Gay Walsh

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders: “I assure you that crooks and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. When John came preaching a way of holiness, you put no faith in him; but the crooks and prostitutes did believe in him. Yet, even when you saw that, you didn’t care enough to change and believe in him.” Matthew 21, 28-32

Each one of today’s three readings offers enough reflection material to keep me occupied for a week, or even longer. Ezekiel challenges us to stop hiding behind the facades of our self-importance and prepare ourselves to take on a new heart and a new spirit. Paul shares a hymn to Christ, calling us as he called the Philippian community, to live lives of service in imitation of Christ, and Matthew has Jesus present us with a very puzzling parable that challenges us to explore what living with integrity actually looks like in our time and place.

Without any hint of apology, Ezekiel calls us to stop pretending, to give up presenting ourselves as honourable, upright, good-living people. He stresses that God has no time for social status, titles, degrees, civic honours or whatever else we try to hide behind to create for ourselves a reputation for being upright. But his challenge penetrates even more deeply as he makes the point that there is nothing to be gained from doing minor adjustments to our behaviour. He comes straight out and says: “Do a complete overhaul. Go and get a totally new heart and spirit!” Ezekiel’s point is that God is not really interested in what we have done or failed to do, but much more interested in what we are going to do. So he urges us to start afresh, to forget about tinkering, and to ask God to give us a new heart and a new spirit.

In the second reading, Paul echoes Ezekiel when he urges us to change our way of acting so that there may be in us the same mind as was in Christ Jesus. Paul’s language is different from what most of us are accustomed to. I suggest that it has to be unravelled a bit. What he wrote to the Philippians is regarded by modern Scripture scholars as a hymn which describes who Jesus was and the mission he embraced of total service to humanity. The clearest paraphrase I have been able to find of today’s second reading comes from Eugene Peterson’s Bible in Contemporary Language. With a full introduction, he introduces the hymn that follows:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care – then give me some encouragement. Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front, don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside and help others to get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself:

He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity, and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life, and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that – a crucifixion. Because of that, God lifted him high and honoured him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth – even those long ago dead and buried – will bow in worship before this Christ Jesus, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honour of God the Father.” Philippians 2, 1-11

In his introduction to this hymn about Christ, Paul reminded the Philippians about the gifts they had learned from living together in community inspired by God’s Spirit: compassion, solidarity, mercy, care and selflessness. The hymn this leads into contains the very essence of what the Christian life is all about: living in selfless service, in imitation of Jesus Christ who embraced our humanity totally so that we human beings might grow into God by living together in communities of selfless love.

This hymn led me to reflect on how many of us were initiated into our Catholic faith through traditional devotions, prayers and hymns, which, like the above hymn about Christ, were something of a mystery. I well remember some of the lines of a hymn in honour of Mary, written by Fr. Frederick Faber:

Oh, Mother, I could weep for mirth
Joy fills my heart so fast;
My soul today is heaven on earth,
Oh could the transport last!

Immaculate! Immaculate!, Fr Frederick Faber, 1871

For years I just couldn’t work out what “transport” had to do with Mary. The only transport I knew as a child was trams, buses, trains and the like. So, whenever we sang that hymn, I pictured a sinking ship, and prayed that all on board would survive.
In time I learned another meaning of “transport”. Paul’s hymn about Christ merits loads of reflection.

The gospel parable of the two sons presents us with a puzzle, because of its ambiguity. The first son had the right words, which saved his father from being embarrassed in front of others, but his words were not turned into action. The elders and religious leaders listening to Jesus had all the rhetoric and religious trappings that pointed to their exalted status, but they did not get their hands dirty by reaching out to people in need. The second son rejected his father’s direction, but eventually relented and did as directed. He represented the tax-collectors and prostitutes, and all those late to respond to the message of Jesus (Gentiles) – all these embraced a change of attitude and heart in response to the good news Jesus proclaimed.

In essence, this parable is a condemnation of anyone whose faith and religious practice is limited to words and ritual. Moreover, the very people who are disowned and rejected by those who only look religious will be the ones whom God welcomes with open arms. Tolerance, compassion, mercy and selflessness are just words and concepts until they are brought to life in our actions and relationships with everyone we encounter. The Gospel of Jesus, with its call to justice, reconciliation and service of those in need, is much more than a message. It is a blueprint for discipleship. Blueprints are useless until they are transformed into something tangible. That transformation begins in our hearts and must find expression in our getting to know and accept as our sisters and brothers those whom we label as crooks and prostitutes.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

The vineyard owner replied to the spokesman for the others: “Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So, take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as to you. Can’t I do as I want with my own money? Are you going to get envious and stingy because I’m generous?” Matthew 20, 1-16

We know the details of this parable very well: When those who had worked through the heat of the day saw, from the end of the line, that the late-comers were getting the usual daily wage, they built up expectations of getting paid more. So, when they were paid exactly what they had agreed to, they began to grumble: “It’s not fair!” And we might well be prepared to agree with them.

That prompts me to ask myself: “Do I become resentful when I see people around me treated with greater generosity than I think they deserve?”

Let’s not forget that this story is a parable which offers yet another of Jesus’ examples of what the kingdom of God is like.

The director of the Darling Harbour Conference Centre in Sydney once joked, in his words of welcome to the participants of a Catholic Education Conference: “Darling Harbour is a lot like heaven; you’ll see a lot of people there you don’t expect to see.”

Perhaps that’s a bit like today’s Gospel parable, which could be summarised in one sentence: “In the kingdom of heaven we’ll meet a lot of people who haven’t worked as long and hard as we have in supporting the Church, yet they’ll still get the same reward.” If I’m really honest with myself, I would probably feel like saying: “That’s not fair!” That’s because I have the same attitude as the all-day workers, and can’t stomach the extraordinary generosity of the estate owner. Envy makes me want to grumble.

Logically, we can accept that the vineyard owner can run his business however he wishes, but we’re still not comfortable with the directions he gives his foreman for paying the workers. In our heads, we argue that, if he is so generous, why doesn’t he give a bonus to those who worked hard all through the heat of the day?

Clearly, the estate owner is meant to represent God. So, if we conclude that those who worked all day should have gotten more than the late-comers, we are effectively saying that God is not fair. Yet there are lots of stories in the Bible to illustrate that God detests social injustice and exploitation of the poor.

