Compassion raises the dead

10C Widow of NainThis seventh chapter of the Gospel of Luke begins with two stories of healing: the first is the healing of the Centurion’s slave; the second is our gospel story today – the raising from the dead of the son of a widow in the town of Nain. In the first story the healing comes at the very specific request of the Centurion who implores Jesus to heal his servant. But when Jesus makes his way across the Valley of Jezreel to Nain, there is no obvious candidate whose faith Jesus is responding to. The dead son cannot be the candidate, but nor is there any reference to his mother making a request to heal her dead son.

When Jesus comes across the scene, the whole town is involved. Although death is common enough, everyone would be touched in such a small community. Unlike in our sanitised and overly formal Western experience of death, there are professional wailers and mourners whose loud cries provide the permission for those who are closest to the deceased person to mourn and weep in whatever way they wish. There would be tears streaming down the cheeks of everyone in the crowd. Others would have spices prepared to anoint the body and prepare him for burial by wrapping the spices into the burial clothes, to offset the smells of decomposition.

It seems that it is simply the compassionate heart of Jesus that is stirred into a response so that he goes to the bier upon which the young man is being carried and commands the young fellow to get up. Jesus doesn’t even seem to be afraid to make himself ritually unclean by touching the body of the deceased lad. The account of the story is stark and honest, describing the raising to new life in very simple terms. The town of Nain is just across the valley from his own village of Nazareth, so it is not too hard to imagine that Jesus had visited the town before, since it was only an hour or so’s walk away. Perhaps the woman and her son were already known to Jesus.

Another possibility is the fact that at this stage of his life, it seems that his adoptive father Joseph is already dead. So Jesus is the only son of a widowed mother, so he would certainly have known exactly what the woman in the story was going through, and her social and economic destitution that would be the result of the death of her son. Whatever the motivations of Jesus to bring new life to this young man and his mother, the crowd recognises the power of this moment in a flash. They erupt with joy and delight and perhaps disbelief that one like the great prophets of old is now in their midst, doing these great and mighty works. They knew that in this scene, ‘God had visited his people’ – he has drawn near to them to save and rescue them. Many in the crowd would have longed to see the signs and wonders like their ancestors had seen, and now their wildest dreams were being fulfilled before their eyes.

The same is true for us. Whatever the week ahead holds for us, God will again draw near to us to bring his love and salvation for us. He will draw near in the person of Jesus to provide the one thing that you most desperately need, even if it is not the first thing that you seem to want. The fact that Jesus will draw close is always enough. That he is here means that we also will be able to make our way through the darkest of nights to see the light of his dawn again.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (one of three first Holy Communion Masses this weekend; 8 mins 30)
Sunday 10, Year C. Luke 7:11-17

View the PowerPoint slides
Watch the Video Reflection

Above text is from the Journey Radio Program version, available here.

Mercy and Mission

The gospel that we have today is taken from the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John. It is another resurrection appearance, but this time, it is not in Jerusalem, but up in the Sea of Galilee. Seven of the disciples, led by the apostle Peter, decide to go fishing. While seven are described, only three are named: Peter the denier; Thomas the doubter, and Nathaniel the skeptic. When Peter says he is going fishing, it could be simply because he needs time out for himself, to get away from all the crazy events that have been happening in Jerusalem. So they get into the boat, cast their nets, and spend all night in the effort, but catch nothing. As dawn breaks, they see this stranger on the shore. He calls out to them: ‘my friends, have you caught anything?’ When they answer, ‘no’, he invites them to put out their nets on the other side of the boat, and you will find something. So they drop their nets, and sure enough, they catch this extraordinary number of fish – which they later count as 153 large fish – so many that all seven of them can barely haul the net back into the boat.

That’s enough for the beloved disciple, the disciple that Jesus loves – and he tells Peter, “It is the Lord” – and with these words, Peter, who has stripped himself for the work, wraps himself in a cloak and jumps into the water to swim across the remaining hundred metres or so to the shore. There he finds Jesus, standing next to a charcoal fire, cooking some fish. It is very likely that the fire would have immediately evoked that night before Jesus died, when Peter had been warming himself next to a charcoal fire, besides which Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus on three separate occasions.

