Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Real Presence, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Jn 6:1-15
We just heard the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000.
This miracle is a sign of many things:
Of the power of the Lord;
Of the desire of the Lord to care and provide for us;
Of our ability to trust in the Lord.
Today, however, I want to preach about the deeper feeding that this miracle points towards:
How the Lord Jesus feds us in Holy Communion.
The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 occurred at a very precise moment in our Lord’s mission:
He fed the 5000, miraculously;
He then walked on water in the midst of the storm, miraculously;
Then, He gave one of His longest sermons recorded in the Gospels:
His ‘Bread of Life’ discourse.
In that discourse, as we’ll hear in the weeks ahead, He made various claims that would be outrageous if they came from anyone who had not just manifested such miraculous power.

WHAT did He claim? He claimed that we must eat His flesh.
I want to ponder, today, how we know for sure that this is about the Eucharist.

First, and most simply, from the words of the Lord Jesus Himself:
At the Last Supper, the first Mass, when He instituted the Mass, He said,
“This IS my body”(Lk 22:19)
-not, this is a sign of my body;
-not, this is like my body.
He said this “is” my body.

Second, as a fact of history, the early Church, those first believers who had known Him and lived with Him and heard those words first hand,
The early Church understood the Lord to mean those words literally, not just symbolically.
We know this from the very earliest writings we have.
Conversely, if we want to look for people who doubt that these words were meant literally, we have to wait in history until the 8th century opinion of Ratramnus which became the basis of the views of the Protestant errors on the Eucharist in the 16th century.
The point is this: that the early Church’s view on this is identical with that of the Catholic Church still today:
The Eucharist truly IS the Lord.

Third, that this feeding actually corresponds to what we NEED:
We are beings with both a bodily and a spiritual dimension: we need God to come to us not just in some vague spiritual manner, but in the PHYSICAL.
This is exactly what He promised to do, giving us the sacraments;
this is exactly what the Catholic Church acknowledges that He does.

To conclude, Why is this IMPORTANT?
Because I need God.
I need God to come to me as the food to sustain me, as the food to lead me to heaven.
I need God not just as a symbol, not just as a hope, but I need Him, Himself.

It still LOOKS like bread, it still tastes like bread.
But I trust what He has told us, and what Christians have trusted down the centuries: It is what He SAID, it is what He PROMISED.
And so I kneel before Him, and receive Him with faith and love.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

A Prophet’s Reward, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 6:1-6; Ezek 2:2-5
In today’s Gospel we heard the Lord Jesus refer to Himself as a prophet, while in the first reading we heard God sending the prophet Ezekiel to the people.

Being a prophet isn’t an easy thing.
Being a prophet is a deeply unpopular thing -prophets carry words from the Lord that people usually don’t want to hear, almost always being words calling for repentance, to change your life.
The typical pattern, therefore, was that the prophet was killed. So typical a pattern was this that we hear, elsewhere in the Gospels, the Lord Jesus pointing out the irony of people building monuments to honour the prophets, but these same prophets had been killed by their forefathers (c.f Mt 23:29; Lk 11:47).
Being a prophet is deeply unpopular.
There is thus an old warning sometimes given to priests, “If you play the prophet, you’ll receive the prophet’s reward”

Why then did the Lord want to be prophet?
I think this is a useful question because it points out to us that, as with everything, He did it not for His benefit but for ours.
What did He receive?
Hatred, and the Cross. Yes, ultimately, the definitive reason they killed Him was His claim to be God (see Palm Sunday 2017 sermon). But His long-term unpopularity with so many was the fact He played the prophet.
What this highlights, however, is that He calls us to repentance, He calls us to change our lives, not for His benefit but for OURS.
He loves us so much that He is even willing to receive “a prophet’s reward”, just as long as He is able to proclaim to us what we need to repent of.

As I was pondering this, I thought about two prophetic words of the Lord, two prophetic criticisms, two calls to repent and change, that might be particularly relevant in this HOT weather.