This parable is good news for all the late-comers who have been promised a just reward for their work. But it’s challenging for those of us who look at everything we have as the result of all of our hard work and effort. We develop a sense of entitlement. Yet, all we are and have are gifts from God. – our talents, health, education, opportunity, possessions, intellectual property, wisdom and experience. Everything is gift. We just can’t get that appreciation comfortably integrated into our heads and hearts. We can get so wrapped up in our own self-interest that we fail to truly see and appreciate what God has given us, gives us and will continue to give us through the goodness of other people and the unfolding circumstances of our lives. We fall into the trap of thinking that we have earned everything we are and have. Yet, we cannot earn anything from God. That’s what’s so amazing about grace: It’s all gift – free, gratis and for nothing.

This is a story whose message has been repeated throughout the Scriptures: Jonah threw a tantrum, and fell into depression when God spared the people of Nineveh; the elder brother regarded his father as a doting, old fool when he invited him to join in the celebration of his younger brother’s return; the Pharisee at prayer thanked God that he was not like the sinful publican. God’s graciousness is a great equaliser, which demolishes presumed privilege and puts all of us who receive that graciousness on a par.

Strangely, many of us seem to develop a level of resistance when it comes to receiving God’s graciousness. We seem to want to feel the satisfaction of earning it. We resist grace, however, because grace has the effect of changing us, and change is something we often are reluctant to embrace, because it is painful. But, if we can get beyond our resistance, and set aside grumbling, we might one day discover that the best response to grace is gratitude.

Even a few minutes of reflection on the parables of Jesus, which we think we know so well, is enough to remind us that many of those parables catch us by surprise as they shatter our expectations and disturb our comfort. Yet, today’s first reading from Isaiah prepares us for the shock of today’s gospel parable as it presents God proclaiming: “I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work. For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think” (Isaiah 55, 8-9). Still, I find myself siding with the all-day workers, wanting God to think and work the way I and they want God to think and work. Yet, at the heart of today’s readings is that we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can coax or manipulate God into fitting into the plans we make and the desires we want satisfied.

If there is another message clearly spelled out in today’s gospel parable, it is that the vineyard owner is far more interested in the people who are in need of work to survive than he is in the harvesting to be done. After all, he goes out five times in search of labourers who need employment to survive, and he pays them the same wage, so that they can support those who depend on them. That challenges me to reflect on my views of the unemployed in my city, who turn up at employment offices late in the day or who line up at social security offices hoping for Government financial assistance. Do I see them as my brothers and sisters in need, or am I quick to label them as lazy, lacking in motivation or having no appetite for work? There is something about my culture that is quick to stigmatise the unemployed and those whose life circumstances have pushed them to the fringes of our society. Perhaps there’s even something about my Church and parish that makes these unfortunate people feel less welcome, for no other reason than that they have been forced to live from hand to mouth.

Today’s readings disturb my comfort in ways they are surely meant to do. They push me to reflect on the way I think about justice, about my efforts to contain God, and my tendency to think I am entitled to this or that. It’s one thing to ponder such matters, but what am I going to do about them?

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Resentment and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” Sirach 27, 30 – 28, 7

“The life and death of each of us has its influence on others; if we live, we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord…So where does that leave you when you criticise a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister?” Romans 14, 7-10

“The king summoned the man and said: ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.” Matthew 18, 21-35

I am sometimes left with the impression that Matthew has used Peter’s reputation for speaking out without thinking as a cue for Jesus to launch into a story or parable to teach some lesson to those who had gathered to hear him. It’s as though Peter has been planted in the crowd to ask a leading question. Today’s gospel reading opens with one of those questions, to which Peter even volunteers an answer: “Peter got up the nerve to ask: ‘Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?’ Jesus replied: ‘Seven? Hardly. Try seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18, 21-22). That brief exchange was the trigger for Jesus to launch into another “kingdom of God” parable about how harbouring resentment and failing to forgive and seek forgiveness imprison people in their own bitterness.

The first reading from Sirach, the reading from Romans and Peter’s question cause us to stop and reflect on what can happen inside us when we rush to take the moral high ground when somebody hurts us in word, action or attitude. Sirach asks: “Should anyone nourish anger against others and expect healing from God?” Paul, in today’s second reading asks: “Where do resentment, condescension and seeking vengeance against your brothers and sisters leave you?” And Peter asks: “Isn’t there a limit to how many times I’m expected to forgive those who make my life miserable?”

Yet the parable that Jesus tells rises above wanting to measure out rules for forgiving. It challenges us to give our energy to working out the kind of family, community, parish, church and world in which we want to live our lives. Jesus makes the point that forgiveness and reconciliation are attitudes for living and relating rather than behaviours that we measure our when someone hurts or insults us.

In his book The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, Oblate priest and theologian, Ronald Rolheiser invites his readers to enter imaginatively into the following scene:
You are sitting one night with your family. You feel irritated, overtired and unappreciated. Something happens to push you beyond your patience, and you lose your temper suddenly. You yell at everyone, tell them they are selfish and stupid, throw your cup on the floor, and storm out, slamming the door behind you. Then you go and sulk in your room, feeling alienated, and sorry for yourself. Slowly, sanity and contrition get the better of your self-pity, but wounded pride and the rawness of what has happened make it too embarrassing for you to go back and apologise. Eventually, you fall asleep, leaving the situation unreconciled. The next morning, now feeling doubly contrite and somewhat sheepish, but still with your pride wounded, you come to the family table. Everyone is sitting around having breakfast. You collect your cup, which somebody has picked up, washed and put back in the cupboard, pour yourself a coffee, and, without a word, sit down at the table. – your remorse and wounded pride evident in every move. Your family members aren’t stupid, and neither are you. They all know the meaning of your actions. What is essential is being said, but wordlessly. You are making the basic move towards reconciliation. Your body and your actions are saying something more important than words: I want to be part of you again. At that moment, the haemorrhaging stops – even if only for that moment. If you dropped dead on the spot, you would be reconciled with your family.

