Pursuing Wisdom

Malnazar-SolomonWriting-GoogleArtProjectKing Solomon whose reign is normally dated from around 970/960 BCE to 930/920 BCE is best known for being extremely wise, extraordinarily wealthy and as a supremely powerful monarch. He is also described as a great lover, with the legendary harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines. He was probably also very busy 😉

He is listed as the tenth of seventeen sons of King David in 2 Samuel 3, born to Bathsheba as her second son; or in 1 Chronicles 3 he is listed as the tenth son of nineteen sons, being born to Bathshua as her fourth son. He was said to reign for forty years – like his father David – or the equivalent of a single generation. He is still young when he becomes King and has not yet reached adulthood, after a bitter dispute with his other brothers; David is still alive during the first few years of his reign, but he grows increasingly fragile and perhaps even senile. It is in the fourth year of his new reign that Solomon lays the foundation stone of the temple – which his father David had wanted to build but the Lord had not allowed this. When the temple begins, 480 years have passed since the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The temple construction takes seven years, and the building of the rest of the citadel and palace takes another thirteen years so that the project is completed 500 years after the Exodus. Most of these dates should be understood as symbolic which is the reason that the dating of Solomon is so difficult.

When we meet him today in 1 Kings 3, he is still in his youth. The burden of becoming King is weighing heavily upon him. He is deeply aware of his own sin – and as the fruit of the adulterous union between David and Bathsheba, he is also aware of the consequences of sin in his beloved father. So when the Lord appears to him in a dream while he is at the northern shrine of Gibeon and offers him whatever he would ask, Solomon to his credit first acknowledges his frailty and need – yet still requests a heart wise and shrewd.

Solomon probably wrote some of the Proverbs (just as his father David had composed a good number of the Psalms) but the remainder of both books would only achieve final form many centuries later. Other books are ascribed to him – Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (or Canticle, or Songs) and Wisdom of Solomon – but these were all written likewise centuries later. His wisdom comprises three kinds – administrative, encyclopedic and aphorisms and riddles. Although his prayer for wisdom is answered, in his maturity he fails to live from within the blessing of this promise and allows his heart to be led astray, especially because of the influence of so many of his foreign wives and the worship of their gods.

Today we bring to a close the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel which is jam-packed with parables and their explanations with these three short parables drawn from ordinary life. The chapter lies at the very centre of this Gospel, and it seems that we are being invited to be the scribes who draw out of our storeroom things both new and old. The new things are this brand new and magnificent vision that the kingdom of heaven is bringing; the old things are the wisdom of the centuries and the witness of the people of Israel and her stories and hopes. The way of the Gospel is about planting the new deep down within the old and allowing the ancient wisdom to come to fresh and exciting expressions in the new.

The shape of this gospel is meant to remind the careful reader of the first five books of the Bible – the Torah, or the Books of Moses; but the content of this gospel is new and explosive. There is a decision that has to be made urgently. It was fashionable then as it remains fashionable now to imagine that there were many pearls or many treasures that you could collect in the various religions that are on offer; no, says Jesus – there is only one pearl and one treasure which is the Gospel of the kingdom of God which Jesus was declaring and living out.

Besides all this Jesus declares that the world is not just going around in circles – but it has a clear direction and is heading in a straight line towards its goal in the final judgement. It continues to move towards that glorious day when God will remake the whole world in truth and justice.

These parables continue to challenge us to both understand them and to place them into action as the wise scribes that we are urged to be. We are called in our thinking, speaking and living to be firmly rooted in the old and also the bearers of the fresh new work that God is doing. Today we are invited to carefully reflect upon our lives to make sure that the fruit of our lives is both old and new.

