and fill every spare moment with the usual distractions. But at least for those 14 days our world was filled with much simpler things. Like walking. And feeling pain. And being hot. And thirsty. And hungry. And tired. And then towards the end of the journey, once we had arrived in Galicia – wet. Very wet in fact. But when you take a whole day to walk from one small village to another – the distance that you will probably cover in your car in 15-20 minutes – you tend to notice so much more of the landscape as it unfolds around you. You notice the dirt. And the waterways. The crops and the fruit. You especially notice any fruit that is hanging over the path of the Camino itself – especially if it looks ripe and accessible and to not be in someone’s property. All of this stuff begins to matter. Which also means that the parables that Jesus tells about vineyards and fences and fruit begin to jump out a lot more from the page. Especially because we were walking during late summer, which is just before most of the crops would be harvested and the fields were full of fruit and anticipation.
The vineyard was one of the favourite images that the prophets and psalmists used to describe the relationship of the people of God with the Lord. He wanted us to share in his bounty and his goodness and for us to enjoy a rich and full life. But when it came time for the harvest, he did expect for us to remember that we were the worker tenants and not the owners of the vineyard. The fruit belongs to him – not to us. He is looking for partners in his beautiful work of renewing creation. If the current tenants are not worthy of this challenge, then he will take away the vineyard from our control and give it to others who will return the blessings back to the Lord in worship, and acts of compassion, justice, love and grace. A huge and challenging parable.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’29”)
Sunday 27, Year A, Season of the Year
You have seduced me O Lord, and I have allowed myself to be seduced. Perhaps Simon, the hero of the Gospel last Sunday, took these words of Jeremiah to heart when after one of his rare triumphs, he so quickly falls from grace. It must have really been something – after being praised so highly and then renamed and commissioned to be the rock upon which this new community of God’s people would find their identity – and then to be told to get back into your place behind Jesus, because the suggestions that you thought were so good and logical and sensible are apparently enough to be rebuked as ‘satan’! After all, since Simon loves the Lord so much, it is only natural that the Messiah should now make his way down through the region of Galilee where Jesus has done so much good – teaching, healing, feeding thousands of people – people who would readily support Jesus as the true Messiah and rightful king. They could easily have organised a sizeable force which could easily have overthrown the small Roman garrison in Jerusalem and established Jesus there. Instead, when Jesus declares that the only way forward for him was the way of suffering, defeat and death – it must have seemed madness.
Yet what Jesus was so very clear about – was what the will of the Father was for him. His prayer was never attempting to cajole the Father into letting Jesus have his own way – and the way of discipleship that Jesus is giving to his followers then and now is the same. The way of the kingdom of God can never begin with my plans and my desires. As the old joke goes – how do we make God laugh? Answer: tell him your plans. Or in Simon’s case: how do you provoke a rebuke from God? Tell him that the true way of life does not involve denial, suffering, death and the cross.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (6’59”)
Sunday 22, Year A.
Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
The Gospel today has Jesus taking the disciples on a very unusual road trip. They walk to the very north of Israel, on the border of Lebanon and Syria to the foothills of Mount Hermon. There in the region of Caesarea Philippi – a town that was being built by King Herod to honour a pagan ruler who was oppressing his people and who identified himself as the ‘son of God’ they came to the source of the river Jordan – the springs of Banias (Panias). The name of the springs point to the reason that the area was famous – it was the site of the Temple of Pan, who in Greek mythology was the son of the god Zeus. Near the temple was the entrance to a cave that was thought to be one of the entrances into Hades (or in Hebrew understanding Sheol) and the place of the dead. Above the temple is a massive rock wall which leads up to the mountain proper.
Understanding this background and geography is very helpful to understanding more clearly what happens when Jesus asks the disciples these two questions: “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” The gospel of Matthew is clear that the disciples offer many opinions that were commonly understood by the people, but when Simon steps forward to speak on behalf of all the disciples, he doesn’t only say that you are the Messiah (as in Luke and Mark), but Simon goes on to declare that Jesus was the “Son of the Living God.” Given that this took place in the surrounds of the temples to the Greek god Pan (which was a fertility cult which would have featured ritual prostitution and various expressions of cultic sexuality) and the Emperor Philip, the declaration of Simon that Jesus was not just another son of God, but the true Son of the Living God.
It is then that Jesus provides rare praise for Simon, declaring that it is not flesh and blood that has revealed this to him, but ‘my Father in heaven’ and then he goes on to give to Simon a new name (perhaps referring to the large rock wall behind them as he does): “You are Rock and on this rock I will build by ekklesia.” Even though they are near a famous temple, and the temple in Jerusalem was understood as the meeting place of heaven and earth Jesus chooses to use a new word to describe this new reality that would be built upon the person and faith of Rocky – ekklesia. He could have said this is where I will build by new synagogue or my new temple, but instead he tells the disciples that this was the initiative of his Father in heaven to call a people out from the world and to call them into the new life of the kingdom. This world ekklesia – although accurately translated as ‘church’ is a radically dynamic reality capturing a people that are invited to be the very sign of the presence of God among his good created world.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm Mass (12min)
Sunday 21, Year A.
The Gospel that we are presented with today is hard to deal with (Matthew 15:21-28). We expect that when Jesus is presented with a situation of desperate need that he answer with compassion and mercy. Instead today, when he flees to the pagan northern region of Tyre and Sidon and meets a local woman in need, he addresses her first with silence, then a third-person rebuttal based on her ethnicity and then an outright and disgusting insult, comparing her to a house-dog. Even if you make allowances for Jesus being tired, or choosing the description of a puppy rather than a wild dog, the insult is still shocking. The fact that the liturgy today pairs this reading with the prophecy from Isaiah that longs for the day when even foreigners who ‘attach themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants’ will also be brought to the holy mountain and their offerings will then be acceptable. It is perhaps even more shocking to us who have lived through too many genocides and episodes of racial cleansing and violence and hatred that is based on race, skin colour, religion and sexual identity. The continuing poor way that we treat refugees and asylum seekers in our country is also surely motivated by such factors. So how can we make sense of what Jesus says and does today? Is there a way that we can even begin to understand what may have motivated such action on his part?
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’22”)
Sunday 20 in Year A.