Christ, the King of Justice

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, as now, this passage provides great encouragement for all who work for justice in the name of the kingdom of God.

+ Jesus, as this year draws to a close, help us to rest in your amazing love. Take away any fear or anxiety, because we know that you’ve got this whole world under your care and protection. Amen.

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Sunday 34, Year A. Christ the King. Matthew 25:31-46

** This month I am in Jerusalem as part of my sabbatical program. Please pray for me! **

Hidden Talents

When you get to the end of the year, there are always tests and exams and assignments for students. Some of these may be less serious – merely serving to help teachers know what they will need to spend more time revising in the new year. But for others, these tests will assess everything that the student has learnt over the whole of their schooling and the results will shape much of the life for the student for some years.

Some people think that God has given us a syllabus to study, rules to follow, and lessons to learn. They think that when God returns he’ll set a test to work out who will fail and who will pass. We might imagine that the really good people will get a special award; the really bad ones a decent kick up the pants.

Jesus today tells a parable about a rich man heading abroad, who entrusts his property with three of his servants. A talent was a measure of money – equivalent to what a worker would earn over the course of 15 years – think of it as a million dollars. God wants us to be wise and shrewd in using the talents that he has given us. But this is not a parable that encourages capitalism or becoming an investment banker. The treasure that is spoken of is the good news about the love of the Lord.

While we must read this parable – like all of them – in the light of all that Jesus says about coming for the sick and the sinner, this parable is certainly making a positive judgement on the first two servants who have heard the message of Jesus and have responded to all that God has given to bring about something new. The parable also judges the ones who have hidden their light and kept it for themselves – the worthless servants who do not share the good news of God’s love with others.

+ Jesus, you are such a treasure for us. Help us to freely share the abundance of your love with all those around us. Amen.

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Sunday 33, Year A.


** This month I am in Jerusalem as part of my sabbatical program. Please pray for me! **

The reality of heaven

What we come to when we wish to ponder the place where Jesus has gone, and where our beloved dead have gone to – it is not another where, not another place, but another way of being. Heaven is not some place elsewhere, but it is a different way of being – the place where God is and where the will of God is always done. It is important in this month of November that we spend time reflecting on the nature and reality of heaven. Using the beautiful writings of Pope Emeritus Benedict in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi, and reflecting on the images that St Paul uses in the second reading today, we can reflect upon purgatory, hell and heaven as part of our hope for ourselves and all our brothers and sisters who have gone before us.

** I am currently away in Jerusalem on sabbatical leave. This recording is from the Archives (recorded in 2011) **

Practice your Preaching

When you are setting out on a great adventure, you want the guide who is helping you to choose all the gear, plan your route, and help you train to have hiked the same planned journey – not just watched a video about it on YouTube or Discovery Channel. All too often we have guides and teachers who are more concerned about their outward show and appearances than authentic practice.

The reading today begins the fifth and final section of teaching that you find in Matthew’s gospel. This section, which runs for the next three chapters, is full of woes and judgements and the last things. Which makes sense for it takes place during the final week in the life of Jesus, only days before he dies.

Jesus offers three criticisms: that the leaders and teachers say but do not do; second, that they burden others but do not act; and third, that they act for the wrong reasons – to make an impression. So, Jesus says what they teach is good – but they need to practice what they preach.

The warnings that Jesus makes in this chapter certainly apply to the leaders in the church – the Rabbis, Fathers and Teachers ­– but it also applies from top to bottom of all modern societies. No one is completely immune from the criticisms that Jesus levels here. All of us are social creatures who want to be known and liked and accepted by our peers.

When Jesus makes these criticisms, he wasn’t sitting on a great throne. He says these things when the cross that will kill him is already looming large. On the cross he will humble himself and be the servant to all, carrying the heaviest burden of all, so that his people would no longer have to be weighed down by all our garbage.

+ Jesus, help us to get over our little show and appearance. Help us to see that you call us to live an authentic life of service, and to follow you each day along the way of the cross. Amen.

Grace and peace.

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Sunday 31, Year A.

** This month I am in Jerusalem as part of my sabbatical program. Please pray for me! **

The law of life

The question that Jesus is asked in the gospel today from Matthew 22 was a common one that the Rabbis of the day would be asked – “which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” Since in the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures, also called the Torah, the Rabbis had discerned a total of 613 commandments or mitzvot, there were many possible answers to this question. A mitzvah is a commandment – much more than a good deed or work that you can do. They were broken up into 248 positive prescriptions – things you must do, such as to keep holy the Sabbath and to honour your parents, take care of the poor; and 365 negative prohibitions – things that you shall not do, such as do not murder, do not steal and so forth.

Jewish teachers were often asked to summarise the law in a brief statement – some have said that it was a summary that you could say while standing on one leg. The answer that Jesus gives, drawn from chapter 6 in the Book of Deuteronomy – is also common. This commandment – to love the Lord your God with all your heart, life and strength – is not just among the things that the Jews were supposed to do. It was a central part of the daily prayer of every devout Jew morning, noon and night – a tradition that continues to this day. The prayer is called the Shema – from the Hebrew word to hear.

