Saturday, 16 January 2016

Time, gentle man?

Sunday Gospel
John 2:1-11  - Marriage Feast of Cana

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. When they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the wedding was all finished, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said ‘Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ There were six stone water jars standing there, meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews: each could hold twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’, and they filled them to the brim. ‘Draw some out now’ he told them ‘and take it to the steward.’ They did this; the steward tasted the water, and it had turned into wine. Having no idea where it came from – only the servants who had drawn the water knew – the steward called the bridegroom and said; ‘People generally serve the best wine first, and keep the cheaper sort till the guests have had plenty to drink; but you have kept the best wine till now.’

  This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him.

Sometimes words are just not enough; I would love to have been there when Jesus ‘rebuked’ his mother: the body language, the exchanged glances. Mary’s head held high as she goes over and speaks to the servants gesturing back to her son ‘ Do as he tells you’. Then Jesus’ raised eyebrows and tiny shake of the head and the ‘sigh’ because ‘it’s his mum’. If there was ever any evidence that this was a real, human, mother and son relationship then this tiny unspoken ‘pause’ is it.

We are three or more days into this wedding party and, obviously, a good time is already being had by all. To some people, at least, the lack of wine was being blamed on the indulgence of Jesus and his friends. Perhaps, the stage whispers and pointed fingers had been noted by Mary and she decides to act; even though culturally, it was not proper for a woman (even a mother) to approach the men in public. 

You could also argue, that this is not the most appropriate of times for Jesus to be making his debut.

Or maybe it was? Maybe, Mary, knowing exactly who her son was, saw this as precisely the place for his first public miracle; a place outside the Temple; outside the Law; with the everyday people, with communities celebrating relationship.

If you are going to be different – you may as well start now. If you are going to be where people need you – it might as well be here. 

And why? 

For the simplest of reasons - that there need never be the thought ‘why would God be bothered with my problems?' 

Why would God be refilling wine jars at the end of a wedding feast? Because Jesus sees our life as a wedding feast. Because Jesus wants our lives to be fulfilling. And, maybe, because he can.

Mary acts as the precursor for all the others who call out to Jesus; who demand attention and healing; who shout after him; who touch his clothing and anoint his body. The people who will take themselves to Jesus knowing who they are and who he is; people who will argue with him and challenge him.

And Jesus will allow himself to lose; to be persuaded; to be talked into and out of decisions – in public, by the lower classes, the outcasts and the women; to be criticised by those around him, including his own disciples.

Not a thing a Rabbi would allow – certainly not something God would allow – you would think.

Seems we have a different kind of God.

And this same scenario tells us much about needful prayer; maybe especially where Mary is involved. Because so often when we pray we can think it is Mary doing the work.

We may share our human problems with Mary, but Mary is not going to sort it out for us – she may listen sympathetically – but then she will gesture to her Son and say ‘Do whatever he tells you.’


Sunday, 10 January 2016


Sunday Gospel - Baptism of the Lord -

Luke 3:15-16,21-22

A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Now when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’

I wonder if expectancy was also growing in Jesus? If the faith of his parents, that had taught him love, trust and integrity, had also taught him that there was something else; that inside him was a place waiting to be filled.

This was not a 'coming' for Jesus; not even a 'coming out'. There is no reason to believe that this baptism was for the sake of appearances. John knows both his cousin and the Holy Spirit, yet know nothing of what is to come.

John follows the vocation of his birth; he calls and Jesus responds; wanting to be part of John's vision; to help prepare the way for the Lord.

The baptism with water is only the beginning; the willingness to stand before others and be made clean; to stand in the river and be moved by its energy and its restlessness.

Luke tells us this baptism is not enough; Jesus is still Jesus. To be washed is to be made ready. To stand in the river is to sense the movement of creation yet not to be part of that movement; like a willow soaking up the life force of journeys it has never made.

Jesus knows this too. So before he uproots himself from this new beginning he prays. With the fire of passion he prays; opening his heart; pleading for guidance; offering himself to his Father's will.