When all is said and done, today’s readings are all about the limitlessness of God’s mercy and forgiveness and the need for us to imitate that to the best of our ability if we really want to be credible as disciples of Jesus. The high point of today’s readings comes in the parable that Jesus tells on the prompting of Peter. The irony, of course, is that Peter, who suggests seven as the number of times for forgiving others, will later be forgiven by the Jesus whom he will disown and deny. However, in Jewish tradition, the number seven represented fullness and completion. In suggesting seventy-seven or even seventy times seven, Jesus made the point that our readiness to forgive others must be endless. To emphasise the message Jesus told the parable of the king who forgave his servant a debt that was almost incalculable. Understandably, the king couldn’t believe what he was hearing when he learned that the servant, whose debt he had cancelled, refused to forgive a fellow servant who owed him a comparatively insignificant amount. A quick calculation of the debts reveals that the first servant owed the king ten thousand talents. – the equivalent of 60 million denarii or two hundred thousand years of wages, while the second servant owed his fellow worker the equivalent of one hundred days’ earnings. In forgiving the first servant, the king knew that there was no way that he could repay his debt. But he gave in to the man’s pleas and cancelled the debt. The second servant pleaded for mercy from his fellow worker, using identical words, but met with no compassion at all. Instead he was thrown into prison until the debt could be paid.

Sadly, the first servant failed to grasp that the consequence of being forgiven is an open-hearted readiness to forgive others. That, clearly, is a reminder to us all to look again at the only part of the prayer that Jesus taught which has a condition attached: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us!”

We all know from painful experience just how difficult it is to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. To forgive is not to pretend that we have not been hurt. But forgiving and asking for forgiveness does involve coming face to face with our sisters and brothers. But isn’t it true that, when we find the courage to do that, we actually come to see our own failure, fragility and brokenness. We come to realise that we all have the same struggles, and that, ultimately, we are entirely dependent on God’s bountiful love and mercy. The near incredible numbers in Jesus’ parable convey the message that forgiveness is not something that is measured out in small or even large doses. Rather it is an attitude with which we are to approach everyone with whom we engage; it is an attitude which mirrors the love and mercy of God.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“Love and do as you will.” St Augustine

“Owe nothing to others except to love them…The law code…finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.” Romans 13, 8-10

“If your brother who has hurt you won’t listen to the community, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” Matthew 18, 15-20

Almost a life-time ago in 1954, the French priest and theologian, Michel Quoist published a book of prayers and poems, entitled Prayers of Life. It was the first of thirteen books he wrote during his life as a youth chaplain and a parish pastor. Prayers of Life was not translated into English until 1963. One of the pieces Quoist included resonates with the message of this Sunday’s readings. I quote it at length:
“Lord, why did you tell me to love all men (sic), my brothers? I have tried, but I come back to you, frightened…
 Lord, I was so peaceful at home, I was so comfortably settled. It was well furnished, and I felt cosy. I was alone, I was at peace. Sheltered from the wind, the rain, the mud. I would have stayed unsullied in my ivory tower. 
But, Lord, you have discovered a breach in my defences, You have forced me to open my door. Like a squall of rain in the face, the cry of humankind has awakened me; Like a gale of wind a friendship has shaken me; As a ray of light slips in unnoticed, your grace has stirred me… and, rashly enough, I left my door ajar. 
Now, Lord, I am lost! Outside, people were lying in wait for me. I did not know they were so near; in this house, in this street, in this office; my neighbour, my colleague, my friend. As soon as I started to open the door, I saw them, with outstretched hands, burning eyes, longing hearts, like beggars on church steps.
The first ones came in, Lord. There was after all some space in my heart. I welcomed them. I would have cared for them and fondled them, my very own little lambs, my little flock. You would have been pleased, Lord, I would have served and honoured you in a proper, respectable way. Till then, it was sensible.
 But the next ones, Lord, the others, I had not seen them; they were hidden behind the first ones. There were more of them, they were wretched; they over-powered me without warning.
 We had to crowd in, I had to find room for them. Now they have come from all over, in successive waves, pushing one another, jostling one another. They have come from all over town, from all parts of the country, of the world; numberless, inexhaustible. 
They don’t come alone any longer but in groups, bound one to another. They come bending under heavy loads; loads of injustice, of resentment and hate, of suffering and sin… 
They drag the world behind them, with everything rusted, twisted, or badly adjusted. Lord, they hurt me! They are in the way, they are everywhere. They are too hungry, they are consuming me! I can’t do anything anymore; as they come in, they push the door, and the door opens wider… 
Lord! My door is wide open! I can’t stand it anymore! It’s too much! It’s no kind of life! What about my job? My family? My peace? My liberty? And me?
 Lord, I have lost everything, I don’t belong to myself any longer. There’s no more room for me at home.  
Don’t worry, God says, you have gained all. While people came to you, I, your Father, I, your God, slipped in among them. (Michel Quoist, Prayers of Life, Sheed & Ward, 1963)

While today’s gospel-reading begins with the issue of how we are to deal with a family, community or parish member who has hurt another member, we have to read it in the context of the parable of the lost sheep which immediately precedes our gospel-reading. The bottom line is that we have to end up reconciling with the offender and restoring her or him to the community. As Michel Quoist observed, there is a real cost to loving everyone as my brothers and sisters. I have to accept them, warts and all, be open to accepting them in the messiness of their lives, be ready to reconcile with them and forgive them for the hurt they cause. In Jesus’ view, there is simply no room for criticising them or whinging to others about them. We have to talk directly to them and hold out to them the hand of reconciliation and forgiveness.

One of the characteristics of being a disciple of Jesus is a willingness to accept the prophetic dimension of that role. After reading today’s first reading from Ezekiel, I have to admit to having second thoughts about taking on the responsibility of being a prophet. The consequences are that I have to be prepared to speak out when I see injustice and wrong-doing, or take responsibility for the resulting damage and hurt.

The second reading from Romans goes even further by stating that the only way for all of us to be in tune with God is to treat others, everyone we encounter or only hear about, with unstinting love. The cost is surrendering all we have and are, holding nothing back. But it brings us into the company of God, who slips in, almost unnoticed, with all those demanding our attention, even those who have caused us harm and grief and disappointment.

As the theologian Elizabeth Johnson observes: “Forgiveness, Jesus tells us, is not a quantifiable commodity. It is a qualitatively different way of life, drawn from the very being of God whose nature is to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and whose ultimate goal is always reconciliation and restoration of community”.

