The Gospel this Sunday concludes our readings from John 6 where Jesus now addresses himself only to his disciples, rather than to the whole crowd. We hear that many of his disciples draw back and grumble and complain about the teaching of Jesus. Not because they could not understand what he is saying, but because what he is saying completely upended their whole world-view. If everything that you’ve ever been taught to believe has just been demolished, and you are being forced to think about the world in a whole new way – many people will just politely excuse themselves and never return to listen to the message again.
A few weeks ago we heard in Exodus 15 about the Hebrew people grumbling in the wilderness out of hunger. The disciples who grumbled then are like those who grumble now that we should only be interested in the spiritual truth that the gospels present. The whole of the Gospel of John is about the Word becoming flesh – not the Word becoming only an idea, or a spirituality, a feeling or an experience. Part of what John is telling us is that history matters; the actual story of Jesus matters.
Verses 62 and 63 remind us that the flesh by itself is of no value; but when the flesh is indwelt by the life and spirit of God than anyone who eats this flesh is able to be as equally at home in both earth and heaven – just as Jesus as the Word of God is and was.
We are urged to go beyond a one-dimensional and basic appreciation of all that Jesus is saying and doing. We need to break through to truly listen to the Word that is within the flesh. The only way to do this is with the help of the Spirit of God – which John will write so much more about later in his Gospel. It is only when we receive the life of the Spirit that we are able to move beyond the unbelief of the crowd.
When we are open to the Spirit, then we can join Simon Peter in his declaration of faith: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Recorded at St Columbkille’s (Vigil and 9am, plus radio program – text above)
Sunday 21, Year B. Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69
We meet the disciples of Jesus today as they return from their missionary journeys where they went out in pairs to not only proclaim the message of salvation but they were also tasked to heal the sick and bring release to those bound with evil spirits. They return no longer as disciples – but they are now called for the first time ‘apostles’ – that is ones that are sent. Seeing how tired and stressed they are, Jesus invites them to go across the lake to a wilderness area (eremos topos) – the same phrase that is used to describe the wilderness that Jesus spent the forty days at the beginning of the Gospel. But when they cross the lake they find the even larger crowd has hurried even more than they did and are waiting for them when they step ashore. Jesus models the ministry of shepherd by having compassion on the crowd and he sets about to teach them at some length. (So a long homily is a sign of the preacher’s compassion on the crowds.)
Paul also offers us an insight into the ministry of the shepherd by describing the alienation that his audience used to live in – they were both spiritually and physically excluded from the life of the Jewish people by the commandments of Moses and the wall that surrounded the inner courts in the Jerusalem temple which bore an inscription which warned any Gentiles (in Greek) that if they entered into the inner courts they should prepare to die. Sorry about that.
What happens in the life and death of Jesus is the beginning of the incredible process of reconciliation – the tearing down of all barriers to allow both Jews and Gentiles to no longer be two separate streams, but now one newly recreated humanity able to live in the grace and peace of God.
Recorded at St Col’s, Saturday Vigil and Sunday morning (9mins)
Sunday 16, Year B
When Jesus is described by the scriptures as ascending into heaven and clouds cover him to hide him from the eyes of the apostles who are standing and watching this spectacle dumbfounded, we are left clinging to a whole series of unhelpful categories to try to deal with this. So much of this is as a result of our attempts to fit the Christian faith within the categories of Greek philosophy rather than in the much more helpful world of Jewish / Hebrew spirituality. It is only when you clearly understand what heaven is really like and how it relates to the earth and the church that you can begin to have any sense of the gift of this feast of the Ascension.
Recorded at St Col’s (10 mins)
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)
It is rare for a feast day to bump-off the Sunday liturgy – usually only the feast days and solemnities of the Lord or of our Lady (but only during Ordinary Time) – but today the dedication of a basilica in the city of Rome from back in the fourth century displaces the Sunday cycle of readings and prayers. So this must be some church. Which it is. Not only is it the oldest church in the western branch of Christianity, being the first church dedicated after the so-called ‘conversion’ of the Emperor Constantine, it remains to this day the Cathedral Church for the Diocese of Rome and consequently the mother church of the whole Catholic world and the see for our holy father Pope Francis. But like the universal church, and the papacy, this particular church has a rich and diverse history including being sacked, burnt and destroyed by earthquake. It has also been repaired and rebuilt many times. It has also been the site of five Ecumenical Councils and was the location of the proclamation of the first Holy Year in 1300. Although small parts of the church date to its original dedication in 324, the majority of the present building only dates from the 17th and 18th centuries.