Oh, the pride of his Father; and all so delighted with his Beloved that even the Holy Spirit takes physical form so as to embrace Jesus. All of the Sacred Trinity in one space; in one witnessing of divine love; of entranced recognition.

This was the beginning. John's gift of baptism - the catalyst- the means to cast off into the deeper life.

And so, Jesus becomes a boat; oars cast aside in faith. Jesus becomes driven by the wild breath of the Spirit casting throught the swirling currents of the Father's will.

Jesus, the Son; the Beloved; the Unexpected.


Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Epiphany

Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,for out of you will come a leaderwho will shepherd my people Israel.’Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

The story of the Three Kings is one that we are comfortable with; one that we all know. Not least because the Feast Day means we can take down the decorations and start to get back to normal. Except, that, according to the Church’s calendar we should leave our decorations up until the Baptism of the Lord which is next week (those Victorians and their 12 days of Christmas! – Bah, humbug) and, of course, there is no evidence that the Kings were kings, except that someone with too much interest in royal protocol decided that if Jesus was a King then only a King was good enough to visit – it’s a wonder the shepherds managed to stay in the story, given their reputation as thieves and vagabonds.

But isn’t that the way with stories, the Chinese whisper effect, the elaboration to suit the culture, the audience, the attitude of the times. And that is often a criticism of the Gospel – that it is only stories; easier to find the discrepancies, the add-ons, the need to scientifically prove or disprove that there was a ‘star’.

The account of the Kings/Wise men/Silk Traders is much simpler than it seems. It is an epiphany; a revelation; a showing and sharing of faith.

For Matthew, a Jew writing for Jews, it was an opening up of God’s message to the world. The Messiah was meant for the people of Israel, yet here it is the stranger and the pagan who is called, who seeks him out and who acknowledges him. This is where we fit in, wherever we come from, whoever we are, we belong to this story. We are all chosen people.

And whether they were kings or traders it doesn’t matter; they were wealthy; they had knowledge; they understood power; understood what a king was. Yet something not logical, not explainable, not visible allowed them to kneel in straw and animal dung in homage to two homeless peasants and their dishevelled child. The star, that is the revealing of God’s presence in a human baby, shone in their eyes and their hearts and they believed. They believed with the faith that looked into the mundane and saw God.

God is in the everyday and the everywhere. The Lord is present - without limit, without protocol, human and divine. As each of us is human and divine, for the presence of God is a light within each of us. A guiding light that leads to the Kingdom. All we need is to pay attention and then to have the faith and the confidence to cross deserts, expect the unexpected, to make the journey, to follow the Star.


Friday, 6 November 2015

One Hundred Percent

GospelMark 12:38-44 

In his teaching Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.’

  He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.’

The treasury gives many the opportunity to give a great deal. There is not one but thirteen pots, shaped like upturned trumpets, some dedicated to a certain aspect of Temple necessities; care for the poor, the widow and the leper; for free will; for incense and for sacrifice. Temple money was made of brass and made a great clatter as it poured into the pots especially if someone wanted their contribution to be noticed. The Jewish canon ruled that the minimum donation was two prutah - two mites.   

The treasury was placed in the court of the women; not a place set aside for women but the limit of the Temple where women were allowed. Like many religious communities today, the Temple relied upon the unseen and unacknowledged for their upkeep. Their money welcome even if they were not. 
Jesus is 'people watching'- paying attention to his Father's world - and he sees her; the widow; one of the little ones; the poor ones; the ‘don’t really matter’ ones. Perhaps, as he is watching her, he is reminded of his own mother. Perhaps he is reminded of the scrimping and saving that she had to do maybe before and certainly after Joseph’s death. After all, Joseph was a labourer, long robes would have be useless to him, would have got in the way of his livelihood trying to support a wife and child. A family who should know their place; the comments of those who hear Jesus preach – ‘this is only the carpenter’s son’, ‘only Mary’s son’ – with the veiled addition of ‘who does he think he is?’