To this greatest commandment Jesus quickly adds another, taken from the Book of Leviticus, chapter 19 – to love your neighbour as yourself.

Knowing the commandments – and living them are unfortunately often two very different things. Far too often we try to obey these commandments in our own strength. But when you see them in the light of the larger Gospel story of Jesus dying for the sins of the world and rising to bring new life – along with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit to empower us to be changed – then these commandments become invitations and promises of a whole new way of life. When we live them like this, then bit by bit we can slowly allow our hearts to be transformed by his grace, so that all those bits of darkness – pride and hatred and impurity and selfishness – all of these things can be left behind and the love that lies at the heart of our faith can become a reality.

+Jesus, may we be caught up each day in your amazing story of love. Help us to receive your love by diving deeply into your love, so that we can live each day in the freedom to love you and love others. Amen.

Grace and peace!

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Sunday 30, Year A.


** Please pray for me as I undertake an Ignatian thirty-day retreat during this month near Boston, MA **

Real Revolution

As an Australian, we can often feel small and forgotten, because we seem to be so far away from where all the action is happening. Our population is relatively small, we don’t have a huge army, or nuclear weapons to protect our vast land area. Yet we are also one of the wealthiest nations, with high income, good health, long life, and enviable lifestyle. And we have an alliance with and the protection of one of the greatest military superpowers the world has ever seen. Which means that we often miss the point of many things in the bible.

For the bible was written by a tribe of Jewish people that had experienced hundreds of years of suffering and abuse living under a whole series of more powerful and oppressive empires. And the Jewish prophets kept reminding both people and leaders that the oppression they experience and the freedom they seek is for a specific purpose – to maintain justice and righteousness and to care for the weak – the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the refugee.

Apart from many trips overseas, I have lived in Australia my whole life – which means that the capitalist system has been whispering subversive messages into my ears my whole life.

The main message is: More… You need more…

You need more stuff. More money. More land. More influence. More power.

Because more, we are told, is always better than less.

Except when more is actually destructive and damaging. Sometimes more is in fact evil.

So, when we read this confrontation between the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus today with this question about taxes – we need to wade through all of our social background first as members of the victorious dominant western culture rather than the underclass.

A few revolutionaries had tried – and failed – to overthrow the Roman occupiers. Most people hated having to pay so much in tax, leaving almost nothing to feed your family. So, the question that Jesus is asked is explosive.

He begins to answer by asking for a coin. The Jews knew that they were created in the image and likeness of God, so it was wrong to put images of people or gods on things, because it could confuse people.

But the coins that people had to pay their taxes with not only had an image of Caesar on them, they also had an inscription around the edge that proclaimed him “Son of God … high priest.” So, his questioner has to admit that he carries around these hated coins that bear such a distasteful and terrible picture and title.

Jesus answers this specific question brilliantly: give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God. He doesn’t provide a policy for all time about how we must resolve every economic question that we will face as we navigate our way in the world.

The mission of Jesus was not to be another revolutionary like the others around. The kingdom of God would defeat the kingdom of Caesar, but only because the love and power of God will always conquer not only Caesar but the even greater power of death and destruction itself.

+ Jesus, help us to be reminded of your constant call to care for the weak and oppressed, and to always make serving your kingdom our first daily priority. Amen.

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Sunday 29, Year A.


** Please pray for me as I undertake an Ignatian thirty-day retreat during this month near Boston, MA **

Wedding Party

Organising a party takes a lot of work. There’s the venue to be set up; the catering, entertainment and music; the invitations. If it’s a wedding then there’s all the ceremony stuff as well. When we throw a significant party, we’re happy to do lots of work and planning so that it will be a great event that everyone will totally enjoy. But sometimes things don’t go quite to plan.

When Jesus travelled around Israel, he announced that God, his Father, was throwing a huge party – the wedding of his Son. Everyone was invited. But people in Galilee and now people in Jerusalem refused the invitation. Although God was inviting everyone, there is a sting to this inclusivity that is totally uncomfortable for us in a politically correct world.

We don’t want to hear anything about the wicked being judged, or about high standards for holiness, or a place with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Yet God wants us to be grown-ups, not babies. Part of being a grown-up is that we learn that our actions have consequences, and that character and moral choices matter.

So although everyone is invited to this amazing party and God’s love will always reach us exactly where we are, his love will refuse to let us stay where we were. When the blind and the lame went to Jesus, he didn’t say to them “You are all fine as you are.” No, he healed them. So when prostitutes, murderers and corrupt officials went to Jesus – his love welcomed them so that their lives could be healed and transformed.

When we are invited to be part of the kingdom party – we need to wear the clothes of love and truth and mercy and justice. If we don’t want to wear these clothes, then there really isn’t a place for us at this wedding. Which is such a shame. But this is the reality.