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Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington 8am (10’09”)
Sunday 17, Year A

Violent darnel

wheat-fieldMost Australians awoke on Friday morning to the devastating news of the destruction of Malaysian Flight MH17 after being shot down by rebel forces in the Ukraine with the loss of 298 lives, including 37 Australian residents and citizens and some medical professionals who were heading to Australia to attend an AIDS conference in Melbourne. In the midst of the incomprehensible grief and numb confusion was a basic question – how can God allow this kind of senseless violence to continue. In the meantime, the atrocities committed in the continuing military action by Israel in the Gaza Palestinian territory had led to the deaths of more than 270 civilians. Where was God?

Once the question is asked an immediate reply is called for – where would the limit of this divine action be? How evil does the act have to be before God would sweep in to issue his divine judgement and punishment? Should every evil thought or intention within my heart be immediately judged and punished? The three parables by Jesus that we have in Matthew 13 today all begin to address this question: God is acting, but the overall call in the midst of history is for the need for patience. God has already acted in a complete and massive way in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but the outworking of this victory will only be complete at the final judgement.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (6’55”)

Sunday 16, Year A Gospel: Matthew 13:24-43

Jesus put another parable before the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s servants went to him and said, “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” “Some enemy has done this” he answered. And the servants said, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” But he said, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”’
He put another parable before them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.’
He told them another parable, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.’
In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables. This was to fulfil the prophecy:

I will speak to you in parables
and expound things hidden since the foundation of the world.

Then, leaving the crowds, he went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

A strange kind of king

20140525_163201Even though across its long history Israel had very little to make it stand out – one thing that is notable is the honesty with which it tells its story. So although it could never claim to be the largest, wealthiest, most powerful or most influential nation, perhaps it can lay claim to being the one nation that told its own story with a brutal truth. The prophecy that forms our first reading today, taken from Zechariah 9 is a great example. Zechariah writes around 520BC – around 20 years after the people have returned from their fifty plus year Exile in Babylon. Although they are now back in their own land, they have very little to show for it. The Persians have allowed them to return and provided some funding to rebuild both the city and the temple, but all that they have to show at the moment are the foundations for a new temple and a partly rebuilt wall. The city is not yet rebuilt and the surrounding countryside is still suffering from the destruction that the Babylonians had unleashed upon the small forces of Israel’s army. So I imagine that the people would have listened with great delight when Zechariah began the prophecy – the call to ‘Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem!’ The next line must also have been heard with great delight: “See now, your king comes to you; [and then it gets even better – after all their defeats] – he is victorious, he is triumphant!’ But then the prophecy begins to turn very strange indeed, and very characteristic of Hebrew prophecy: He is “humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Surely the people would have expected that a victorious and triumphant king would come on a great stallion warhorse – but no, this long-expected king is going to overthrow the way of war and triumph by a new system of peace…

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (7’57”)
Sunday 14, Year A. Zech 9:9-10; Mt 11:25-30
(Patronal Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary)

A place at the table

banquetThe vision that the letter to the Hebrews paints today is certainly expansive. It is an image of the new creation where everyone is welcome and treated as a first-born son and citizen. After attending a forum at the University of Wollongong this week on Refugees, it became even more apparent how far removed this vision is from our current experience in Australia. Bishop Peter Ingham released a pastoral letter on the issue and friends linked a letter that the Bishop of Darwin, Bishop Eugene Hurley wrote recently to Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. The letter is powerful and worth quoting in full:

16 August 2013

Dear Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott,

I have just returned to my office from the Wickham Point and the Blaydin detention centres here in Darwin.

Sadly, I have been involved with detention centres since the creation of the Woomera centre, followed by Baxter and now, over the last six years, with the various and expanding centres here in Darwin.

I experienced once again today, the suffocating frustration of the unnecessary pain we inflict on one another. I celebrated Holy Mass with a large number of Vietnamese families, made up of men, women, children and women waiting to give birth. The celebration was prayerful and wonderful, until the moment of parting.

I was reminded of something a young man said to me during one of my visits to Woomera, all those years ago. I was saying something about freedom.

He replied, “Father, if freedom is all you have known, then you have never known freedom.”

I sensed the horrible truth of that statement again today.