Quite a challenge! Am I up to it?

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“You pushed me into this, God, and I let you do it. You were too much for me. And now I’m a public joke. The all poke fun at me.” Jeremiah 20, 7-9

“Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” Romans 12, 1-2

“All those who wish to come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. Those who wish to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16, 21-27

Today’s first two readings from Jeremiah and Romans provide a very appropriate introduction to the gospel-reading, for they are about the cost of living with integrity. When Jesus told his disciples about needing to travel up to Jerusalem, he was telling them that that was what his personal integrity demanded of him.

Those of us who went through Catholic primary schools when the Green/penny/Baltimore Catechism was the basic text, learned that “Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God”. It would seem that Jeremiah had learned a similar lesson way back in the 7th Century BC. In today’s first reading we hear Jeremiah being fiercely honest with God, giving God a piece of his mind. We have in English a noun jeremiad, clearly derived from the prophet’s name, meaning a prolonged complaint or lamentation. Disillusioned by the way his life was unfolding, Jeremiah accused God of tricking him into becoming a prophet. All he got in return for speaking the truth to his people were threats to his life and bitter ridicule. In his lament, he told God, with bitter regret, just how miserable his life had become. That was the price Jeremiah paid for living with integrity.

It’s worth recalling the assurances Jeremiah received from God when he was struggling to accept his mission as a prophet:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.”
“”Ah, Lord God!” I said, “I don’t know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the Lord answered me: “Don’t say ‘I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you”, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 1, 5-8)

Understandably, Jeremiah felt badly let down, when he discovered that even those who knew him well were plotting to murder him. So he did not hesitate to let God know exactly how he felt. The irony, of course, was that the people Jeremiah challenged rejected him in the very same way as they had rejected God over generations. However, having spoken honestly to God, he realised that God’s word had so overwhelmed him that he could not step away from it: “It is like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones;” (Jeremiah 20, 9) Eventually, he acknowledged that God was really by his side: “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” (Jeremiah 20, 11). Centuries later, Paul came to a similar conclusion, acknowledging that he was so overwhelmed by the person of Jesus and his message that he felt compelled to make them known to the world: “Yet, preaching the Gospel is not the subject of a boast; I am compelled to do it and have no choice. I am ruined if I do not preach it.” (1 Corinthians 9, 16)

Today’s second reading from Romans echoes the conclusion that Jeremiah had reached and, at the same time, is a preamble to the gospel-reading in which Jesus sets out for Jerusalem to confront the moral bankruptcy of the religious leaders. Paul is urging his audience: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind and heart…” (Romans 12, 1-2). Letting God into our lives and confronting the abuses and injustices of our world involve a price to be paid, and that price might well be criticism, personal discomfort and rejection.

The account of Peter’s profession of faith in last week’s gospel-reading marks a turning point in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew now puts the focus on Jesus’ efforts to prepare his disciples for the mission he will entrust to them just before he is executed. His first lesson is all about living with integrity. Jesus knows only too well the risks involved in travelling to Jerusalem to confront the religious leaders. Peter senses the danger and his attempt at intervention meets with a stern rebuff from Jesus, who interprets it as an effort to stop him from being true to himself. Peter’s words are an echo of the three temptations from the devil which Jesus experienced in the desert just before he had begun his ministry. That explains his spontaneous, almost reflex, reaction: “Get out of my way, Satan. You have no idea how God works.” (Matthew 16, 23). Failure to confront the religious leaders in Jerusalem would, in the mind of Jesus, be equivalent to tacit agreement with what they were saying and doing. Surrendering to Peter’s advice would have meant for Jesus a denial of the mission he had grown to appreciate came from God. If we are to be participants in this gospel-reading, we have to discern what being true to ourselves demands of us in the current circumstances of our lives. Any attempt to proclaim in words anything we have failed to integrate into our lived lives is bound to be empty rhetoric.

Jesus summed all that up in the concluding lines of today’s gospel-reading. He urges us to let go of anything in our lives that is empty, of little substance or self-centred, so that we might grow into a way of living that is nourished by the love of God. That, of course, means letting go of things like unhealthy anger, self-pity, and needing to be in control. It will be then that we will discover that we can emerge stronger from the hurts and disappointments that come our way, and that we will even grow to be a little wiser in the wake of our failures and mistakes. Of course, that kind of growth will come only if and when we put our trust in God. Living true to ourselves, living with integrity requires patience, trust in God and commitment, and comes at a cost. Today’s readings ask us if we are prepared to pay that cost.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“I’ll give him (Eliakim) the key of the Davidic heritage. He’ll have the run of the place – open any door and keep it open, lock any door and keep it locked…He’ll secure the Davidic tradition.” Isaiah 22, 19-23

Jesus pressed them: “And how about you? Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter said: “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded: God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am.” Matthew 16, 13-20

Today’s gospel reading is, at one and the same time, inspirational, challenging and puzzling – inspirational in Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus, challenging in that, if we dare to be participants in the story, not just observers, we, too, are called to answer Jesus’ question, and puzzling because, having accepted that Peter had identified him correctly as the Messiah, Jesus tells him and the other disciples not to breathe a word to anyone about his being the Christ, God’s anointed messenger.

While all the Evangelists (Matthew 16, 13-20; Mark 8, 27-30; Luke 9, 18-21; John 6, 69) record Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus, Matthew is the only one to record in any detail the exchange between Jesus and the disciples that followed Peter’s textbook accurate answer to Jesus’ question to them: “And how about you? Who do you say I am?”

It was not by accident that Matthew set the scene of Peter’s extraordinary profession of faith in the district of Caesarea Philippi. In the city itself, there was a panoply of shrines and temples dedicated to various gods, including Pan, the Greek god of nature and the Syrian god, Baal. In the centre of the city there was a huge white temple built by Herod and dedicated to the “divinity” of Caesar. It was in this context that Jesus asked the disciples what the gossip was about him. Predictably, they began with what a fearful and superstitious Herod had been reported as saying: that Jesus might be John the Baptist who had come back from the dead to haunt him. They then advanced to the rumours that were circulating about Jesus being a reincarnated Elijah or some other prophet. That was not surprising because they were able to rely on the prophet, Malachi, who had quoted God as saying: “Behold, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 3, 23).