Jesus then invites the disciples to bring their fish to add to the already abundant supplies of bread and fish cooking for breakfast. After the meal, Jesus takes Simon Peter aside and asks him a most personal and no doubt painful question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” Simon answers, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Three times the question is placed before Peter, and three times he answers and receives a commission from the Lord to care for the sheep and lambs of the Lord. Peter needs to know that even in that darkest of nights, when he claimed so much bravado, but acted with such timidity and fear – even that act of denying Jesus is not beyond the mercy of the Lord. Three times Peter hears the work of redemption being spoken into his life. Three times he receives mercy that is transformed into mission. This gospel helps us during these Easter days to know that there is no sin, no shame – that is beyond the mercy of the Lord. All that we need to know is that the Lord will continue to call us to follow him – and his love and mercy will always be enough for us.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am. (8 mins)
Third Sunday in Easter, Year C. John 21:1-19

Journey Radio program also available.(text above)
Video Reflection: Igniter Media, Consuming Fire

Blind Faith

Although the idea of journey is not as strong in the Gospel of Mark as it is in Luke, the disciples have still been following Jesus along the way for many kilometres now. And still they are struggling to make sense of who Jesus is and what it means to follow him on the road. Now that their journey is almost ended, they meet another blind beggar outside of the town. This man is called Bartimaeus and he manages to attract the wrong kind of attention by shouting out after Jesus for mercy. It is enough to make Jesus stop and call the man to him. The voices of the crowd that had been asking him to be quiet now change to voices of affirmation and courage.

The faith of Bartimaeus becomes clear. He doesn’t wait for the healing to throw off his protection as a beggar from the cold and the elements – and indeed his whole identity and purpose. No more waiting, no more confusion: he throws aside the cloak and jumps up and runs to Jesus, perhaps still with the cry for mercy upon his lips.

Jesus wants to know what his deepest desire is – so even if it is abundantly clear what this man’s need really is, Jesus takes the time to ask him the obvious question: what do you want me to do for you? Perhaps the question is necessary because Jesus knows that if he does this for Bartimaeus that his whole life will change. Perhaps his question is really – do you want to give up begging and find a completely new way to live, a new job, new friends, a new place to live?

Bartimaeus becomes in his simple determination to see and follow the Lord an example of faith and discipleship. Unlike the disciples who in their blindness wanted glory, prestige and power, this man wants to know the only one who can save him. He is able to give the right answer to this question. What about us? What do you want Jesus to do for you?

Play MP3

Journey Radio Program
Sunday 30, Year B. Mark 10:46-52

Taking the long way round

decapolis-mapWe are told in the Gospel today that Jesus made his way from the region of Tyre towards the Sea of Galilee to continue his ministry. The bizarre thing is that Mark tells us that Jesus goes by way of Sidon and the Decapolis region. Now Tyre is on the southern coast of Lebanon, and the city still exists today. It is not far from the border with modern Israel. From there to Galilee, you would normally travel in a south-east direction, because that is the straightest and most direct route. So you might presume that Sidon is on the way from Tyre to Galilee. But this assumption would be wrong (cue the saying – sometimes, to assume only makes an ass out of u and me). In fact, Sidon is the completely opposite direction – heading north further up the Lebanese coast, going towards the modern city of Beirut. To make matters even worse, to go from there to the Decapolis region takes Jesus even further out of his way. Most of the ten Greek-speaking, mostly Roman cities/towns of this region were located on the eastern side of the Jordan valley, well away from Galilee. Again, rather odd direction and navigation skills being demonstrated by the good Lord today. Perhaps part of the answer lies in the encounter between Jesus and the so-called Syrophoenician woman which takes place immediately before our Gospel today, but which we have skipped over in this cycle of readings. You may remember that she begged the Lord for help to cast out an unclean spirit from her sick daughter. But Jesus initially had dismissed her, comparing her cruelly to a dog, adding that his mission is only to the children of Israel. But she has one of the all-time great retorts that even the house dogs are able to eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table – and she is given her wish. Perhaps it is the encounter with this woman that provokes Jesus to take the long way back to Galilee, to see if there are others with similar strong faith. We don’t know. All we know is that somewhere along this journey a deaf and mute man is brought to Jesus and he brings healing to the man in this carefully described very physical healing.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, Albion Park – my first weekend in this new parish as Pastor. All three Masses are available.

Jesus and the isolated leper

lady-griefToday in the Gospel (Mark 1:40-45) we find Jesus on the move from Capernaum, through the nearby villages of Galilee, wanting to preach there as well. A man with leprosy comes and falls at the feet of Jesus with a pitiable plea to match the fact that lepers in that society are not only pitied but greatly feared.

People did not know what caused this wide range of diseases which included what we today call leprosy — but they knew that they were contagious — so the only solution was to isolate the victims and not allow them to have any contact with other people. Although the disease featured an appalling physical disintegration of body and limbs, the real pain of the disease was the social ostracism that the disease engendered. It is also tragic that many of the people who were forced to be ostracized may not have even had the disease but some other non-contagious skin complaint.

The response of Jesus today is odd. Jesus is deeply moved by the leper – some translations say with compassion or pity, but others say with anger. The Greek word can be translated either way. But once he heals him in a very matter-of-fact way, then Jesus warns him sternly not to say anything about the healing. Perhaps this is simply because before the man can be reintegrated into society, he has to be seen to be clean by making the appropriate offering that is prescribed in the Book of Leviticus.