Yet his mother and father brought him up to be a good Jew; to know the traditions and responsibilities of his faith; to know them well and not always to accept how they have been acted out. The sharpness of his comments suggests past experience. Jesus teaches his disciples to be circumspect; not to be distracted by finery or assumed importance or status.

Jesus says ‘I tell you most solemnly…’ I love that phrase. It’s a ‘look at me when I’m talking to you. I’m not just  ‘one of the lads’ now’ phrase.

Because, to the ‘lads’ it will have been a little thing; a non-event. Widows give pennies every day, rich men give more – that’s the way the world is; and the world demands its pay. We are encouraged to see success and generosity in pound signs. We find it hard to appreciate that 100% of very little is still 100%.

I suppose it must have been possible for the widow to simply not pay; to avoid the Temple and the treasury itself? Surely it would be better that she had something to eat; something put aside for the rainy day?

 It is through her own integrity that she gives 'all she has'. And if the rich had had any integrity they would have seen their responsibility to take care of her.

 Charity and hospitality is not meant to be about what we can spare -whether time, commitment or money - but in doing all we can to meet need, poverty, loneliness and injustice. Our faith should be implicit in our lives -  not something we can put on or take off; not something we can pay off or be compensated for. The actions of our faith should leave us with nothing; should be all we have and all we are. 

And how often it is the unassuming ones who fulfill this vocation. The media has been discussing the recent influence of Catholic Social Teaching in British politics; aiming the morals and ethics at the directors of businesses and leaders of social organisations. The one who will arrive with 'the' car and 'the' suit and who then will tell the poor how to live. 

Catholic Social Teaching begins in the community and it move up and out from a desire to 'love your neighbour' and it is usually instigated by those who have walked the walk already. How often does Pope Francis remind us of these 'little ones' in his teaching?

 How often the church - and the world-  relies on such people who fit one more thing into their already busy lives; who don't imagine retirement as an opportunity to rest; who believe that sometimes they are the 'someone' who should sort it out. These are the people who say 'yes' far more than they ever say 'no'; who can always fit another minute in the day; another plate at the table; another stop on the way home. 

And, often,  it isn't until the job's not done that they are noticed at all. 

 It’s a compelling thought that, rather than sitting in robes of silk and enthroned in splendour at the front of a church, God actually spends His time at the back and, often, not in church at all. Like his son, he watches in the shadows, noticing all the little goodnesses, sacrifices and graces are carried out by the unassuming, unknown, undervalued ones in the community; who are, in truth,  giving all they have.


Sunday, 5 July 2015

All talk, no action

Sunday Gospel - Mark 6:1-6
Jesus went to his home town and his disciples accompanied him. With the coming of the sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue and most of them were astonished when they heard him. They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’; and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

In Mark's gospel this is Jesus' first return home. We don't have the first experience of Jesus opening the words of Isiaiah's prophecy and the wondering that followed. Jesus had left Nazareth as a son of a carpenter with a trade to 'trade'. But tales travel by many roads and the news of Jesus' healings, teachings and exorcisms must have created a community filled with anticipation to see their local hero. So then, what was the problem?

Perhaps, there in the synagogue, this time hearing the words of Isaiah brought to life there is a sense of discomfort. The scriptures, repeated over and over, discussed and argued over and over, have rarely, until now, been put into action. The rumours are proved true. The Good News is here. The son of a carpenter has set God's plan in motion. 

And now, discomforted and challenged, what is the community to do? Sell what they own and follow him? Feed the hungry and clothe the naked? Step out of their comfort zone and into the kingdom building that calls for repentance - for a change of heart? And how hard is that going to be?

Easier to play Jesus as a fool and turn their heads.

Their faith fails, not in Jesus, but in themselves. 


Friday, 17 April 2015


Gospel Luke 24:35-48

The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.

They were still talking about all this when he himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you!’ In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded; so he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.

Then he told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms has to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.

