Marginal Prophet

Nazareth_Synagogue&HillJeremiah is one of the most favourite prophets in part because he is so transparent about his call and its consequences. He certainly didn’t go out of his way to be a prophet. You couldn’t really blame him. At the time of his call, during the reign of King Josiah, the southern kingdom of Judah was not at the peak of its historical greatness. The ten tribes from the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrian invasion some ninety years earlier, and although Josiah was one of the better southern kings, his reforms were not far-reaching enough to have much of an impact. Not only that, but the call that Jeremiah receives is very unusual. Unlike almost every other Jewish prophet, Jeremiah is called to not only be a prophet for the people of Israel, but also for all the nations. All the nations at that time means all those kingdoms that surrounded the kingdom of Judah, and which were larger, mightier, better resourced, and likely to continue to kick their butt in any conflict. So it is little wonder that young Jeremiah is not having a great day in answering this call.

In the Gospel today we continue the reading from Luke 4, beginning with the last line that we heard last Sunday: “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.” (Luke 4:21) And even though Jesus is taking a very Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 61:1-2 and Isaiah 58:6 and applying it very specifically to himself, the townsfolk of the hamlet of Nazareth (pictured above – the hamlet, not the people!) initially are taken in by his ‘gracious words’ – perhaps hoping that there little village will make it onto the tourist map and attract pilgrims as a passing trade. But when he begins to give examples of what his ministry is going to look like, quoting from the actions of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, the situation quickly turns ugly. It is clear that he doesn’t intend staying comfortably in the safe zone of Jewish piety, but will call his people and us to life on the margins.

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Sunday 04, Year C. Luke 4:21-30; Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19.

Apostles breaking down barriers

Jesus-Shepherd-TissotWe 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.

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Recorded at St Col’s, Saturday Vigil and Sunday morning (9mins)

Sunday 16, Year B

Rejoice always and pray constantly

seantmWhen you learn a new language one of the things that you need to become familiar with are the rules of grammar and syntax. But the degree to which you have to continue to remember each of the rules in turn is an indication that you haven’t yet become fluent in the new language. Once you do, the rules can be left behind and you can get on with the job of enjoying the new possibilities. It is a similar situation with the Christian faith. There are necessary rules and frameworks that Paul understood the early church needed to know – and he shared some of them in eight short and simple declarations that form the first part of our second reading today – taken from his earliest letter. They provide ample fruit for our Advent reflections to guide us during these hectic and crazy days.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.
23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. (I Thessalonians 5:16-24)

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Advent, Sunday 3, Year B

Good goats did it for me

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Bad sheep and good goats

Justice is something that we learn very early as children. We have this strong instinct for when something doesn’t just seem to be fair. Perhaps as a result, justice is one of the most profound longings of the human race. When there is no justice, then we know that something is wrong from deep within ourselves. Justice is both hard to define and hard to enact. This has never stopped humans from seeking it, praying for it, and working hard to find better ways of doing it. Justice means bringing the world back into balance.

The scene of the last judgement that is presented in the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 25 has burned itself deeply into our consciousness – not least because of its depiction in many paintings. The Son of Man is identified as the king who sits on his glorious throne admitting on one side the righteous to the final kingdom of God – prepared from the foundation of the world. In contrast is the other side with the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. The common image of a shepherd separating the sheep from the similarly coloured goats is used.

In this present moment, these two kingdoms are interwoven and confused through the ambiguities of history. But the kingdom of God is the only true kingdom. What appears to be the present struggle between the two kingdoms will not last forever, because ultimately only God is King!

Part of what is proclaimed in this gospel is that in the coming of the son of man, justice will at last be done. This passage comes as the climax of a whole series where Jesus has denounced his own people and especially the leaders for their failure to live as God’s people should.

What Jesus wants the church to know is that he is already ruling the whole world as its rightful Lord. This is especially true where the kingdoms of this world treat many of our brothers and sisters with contempt, torture, abuse and too often with death. Then, and now, this passage provides great encouragement for all who work for justice in the name of the kingdom of God.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8min 47sec)
Solemnity of Christ the King (Sunday 34, Year A)

We celebrated the reception of Holy Communion for the first time for 305 Year 3 and older children over 6 special Masses this weekend, when the temperature rose to over 42 degrees (hence the reference to cold weather.)

