Who is it?: a reflection on this weeks gospel (Mat 16:13-20)

A marque quote for papal apologetics (a topic which I have already addressed) this week’s gospel also poses the question, “Who do you say I am?”: a question frequently answered though not always asked.

I personally find this question challenging. Who do I say Jesus is? I know the right answers – Lord, Messiah, the Christ, Rabbi, Saviour, teacher, master, friend, and many more. But who do I say he his?

Jesus calls me to a deeper and more personal relationship. He is all these things and he can be all things for all men all the time. But for each of us at different times our relationship with him will have a different slant. By this I mean that as we grow our perception of things will change and in this way Jesus will be different things to us at different times.

Having thought about this deeper than I had in many years I still am unsure. I do not say this out of a wilful ignorance nor of a lack of personal relationship (for that though there is still plenty of room). But nonetheless, I was no closer to finding who I say Jesus is for me at this time.

Given that Jesus is the head of the Church, which is his body, I looked at the way I most profoundly experience Jesus in the context of the church. Surprisingly I most profoundly experience Jesus in the sacrament of Reconciliation. I say “surprisingly” because I have a love for the Eucharist. Yet there have been moments in my life where I have gone to confession in tears (quite literally) and walked out on an emotional high.

This has shown me that I experience Jesus most as merciful Redeemer.

Even with this self awakening, it is not to the level of Peter’s proclamation “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But I don’t think it has to be. To Peter he is one thing, to me another: neither of these are wrong nor contradictory.

Who is he to you? It really is a challenging question, but with the answer comes clarity. So again, who is he to you? 

   

The Busy Life: a reflection on the last few weeks gospels

Is this cheating? Putting a few reflections in one? Some might say so but I’ll do it anyway! I’ve been busy.

Have you had some busyness in your life? I’m sure you can relate. You may have been more busy I. You may have been less. But there comes a time nonetheless where the ordinary life becomes a memory and the mundane a dream. I wont go into with what my days have been consumed, suffice to say they unfortunately have somewhat limited my alone time with God.

Just as Jesus and the apostles seek time alone to pray, away from the pursuing crowds so we must seek it too. I am reminded of its importance recently and while I try, I am unsuccessful. There have been many who have said things like, “If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy,” or “It is when you’re most busy that you need to pray the most.”

I find this sort of advise more of a shifting of focus more than anything else. Not quite as practical as I would hope. And I’m afraid I cannot help beyond that. I found that if I shave some time off in the mornings, getting up a little earlier, say, or likewise in the evening, then I only rob Peter to pay Paul. It feels as if it is not enough. 

I find it is easy to get disheartened, feel inadequate and give up for a bit. In the last few weeks Jesus has reminded me how much we can get from just a little. It was only five loaves and two fish that feed five thousand: it was the first step that got Peter walking on the water: it is the crumbs from the feast for the people of Israel that heals the daughter of the woman of Gennesaret. It takes courage and obedience to take that first step.

The familiar cycle of willingness, courage, success, trial, then failure is one that is shared by many. Through these last few busy weeks I am reminded to keep my eyes on Jesus. Peter called to be saved by keeping his eyes on Jesus, the crowd was fed through the obedience of the apostles, and the woman saved her daughter through an at of courage.

With each cycle we become a little more courageous and a little more obedient, if we only keep our eyes on Jesus. I know that even the little time I give – as inadequate as I feel it might be – is enough for Jesus to do his work in me. Jesus, I am sure, is not only after quantity of time. A minutes prayer said with sincerity is worth a thousand years of hollow devotion. While time is worthwhile he wants our hearts, if only we are courageous enough to give it.            

Giving of yourself: a reflection on this week’s Gospel (Matt 14:13-21)

I am a big supporter of intentional living as opposed to just cruising on by. Intentionally getting up early to dedicate time for God, for exercise, for gathering thoughts for the day. But this is a struggle. Some days, like the wet windy winter days I am in now, make the doona more attractive than the floor. I find myself bargaining, or rationalizing, or excusing, or shaving time from this end and that. There are all sorts of reasons for me not to do anything, if I wanted to find reasons. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I convince myself that these reasons are valid.