The readings today help to point us into much deeper mysteries then simply the fate of one particular church – even one as significant and beautiful as this.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (10min 58sec)
First Reading Eze 47:1–2, 8–9, 12;
Response Ps 46:5; Psalm Ps 46:2–3, 5–6, 8–9;
Second Reading 1 Co 3:9c–11, 16–17;
Gospel Acclamation 2 Ch 7:16;
Gospel Jn 2:13–22
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 audio at the start of the homily today is from the video “Elijah” by Dan Stevers. Elijah in I Kings 17-18 is presented as the dude – the great hero of the people of Israel. He is able to break a 40 month drought, beat a chariot in a 30km race, raise the dead, call down fire in a contest with 450 prophets of the false God Ba’al. He is a verifiable super-hero and I suspect that most of the young children in Israel would want to be Elijah when they grew up. So it comes as a shock in I Kings 19 that his whole world-view has fallen apart. He flees for his life after Queen Jezebel threatens his life, going first to Beersheba in the southernmost point of the next Kingdom of Judah – well beyond the powers of King Ahab and Jezebel from the northern kingdom of Israel. But then leaving his trusted servant there, Elijah heads out into the wilderness and calls out to God to take his life because he has had enough – perhaps a little like Moses in Numbers 11. But instead the Lord provides food and drink for Elijah to give his strength for the journey. Elijah then sets out on a pilgrimage even further south across the Sinai peninsula to the mountain of the Lord – Mount Horeb (also called Mount Sinai). There he finds the cave that Moses had gone to when he wanted to experience the glory of the Lord (Exodus 33). The Lord first questions Elijah and then promises to make his presence felt. While Elijah waits on the side of the mountain, three mighty signs that normally signal the presence of the Lord are unleashed upon the mountain – the wind storm that is so strong that rocks are split and shattered (the sounds of the storm); an earthquake that continues to break apart the mountain (the feeling) and a fire that can be seen. But despite these mighty signs that can be heard, felt and seen, the Lord is not present in any of these signs and wonders. Instead Elijah hears the faintest whisper of a voice – literally ‘the sound of fine silence’ [qôl dĕmāmâ daqqâ].
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (13’17”)
Sunday 19, Year A. I Kings 19:9a,11-13a; Matt 14:22-33
During Easter we read from the first letter of St Peter, and we come today to what is one of the most extraordinary declarations in scripture. Peter addresses a mixed community – young and old, men and women, gentiles and Jews, leaders and members – and to each person he reminds us that Jesus has drawn very near to us and wants to make us into living stones to form a spiritual house. Then, using words that were once addressed to the tribes of Israel gathered with Moses around the mountain of Sinai, he then declares that we share in this same dignity and more – of being a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Strangely the liturgy omits verse 10, which declares, ‘You were once no people, but now you are God’s people; once you had no mercy, but now you have received mercy.’
Recorded in 2011 at Mater Dolorosa, Balgownie; edited (7’59”).
It was Mission Sunday in the parish, so no homily was recorded.
Sunday 5 in Easter, Year A. 1 Peter 2:4-10.
In the Gospel of Luke, it is the lowly and outcast shepherds who are the first to visit the child Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem; in the Gospel of Matthew, it is foreign magi who have journeyed for weeks, if not months, to come and seek the new-born king of the Jews. What is odd that it is not the respectable citizens of Jerusalem, nor the high priests or scribes of the temple that make their way to see the child. Even after the appearance of the magi in Jerusalem, none of them bother to make the two-hour journey across the small valley to Bethlehem to see for themselves what all this fuss is about and to confirm the signs in the heavens that the magi report.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (6’58”)
In the middle of the year I was travelling through South America with a group of young pilgrims from the Diocese towards World Youth Day. While everything on the trip started off really well, by the time we arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the weather had really turned against us and the rain started pouring down. Many events were affected by the rain, but the main casualty was the venue for the final Vigil and Mass which was flooded out so badly that alligators began to roam freely over this area of reclaimed swamp. Probably not the most ideal venue for a sleep-out with several million young people. Alas, the famous Copacabana Beach had to be used instead! In reaction, when Pope Francis welcomed the young people, he did not complain or lament about the weather and its consequences. Instead he said “I expect a messy World Youth Day. But I want things messy and stirred up in the congregations. I want you to take to the streets. I want the church to take to the streets.” When you look at the nativity scene with these messy eyes, many things begin to reveal themselves.
Recorded at Midnight Mass, St Paul’s Camden (8’45”)
Christmas – Midnight
Earlier in the evening, I made a time lapse video of the outdoor Vigil Mass (while I celebrated Mass at St Mary’s in Leppington!):