My granddaughter often picks up a question or situation from somewhere that she likes to stew over for a bit. The questions 'why....?' are something to treasure and can come thick and fast. Often discussed in the car, or the front bench of church as we are usually impossibly early. 

Which is wonderful as, like many six year olds, she now has quite an incisive, theological mind. 

Her latest quandary was about Father Christmas and Jesus. Can you believe in both and if you stop believing in one can you still believe in the other? 

Being only six, I really wanted to leave this in her backyard. She knew that some people didn't believe in Jesus. She knew that some people didn't believe in Fr Christmas. 

We talked about what impact believing in either/both of them made on people's lives and when or why would you have to choose. 

After some discussion about faith and belief - this is her thesis - 

People have to be asleep to 'see' Father Christmas, 
but you have to be awake to 'see' Jesus. 

Enough said...


Saturday, 11 April 2015

Too many Thomas'

Gospel of John 20:19-31

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’
After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

I have always thought of this as a two sided Gospel - that the gift of the forgiveness of sins and the doubtful Thomas make a complex passage for reflection. Especially as most homilies I have heard tend to concentrate on Thomas and his unfortunate reputation. I was reminded today that whenever I have seen an either/or in the Gospels that I should look for a both/and. Thomas and the forgiveness of sins belong together.

I have to admit that my sympathies have lay more and more with Thomas over recent years. It is easy to criticise him now that we imagine we understand the Resurrection. Although I would sincerely question how we could ever truly understand the Resurrection? Perhaps we have been taught to believe, have accepted the evidence of others to give us a faith that we could never have imagined for ourselves.

I sympathise mostly because of repeated conversations, even with Confirmation candidates, when they demand proof that Jesus exists; that God exists; that heaven exists. They are studying what 'we believe' but they don't believe it - it doesn't give them answers.
Lots of Thomas' making the same demands as two thousand years ago and who, really, can blame them? They live in a world of cynicism and disbelief; they live in a world that, as far as they can tell, hasn't benefited much from the Resurrection even if it did happen. There is still suffering; bad things still happen.

Although there is a lot of bravado when challenging authority; there is something else in their challenge that wants to be comforted and proved wrong. False hope is far worse than no hope and this is what Thomas fears. As he was away from the group; it seems that he had managed to find some reason to carry on; caring for others in the community, getting supplies? However he feels inside; he has started to rebuild himself; he has put on the brave face and put away hope. A survival instinct that is not always healthy but is all too common.

His grief has sent him so far outside himself that only the physical presence of his Risen Lord will bring him back; the words of reassurance that tell him it is true.
Blessed indeed are those whose sense of God allows them to 'just know'. Although who can say if the time will come when 'just knowing' will not be enough?

An option with young people is to withdraw from the debate; to suggest that 'we have a session to finish'; that it can't be discussed now; that perhaps they should talk it over with their family. To blame them for their doubts as we so readily blamed Thomas. If I just give their doubt back to them - would this be retaining their sins; would this be keeping them from a Truth that they deserve as much as I do? Is this the link?

I saw a cartoon recently where Thomas was challenging the Twelve - 'How come you never get 'denying Peter' or 'Runaway Mark?'.

And it's true; their 'sins' have been forgiven -why not Thomas? Because doubt is a dangerous emotion in a group of believers; especially believers who have doubted themselves. Doubters are mirrors to our own anxieties; our own disbelief echoed back to us.

But what else can I do? What I do is try to be some sort of witness; which is difficult because that means giving them 'me' - why I believe; things that have gone wrong in my life; where God was when they happened; I have to be vulnerable to them (nerve-wracking I have to admit) - letting them have the opportunity to look at my wounds and my scars. Being as open in my faith around them as I would be with my adult church friends.

Does it get rid of the doubt? Well at least what they get is some honesty and that helps- knowing that even those who claim belief don't have all the answers. They will always need that personal experience but perhaps with gentleness and invitation they are a little nearer meeting Jesus, their Lord and their God, for themselves.