Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Fifth Sunday of Lent / Lent 5 (C ) : Homily / Sermon

Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. (John 8:6)

Writing in sand

Have you ever wondered what Jesus was writing?

Well you are not the first. From the very earliest days of the Church, preachers have asked this very question.

St. Jerome says he was writing down the sins of the accusers. St. Bede says he wrote down the 10 Commandments. St. Augustine said that he wrote on the ground indicating that the names of these men were to be written in earth, not in Heaven, where the names of the saints are written.

And in our own time, have a look round the internet and you will find preachers and commentators saying similar things.

But all of them seem to making a particular assumption - that what Jesus wrote down had some impact on the accusers. In writing their names, or the commandments, he was shaming and embarrassing them.

I’m not so sure. This is the only time in the Gospels we hear of Jesus writing. We know he could read, but perhaps he hardly ever wrote - there would be little need for him to. And why should he be writing names or words: perhaps he was doodling, reflecting, meditating - not sending a message which had been forgotten by the time the story was written.

There are other striking, conflicting elements in this story: between the gang of men who make their accusations, and the solitary woman whose sin was with some unnamed man; between the stones which these men were ready to hurl, and the dust in which Jesus wrote.

They are contrasts between the strong and the weak, the substantial and the insubstantial, the powerful and the powerless - and yet they are the same: stones become dust, man and woman sinned together, all fall short of the glory of God.

And Jesus - in calling the bluff of the hypocrites - by actions rather than words shames the accusers and saves the accused.


The image is from Preschools4All

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Lent 4 (C) : Homily / Sermon

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. (Luke 15:20)

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On Mothering Sunday it may seem odd to us that we have a Gospel reading which so clearly speaks of family life, yet which mentions only the men, the Father and his two sons.

The situation is very familiar in one way or another to many families. It speaks of faithfulness and impetuosity, of indulgence and jealousy, of affection for the wayward one, and the anger of the one who feels taken for granted. What family has not known some of these feelings and situations?

Yet as we look at the story - especially today - we might just wonder about the mother. How did she feel about the son who took his money and wasted it all? Did she long for his return, or sympathise with her older son in his bitterness? Or did she just dutifully toil in the kitchen, cooking the fatted calf?

We shouldn’t ask too many of these kind of questions, because if we do, we are in danger of missing the point. This all-too-human family is far more. For we are the sons, both wayward like the younger son and bitter like the elder, sinful and self-righteous. And the Father ... is of course the Father. God himself. With all the good qualities we might associate with mothers and fathers: Judging, Guiding, Loving, forgiving, yearning to welcome us back to him, watching that he might spy us from afar, beginning the long road back. And ready to celebrate our return.

Not only do we keep Mothering Sunday this weekend, but in the coming week, beginning on Tuesday, the Cardinals in Rome will be choosing our new Holy Father. There is much speculation, much opinionating, much expectation, and much hope.

More than all else, of course it must be a time of prayer.

And it is also a good moment to remind ourself what makes the Pope not just Holy, but also a Holy Father. Like the Father in the Gospel, He will look upon us while we are still a long way off, and guide us home. He will bring forgiveness, and celebration. He will be our teacher, and guide. He will show to us the Father's love, within the family of God's people.

He will remind us, that God is both Mother and Father, judging yet forgiving, encouraging, yet indulging, loving and waiting, ready for our sorrow and our repentance which is at the heart of this season of Lent. And Leading us, together, in the one Body of Christ, to the celebration of the Victory of Easter.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Lent 3 (C) : Homily / Sermon

Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. (Luke 13:4)


This Gospel has a very modern feel to it. It sounds as if Jesus has just been watching the news. Or listening to it.

The headlines: "Massacre during evening Sacrifices - Pilate warns that anti-Roman agitation will not be tolerated." "Tower falls on workers at Siloam - many feared dead". It is not so very far from what we hear today. Holidaymakers killed or injured in Egypt - victims of suicide bombings in Baghdad.

And then - just as now - people want to know why. Why did God allow this to happen? The question is put in a different way in Jesus time, but its basically the same question. They asked whether these were bad people. We are often confronted with the challenge "How can you believe in a good God if such things take place?"

In this year of Faith we do well to consider these hard questions. They are ones which are often thrown at us - almost as if they were proof of the non-existence of God. How can we reply? Do Jesus' words in this Gospel help us at all.

At first it may see that they do not. Jesus’ answer may at first appear a little puzzling, for they answer a question which is a little different from the one we ask. But look again - what Jesus says does say is helpful, and it is filled with hope.

Firstly, he rebukes those who think these terrible events occurred because these were bad or wicked people. The worshippers, the tower builders, the holidaymakers, are no different than the rest of us. God doesn't act like this. We might be outraged by the idea, and the people of Jesus time clearly struggled with it, but still we might ask what have I/they done to deserve this? Why me?

Nothing. Of course nothing. They have done nothing wrong - no more than anyone else. No, Jesus says. This is not punishment. God does not strike them down through the wickedness of men or the whim of natural disaster. They are no worse than any of you, and possibly even better.

And there is another thing. And this is source of our joy. Jesus says that all is not lost. God offers hope, rescue, salvation. We must repent. We must turn again to God. We must realise that we are not the masters of our own destiny. And if we do there is hope, and more. Disaster and affliction and persecution make us think again. Consider your lives, Jesus says, live according to God’s will. Because then there is a very real hope.

While the rich and comfortable of the world might look upon such disasters and attrocities and say to us “How can you believe in God?”, the people who are afflicted by such events have no such luxury. They light their candles, lay their flowers, say their prayers. They are ferventhe in the midst of ther sorrow to worship this wonderful God.

No, the Gospel is not about punishiment. And God is still the God of love. The Good News is about mercy and hope for those who love God from their hearts, and turn to him in truth.