Perhaps we can take great courage from the Gospel today, knowing that when we bring any of our complaints and diseases before the Lord, he will respond to us in the same way that he responds to this man: “Of course I want to, be made clean.” Jesus is never constrained by social conventions or legalities that prevent him from being part of our lives. If we have isolated ourselves away from family and friends, perhaps today offers us a chance to reconnect with our church family or offer that healing touch of Jesus to someone we know.

Play MP3

Sunday 06, Year B.

This was my final Sunday in St Paul’s, Camden. This week I move to St Columbkille’s Parish in Corrimal, as the Administrator, ready for the new season of Lent.
To listen to my words of thanks at the end of Mass, click here. It also includes a few thoughts after Bishop Peter’s 2015 Lenten Message.

Service of a Woman Disciple

Woman with tissue and hot drinkWe continue the day in the life of Jesus that the Gospel of Mark famously opens with. The four new disciples of Jesus travel with him as he leaves the synagogue and the now freed formerly possessed person and goes to the house of Simon and Andrew, where they find Simon’s mother-in-law sick in bed with a fever. Going against ordinary social convention, which is especially important in the case of a Rabbi and teacher like Jesus, he goes into her room, takes her by the hand, and assists her to get up. This action is enough to allow her to be freed from her sickness, and she immediately adopts the action of a disciple by serving the small community gathered around Jesus. The people who heard Jesus teach in the synagogue follow him to the house once the evening falls and the sabbath day is over. It is significant that the ministry of Jesus continues into the new day – the first day of the week, or Sunday. After Jesus has freed the people from disease and possession, he takes the opportunity to escape into a quiet place where he can be alone with the Father in prayer. However the clueless Simon and his companions (note they are not yet described as disciples) come hunting for him. Unlike his mother-in-law, Simon has not yet learnt that the first act of a disciple is service; rather than trying to help the people himself, he simply goes in pursuit of a solution which he perhaps hopes (rather than believes) may be found in Jesus.

At this stage, we might presume that Jesus would simply then set about healing all those still in need of a miracle – but he doesn’t. He announces that he needs to keep moving on. Even though he is famous here and people are clamouring to be entertained by his signs and wonders, this is not enough to keep Jesus in his home town. Others also need to hear the kingdom of heaven proclaimed, so he moves on. Redemption is so much more than what the people of Capernaum were looking for. A powerful lesson for the contemporary church?

Play MP3

Sunday 05, Year B. Mark 1:29-39

He does all things well

 

The Fathers of the Church remind us that there were many miracles that Jesus performed; when a particular one stood out in the memory of the evangelists, it was perhaps for a particular spiritual lesson that the story can offer to us as we read and listen to it. AS always, we are invited to enter into the scene before us and allow Jesus to address us.

To begin, Mark provides us with an interesting geography lesson as he relates the route that Jesus took from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee. To travel between these two points via Sidon and the Decapolis is a little like travelling from Sydney to Canberra via Newcastle and Bathurst. You can do it, but you should seriously consider updating your GPS if that is the suggested route! (more…)

Immediately driven

Every book in the biblical library has unique characteristics that set it apart from all other books in the bible. The passage that is our first reading today from the book of Job – dealing with suffering and pain – is fairly typical of this book. So also each of the gospels have particular ways of telling the story of Jesus that are unique. John features long and exalted speeches of Jesus; Matthew is marked by 5 large blocks of teaching that begins with the famous sermon on the mount, identifying Jesus as the new Moses; in the prayerful gospel of Luke, the most characteristic feature are the parables that are unique to him. (more…)

Peace be with you

‘Peace be with you’ – this is the greeting that Jesus proclaims to the disciples when he appears to them – even if they are locked behind closed doors for fear of the same fate falling on them as has just happened to Jesus. But the peace that Jesus promised, and the peace that he now gives to them is much more than the absence of fear, conflict, violence or noise. This peace, the true ‘shalom’ of the Lord, is infinitely creative and becomes one of the true signs of the new creation that happens in the resurrection. This is the peace that we are invited to share in and to be ambassadors of the peace that is only known in the wounds of Jesus.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Brigid’s, 9am (9’43”)

Easter Sunday 2A – Octave Day (John 20)
Divine Mercy Sunday, Beatification of Pope John Paul the Great

Thirst quenched by living water

The story of the woman at the well presents many strange scenes in this most beautiful Gospel. John 4 begins by telling us that Jesus learnt that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was baptising and making more disciples than John the Baptist (although it wasn’t Jesus who was baptising, but his disciples – apparantly) and for this reason he has to leave town and head north to the more peaceful lands of Galilee. But rather than go to usual – albeit longer road down to the Jordan river valley and up to the Lake, Jesus takes the shorter but riskier road through Samaritan territory.

Play MP3

Recorded at Mater Dolorosa during Mass with the Disciples of Jesus Community. (12’07”)

Lent, Sunday 3A.