But one primary reason for me to do these morning activities is so that I can be at my best longer through the day. I can more fully give of myself if I am in the best condition. I, a server, can serve for longer if I am able to do so. And those that I serve (think family) are more appreciative of my giving a better self, as opposed to the self that was worn out at the end of a working day, the self that is the remains – the scraps – of the best self which had been given to seemingly more important endeavours.

Multiplication mosaic, Tabgha, Israel

Turning to the gospel we find Jesus and his disciples afloat searching for a lonely place. Why? I mean, they often spent time alone. But why in this occasion? It was upon hearing the news of the death of John the Baptist when the need of isolation and comfort wells to the surface within him. Being fully human he would surely have experienced the deep sorrow accompanying the loss of a loved one, a family member, a teacher and mentor; a sorrow shared with the disciples especially the ones who were once disciples of John the Baptist.

Yet among this sorrow Jesus ignores his own need and takes pity on the pressing crowd. The disciples seem to humour him and come along until, perhaps having enough of entertaining others, they seek their own comfort. Dismissively the carnal excuse they give is food. It is when the crowd is gone that the disciples could return to mourning the death of John the Baptist. And presumptively so could Jesus. Resolute Jesus continues to address the needs of the crowd: initially spiritually, but now also carnally, negating the dismissive excuse of the disciples.

Having in mind not only the needs of the crowd but also those of his disciples Jesus performs the renowned miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Following the formula we will see at the institution of the Eucharist Jesus gives the multiplied bread and fish to the disciples to give to the crowd. They have become more involved in the community, and with Jesus, when they sought to separate from them.

Responding to those natural and very human emotions of sorrow and sadness need not limit us from the work we do in service to others. One way to ease the pain is to both acknowledge the hurt and the loss but continue the daily grind whatever that routine may look like. With the numerous accounts of the multiplication of the loaves and fished in the gospels it would be safe to assume that this miracle is one performed on a number of occasions even perhaps a semi-regular occurrence. This then shows that the crowd and the miracle have some sort of ordinariness (if one can possibly use this word to describe the life of Jesus). He addresses the need of the disciples and the need of the crowd in one simple but divine action. And he was with them every step.

We can find reasons why we do not wish to serve and some of these might be valid. But to the capacity that we are able we are to allow Jesus to nourish us, guide us, renew us and lead us through pain, sorrow, sadness and hurt to become better servants of his people. More is expected of us as his servants and we can do that when we give him room intentionally to work in us, to give of ourselves in a hungry world.

Meet you in the middle: a reflection on this weeks gospel (Matt 13:44-52)

My time of late has been consumed with the thoughts of the state of the world. I seriously believe we are on the verge of World War III. The plane down over Ukraine, a result of a Russian military exercise; the escalating war between Palestine and Israel; the persecution of Iraqi Christians by ISIS. It’s hard to get my head around it all and I have my suspicions and theories, none I will get into right now. Keep them in your prayers.

Anyhow…

Continuing somewhat from the agricultural theme of previous weeks we depart from the harvester and welcome the fishermen, the merchant and the discoverer. And each is clearly distinct yet point to a central theme.

Let’s address the first part of the gospel: the discovery of treasure in a field. Heaven is likened to the treasure, not the discoverer as some will say. The treasure lies dormant, overlooked and perhaps overgrown. Someone may stumble upon it but upon noticing it’s worth gives up all he has to attain it. Heaven is the reward for those who recognize its worth and do all they can to attain it. He who, with vigor, seeks heaven.

The second part of the gospel turns the tables around. Heaven now is like a merchant. Merchants travel widely looking for things of value. These riches are usually traded for greater riches but not all things were. Things seen too valuable were kept for themselves and not traded. However the merchant here has found something of far exceeding worth. We are the riches of heaven. Heaven seeks us.

