Feeding the hungry

One of the things that might first strike us about the readings that are presented to us for our reflection on this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, is that we are not given the account of the last supper from the Gospel of Luke. Instead we are given the only account in Luke about the mighty work of Jesus in feeding the hungry poor in the midst of a desolate place. And the text from the Hebrew Scriptures that is given to us to reflect upon the Gospel is not one of the miracle stories of Elijah feeding the widow during the drought, or Elisha feeding his hungry men with a few loaves of bread, or the sustaining of the people of God in the wilderness with the manna from heaven, but the frankly odd story of this priest-king Melchizedek of Salem, who provides food of bread and wine and a blessing for warrior-king Abram on his return from rescuing his nephew Lot (it is not clear whether there is enough food for the 318 men who form part of his retinue) and in return, Abram offers one tenth of his spoils to the priest-king of God Most High.

In the Gospel, Luke wants us to see the connection between this mighty work of Jesus and the continuing ministry of the Church. So he adds details to the original account found in the Gospel of Mark by telling us that Jesus spoke and taught (over the course of the whole day) about the kingdom of God, while also healing the sick and needy. While sounds like the work of the church when it is functioning its best – in offering education and healing. The twelve, who have just returned from their missionary journey reporting great success, at least are able to identify the need of the crowd when the day draws near to its conclusion – that they need food and shelter. But in one the standard lines of Jesus, he invites them to share in the mission of grace and compassion: You give them something to eat. The Lord is always inviting us to join him in this work of redemption and compassion. He wants us to partner with him in the work of the kingdom. Even if we have so little to give (five loaves and two fish), the act of surrendering that to the Lord is all that is necessary. He will do the rest – alongside of us and our continuing work of sharing in this mission.

Recorded at St Paul’s. (10 mins, 45 secs)
EBC. Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year C.
Genesis 14:18-20; Luke 9:11-17

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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.

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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

Ascended to be present

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.

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Recorded at St Col’s (10 mins)

Called and chosen to love

tumblr_nm6telHK2j1qzmz4co1_500We often struggle with some very basic questions – like who are we? When we meet people for the first time, conversations invariably begin with a process of classification – so, what do you do? Where do you live? The Gospel today takes us to a much deeper place in our relationship with God. It begins with the declaration that we have been loved into existence by a God who is love. Although God has no need of our love or friendship, the love that is shared by the Trinity is so abundant that it longs to overflow and share it with us as well. It is this love that called us and chose us so that we might experience something of the very joy that Jesus already experiences as a result of his relationship with the father.

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Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil and 9am available)
Sunday Easter 6, Year B.
Acts 10:25~48; I John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

Called to go on exodus to the others

shepherdThe image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one that has endured across the centuries of the Christian Church. The image of the young Jesus as the shepherd bringing home the stray or wounded lamb has been found on the walls of the catacombs, and a statue of the Good Shepherd has also been found dating back to only 30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, despite its popularity – or perhaps because of its popularity – there have been two unfortunate elements that have entered into our understanding of this image.

The first is the propensity of Christian ministers to adopt the title of pastor and this understanding for ourselves. But what is clear in the Gospel of John 10 is that there is only one Shepherd who is noble or beautiful (better translations than ‘good’) and that is Jesus the Messiah. All Christians are as sheep in comparison to the Lord – which means we are all rather stupid, smelly and tend to wander away and get lost. All of us need to be pastored by the Lord.

The second has also always been a problem, but with shrinking church attendance and membership is becoming more problematic. This is the tendency to understand the image of the shepherd in very safe and friendly terms. We picture the shepherd as the one who leads the sheep back into the nice, safe and warm sheepfold of the church. But in fact the image that is used at the beginning of John 10 is of Jesus leading the sheep out of the sheepfold into the broad and good lands that lie beyond the safety of the church yard. It is out in the wilderness that the church really needs the safety and protection of the Lord.

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Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year B. Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil and 9am)

Continuing to leave our nets behind

canadian-lakeGrowing up on a farm that had been in my family for several generations on the south coast of NSW, my brothers and I were aware of the desire that my father had that one of us would continue the tradition and farm the land. Once we had each moved away to study and work, this expectation quickly faded into the distance and we had to accept as a family that no one would take over the farm and it would be sold. But within living memory, this expectation was much more closely followed and farms and businesses would be handed on from one generation to the next with the easy expectation that the future of the children was assured as long as they were prepared to work hard enough. Certainly there is evidence that in the region around the Sea of Galilee during the first century, fishermen would hand on the trade not just across a few generations but some may have even operated over several centuries. That this seemingly unknown preacher from Galilee would call the two sons of Zebedee (who is named surely because he is well-known to the readers of Mark within the region) and James and John would immediately leave behind their father and his servants in the boats and follow Jesus is meant to be very shocking. What is the message that Jesus proclaims as he walks along the shore of the lake and why is it so attractive to those who first hear it?

The proclamation of Jesus is not just good advice, or about a new social order or spirituality. It includes these things – but it is the declaration that the kingdom of God is now on the move and in the person of Jesus the future kingdom is beginning to break into the lives of ordinary people. We are called likewise to be the receivers and bearers of this gift and to continue to say yes to being used by the Lord to share this precious gift with the world.

