Sunday, 31 August 2014
Today, I’d like to speak to you about the danger of being a good person: it may get you hated; it may get you killed.
I speak of this in the light of three things:
First, our first reading, from Jeremiah, which recalled how doing the Lord’s work had brought “insult [and] derision” (Jer 20:8) for him. Jeremiah was a good man, one of greatest of the prophets, but the Lord had given him a tough task: He lived at a time when the people were being unusually unfaithful to the Lord’s commands, and doom, destruction, and exile in captivity were about to descend on them as punishment for their sins. And he had job of warning them, while there was still time. But it was not a happy message, “I have to howl and proclaim: ‘Violence and ruin!’”(Jer 20:8). And instead of welcoming his message the people stoned an imprisoned him. And we sometimes face a similar reaction when we need to tell people things that they need pointing out to them: if they are stealing at work, or living with someone they shouldn’t be, or neglecting to care for their children etc.
Second, our gospel text, in which the Lord prophesied His approaching crucifixion and taught His disciples that ANYONE who wishes to be His follower has to recognise that it involves “taking up the cross”(c.f. Mt 16:24). And, among the most immediate aspects of that Cross is what other people do to us precisely BECAUSE we are following the Lord, because we are being good.
Thirdly, in light of St Edward. As you know, our parish pilgrimage was this Wednesday, and we went to the site outside Corfe Castle where our parish patron, St Edward, was martyred. He was killed, martyred. Why? Because he was a good person.
Now, its important for me to emphasise this point because people sometimes say to me: Why do we call St Edward a ‘martyr’, he was killed by his step-mother, so how does that make him a martyr?
[St Edward, you hopefully recall, was the boy king of Wessex: he became king in 975AD at the age of 13, and was murdered by his step-mother when he was 16 –she gave him a cup of poisoned wine and then stabbed him, which is why he is pictured holding those two symbols of his martyrdom (cup and dagger) in the statue of him here in our church.]
But WHY did she kill him, and why did those plotting with her want him dead?
We can see the answer to that question by looking at the reaction of the people to his death:
When St Edward was killed, the people of his day might of reacted in many ways. They might have said, “Well, that’s one more rich selfish king dead.”
But instead, they hailed him as a ‘martyr’ –a word that means a ‘witness’ to Christ. Historically, some martyrs died for refusing to worship the pagan Roman emperors, others died for attending the Mass, but a great many were killed because of the GOODNESS of their lives –and so the Christian tradition uses the title ‘martyr’ for those who were killed out hatred for a good life.
As we know, people respond to goodness in different ways: Many people respond to good people by being edified by their goodness, inspired by it. But it is also possible to look at a good man and feel angry, spiteful, vengeful. To cover up our own sin by hating someone who does NOT sin. As Scripture puts it, “The wicked man plots against the virtuous and grinds his teeth at him”(Ps 37:12). And to be hated and killed by the wicked on account of your goodness is one of ways of being a ‘witness’ a ‘martyr’ for Christ.
And, to return to the reaction of the people of his day when he, St Edward, was killed –and I think the people of his day knew his context and the motives behind his killing better than we can claim to know them today –they could see two clear motives behind his death:
(1) The people of his day recognised that he was killed by EVIL people who hated him for his saintly life.
(2) Further, politically, they recognised that he was killed by people who hated the fact that he stood with the Church and for the Church despite the many political manoeuvrings of his day against the Church.
To conclude, What does this mean for us? It means that we, too, need to be willing to suffer for being good –just as St Edward did, just as the Lord Jesus did: They crucified Jesus, and He taught that following Him likewise bring the cross. But there are two things it also brings: (1) in this life, the strength, joy, and consolation of having the Lord with us because we are being with Him, and, (2) in the next life, the fulfilment of the promise we heard Him make, that “He will reward each one according to his behaviour”(Mt 16:27)
Sunday, 24 August 2014
Sunday, 17 August 2014
Sunday, 10 August 2014
Last week I spoke about how The Lord looks at us in our difficulties, with compassion.
This week I want to speak about OUR need to look at Him, especially in difficulty.
The Gospel text we just heard is one that is powerfully symbolic of our need to look to Jesus. We heard about how the disciples were in their little fishing boat on the storm-tossed sea, and then they saw Jesus walking towards them, walking on the water. Then Peter, responding to the call of The Lord, stepped out onto the water, stepped out into the storm, and walked on the water TOWARDS Jesus.
The point I want to reflect on, however, is one that the patristic commentators note, that Peter then SANK into the water. Why did he sink? Well, the text tells us: "as soon as he felt the force of the wind he took fright, and began to sink" -he looked AWAY from Jesus and TOWARDS his problems, and he began to sink. But then looked again towards Jesus, calling "Lord, save me!", and The Lord lifted him up.
And this holds a symbolic lesson for how we too can sink: we sink in our problems in as much as we don't look towards Jesus, or, we walk on the stormy water when we keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus.