I was also conscious of that beautiful speech made when the UNHCR accepted the Nobel Prize in 1981. In part it states,

“Throughout the history of mankind people have been uprooted against their will. Time and time again, lives and values built from generation to generation have been shattered without warning. But throughout history mankind has also reacted to such upheavals and brought succour to the uprooted. Be it through individual gestures or concerted action and solidarity, those people have been offered help and shelter and a chance to become dignified, free citizens again. Through the ages, the giving of sanctuary had become one of the noblest traditions of human nature. Communities, institutions, cities and nations have generously opened their doors to refugees.”

I sit here at my desk with a heavy heart and a deep and abiding sadness, that the leaders of the nation that my father, as an immigrant, taught me to love with a passion, have adopted such a brutal, uncompassionate and immoral stance towards refugees.

I imagine he would be embarrassed and saddened by what has occurred.

It occurred to me today that neither the Prime Minister or yourself know the story of any one of these people.

Neither do the great Australian community.

I find that it is quite impossible to dismiss these people with all the mindless, well-crafted slogans, when you actually look into their eyes, hold their babies and feel their grief.

There has been a concerted campaign to demonise these people and keep them isolated from the great Australian public. It has been successful in appealing to the less noble aspects of our nation’s soul and that saddens me. I feel no pride in this attitude that leads to such reprehensible policies, on both sides of our political spectrum.

I cringe when people draw my attention to elements of our history like The White Australia Policy and the fact that we didn’t even count our Indigenous sisters and brothers until the mid 1900’s. I cringe and wish those things were not true. It is hard to imagine that we as a nation could have done those things.

I judge the attitude of our political leaders to refugees and asylum seekers to be in the same shameful category as the above mentioned. In years to come, Australians who love this country will be in disbelief that we as a nation could have been so uncharacteristically cruel for short term political advantage.

It seems that nothing will influence your policy in this matter, other than the political imperative, but I could not sit idly by without feeling complicit in a sad and shameful chapter of this country which I have always believed to be better than that.

Sometime I would love to share with you some of the stories I have had the privilege of being part of over the years. I am sure you would be greatly moved. Sadly, for so many, such a moment will be all too late.

Yours Sincerely,

Bishop E. Hurley

 This seems to be precisely what the Gospel is calling us to today. Jesus always welcomed everyone and anyone to eat with him – to share life with him. But the Christian church today is so much more exclusive than this. We have forgotten what it is like to be boat people ourselves.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (12’32”)
Sunday 22C. Hebrews 12:18-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14.

Revealing mercy


I love going to the movies. There is something great about being in a dark theatre, waiting for the curtain to open and the movie to ‘roll’ so that you can be transported into another world. One of the most memorable experiences of this is almost twenty years ago, during my first trip overseas. It was in Paris, and it was a freezing cold Christmas Day (even the fountains were all frozen mid-stream); after midnight Mass at the parish of Sainte-TrinitĂ© and then sharing in the orphans’ lunch a group of us headed to the movies to see the newly released Le Roi Lion. It was a beautiful old multi-tier theatre dating to the time of Napolean with elegant fittings and fairy-lights in the ceiling. As the lights dimmed, we were expecting the kind of pre-show mix of ads and previews, but here we were treated to a light, music and water-fountain extravaganza that set the scene for the transformation that continued when the curtains finally opened.

During this season of Easter, the second reading for the first 6 weeks is taken from the Book of Revelation, the final book in our scripture. It can be a very confusing and misunderstood book, and yet as the opening passage ‘reveals’, John the Divine is wanting to share this most extraordinary experience that he has had while in exile on the Island of Patmos. On the Lord’s day – perhaps immediately after celebrating Mass? – he is caught up in a vision that is often impressionistic and dream-like and at other times quite surrealist. But what John has received is not meant only for himself, which is why he prepares this letter written initially to the seven churches of modern western Turkey but meant for all Christians. He is a seer – one who has seen the inner reality of heaven, and like the great prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, feels compelled to share his insights with the whole church.


Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (9’30”)
Easter, Sunday 2C – Sunday of Divine Mercy

Changed by black fire

blackfireThe scene that is described in the first reading, from Nehemiah 8 is certainly most extraordinary. Hearing that after almost a century since King Cyrus had allowed the people of God to return from Exile to the promised land, Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the civic official in the Persian court organise to return with the third wave of exiles to re-establish covenantal life in Jerusalem in the year 445 BCE. Nehemiah first sets out to rebuild the walls of the city, so that the people will feel protected and they might again have the sense of identity and purpose that walls provide. But Ezra knows that walls are never enough – you also need to have the purpose that the word of God provides. So he gathers the whole people – men and women and children old enough to understand – and proclaims the Word of God into their lives. He knows that the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures – the Torah – has the power to bring new life into a people who have lost everything. He has experienced the truth that in the Torah there are the black fire – the literal words of the scripture – written on white fire – the white space of the parchment and the white space of the lives of the people of God. So he proclaims the black fire (reading it in Hebrew, and offering a translation into Aramaic as well as commentary and instruction) in a powerful ceremony that lasted all morning – around six hours. The response of the people – shouting aloud “Amen, Amen”, raising their hands in worship, kneeling down and falling prostrate, weeping and crying out seems to be a different experience from our own. But perhaps we need to hear the black fire of the word of God and allow it to be written on the white fire of our own lives?

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Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington 8am (11’11”)
Sunday 03, Year C

Centre of history

One of the deepest deficiencies of our current age is that our religious education presents the person of Jesus and the teaching of Christianity as if they existed in splendid historical isolation. You experience this in part with the tendency to focus only on the stories of Jesus – the parables and the mighty deed narratives drawn from the gospels, and perhaps a few lines from the writings of St Paul – and little more. Although formally most Catholics would acknowledge that the rest of the scriptures, including the writings of the Old Testament were equally part of divine revelation, in practice they are regularly ignored.
As we celebrate the nativity of St John the Precursor, we have to take account of the fact that both the Gospels and the writings of St Paul place the life and example of St John as central to the ministry of Jesus. So we must begin by taking time to remember what it was that provided the context of John’s life and what he can continue to offer for us today.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Vigil Mass (6pm, 8’27”)

Passover and redemption


Although John spends more time describing the events of the last supper – including the conversations across five chapters of his Gospel – he doesn’t give us the details of the institution of the eucharist. He does give us plenty of details around the event, including ensuring that we know that it all unfolded during the celebration of the Jewish Passover. Of all the gospel writers, John is the most thorough in giving us seasonal time stamps for the events that unfolded in the life and ministry of Jesus – providing us with the feasts that provided the backdrop for the events. (more…)

Pentecost and Mount Sinai

In the first reading from Acts 2 we hear a whole series of quite bizarre events – most of which we probably have no idea what they mean. To get a better sense of what we celebrate, we need to revisit the Jewish festivals of Pesach and Shavuot in the book of Exodus and remember the day that the Lord appeared in fire and thunder to all the people (including the erev rov – the mixed nations) to make covenant with his people on Mount Sinai.

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Recorded at St Michael’s 9.30am (11’03”)

It seems good to the Holy Spirit

Sixth Sunday in Easter (Year C). In Acts 15 we have a quite extraordinary moment in church history. At issue is how a Jewish community, gathered in worship at a Jewish synagogue around a Jewish Messiah, in the midst of a Jewish nation, keeping Jewish festivals and rituals – how does it welcome non Jews into this worship? What do these Gentiles have to do? Do men have to have that ‘little operation’ to be a part of this community? As they gather in Jerusalem for the Council, we read the decree that the disciples issue, which declares that “it seems good to the Holy Spirit and ourselves not to lay any unnecessary burdens on you” – which is an amazing thing in itself.

What might the teaching of this Council of Jerusalem (AD 50) mean for us today?

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Recorded at Sacred Heart, 9.30am (9’38”)