Saturday, July 30, 2011

18th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

Give them something to eat yourselves (Mt 14:16)


Tabgha mosaic of fish and loaves tb n011500 wr

Jesus challenges the disciples. Don’t send the people away to fend for themselves, he says - you can feed them!

Often we lack confidence in our own abilities. We do not think we can cope with a situation, or a crisis, or a particular difficulty. Can we cope - or should we just pass the buck? Jesus challenges us, like he challenges his disciples. Yes - you can do it!


But what can we do, and how can we do it?


Well when the disciples have go - they find that what they have is meagre - five loaves and two fishes - how can what I have possibly make any impact? As the Carol says ‘What can I give him, poor as I am’? What change can I possibly make? The little that I can do - could it make any difference?

Certainly - if we think we can achieve everything on our own then we will either become very arrogant or very disappointed. By our own efforts and abilities we can do so much, but only so much. We are human, we have our limitations and our frailties.

So it is Jesus who takes what little can give, and makes them very great. He takes our few gifts and multiplies them like the loaves. He takes the weakness of humanity and makes it strong enough to conquer even death. He helps us face our anxieties and worries, our trials and struggles. He comforts us, he strengthens us. He gives us joy and leads us to happiness.


And the small gifts that we give become the greatest gift that we can receive.


[The new translation of the mass makes this very clear. When the gifts of bread and wine are placed upon the altar, the priest will no longer say ’through your goodness we have this bread/wine to offer’ but ‘through your goodness we have received the bread/wine we offer you’. It’s a small change, but an important distinction.]


When Jesus says to the disciples ‘Give them something to eat yourselves’, the food which they give is Jesus himself, the Bread of Life. What we can do is only small if all we give is ourselves. If the gift which we offer to others is Christ, the Bread of Life, the Shepherd of the lost, the consoler of the sorrowful, the hope of those in despair - if he is the gift which we give, then we give the greatest gift, Hope, Faith, Love - the food of eternal life.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

17th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

He sells everything he owns and buys the field (Matthew 13:45)

The Staffordshire Hoard

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 expert 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 pearl 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.

Friday, July 08, 2011

15th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

Some seed fell into rich soil and produced its crop. (Matthew 13:8)


Jesus often uses illustrations from nature in his teaching. We call them ‘parables’ because they draw a comparison, or a parallel from life itself.

In fact, Jesus seems to prefer parables to what we would think of as more direct teaching. We do occasionally read of him explaining his words, but most of the time he expects his listeners to work out the meaning for themselves: Listen, anyone who has ears! He shouts at the crowd - almost as if to say “Isn’t it obvious?”.

Of course, we are likely to say that Jesus draws his parables from nature because that is what his hearers were familiar with. They had seen the sower sow. They had watched the wheat grow with the tares. They had spied the shepherd search for the lost sheep.

But there is more to this teaching. Jesus does not teach from nature simply because he and his listeners lived in an agricultural society. Nature provides more than a convenient example. Nature itself bears the imprint of God, its creator - and salvation is not just our salvation, but the completion of all of God’s wonderful work.

And so the glory of nature is a reflection, a glimpse, of the eternal glory of heaven. As the psalms make so clear: The hills are girded with joy, the valleys sing God’s praise. As St Paul says, the whole creation is waiting - groaning - for its salvation.

The parables are much more than an example, they are a window into the greatness of God. We are his seed, nurtured by the living water which he gives us. We grow surrounded by thorns and threats and dangers, scorched by ridicule or complacency, choked by a society which understands little and lives even less of the faith we foster and struggle to spread.

But he who created the seed, and the soil, and the sower is also the One who keeps us safe, and leads us to salvation.

Friday, July 01, 2011

14th Sunday of the Year - Homily / Sermon

I am gentle and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29)


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.