The first concerns purity and chastity. I think that for men, in particular, this is a difficult season to be chaste:
There is much uncovered flesh paraded down the high street and is requires EXTRA vigilance on a man’s part to avert his eyes, and to guard his subsequent thoughts.
Yet, this is exactly what the prophetic words of the Lord say:
Anyone who “LOOKS at a women lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”(Mt 5:28).
Elsewhere He warns that it is precisely what is WITHIN a man, the ”evil thoughts” and the “sexual immorality”(Mk 7:21) that makes a man unclean.
Yet, the thing is this: the reason He gives the unpopular prophetic moral criticism is to enable us to achieve the promise that comes with it:
He promises that the “PURE of heart... will see God” (Mt 5:8) -those who have not let their eyes and thoughts and heart wander to the flesh, they will have hearts pure enough to see God.

A second prophetic words for the hot weather:
The call to not WASTE our TIME.
In the heat we can all be prone to wilt and do less, to fail to get on with those errands and tasks, to fail to live the fulfilled life God call us to.
And, among other texts, the parable of the talents warns us USE our time, use our abilities.
Again, a prophetic moral critique, offered to enable us to achieve the goal he call us to to: fulfilment, not a wasted life, a life of wasted talents.
As a prophetic word in the heat, we might ask ourselves how well we’ve done so.

To return to where I began:
The Lord Jesus was a prophet. He called people to repentance and change.
And that’s an unpopular thing.
He did it, He endured unpopularity, for our sake, to point out to us the life we can live.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Talitha kum, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 5:21-43
Who do we turn to when we have a problem?
Something we often do is, we turn to those we have seen help others in a similar situation.
The point I want to make to you is that we have a powerful example of how the Early Church did this with respect to the Gospel miracle we just heard:

The account we just heard passes on to us one of the extremely rare words of Aramaic recorded in the Gospels. Why is this significant? Because it indicates that these were the EXACT words spoken by the Lord Jesus. In hearing the words, “Talitha, kum”(Mk 5:41), we hear not a summary of Jesus, not a translation, but even 2000 years later we hear the EXACT words He said.
The Gospels were written in Greek because that was the international language of the day. But the Lord Jesus and the disciples would have used other languages: Hebrew, for certain official prayers; Latin, for dealing with the Roman rulers; Greek, for business transactions; but their everyday language use was Aramaic.
In this passage, written in Greek, St Mark hands on to us not a translation of the Lord but His exact words.
The Early Church, as it spread beyond Palestine, treasured and handed on certain exact phrases of the Lord, and this is one of them.
“Talitha kum” -but why it is significant?

Literally, as St Mark comments, it means, “Little girl, get up!”
The Early Church treasured this text because it saw in these words a significance even broader than being yet another miracle of the Lord.
WHO is the “little girl” that the Lord raises up?
THE CHURCH -she is, according to Scripture, she is the “bride” of the Lord Jesus (c.f. St Bede, cited in Catena Aurea).
The Lord came from heaven because she was in need: weak in sickness of soul, lost in her sin.
And the Lord said to her: “Little girl, get up”.
Yes, this was a particular girl: Jarius’s daughter.
But she is symbol of how the Lord raises up the WHOLE Church, and each of us as members of her.

I know this has been MY experience:
There are times when I’ve been weak and defeated, crushed by the trials and woes of life, and yet I’ve somehow felt an inner strength move me on, something beyond me -He has said to me, “Get up!”
There are times when I’ve been dead in my sin, rendered lifeless by my own iniquities, and yet He has spoken to me, “Get up!”
And across this congregation: you know the same.

Let us think, also, of how often we have been like Jarius:
Jarius was not sick himself; he didn’t have a problem.
It was the problem of one he loved that troubled him: the sickness of his daughter.
Like Jarius, when we carry the problems of others, we must bring them to the Lord, we must bring them to the only one who has the power to say, “Talitha, kum”, “little girl, get up!”

A final point: Jarius had people try to stop him bring her to the Lord:
Some people told him not to bother the Lord, she was dead already9mk 5:35);
Other people scoffed at the Lord, they “laughed”(Mk 5:40).
My point is this: there are many around us today who likewise scoff as they see us bring our problems to the Lord. “Do you really still believe all that?”, “Do you really think there’s a God up there?”
Yes, actually, I do. I believe that nothing comes from nothing; and that something comes only from something; that this amazing ‘something’ all around us is only here because of a Creator.
And yes, I believe He cares about us, that He listens to our pleas. And I light candle with my prayers.

Because the One who raised up that little girl of Jarius;
The One who raised up the “little girl” of the Church, when weak and lost;
That same One can also raise me up today. And I come to hear His call, “Talitha, kum!”