It was then that Jesus took the risk of turning to those closest to him and asking: “And how about you? Who do you say I am?” It was a risk, because he exposed his own vulnerability. He stood to being deflated. Moreover, we know deep down that that’s not a question that we human beings dare to ask anyone, even our closest friends. We’re also familiar with the hurt teenagers sometimes inflict by posts they put on twitter about one another. We know a bit about the reality of cyber bullying, and its consequences. We adults would run a mile rather than risk asking family and friends: “What are people saying about me? And who do you think I am as a person?”

So, I imagine that the disciples were taken aback, and that there was probably a long silence as they struggled with how they might respond. Fortunately, Peter came to the rescue with a response worthy of a reputable theologian: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16, 16), and in line with God’s affirmation of Jesus at his baptism by John: “This is my beloved Son. My favour rests on him” (Matthew 3, 17).

Affirmed and encouraged by Peter’s words, Jesus concluded that he had been inspired by God, and immediately appointed him to lead all those who would commit themselves to walking in Jesus’ footsteps. Moreover, using the image from Isaiah of “the power of the keys” Jesus conferred on Peter the authority to “bind and loose” – to call people to their responsibility to live with integrity and to free them from fear and oppressive legalism (cf Isaiah 22, 22 “I, the Lord, will give to Eliakim the key to the Davidic heritage. He’ll have the run of the place – open any door and keep it open, lock any door and keep it locked”. Church leaders through the centuries have been quick to limit this power of binding and loosing to the sins of the people in the pews. Rather, binding and loosing are all about freeing people from all that oppresses them and helping them to appreciate that law is not about stifling people and tying them up in knots. Rather, law is about helping us all to preserve our own dignity and respecting the dignity of everyone we encounter.

Christians of my generation will have vivid memories of Parish Missions, in the course of which preachers set out to motivate us by threatening us with the fear of hell because of our sinfulness. The sad consequence was that many good people ended up being somehow obligated to a God of fear instead of being freed to grow into their true selves and to know that they are loved unconditionally by the God who had loved them into life.

I suggest that it well worth our taking the time to read the part of Matthew’s Gospel that follows immediately after Peter’s profession of faith. Jesus informs the disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly there at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be put to death, and raised up on the third day” (Matthew 16, 21). True to form, Peter has a rush of blood to his head and launches into using his newly acquired power of binding, protesting: “Impossible, Master! That can never be!” (Matthew 16, 22) For his outburst, Peter his severely reprimanded: “Peter, get out of my way. Satan, get lost. You have no idea how God works” (Matthew 16, 23).

I dare to suggest that binding and loosing are two aspects of the process of helping people to grow. They complement one another. When we understand the role of law and the need to live as thinking, responsible, human beings we are on the way to healthy human and Christian maturity. It is a bonus when we are loosed from the oppression of legalists and fundamentalists, and the fears encouraged by those who think they can frighten us into conformity. In entrusting Peter with the authority to bind and loose, Jesus was calling him to see the need for compassion and encouragement in his role as leader.

In the piazza at the front of St Peter’s basilica in Rome there are two huge statues of Peter and Paul, giants of faith in Jesus. Yet both had their failures and human weaknesses. Peter denied Christ and Paul persecuted Christ’s followers. They both discovered the need to change and to grow, to seek forgiveness for their failures; they both learned the way of compassion and encouragement. In today’s second reading from Romans we hear Paul lamenting the fact that so many of his fellow Jews were unable to recognise that Jesus was the Messiah, the messenger of God to the world. Yet he was able to see that force could not compel people to believe and to admit that the ways of God are not our ways. Peter grew out of bumbling and opening his big mouth out of turn, and came to know in his heart that Jesus forgave his act of denial. They are both wonderful leaders for us all because their very lives are testimony that they were both wounded healers for their Christian communities.

If we care to think about it, everything we do and say in our lives is meant to be a response to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say I am?” Most times our words and actions testify to our belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ of God. Sometimes we falter and miss the mark.

And as for the puzzling part of today gospel-reading, the answer as to why Jesus told the disciples not to broadcast the fact that Peter had rightly recognised him as the Messiah, these men had not yet grown to the point that their words and actions did not yet fully match. True witness requires credibility. Moreover, those not so close to Jesus would not have been able to cope with such a startling truth. There is still room for growth and conversion in all of us on the journey to becoming fully credible witnesses to the Gospel.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – a Reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“As for the outsiders who now follow me, working for me and loving my name…they’ll be welcome to worship the same as insiders…” Isaiah 56, 1, 6-7

Jesus said: “It’s not right to take bread out of children’s mouths and throw it to dogs.” She was quick: “You’re right, Master, but beggar dogs do get scraps from the master’s table.” Matthew 15, 21-28

Today’s gospel-reading clearly indicates that Jesus was truly a man of his own time and culture. It demonstrates that he was well aware of the racial and religious prejudices that were very much alive in Jewish society and in the cultures of surrounding nations. Matthew even gives the impression that Jesus was influenced by those prejudices. It matters little whether this story describes an actual event in the life of Jesus or whether it was framed by Matthew to encourage the Gentile members, especially the women, of his fledgling Christian community. It also points to the fact that Jesus, unlike so many of those around him, was sufficiently open-minded to allow his opinions to be modified by the wisdom of others, even by the wisdom of the most unlikely – a foreigner, and a woman, to boot.

This gospel-story of the Canaanite woman is an appealing one, because it relates to experiences that many of us have had. Who among us has not had to deal with the loud and persistent bleating of somebody demanding attention? And hasn’t our response been something like that of the disciples: “For heaven’s sake, give her what she wants. That will shut her up!”? Moreover, we have all known what religious intolerance and sectarianism feel like. People of my generation will probably remember tensions between Catholics and Protestants in the 1940s and 1950s. As Catholic, primary school students, we used to taunt students attending State schools with: “Catholics, Catholics ring the bell while the Publics go to hell.” Youngsters who changed from Catholic to State schools were labelled by some teachers in State schools as “Weeds from the Pope’s garden”. As children, we were told by the Sisters and Brothers teaching us that it was a sin to stop and listen to the Salvation Army band playing in the local park on Sunday afternoons, or to accept “holy cards” from them. Religious prejudice still survives in more subtle, sophisticated forms.

