The law of four – part 4 (The Infancy Narratives)

lawof4As we have wandered through the stories behind the stories of the gospels and their composition and connection to the church, life and our own histories, it seemed appropriate to think about how the stories that are told about the birth of Jesus would fit within this new understanding. So considering the writings of the New Testament, it is worth looking at how the story of Jesus was built up over time. For example, by the mid-60s, when the Gospel of Mark was being written in the city of Rome, the letters of Paul (presuming that all thirteen are genuine and written in the life-time of Paul – and I have never seen any truly compelling information or argument to doubt that) would all have been complete. What is interesting about these letters is how little they speak about the life and ministry of Jesus. In fact, only five pieces of information about Jesus are found in these letters, most of which are fairly obvious and not all that helpful. Namely, Jesus:

  1. was “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4) – that is especially insightful
  2. was Jewish, “born under the law” (Galatians 4:4)
  3. was a biological descendant of David (Romans 1:3)
  4. had brothers (1 Corinthians 9:5) – or near kin; both are adequate translations
  5. was crucified (1 Corinthians 1:22) and he died (1 Corinthians 15:3)

When you turn to the Gospels, you find that the first and last Gospels to be written contain very little about the infancy stories / narratives. Mark is completely silent, and John only gives us a single line as part of the beautiful prologue that begins his unique gospel account. In contrast, both Matthew and Luke provide two long chapters filled with information that tell the story of the birth of Jesus in compelling ways for the community that received these gospels.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am
Advent Sunday 4, Year C.

The law of four – part 3

lawof4We saw in the first week of this series that one of the places that we see the law of four is in every great story ever told as well as in the story of our own lives – the pattern of (1) Hearing the summons; (2) Enduring the obstacles; (3) Receiving the prize/favour and finally (4) Returning to the community. This pattern runs very deeply within our physical and spiritual DNA, and we can easily understand that this is something is good and God-given. So it should be no small wonder to realise that this pattern is also able to be seen in the order of the Gospels that the tradition of the church has given us to read them. Although the Gospels, as we saw last week, were written in the order of Mark – Matthew – Luke and John, and the Gospels are given us the order of Matthew – Mark – Luke and John in our bibles, the early church has read them in the order of Matthew, Mark, John and Luke – and this order is also expressed in our liturgical cycle of readings. This is because this order captures this cycle of life, addressing the fundamental questions of change; suffering; joy and service that we meet in our lives.

We also see more clearly how this four-fold structure is captured in the new logo that we have adopted as a parish community.

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View the slides | Read the explanation of the logo and summary of the journey so far

Recorded at St Paul’s, Albion Park, 9.30am (16 min 30 secs)
Advent, Week 3, Year C.

Video: Christmas Mystery (Dan Stevers)

The law of four – part 2

lawof4This week in our Law of Four series, we looked in more detail at the four Gospels, and particularly the connection and relation of the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) – why we call them the Synoptic Gospels, and how over the last 150 years we have developed a better understanding of the way that these gospels are connected. We then looked at the history of the first century of Christianity in light of the question of the composition of the Gospels.

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Download Adobe PDF of the notes.

Sunday 2, Season of Advent.

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?

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

Cross of Glory

cross-sunsetA few verses before our passage today we read that “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” (Mark 10:32, RSV) Then Jesus takes the twelve aside and announces to them what is about to happen when they arrive in Jerusalem – being handed over to the Jewish authorities, who will condemn him to death, deliver him to the Gentiles (Romans) who will mock him, spit on him, scourge and kill him; and on the third day he will rise again. So this is the background to the question that James and John request of Jesus – to sit on his left and right when he comes into his glory. Amazed and afraid. And stupid!

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Recorded at St Paul’s.
Sunday 29, Year B. Mark 10:35-45.

 

Generous giving and freedom

boy-coinsThe Gospel today should probably carry a warning message before it is read. So many saints across the centuries have been cut to the heart when they have heard this proclaimed, and realise that Jesus is looking at us, no gazing with love at them and you and me. He is going to redefine the first three commandments for us in the same way that he did for this running man: go, sell all you have, give the money to the poor and come follow me. This is what it means that there are no other gods, no idols, no graven images, no other name that can claim our allegiance. He is the one. And he wants it all. Not because God needs our stuff – but because we will never be truly free until we can let go of everything else and cling to him alone.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, you find the idea first with Abraham and Melchizedek in Genesis 14, then developed in the book of Deuteronomy in chapters 12, 14 and 26 (offering of the first fruits of the harvest) and then a much more carefully defined idea in the final minor prophet Malachi where the teaching on the tithe (ten percent of income) is presented the most clearly. In the Christian scriptures, although the idea of the tithe may still be presumed, the notion of giving back to the Lord is much more radical – to give it all away. So what should we make of all this?

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Recorded at St Paul’s (with a heavy cold – sorry)
Sunday 28, Year B. Mark 10:17-30

Wilderness now redeemed

Wild_iStock_000006508876As we move into the new season of Lent accompanied by the Gospel of Mark, the starkness of the presentation of the testing in the wilderness in Mark becomes quickly apparent. Whereas the other synoptic Gospels offer us more detailed descriptions including the fasting, the nature of the testing and the dialogue that occurs between Jesus and the Satan, Mark simply tells us that immediately the Spirit of God – freshly poured upon Jesus at his baptism in the wilderness of the Jordan valley – drives Jesus out into the wilderness. The wilderness was not a comfortable place but rather a frightening place characterised by the wild animals that prowled around within its empty expanse. But unlike others who were tested by the accuser and failed – Adam is the primary example – Jesus succeeds in his testing. And unlike the whole nation of Israel that was likewise tested in the wilderness and also failed, Jesus offers redemption to the whole people by demonstrating that he is the stronger one who will overcome all failure and sin.