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Sunday 3, Year B.
Jonah 3:1-5,10; Mark 1:14-20
Recorded at NET training, Weyba Downs, Qld (8min, 35secs)

Twenty five years ago this week (1990), I became a Seminarian and began my long formation journey towards priesthood and service in the kingdom of God when I joined Fr (Archbishop) Julian in his consecrated life house in Wahroonga. Nine years later, on this day in 1999, the conversion of St Paul, I became a brother with the Discalced Carmelites at Varroville. Then ten years ago in 2005, also on this day, I met with Bishop Peter Ingham who welcomed me into the Diocese of Wollongong, going on to be ordained a deacon later that year and a priest in 2006. So although I don’t know exactly what this year will hold, I do know that whenever I stay close to the heart of the Lord, his grace and mercy is always enough to allow the abundance of life to be experienced and shared.

Proclamation, Worship and Compassion as the heart of the Church

IMG_20140903_145639_15137057752_lSometimes 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).

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Sunday 30, in Year A. Radio recording also available.


A salted earth

Cow_dung_pattiesThe writings of the prophet Isaiah continue to echo across the centuries to provide a challenge for us; they were certainly well-known at the time of Jesus and seem to provide the background for the teaching that Jesus gives us in the second part of the sermon on the mount. The call for Israel was to be a sign to the other nations of what a nation that was in a covenant relationship with the God of everything looks like. Israel was meant to live this out and embody it, so that if someone else wanted to know what it would be like to be changed and challenged by the Lord, they could look at Israel and see the presence and power of the God of everything in the people and their way of life. Unfortunately, all that Israel tended to be worried about was seeking justice from the Lord against the other nations and longing for the Messiah to come to set them free from their oppression. 

When Jesus uses these two striking images in the Gospel today (Matthew 5:13-16), the call of the prophet Isaiah (58:7-10) is firmly in mind. Israel was meant to be salt for the earth – to bring flavour; to preserve; to provide light and fire; to challenge and correct all wrongdoing. So the call of Jesus is directed not only to the disciples and all who were listening, but all of us across the centuries who struggle to make sense of the teaching and ministry of Jesus.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (10’43”)
Sunday 5, Year A.

Behold the Lamb of God

Lamb of GodWhen John the Baptist, sees his cousin Jesus coming towards him, it seems a little odd to declare “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Presuming that John has not simply forgotten the name of his cousin, there must be something much deeper going on. As we have often seen before, one of the best ways to understand a word or phrase that seems to be out of context is to begin by looking through scripture and see where the word first appears. This is called the ‘principle of first mention.’ So when we do this, we find that there is even more odd story in the pages of the book of Genesis, in chapter 22. The Rabbis called this story where Abraham is called by God to take his son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice the “Akeda Sacrifice.” We recall that Abraham had been called by God to leave behind the security of his homeland to go to a place that God will show him, whereby he will become the father of a great nation. After many years of waiting, the Lord finally answers this promise when Abraham and Sarah give birth to a son, whom they call Isaac – the child of laughter. Some unspecified years have passed when the Lord calls Abraham to take “your son, your only son Isaac (in case Abraham is confused), whom you love,” and sacrifice him in the wilderness. Even though we are 22 long chapters into the Book of Genesis, this is the first time that the word ‘love’ appears in scripture. That has got to be significant!

Not knowing exactly what is to unfold, but trusting somehow in the creative goodness of God, Abraham does what he is told and journeys into the wilderness with his son and two servants. On the third day Abraham lifts up his eyes and sees the place in the distance. Leaving the servants with the donkey, he loads the wood upon Isaac and they travel the final distance to the mountain. It is here that Isaac asks the question that will burn in the hearts of believers until the day that Jesus offers his own life: “Father… behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham answers in a most prophetic way: “God himself will provide the lamb.” Father and son arrive on the mountain top, and they build an altar and prepare the wood for the sacrifice. He binds his son (which is where the word ‘akeda’ comes from) – Isaac seems unusually compliant through all of this, especially if he could be a fourteen or sixteen year old man at this point and could easily fight back against this act of child cruelty – and lays him down on the altar, with hand poised on the knife, ready to slaughter his son. It is at this point that God intervenes – phew! Abraham looks up in answer to the voice of the angel ordering him to stay his hand, and he sees caught there in the thickets of a nearby bush – not a lamb – but a ram, able to be offered in sacrifice. Abraham names the place ‘Moriah’ – the Lord will provide. [It is on this same place that hundreds of years later King Solomon will build the temple.] So yes, God provides the ram – but not the lamb for the sacrifice. So the people of God began to ask – when will God provide the lamb? Who is the lamb of God?

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Recorded (badly) at QCCC Mt Tamborine, during Ignite Summer Camp.
Gospel proclaimed by Fr Morgan Batt, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Brisbane.
Sunday 2, Year A. John 1:29-34

God is near the Body of Christ

babyhugThere is a sense of urgency in the Gospel today as Jesus sends out this group of seventy(-two) disciples to prepare the way for him as he continues to make his pilgrimage journey to Jerusalem. He had already sent out the twelve apostles on mission at the beginning of the previous chapter (Luke 9:1); only this gospel records this second larger sending out. Using the principle of first mention, we perhaps are able to see something of the significance of the number seventy. In Genesis 10, we are told the origins of all the nations of the world, which in the Hebrew scriptures are numbered as seventy, and in the Greek translation are numbered seventy-two. So it is very likely that the Gentile Luke wants us to connect the mission of the seventy-two with the mission of the whole church, no longer confined to the people of a single nation, but now extended to the very ends of the earth. Next, in Exodus 24 there is the description of a group of seventy elders in Israel who are able to share in the presence of God on the mountain – and that there so happened to be another two who were not present and yet shared in the outpouring of the spirit. Finally, there were seventy members of the Sanhedrin.

So what then does the Church ‘s mission actually look like? What lessons can we learn from the instructions that Jesus gives to us today?

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (9’41”)