Fortunately, Vatican II ushered in changes that not only led to a marked decrease in religious intolerance, but also acknowledged that God’s Spirit had been present in some ways in cultures and religions throughout the history of humanity, and that God wished to embrace all people. Today’s first reading from Isaiah states explicitly to the Israelite people who had returned home from exile that God wants to include everyone: “And as for foreigners who now follow me, working for me, loving my name and wanting to be my servants – all who keep the Sabbath and hold fast to my covenant – I’ll bring them to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer” (Isaiah 56, 6-7).

This reading paves the way for the story of the encounter between the Canaanite woman and Jesus that is the focus of today’s gospel-reading. It is important to note that this story comes immediately after an argument Jesus had had with the Pharisees when they complained about the disciples failing to wash their hands before eating. After calling the Pharisees hypocrites, Jesus announced to the crowd who had witnessed the argument: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and it is these that make a person unclean. For from the heart come evil intentions…These are what makes a person unclean” (Matthew 15, 18-20). In today’s gospel-reading, what comes out of the mouth of the Canaanite woman comes from her heart.

The encounter that she and Jesus had was not for the faint-hearted. In confronting Jesus directly, she broke all the rules of the social etiquette of the time. Women were regarded as unreliable, so had no right to speak out. It was certainly seen as inappropriate for a woman to address a man directly, especially in public. She was a foreigner, and, as such, had no credibility. Worse still, she was a Canaanite, belonging to a nation that had the reputation of being Israel’s bitterest enemy. Yet she came out fighting so vigorously and persistently that the disciples urged Jesus to give in to her demands, just for their own peace. In her outburst, she tried to shame Jesus into doing what was regarded as his duty to people who were foreigners. The books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy make repeated references to that duty. For example, Exodus states: “Don’t abuse or take advantage of strangers; you, remember, were once strangers yourselves in Egypt” (Exodus 22, 21).

But Jesus seemed to meet fire with fire. After initially ignoring her, he went on the attack with a racially insulting slur: “It’s not right to take the food of sons and daughters and throw it to dogs” (Matthew 15, 26). This response reflected the attitude of Jewish men of his time. But the Canaanite woman, refusing to be silenced, ended up besting him in their verbal jousting. Her response came from her heart: “You’re right, Master, but beggar dogs do get scraps from the master’s table” (Matthew 15, 27). Jesus was humbled into submission, for he recognised in the way she had responded that her words echoed the message he had earlier given to the crowd: “The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and they are what makes a person clean or unclean.” Effectively, the woman told Jesus that “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” were not all hearing and accepting his message, and that she would take advantage of the scraps they were dropping. That extraordinarily brave woman opened Jesus’ eyes, and he came to admire her intense love for her daughter and her deep faith that he could drive away the demons that were troubling the child.

But where do we fit in all this? None of us is ignorant of the rising swell of rejection directed at the refugees of wars and conflict to which many of our countries have contributed, or have ignored by doing nothing. We are familiar with the fear-mongering created by politicians whose popularity at the ballot boxes is increased in proportion to their rhetoric about barring refugees and asylum-seekers. After all, there might be terrorists among the largest number of refugees our world has ever seen. It would be strange if there weren’t. But why punish all because of a few? Today’s readings prompt us to ask ourselves what kinds of bigotry or racial and religious prejudices do we harbour within our hearts. Do we applaud the fear-mongering of our political leaders as a way of rationalising ourselves into justifying a “me first” stance? Somebody once asserted that the way in which western society and our Church have dealt with the issue of child abuse would be very much better had we invited the women among us to address it. Are we as open to the voice of women as Jesus was to the voice of the Canaanite woman? I leave the final words to Pope Francis who, in a mid-flight interview from Mexico to Italy in 2016 said: “A person who thinks only of building walls – wherever they may be – is not Christian”. What do I wall in and whom do I wall out? Today’s readings call me to reflect on questions like these.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life to Beersheba…
1 Kings 19, 3

“Courage! It is I! Do not be Afraid.” Matthew 14, 22-33

There is little doubt that Covid 19 has demanded the attention of people all over the world because of the devastation it has created on a global scale. The result is that some of us are living in fear, others find comfort in denial, and others, still, believe that it has been fabricated by powerful governments conspiring to use their muscle to control the world economy and reduce to dependence nations living in freedom. Stress and fear often cause some of us to imagine all kind of possible explanations. Just last week I was confronted by a neighbour who insisted that the pandemic was God’s way of either bringing the world to its senses or punishing the world for its sinfulness.

I can find nothing in the Gospels, or, for that matter, in the New testament to suggest that the God of Jesus has any trace of vindictiveness or is intent on putting obstacles in our way simply to test us out. Yet, the readings for this Sunday are timely, because they invite us to give our attention to the role that fear plays in our lives. Another aspect of our behaviour is the way in which we can use our imaginations to create expectations. In fact, fear is just one kind of expectation. It’s the expectation that what we have come to fear will actually happen. The person who told me that Covid 19 is either a punishment or a wake-up call from God had either turned his expectations of God into reality or was looking to God to approve the prejudices he had developed about some human behaviour of which he disapproved. What we fear and the expectations we create can so easily be transformed into reality, paralysing us or tranquillising our ability to take the kind of risk that being disciples of Jesus demands of us.

Today’s first reading about Elijah unfortunately leaves out the circumstances that prompted the prophet to run for his life. Elijah had been making fun of the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah, who had the support of Queen Jezebel. When they could not light a fire to sacrifice an ox, Elijah taunted them with insults: “Maybe your god has gone off to meditate or got involved in another project or gone off on holidays.” He was out to prove that the God of Israel was better than all of their gods. To further humiliate them, he built an altar and had it doused three times with buckets of water. Then he called on his God to send down fire. As the story goes, Elijah’s offering was totally consumed by fire. However, he then went to extremes and directed his followers to take hold of the prophets of Baal and slaughter them. Jezebel was less than impressed, and sent a messenger to Elijah: “The gods will get you for this and I’ll get even with you.! By this time tomorrow you’ll be as dead as any one of those prophets” (cf 1 Kings 18, 22 – 19, 2).