+ Jesus, help us to be so overwhelmed by your love that we long to let you continue to heal us and change our hearts to grow into your original redeemed image of our lives.

Grace and peace!

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Sunday 28, Year A. 


** Please pray for me as I undertake an Ignatian thirty-day retreat during this month near Boston, MA **

The Vineyard and the Stone

I remember always being a little annoyed and scared by this parable. We are used to Jesus talking about the landowner as God, his Father. But as the story goes on and the wickedness of the tenant farmers becomes clearer, I want to shout out to the landowner – no! Don’t send your son. They are not going to respect him either. Sure enough, they grab him, drag him outside and murder him.

When Jesus asks the religious leaders what the owner will do, I have to wonder about our own church and other leaders like me – have we returned the owner’s share of the harvest or tried to keep the estate for ourselves? It’s such a huge question!

This powerful and sorrowful story was told by Jesus just after he had arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He knows that he is going to be rejected by the religious leaders and he will be taken outside the city of Jerusalem and be put to death. He came to Israel – his own people – and called them to repentance and to be the light that God wanted it to be. But his own people rejected him then – just as so many of us continue to reject him now. Even so, God will remain faithful and Jesus as the stone rejected by the builders, will be vindicated as the cornerstone – the stone that will only fit in the highest place in the building – the place with the highest honour.

+ Jesus, you are the cornerstone. When everyone around us rejects you, help us to return our gaze back to you and to honour you as the centre of our lives. Amen.

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Sunday 27, Year A.


** Please pray for me as I undertake an Ignatian thirty-day retreat during this month near Boston, MA **

Doing the question

After Jesus had made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem at the start of chapter 21 of Matthew’s gospel, the question that everyone was wondering was – is he the one? Is he the long awaited anointed king, the one the Jewish people and leaders called the Messiah? So, Jesus tells a parable to the religious leaders. The parable is in answer to their question: ‘By what right are you doing that?’ For country bumpkin Jesus from backwards Galilee had come into the temple and acted with great authority. In fact, he behaved as if he owned the place.

Two sons are asked in the parable to go and work in their father’s vineyard: one says no but then ends up going; the other says yes but doesn’t in fact go. At a simple level, the parable emphasises that doing is more important than mere words.

On a deeper level the religious leaders imagined that they were doing the will of God yet they refused to believe in both John the Baptist and now in Jesus. But those who seemed to be a long way from God like the tax collectors and other sinners who were regarded as deeply sinful and as violators of the law – they had responded to the call of John to repentance.

The challenge of this passage for us today is partly this: to make sure we are responding to Jesus, allowing him to confront us at any point where we have been like the second son and said ‘Yes’ to God while in fact going off in another direction.

Secondly, the powers of that age were deeply challenged by the things that Jesus was doing. So a good question to ask as the followers of Jesus today is: What should we be doing that would challenge the powers of the present world with the news that Jesus is indeed its rightful Lord? What would provoke people to ask us similar questions? What stories should we be telling that would help people to find the source of true life?

+ Jesus – we have said yes to you by being part of the Church. Help us say yes again by actively welcoming and encouraging others to join us in this field hospital for all the sick and needy in our world.

Grace and peace.

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Sunday 26, Year A.


** Please pray for me as I undertake an Ignatian thirty-day retreat during this month near Boston, MA **

God is Generous

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts” says the Lord in the first reading. Which is such good news when I’m having a bad day and my thoughts are all over the place!

This truth is so central to getting our heads around this gospel today. Our deeply ingrained sense of justice kicks in, and when we hear that the workers who only had to work for the last hour of the day are paid the same as the ones who have laboured under the hot sun for the whole day – we are outraged. Where is the sense of justice in that? We are not surprised that the a ll-day workers would grumble and complain.

But Jesus is telling us something about the Kingdom of heaven and not so much about social justice and labour conditions. He is telling us something about what God is like by telling us this parable. And he has already told us that the kingdom is all about reversals – the first will be last and the last will be first.

The workers who were called last told the master that they weren’t working all day – simply because no one hired them. I think some of us know what that’s like – being the ones that get overlooked, that no one wants. Ouch.

Most likely Jesus was also thinking about people like us – those who are trying to do the right thing and follow the Lord. He is giving a warning to the disciples who were following him then, and we who are trying to follow him now.

God is by nature generous. But what we receive from God is not like a wage – it is not a reward for the work that we have done. We are not in a contract with God – although many of us grew up thinking we were! No, God is in a covenant with us. He promises us everything – and is always faithful to his promises.

+ Jesus, help us to receive your generous love and your goodness as a free gift. Help us also to join you in the marketplace as you look to welcome all those who have been overlooked and ignored by the world. Amen.

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Sunday 25, Year A.

** I am currently away on Sabbatical leave; podcasts have been prepared for most weeks ahead; please pray for me over the months ahead! **