The last part echoes the harvester in the fields of wheat but uses a new metaphor. The net is heaven dragging through the water and collecting all types of fish, perhaps even debris. Judgement is explicitly the selection of the good fish from the rest of the catch which when deemed unacceptable is thrown into a fire and the angels are the ones who do the separating.

The three parts meet in heaven. The first, heaven lies hidden; once it’s discovered is worth everything. The second, heaven is looking for us; once we’re discovered is worth everything. The third is the happy union of the two pursuits.

The pursuit of the heaven of great worth will cost everything. It’s easy to say that at home with my family around me. It costs so much more to so many. Martyrs today continue to witness silently to a deaf world. But with our pursuit of the same great treasure we can recognize both it’s value and it’s cost.

Are you willing to pay the same price that has been asked of so many? I would hope that many of us would say yes. But it is easier to die for the faith than to live it. Death thankfully where I live is not a necessary price to pay, at least not yet. I am reminded to pay in small things as well as in the big. It still takes cents to make the dollar. Or we might say, it still takes coins to make a treasure, no matter how small.

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Simplicity, two ways: a reflection on this weeks gospel (Matt 11:25-30)

Fathers have many unique gifts however some are more applauded than others. There are the standard ones that fatherhood demands like providing and protecting. But teaching, witnessing and being an example of fatherhood are other lesser known demands of the father. Each father has a unique way of expressing these to the capacity he is capable.

What has all this got to do with the gospel of the week?

This weeks gospel gives us a two pronged example of simplicity. How? First, Jesus, talking to his Father in heaven, acknowledges that children can better express the life he longs us to live than the learned. (As someone with a Bachelor of Theology I need to constantly remind myself of this!) With knowledge comes not only responsibility but also risk. I can find myself “above” certain things or correcting others: “I’m better than that! You do it”, “You know, it should really be done this way” and similar comments. Thankfully I go there rarely, but I do go there. The risk of return is real.

The simple – scripture refers to them as child-like – are blessed to have little responsibility and little risk; these are with their Father. These simple ones have a natural ability to soak in the example shown to them. We have a saying here that points out this fact: “Monkey see, monkey do”.

As I become more learned (it is a life-long process not just a tick-a-box achievement) I find myself projecting my understanding on things: I tend to read things in the way that bests suits my understanding and how it fits into my paradigm. Often this is beneficial and convenient but not always right. I tend to prejudge things, people and places because of my learnedness.

This sort of learnedness is above the childlike. They thankfully do not have the innate ability to prejudge with only a few exceptions. They rely on the example of the Father whom they follow. The responsibility and risks fall directly on his shoulders, not the childlike, for they have not the knowledge and the learnedness to fully grasp the occasion but it is not required. Such innocence is a grace that is easily corrodes with knowledge: knowledge, not wisdom.

Placing trust in The Lord lifts this burden from us, the learned. We need not carry the responsibility or the risk that we place on our shoulders. Here The Lord reminds us that while we may partake in this burden we desperately seek (a yoke) we need not carry it alone.

Trust The Lord. He acknowledges simplicity of mind, the unlearned, of not understanding every detail, of not prejudging things to fit our paradigm but The Lord’s. He acknowledges the associated burden in such understanding; a burden made simple when God takes control, if allowed.

The alternative is to find information and knowledge for all things: a know-it-all. We then take the burden of weight in our own shoulders and walk the path to godlessness replacing him with knowledge, or worse still, with ourselves.

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Mouth to Mouth: A reflection on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of God

The famous words of Moses at the end of the first reading (Deut 2:2-3,14-16) become the anchor on which, John especially, develops a Eucharistic theology. From this I take a particular importance of life and bread but also of the mouth.