A threat like that would make anybody run for cover. That’s exactly what Elijah did, and headed for Beersheba. But the running exhausted him, and he fell into a depression and wished he were dead. But an angel of God intervened, provided him with food and water, and directed him to set out for Mt Horeb (Mt Sinai) where he would encounter God. We are told he walked for forty days and forty nights. Manifestations of the Divine were often associated with spectacular natural events. On the mountain, Elijah experienced a hurricane, an earthquake and a bushfire, all of which frightened him. But contrary to all his expectations and still gripped by fear, he ventured to the opening of the cave in which he was sheltering, and experienced God present in a gentle breeze.

I want to suggest that today’s gospel story of the storm on the lake parallels the Elijah story in its message. Imagine, for a moment, that you are with the disciples on their boat at 3.00 am, being tossed around in a violent storm and suddenly a familiar figure appears out of nowhere. My first reaction would be similar to that of the disciples: “It must be a ghost or a poltergeist!” I, too, would be terrified. And then everyone on the boat hears the familiar voice of Jesus: “Get hold of yourselves! It is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14, 27). We and the disciples create one reality with our very understandable expectations and fears, and Jesus creates something very different with his calming assurances.

Not for a moment do I think this is a story that is easy to understand. No ordinary human being walks on water, so Peter was bound to sink when he jumped overboard, despite the fact that, as a seasoned fisherman, he was probably a good swimmer. I suggest that this event recorded by Matthew ranks side by side with the story of the Transfiguration recorded in Chapter 17, 1-8. They are both glimpses into the fact that Jesus really was from God and was, in fact, the Messiah, the Christ of God. Somehow, that realisation struck Peter like a ton of bricks, and in his enthusiasm to commit himself to Jesus and his mission he became oblivious to his surroundings and leapt out of the boat to stand with Jesus. Then, when he was going under, he called for help and Jesus responded as he had previously to everyone else’s cries for help – he came to Peter’s rescue.

There are glimpses of the goodness and love of God all around us, but we can often miss them because they are to be found where we don’t expect them. Isn’t it true that such goodness, love and selflessness are reflected in the very ordinary kindness of the people out there testing all those who are lining up for Covid 19 tests, in the welcoming smiles of the women and men driving buses, trams, trains, ferries and taxis, in the friendliness of those checking out our purchases at stores and supermarkets? And let’s not forget that God does not send hurricanes, bushfires, earthquakes and viruses to test us out, but, when they do come, it does not take us long to unconsciously disclose what kind of God we believe in and just how strong our faith in that God really is.

Similarly, none of us can credibly claim to be wishy-washy disciples and followers of Jesus. By jumping overboard Peter demonstrated in action that discipleship of Jesus calls for nothing less than total commitment. But one does not switch on total commitment. Rather one grows into it. It’s comforting, however, to know that Jesus can cope with our human weakness, with our moments of doubt. In fact, if we don’t experience doubt, we will not grow into mature, adult faith. However, we can be sure that Jesus will not ignore us whenever we are courageous enough to call to him: “Jesus, save me. I’m going under.” Lastly, our faith in God will be seen at its best when we find the courage to take the risk of reaching out to the stranger, of daring to go against the crowd when adhering to truth and integrity demand nothing less than that.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

As evening drew on, the disciples came to Jesus with a suggestion: “This is a deserted place and it’s already late. Dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy some food for themselves.” Jesus said to them: “There is no need for them to disperse. Give them something to eat yourselves.” Matthew 14, 13-21

Jewish people have acquired a reputation for being blunt and direct in what they have to say. Perhaps this comes from their history of struggle, persecution and tragedy. They find little time for wasting words on trivial niceties. Today’s first reading from Exodus gives us a glimpse of them at their bluntest best. When Moses and Aaron assured them that God would save them from starvation by providing both quail and manna, there were no complaints about the flocks of quail that landed in their camp, but they certainly questioned the manna’s suitability for consumption: “Man-hu, what on earth is this stuff you’re expecting us to gather and eat?” Researchers now tell us that it was probably a mixture of glucose and protein contained in the cocoons of beetles/grubs, but could not be stored because it attracted flies and quickly became fly-blown. In retrospect they came to appreciate that the provision of the manna was an example of God’s providence in their history. Over time, they explained to the younger generations how they had survived very difficult times and circumstances, how they had done it tough in the wilderness, and how God had cared for them. But, when things were at their worst, they were not slow to complain. In turn, their leaders were not slow in urging them to draw on their own resilience, and to make the most of the small mercies that came their way.

There are important messages implied in this story. While the people find all the quail they need and have an adequate supply of manna (even though they are mystified by it), the God who comes to their assistance does not spoon-feed them. They are clearly expected to work together to gather what they need to survive, and quickly discover that the manna has to be carefully handled. Growing into freedom calls for both responsibility and accountability. These wandering people have been pushed into learning what is required to build themselves into a community. Isn’t it true that all communities are built by people rolling up their sleeves and involving themselves, from the start, even in the very ordinary activities of subsistence-living. In the isolation of the wilderness, these former slaves learned the first steps in the process of reinventing themselves into a people who would be responsible for themselves, to one another and to the God they were coming to know.

Today’s gospel-reading contains another set of lessons in responsibility and accountability for those who would be disciples of Jesus. Having been involved with his disciples in a demanding schedule of teaching and preaching, and having just heard the news of John the Baptist’s execution, Jesus saw the need for time out for himself and his disciples to grieve, to reflect and to rest. His plans were defeated by an ever-demanding crowd. Then, when his disciples wanted to get rid of the crowd, Jesus challenged them to act responsibly and draw on their own resources. Mark’s Gospel has a parallel account of “the first miracle of the loaves”. It is preceded by a brief description of the disciples reporting to Jesus on all they had done and taught during their own first excursion into ministry. Jesus’ response was not to congratulate them. He simply said: “Come by yourselves to an out-of-the-way place and rest a little” (Mark 6, 31). Mark, too, records how the demanding crowd interrupted their plans. There are lessons in all this for us.

