Sometimes 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).
Sunday 30, in Year A. Radio recording also available.
In the Gospel of Luke, it is the lowly and outcast shepherds who are the first to visit the child Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem; in the Gospel of Matthew, it is foreign magi who have journeyed for weeks, if not months, to come and seek the new-born king of the Jews. What is odd that it is not the respectable citizens of Jerusalem, nor the high priests or scribes of the temple that make their way to see the child. Even after the appearance of the magi in Jerusalem, none of them bother to make the two-hour journey across the small valley to Bethlehem to see for themselves what all this fuss is about and to confirm the signs in the heavens that the magi report.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (6’58”)
The first image that we are presented with on this first Sunday in the season of Advent and the new Year of Matthew is from chapter 2 of the Prophet Isaiah. All the nations are streaming up to Mount Zion – but rather than the historical reality of the armies of the surrounding nations laying siege upon the city of Jerusalem, the vision that Isaiah receives is of the nations bringing their spears and swords but allowing these instruments of war to be transformed into instruments of productivity and creativity. It is a reminder for us during this crazy time of the year to also allow time to make this journey to the mountain of the Lord, and to make sabbath time to rest in the Lord. A good way to test if we are finding time in our lives for the things that really matter is to consider if we are doing things that share in things that delight, connect or allow us to worship.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (6’36”)
Advent, Sunday 1, Year A
One of the challenges of anyone attempting to read through the Bible are the encounters with the chapters that contain bizarre laws or content that seems to offer no significant spiritual content. For example, if you start with the book of Genesis, the pace and scope of the narrative will carry you through the book fairly easily and through the first half of Exodus. But once you arrive on Mount Sinai and have made your way through the Decalogue, you strike laws that are massively irrelevant – unless you really do want to know how to sell your daughter into slavery or who is responsible if an animal falls into an open-pit that you have dug.
But the great pity of this is that the chapters that describe the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 25-31) are about much more than the furniture or vestments of the priests – they really present the reason that God wanted to rescue Israel in the first place – so that he could make his dwelling within them. Eventually – after a number of missteps, including the massive one when Aaron doubts that Moses will return from the mountain and invites the people to turn their gold into a false idol in the golden calf – the sanctuary is made and the dwelling of God does indeed fall upon the camp and the Lord is now present in the midst of his people (Exodus 50).
All of this background is essential if we are to understand the book of Revelation properly. Otherwise we miss so many of the images that so richly illustrate the points that the seer John receives and shares with us about the new Jerusalem.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (9’15”)
Easter, Sunday 6C (Rev 21)
What an amazing night it must have been! Already the Lord had demonstrated his incredible power in the nine plagues that Pharoah and the Egyptian people had suffered because they had still not let the people of God go free, so that they may go into the wilderness to worship the Lord their God. But on this night as they prepared the lamb that they had chosen to offer for the special “Passover Meal” that they were going to eat together for the very first time – they still didn’t really know what to expect. Would Pharoah finally actually let them go free – or would he change his mind and send his troops in pursuit of them? For the Hebrew people, all they wanted was to be free to worship – this was the true freedom that they longed for.
Recorded at St Mary’s Leppington (7’17”)
Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday
On the first Sunday of Lent each year, we remember why we journey through the wilderness for forty days when we hear about the journey of Jesus – driven by the holy Spirit into the desert – for forty days of prayer and encounter with God. We must first note that temptation should not only be thought of as the desire to break rules, just as sin is so much more than being naughty. When we sin, we fall short of God’s original plan for our lives – which is to know, love, worship and serve him as his image bearers and sharers in the world. At some level, to sin is to fail to truly worship and to miss the mark and settle on something so much less.
To understand the power of what Jesus experienced and overcame in the wilderness, we need to journey back into the wilderness with the people of God as they prepare to enter into the promised land – recounted today in the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 26. Although the Lectionary gives us verses 4-10, to understand this passage more fully, we need to read a little more – chapter 26, verses 1 to 11, which happens to be the reading from the Common Lectionary. I will read and comment today from the TNIV version.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (12’55”)
Sunday, Lent 1C
Reading the bible is a wonderful gift. But for many people, who with great zeal and commitment begin to read the bible in the book of Genesis, everything goes well for a while. The book of Genesis is interesting, and it is full of familiar stories beginning with creation and then the ‘myths’ of pre-history, followed by the wonderful narratives of the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons, and then especially the story of Joseph and his exploits in Egypt. Things continue well in the book of Exodus with the story of Moses and then all of the plagues and the great events of the exodus itself, into the wilderness and the events around Mount Sinai. The story begins to slow down with the ritual descriptions and laws concerning the temple. But if the committed reader has made it this far, the next book in the bible is often the killer – the book of Leviticus. (more…)
There is nothing unusual in the question that Jesus is asked in our Gospel today (Matthew 22:34-40) – students would regularly ask visiting Rabbis this question – which is the greatest commandment. When there are 613 mitzva (commandments) to choose from in the books of Moses (the Torah or Pentateuch) it is no wonder that various people had attempted to rank and order them to make them more useful. So we see, for example, in Luke 10, that Jesus poses the question back to another lawyer who asks him what he must do to receive eternal life (which leads into the parable of the Good Samaritan) and we have a range of alternative answers available in the Rabbinic writings that support the choices of Jesus or offer alternatives. (more…)
Often we imagine – to tell you the truth – that the teaching of Jesus was much softer that the hard edges of the laws of Moses. Yet – to be honest with you – what we discover in today’s Gospel (Matthew 5:17-37) is the very opposite of this. In the face of an ages’ long understanding that the role of a Rabbi was to simply repeat what they had been taught by their master Rabbi, Jesus dares to teach something new. And when he declares that ‘you have heard it said’ and then he goes on to say ‘but I say to you…’ the new teaching that he gives does not soften the laws – they sharpen them into instruments that are capable to reaching deep inside each of our hearts with frightening effect.
Recorded at St John Vianney, 8.30am (7’48”)
Sunday 06 A
In the liturgy of this 22nd Sunday (Year C), we are given an insight into exactly what is really happening when we gather for the Eucharist, with this magnificent reading from the book of Hebrews. All that we see around us, as rich and as beautiful as it usually is, is only a glimpse of the untold beauty of the worship that is actually happening as we gather in the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
Recorded at St John Vianney, 8.30am (10’25”)