A vineyard must be fruitful

camino1One of the things about spending the first half of September walking 320km across Spain was that it forced you to slow right down. Literally. Now that I’m home again, it can be tempting to revert back to the usual pace of life and fill every spare moment with the usual distractions. But at least for those 14 days our world was filled with much simpler things. Like walking. And feeling pain. And being hot. And thirsty. And hungry. And tired. And then towards the end of the journey, once we had arrived in Galicia – wet. Very wet in fact. But when you take a whole day to walk from one small village to another – the distance that you will probably cover in your car in 15-20 minutes – you tend to notice so much more of the landscape as it unfolds around you. You notice the dirt. And the waterways. The crops and the fruit. You especially notice any fruit that is hanging over the path of the Camino itself – especially if it looks ripe and accessible and to not be in someone’s property. All of this stuff begins to matter. Which also means that the parables that Jesus tells about vineyards and fences and fruit begin to jump out a lot more from the page. Especially because we were walking during late summer, which is just before most of the crops would be harvested and the fields were full of fruit and anticipation.

The vineyard was one of the favourite images that the prophets and psalmists used to describe the relationship of the people of God with the Lord. He wanted us to share in his bounty and his goodness and for us to enjoy a rich and full life. But when it came time for the harvest, he did expect for us to remember that we were the worker tenants and not the owners of the vineyard. The fruit belongs to him – not to us. He is looking for partners in his beautiful work of renewing creation. If the current tenants are not worthy of this challenge, then he will take away the vineyard from our control and give it to others who will return the blessings back to the Lord in worship, and acts of compassion, justice, love and grace. A huge and challenging parable.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’29”)
Sunday 27, Year A, Season of the Year
Matthew 21:33-43

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)

Bruised but not broken

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The baptism that St John was offering in the Jordan River was a great challenge to the Jerusalem Temple. The main practical function of the temple was to provide a place on earth where worshippers could go and be cleansed by ritual baths and offering sacrifices. John was indicating that he did not accept the efficacy of the whole system of worship that his own father had been a priest for. Instead he offered a different way to be cleansed of your sin and to start in a fresh and new way, by being immersed in the waters of the Jordan River as a sign that you were turning away from a life of sin and choosing to follow in the ways of the Lord. So when Jesus presented himself for baptism in all his perfection and you-know – all that godliness stuff – it would have been a great shock to his cousin John. He knew that Jesus was different from everyone else in Galilee. He knew that his heart had never turned away from the ways of the Lord. He did not have anything to repent from. But Jesus will not listen to his objections and he wades down into the water and stands there in the middle of all the other sinners.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (8’05”)
Baptism of the Lord, Year A. Isaiah 42″1-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

Image: © Plsa | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Who is Jesus the Messiah?

The Gospel passage today is taken from the centre of the Gospel of Mark – not only is it the literal centre chapter, but it is also the place in Mark where the ministry of Jesus takes a definite turn. Jesus and his disciples are on the move. Last week, in Mark 7, we heard that Jesus travelled from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee via Sidon and the Decapolis region of the ten cities. This week, after leaving Bethsaida, where Jesus has healed a blind man in two stages after taking him first out, away from the crowd, it seems that Mark wants us to see that perhaps we are also blind to who Jesus really is, and we need to take time to journey with Jesus away from the crowds and ponder who he really is. Let journey with Jesus and the disciples towards the slopes of Mount Hermon, and ponder the questions that Jesus asks the disciples: “who do you say I am?”

Like the blind man, who when Jesus first lays hands on him is able to see – but people look like trees walking around – perhaps the disciples have seen little more of Jesus than the crowds. Perhaps they think that all his mighty deeds make him like one of the great prophets of old – like Elijah or Elisha – who also have great miracles attributed to them. Just as Jesus takes the man away from the crowds in order for his eyes to be open, so he takes the disciples away on a two-three day walk to the pagan region of Caesarea Philippi. It was not the kind of place that good Jewish boys would normally go – associated as it was with the worship of the god Pan, and more recently (as the name suggests) with the new worship of the Roman Emperor. (more…)

Elijah as model of the evangelising church

Today in I Kings 19, we meet a very different Prophet Elijah then perhaps we are more familiar with – especially from the dramatic story that unfolds in the previous chapter when he single handedly takes on the 450 prophets of the false Caananite god Baal and defeats them. This does not please Queen Jezebel who sets out to destroy Elijah. He is so afraid of her and the warriors that she sends after him, that he flees for his life into the wilderness of the Negev Desert. It is here, lying under a tree that we find him in our reading. (more…)

The true shepherd

  • From the archives… I am away on holidays, visiting friends in Europe. So this is a homily from the archives.

In order to understand our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah today, we need to understand what has been happening in the history and practice of Israel. We need to go back a few hundred years. When the people of Israel first left the slavery of Egypt, and they moved to the Promised Land and began to settle there the Lord himself was their leader; he was their guide. For the first few generations, the Israelites had a series of leaders called Judges, which we read about in the book of Joshua and Judges.

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