Let me briefly note how this works in three types of problems, three types of storms in my life.
First, the storms that are caused by my own mistakes. Lots of my problems are caused by my own incompetence, my own weakness, my own mistakes. I start something and then make a mess of it. Now, as long as I am just looking at myself, and looking at my problems, as long as I think it is all about MY effort, then I sink. I stare at my problems and they just seem to become bigger and bigger. But when I look to Jesus, i see something all together different, something good, and, in addition, He lifts me up with a strength that is beyond me.
Second, there are the storms caused, not by my weakness and incompetence, but by my sins. Now in these I can sink in a different manner. In my sins I can look solely to my guilt, and risk despair. When I could, and should, simply look to Jesus, tell Him I am sorry, tell Him I resolve not to sin again, and have Him forgive me.
He lifts me from the mire of my sins, and my guilt is left behind.
Third, and finally, there are those storms in my life that come from a source a simply do not know. And about these I never really understand. I can wonder why The Lord allows it, just as the apostles might have wondered why He sent them away from Him onto the sea -did He not know the storm was coming? Why did Jesus allow the storm at all? He could have calmed it, after all, He did eventually. I just don't know.
But I DO know that if I look to Jesus I can weather any storm.
So, to summarise.
Peter could walk on stormy water as long as he looked to Jesus.
But he sank when he looked away.
And you, and I, as long a WE keep our eyes on Jesus, turn to Him in prayer, turn to Him in repentance, turn to Him in the sacraments, then you and I can also walk the stormy waters of life.
Sunday, 3 August 2014
I'd like to say a few words today about how we can know that God cares about us in our problems, how we can know that He wants to respond to our needs.
Maybe your problems are small, just in need of a holiday rest, or maybe your problems are big. Regardless, God cares. God looks down from heaven, He sees you, He knows you, and He cares.
Let me start by referring to our second reading, where we heard St Paul recounting how, in his various trials, and the difficulties of those he was writing to, that "Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ"(Rom 8:35), and he made a further point that I want to elaborate on: He referred to the "love of God made VISIBLE in Christ Jesus"(Rom 8:39) -this is the point, something has been made VISIBLE in Jesus, something that shows that God cares.
Let me make a contrast:
The Ancient Greek philosophers of Athens taught about what God was like, about His essence, about how He was not a material body like us, about how He didn't suffer or have limitations, and how He didn't FEEL things like emotions.
The God of the Hebrews likewise had manifested Himself as being utterly transcendent, being beyond human capacity to comprehend, "my thoughts are above your thoughts" (Isa 55:8) was a repeated refrain. He revealed many things by what He DID; His actions SPOKE about what He was concerned about -but as to what He might be like in His very ESSEENCE, in that respect He remained largely unknown.
That changed in Jesus Christ: In the incarnation, God Himself, in the second person of the Trinity, took human flesh. And in that taking of flesh He showed what God was like.
When God took flesh, when He lived in our human nature, which of our vast range of possible human emotions was He seen to experience and manifest? Because the emotions He experienced, the manner in which He emotionally reacted to things and to people, this shows us what God is like. And our gospel text for today gives us one of a number of examples in the Gospels which refer explicitly to His inner life, referring to His emotions.
The Gospel we heard today described the emotion He felt on seeing the hungry and needy crowd: It said that "He felt COMPASSION for them"(Mt 14:14). And this is a word that is used repeatedly in the Gospels when the texts refer to the emotion or passion He experienced in seeing people in need.
Sadly, although our Mass translation texts sometimes translate the word as ‘compassion’ (e.g. Lk 10:25-37, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C), the text today rather weakly translates the word as “pity”: the Greek word is actually splangchnizomai from the Greek word splangchna for bowels or entrails, which indicates that the Lord Jesus felt all churned-up inside, in His guts. He didn't see the crowds in need and then coldly and INDIFFERENTLY help them, no, He FELT, and felt-with them -that is what 'compassion' means, to be with-passion, to feel-with someone.
Jesus feels-with us in our needs.
He was hungry in the desert, He was thirsty and in pain on the cross, He was sad and wept when Lazarus died -any emotion or trial YOU are going through HE feels with you. He has taken our human nature and has compassion, 'feeling-with' us.
AND, before I conclude: He not only FEELS with us, He DOES things to remedy our problems.
So, we can say with certainty, that whatever your need is, He is DOING something about it. He is reaching out to assist you, assist you in a way that He knows even better than you do
Today's text from Isaiah and our Gospel text both speak of The Lord FEEDING the people when they were hungry. And this is but own of many examples of Scripture showing us that The Lord is a powerful God, an active God -He sees and responds to our need.
So, to return to my opening question: how do we know that God cares?
Because He is not unknown. He has manifested Himself. He has taken flesh and has compassion, is feeling-with us in our troubles.