Living in a land obsessed with water and the beach life we often see at beaches flags between which we should swim. This is the patrolled area of the beach where if one is swimming is watched by the surf lifesavers: mostly volunteers who are well trained in many aspects of the beach conditions and first aid. We Aussies know that swimming in the safety areas we are watched and have a stronger likelihood of surviving any danger that comes our way (and there are few dangers in the waters of Australia!). It is not uncommon to see in times of need the often life-saving technique of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Returning to scripture John the Evangelist opens his gospel with “the word of God made flesh” prologue. This prologue is expounded throughout his gospel, and not more-so than in the 6th chapter from where we get this weeks gospel. Jesus equates himself as the bread come down from heaven – the manna given by God in the desert. Jesus becomes the Word made flesh, the word of God which comes from his mouth, that which we must eat to live.

We need everything that comes from the mouth of God to live: words come from the mouth: Jesus is the word of God made flesh: Jesus gives us his flesh to eat: it is his flesh which we must eat to gain eternal life: gaining eternal life he lives in us and we in him. This unifies us in Christ, a true communion.

Coming from the mouth of God and us receiving God in our mouths Jesus brings the gift of life to us. Through him we are revived in a deadly environment – and there are quite a few dangers in the water. He is the one who watches over us, who revives us, who volunteers himself for us. He freely gives us himself, yes, but we must freely receive him; mouth to mouth.

Triune Love: a reflection on this week’s gospel (John 3:16-18)

If you were to see yourself though the eyes of God, what would you see? Do you see an awful sinner in need condemning, something like a criminal who has done wrong and is in need of a penalty? Or do you see a child of God who, through loving eyes, can do no wrong? Or perhaps something else?

This weekend we get an idea of why God has sent his Son, a glimpse rarely seen so explicitly in scripture: not to condemn, but to redeem. The hinge on which condemnation and redemption pivots is faith. Faith opens us up to this redemption.

Though opened up, faith is just the start, not the be all and end all. A fundamental start, absolutely, but it cannot remain there. We cannot expect to do an “altar call” or profess the faith and “it” be done. Many other scripture verses reflect this. However today’s scripture sets everything else in motion. We read about why God has done what he has done.

If you see yourself as a condemned criminal through the eyes of God it is through faith in his Son Jesus which frees you, which enables you to have eternal life.

Imagine yourself hauled into a courtroom accused of *insert your favourite sin*. You stand and face your charges. As they are read out in front of the courtroom you are guilt ridden to paralyzation, frozen under the sheer weight of unquestionable shame. Defenselessly condemned the heavy sentence is cast down.

Right at that moment someone stands and offers to take the sentence upon himself. But do you know him? This is his one question for you – “Do you know who I am?” Here is our chance to profess and prove our faith in Jesus. But the work is done: the evidence has already been presented. How do you respond?

This is how Jesus redeems us; he takes the punishment of your sin upon himself. But only if you believe in him – if you have faith.

The beauty about this metaphoric scenario is that it smoothly runs well some areas but limps in others. One limp is the timing. The juridical scene (easily seen as at our point of death) is actually now. We are given the final end now to make our choices today. If we have faith now, everlasting life is already available to us now rather than in some future time. Eternal life starts now, but it demands more. Now is our chance to build up the evidence to submit at the point of death. Faith starts now, but demands more.

The alternative is also open – no one is required to have faith; faith remains, and always will be, an open invitation. We can chose to accept that faith or chose not to accept it. God is a perfect gentleman like that – he doesn’t force himself on anyone but invites all.

All of this – the offer of faith, the following redemption, the forgiveness of sin – all of this comes from Gods love for us. A love which is expressed in God sending his son; a love to which we respond in the Spirit of faith. This scripture opens up not only a glimpse of the triune God, but invites us to respond and if we adequately respond our reward is eternal life, as of now. It is a sharing of God himself so that we may have a share of him. He is love, and he wants us to live in that triune love.

May I respond more in love than in apathy or distain. May I live the rest of my life in the love of the triune God.