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Recorded at St Columbkille’s, Corrimal, 9am (9 mins, 26 secs)
Lent, Sunday 1, Year B. Mark 1:12-15

From the Pastor’s PC – First Sunday of Lent

Well with a new season comes a new priest. I thought that it would be helpful for a bit of background info on who this new guy is – if you have to put up with me you deserve at least this much! So to begin with I’m a country kid. I grew up as the youngest of five kids on the far south coast of NSW, on a farm north of Bega. I am a very productive uncle: I have two sisters and two brothers; they are all married and have given me 17 nieces and nephews. I attended school in Bega – the local Catholic Primary School and then the local state High School – there was no Catholic school there in those days. My parents will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary this year.

After school, I completed a degree in economics at Sydney University (1987-89) – with a triple major in economics, accounting and commercial law. I then worked in University ministry as part of the Disciples of Jesus Community – a lay Catholic community (1990-93), and began studies in theology at St Patrick’s College, Manly (1992-95) and Good Shepherd Seminary, Homebush (1996-98). I continued to work in the area of evangelisation and youth ministry during my seminary formation, as part of the Communauté de l’Emmanuel, which included opportunities to take part in street evangelisation in cities like Rome, Paris, Brussels, London and Dublin. I also spent more than four years with the Discalced Carmelites (1999-2003) and worked in the area of media and communications for the Archdiocese of Sydney (2003-2005).

I joined the Diocese of Wollongong at the beginning of 2005. The first five plus years were spent in the Nowra parish, as a seminarian, deacon and priest, being ordained deacon in December 2005 and priest in June 2006. In July 2010 I was appointed to Fairy Meadow parish as an assistant priest to the new Lumen Christi pastoral region in Wollongong, and in October 2011 as assistant priest to St Paul’s Parish, Camden. As you know, I have now been appointed as the administrator or the ‘priest-in-charge’ here at St Columbkille’s. I have also applied to be the parish priest of the northern suburbs cluster – but we will have to wait and see what the bishop and the good Lord wants with all that!

I am somewhat into technology and gadgets, and I have presented at national conferences on the role of technology and the church. In addition to my parish role, I am also the Vocations Director and chair of the Vocations Team, chaplain to Catholic Youth Ministry in Wollongong, chair of the Youth Council, I help with the Diocesan website, several other parish and national websites, I have helped to prepare the Lenten and Advent Programs, and I am a member of the Proclaim Conference organising committee and the Diocesan representative on the National Evangelisation Forum.

From 2007 – 2013 I was also secretary of the Wollongong Diocese Council of Priests, and a member of the National World Youth Day Committee. Since 1992 I have been a regular presenter at the Summer School of Evangelisation in Bathurst, and since 2008, I have been very blessed by the opportunity to travel to Queensland in January to help out with initial training for NET Ministries and to be a presenter at the Ignite Conference and chaplain to six Ignite Summer Camps for teenagers. I prepare liturgical resources for the Church, including the iPriest Missal and Lectionary – which is what I use during the Mass. Since November 2008, I have also published a blog (frrick.me) and podcast (frrick.org) of my weekly homilies, which is available on iTunes. The audio recordings of my homilies have received several hundred thousand downloads. Finally, like Fr Graham, I am a regular contributor to the Journey Radio program.

So, let us journey with the Lord during this season of Lent, embracing the chance to hear the kingdom of God being proclaimed into our lives, and this chance to repent – to turn again to the Lord of all life and goodness.

Fr Richard Healey (or Fr Rick – or any variation that begins with R!)

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.

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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?

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

Exercising Authority

rocky-coastAuthority and power are words that we are uncomfortable with, especially given the ways that in the church and wider society too often authority has been abused. Yet is central to the biblical message. Authority is a translation of the Greek word exousia, which means the rightful, actual and unimpeded power to act, or to possess, control, use or dispose of something or someone. We can see in the English word authority the roots of author’s rights, which is so different from the contrary system of democracy which is based on the rights of the many. So St Paul indicates that the potter has authority (exousia) over the clay. Perhaps the LNP in Queensland is regretting other abuses of authority in State and Federal politics after the dramatic election results there yesterday?

The church should remember that when the people of God tried to act by way of popular vote, things didn’t go so well. For example, when Moses was delayed on the mountain, the people voted to either return to slavery in Egypt or to make a golden calf. The only time that it is reported that the apostles acted unanimously was during the passion of Jesus, when they all forsook him and fled. By contrast, God’s redemptive word of authority calls us to order – and to life.

It is interesting what each of the Gospels highlights as the first act in the public ministry of Jesus. Matthew highlights the teaching role of Jesus by giving him the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Luke reminds us of the solidarity that Jesus has with the poor and oppressed, when he returns to Nazareth in Luke 4 and reads from Isaiah 61. John has Jesus transforming ordinary water into the new life-giving and spirit-filled encounter at the wedding in Cana in John 2. It is surely significant that Mark highlights that the way that Jesus demonstrated his authority was in confronting the powers of evil with the man possessed by an evil spirit in the synagogue in Capernaum. To which the people respond with what becomes their standard response: to be amazed, afraid or in awe – more than forty occurrences in Mark’s gospel.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden, 10am – re-recorded on 02.02.15
Sunday 04, Year B. Mark 1:21-28.