Saturday, July 26, 2008

17th Sunday of the Year

A cynic, so the saying goes is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

It is an important distinction.

In today's Old Testament reading, the new king, Solomon, asks not for long life, nor for riches, nor for victory in battle. He does not ask for worldly success, fame, adulation or celebrity. No, he asks for discernment, wisdom, the ability to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. Solomon asks for the grace to be able to judge the values, not prices.

And that too is the meaning of these two little parables in the Gospel: the finder of the treasure and the finder of the pearls recognise them for what they are. Like the experpt on the antique road show, they can tell the difference between an old vase and valuable antique. Our treasure, our pearls are the same as those sought by Solomon, a wise king who seeks a kingdom of righteousness, a kingdom of justice and peace.

But we live in a very cynical society. (At least in the way of that definition). We live in a society in which almost everything and everyone has a price. Money measures value, worth. It defines importance, status, happiness. Almost everything, everyone has a price - almost.

But true value is not in scarcity, or celebrity, but in right and wrong, in true or false, in love and loyalty - what lasts for ever, not what is here just for a day.

Seek the pearly of great price, the treasure that lasts for ever, which can neither fail nor rot away - seek the truth that abides in Christ, and you will never be disappointed.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

16th Sunday of the Year

Throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth

If we do not take care, we are likely to miss the point of the parables in today's Gospel.

Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth? It conjurs images of mediaeval portrayals of hell, Dante's inferno, hell fire sermons so popular once and so rare now. A misreading of the Gospel may lead us to understand faith to be based on fear and heaven to be a place where we go only to escape the terrors of hell.

Well, I don't doubt for a moment that Hell is very terrible and certainly to be avoided. I am not convinced that fear is always a bad thing. If fear in life prevents me from sticking my fingers in an electric socket I am sure that fear should also to deter me from serious sin.

But be that as it may, that is not the point of these three parables - the parable of the darnel (weeds), the mustard seed and the yeast. All images taken from daily life of the time, they speak very appropriately to our daily life, because they confront one question so important for us: how can be a Church in a society which shares little of our values, little of our concerns.

We live in a field surrounded by darnel, by weeds, by distractions, immorality, greed, indifference, cruelty. It is hard to live a Christian life in such an environment. This is how it is. An enemy has done this, and we must grow till the harvest comes.

Like the mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds, the Church may seem so small, the truth so neglected. We realise that far more people do not practice a faith than do, that many do not understand the basics of what we believe, that many find faith strange, or amusing or even objectionable. Yet this small seed grows into a bush which spreads everywhere and in which so many come and live and rest and gain comfort.

And like the yeast, we are mixed throughout the dough of society. Not separately, but thoroughly kneeded into families and workplaces and schools and communities. And we are called to leaven the lump, to raise the bread, to breathe fresh air into the dough and give it is life and its purpose. We are called, weak though we may often feel, to bring God to those who hardly know him.

These parables are not messages of punishment or of suffering or of fear. They are not warnings of Hell - they are challenges to us never to lose heart, never to fear, but to spread the word and place our trust in God.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

15th Sunday of the Year

14th Sunday of the Year

I am gentle and humble of heart

Gentle. Gentle.

I remember a prayer from my own childhood - or at least the start of a prayer - Gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Meek - that's a similar word - the meek shall inherit the earth.

Gentleness, meekness, humility are not very popular words or even ideas today. To the modern mind they seem to indicate weakness, a lack of self-assurance. We speak not of meekness or gentleness today, but assertiveness. People even go on courses for assertiveness training. I've never heard of anyone go on a course for training in meekness or humility, have you.

And when we think of Christ himself, perhaps the idea of his meekness or his gentleness now seems very wishy-washy, precious, and perhaps a bit sentimental. The modern mind prefers the image of Christ challenging the religious leaders of his day, turning over the tables in the temple, confronting the demons and casting them out.

But the opposite of gentleness, humility, meekness is not assertiveness, but arrogance. Christ is gentle and humble not because he put up no resistance, but because the example he gives us is of a human being entirely aware of his subjection to God.

And when Christ lives in us we are not weak, we are not pushovers, we stand our ground or rather we stand God's ground - we are not self-assured, but God-assured. It is not our will, but his that is done.

The truly humble and gentle and meek person is the one who knows his need of God, who can see the image of God dwelling in those around him, and who gives his own life to carry the Cross with his Lord.