Many of us have allowed ourselves to be seduced, by employers and by the organisations to which we belong, into over-performing. While both Matthew and Mark report that Jesus did show compassion for the crowd, we would do well to take notice of Jesus’ plans to take time out. Real rest. – not “time-out” about which we feel guilty. – is a necessity that is built on trust. We all have to learn to trust that our colleagues actually can manage what we temporarily step aside from. We all need personal, family and community time and space, but sometimes fear prevents us from taking such. Still, these two stories from Matthew and Mark do remind us that our decisions to take a break are important and, in fact, might enhance the effectiveness of our efforts when we return. I certainly don’t subscribe to the view that God wants us to wear ourselves out. Daring to take a break is a reminder to ourselves that we are not indispensable, and that, ultimately, God is in charge.

The story of the “miracle of the loaves” occurs in all four Gospel, twice in both Mark and Matthew and once in each of Luke and John. In all except John, these stories are preceded by reference to Jesus’ compassion and care for the vast crowd in front of him. Mark, Matthew and Luke all refer to Jesus’ giving of himself to the point of exhaustion. – a forerunner to his total self-giving at the Last Supper. So, all these “miracle of the loaves” stories are pointers to what Eucharist is, and what it means in our day-to-day life as followers of Jesus. Mark, Matthew and Luke all integrate the importance of service in the way they tell the story. John integrates the importance of service with the symbolism of the dish and towel when he describes how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.

Integral to the message of today’s gospel-reading is the challenge Jesus puts to the disciples when they want to send away the crowd: “There is no need for them to disperse. Give them something to eat yourselves” (Matthew 14, 16). An essential dimension of Eucharist is that all people are our sisters and brothers, and that living out Eucharist in practice involves offering nourishment in word and action to everyone we encounter, especially those who, because of the circumstances of their lives, are unable to feed and nourish themselves. Jesus effectively tells his disciples that, if they want to be part of his enterprise, they have to reach out to others and take responsibility for their welfare. Hospitality is an integral part of living Eucharist credibly. What we participate in when, as community, we celebrate Eucharist must flow over into our daily living.

We all have the capacity to reach out in welcome and acceptance to friend and stranger, to everyone in the crowd; to those with whom we are comfortable, as well as to those who look different, and who are different because of their circumstances, their culture, their country of birth, their religion. An essential dimension of Eucharist is hospitality, in reference to which St Paul wrote: “Make hospitality your special care” (Romans 12, 13). Let’s not forget that hospitality is first and foremost an attitude of heart, but it requires practice. Perhaps we can make a habit of it by asking ourselves at the start of each day: “How can I be Eucharist – bread broken and given for others, today?”.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Seventeenth Sunday In Ordinary Time – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

God said to Solomon: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you”. Solomon replied: “Give your servant an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?” 1 Kings 3, 5, 7-12

If there is anything we learn from today’s readings, it is that everything comes at a cost. In today’s first reading from Kings, we hear the story of how Solomon, responding to God’s invitation to ask for what he wanted, chose the gift of wisdom. However, just like every human being before and after him, Solomon allowed human weakness to get in the way. His weakness for concubines and his longing to accumulate wealth and weapons of war prevented him from using the wisdom God had given him. Whatever our gifts, and we all have them, it is important that we use them with integrity and enduring commitment. Solomon displayed admirable selflessness in asking God to give him the wisdom he needed to govern his people, but, with tragic consequences, he allowed self-interest to get in the way.

The readings of the last few Sundays, and again today, have given us a succession of Jesus’ parables in which he imagines a world governed and guided by the values of God; a world in which people actually practice mercy, forgiveness, equality, sharing food and universal access to safe shelter, clean water and sanitation; a world in which people enjoy freedom and treat one another with respect and dignity. Yet, we’ve heard these parables so often that they don’t fire us up to pursue that kind of a world with commitment and passion. We say we believe in freedom and dignity and equality and compassion and reconciliation and justice, but somehow we cannot bring ourselves to pay the price required to invest ourselves in pursing the things to which we give only nominal assent. We say we believe in what Jesus proclaims but we lack the passion, energy and drive to make it happen. We just can’t bring ourselves to imitate the person who stumbled on the treasure in the field or the jeweller who came across the flawless pearl to sell up everything to purchase what they discovered. A world in which God’s values hold sway just doesn’t look attractive enough; it doesn’t capture our imaginations. Moreover the cost for such a way of living is beyond what we’re prepared to pay.

Many of us, I’m sure, have heard the story of the group of teenage boys who had come together to celebrate the birthday of one of their number. After the party, they decided to play football in the back yard. There was a bit of rough and tumble until the birthday boy lost one of his contact lenses in the grass. The game came to a sudden halt, and they were soon all down on their hands and knees searching for the lens. After five or six minutes, the lens had not been located, so the boy who had lost it went and told his mother the bad news. She immediately began her own search in the grass, and, within a few minutes, found the missing lens. “Mum, how come you found it in no time, when the five of us had no success at all?” asked the lad whose lens had been dislodged. “Because we weren’t looking for the same thing”, his mother replied. “You were looking for a small, round, clear piece of plastic. I was searching for $300!”

All three of today’s parables are about perspectives and priorities and the urgency with which we approach them. Jesus is inviting us to unclutter our lives, to readjust our priorities and to put the things of God at the top of our list. Therein lies the kind of wisdom that is at the focus of today’s first reading. In fact, Job described that kind of wisdom as more valuable than any amount of flawless pearls and precious stones:
“Wisdom can’t be bought with the finest gold; no amount of silver can get it. Even famous Ophir gold can’t buy it, nor even diamonds and sapphires. Neither gold nor emeralds are comparable; extravagant jewellery can’t touch it. Pearl necklaces and ruby bracelets – why bother? None of this is even a down payment on Wisdom!” (Job 28, 13-18).

Wisdom helps us to distinguish what is of lasting value for our lives and what is simply attractive on the surface but lacking in substance (the parable of the dragnet). But wisdom has to be accompanied by faithful commitment and adherence to the agenda of Jesus and his Gospel.

By accepting the agenda of Jesus we grow into putting ourselves second, and giving our attention to the people and values that were at the centre of Jesus’ life – the needy, the lonely, the forgotten, the neglected, and we invest our energy in making sure that mercy, compassion, justice and reconciliation are central to the way in which we live and act. But there is a price to be paid for choosing to live like that.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection