Sunday Readings Reflection

Second Sunday of Easter – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them: “Peace be with you.” …Jesus said to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it in my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” John 20, 19-31

The Eighteenth-Century French historian and philosopher, Voltaire earned a reputation for his trenchant wit, and his biting criticism of the Catholic Church. Despite that, I have to admit to having a sneaking admiration for him. Like all of us, he had his faults, but also his good points. He was a keen observer of human behaviour and quick to assess the many contradictions of which we are all capable. On one occasion he observed: “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” (Complete Works of Voltaire, Volume 12, Part 1)

That, I suggest, is a suitable starting point to look at the apostle Thomas, one of the central figures of today’s gospel-reading. From our earliest years in religious education classes, we were taught that Thomas was a man lacking in faith, and, therefore, not to be imitated. That reputation attributed to him still survives in the label “doubting Thomas”, which is not applied to anyone as a compliment.

From looking at myself and at many of the other Catholics I have encountered, I have come to the conclusion that we Catholics are uncomfortable with doubt and with the fact that the journey to conversion is life-long. Somehow or other we expect our faith in God to be pristine pure, unwavering, neat and tidy, completely disinfected. We don’t like anything out of place when we gather to worship God at Mass. We are inclined to look askance at the weaknesses and failures of those around us, while we cover our own in secrecy. Somehow or other, we find it difficult to deal with open wounds. We are afraid that those we sit beside in the pews might reject us if they knew the kind of doubts, uncertainties and failures with which we struggle. We just can’t accept that all our parish communities are made up of fallible, fragile people who are all on the life-long journey to conversion of heart.

What appeals to me about Thomas is that he is courageous enough to acknowledge that doubt and uncertainty, the very things that frighten us, are part of his journey to faith. When we look closely at how he is described in the Gospels, we come to see him as a no-nonsense, practical person. In chapter 11 of his Gospel, John records Jesus expressing his intention to return to Judea at the news of the death of Lazarus. The response from the disciples was to urge him not to embark on what they regarded was a suicide mission: “Rabbi, it’s not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back there again?” (John 11, 8). With gallows humour, typical of a man who was a realist who reasoned that there was no point in arguing with Jesus, Thomas said to his companions: “Come on, let’s go. We may as well go and die with him” (John 11, 16). Then, when Jesus was in full flight giving his final discourse to the disciples, Thomas couldn’t cope with the description Jesus was giving of the place in the Father’s house he was going ahead to prepare for them. So, with a hint of frustration, Thomas interrupted: “Wait a minute, Jesus, we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14, 5-6).

Before we look at the event that led to Thomas’ being labelled unfairly as a “doubter” for the last two thousand years, it might be worth considering why Thomas was absent from the group when Jesus appeared to the other disciples in the upper room. Remember that Mary Magdalen had already told the disciples that she had seen Jesus, and Peter and John had rushed to the tomb to check if she had been hallucinating. If they really believed her second story about actually encountering the risen Jesus, why did they continue to remain in hiding? Did they disbelieve her? Did they, as a group that was mainly male, subscribe to their culture’s view that women were unreliable witnesses? Maybe they accepted that Jesus was risen but could do nothing to protect them from those who had already executed him and were more than likely out to do the same to them? Perhaps the practical Thomas was the only one with enough sense to realise that they could be locked away for a lengthy period and would need food to sustain themselves. Somebody, then, had to do the shopping! If Mary Magdalen’s report of meeting the risen Jesus didn’t keep the disciples from hiding away, why should what the disciples told Thomas not be dismissed as illusionary? Thomas was no more a doubter than his close companions. And isn’t his doubt the same kind of doubt as we experience from time to time? Thomas wanted no other assurance than what Jesus gave his companions when he showed them his wounds and breathed peace upon them. But he dared to go a step further, insisting that he wanted to touch Jesus’ wounds to verify that he was encountering the crucified Jesus not just an illusion, an apparition or a ghost, demonstrating that he was, indeed, a practical man.

When Jesus appeared again in the upper room, Thomas was there, but received no rebuke. While Jesus invited him to touch his wounds, John makes no comment about whether or not Thomas did that. I am convinced that Thomas felt no need to do so. The interpersonal encounter was enough to confirm for him that Jesus was truly risen. What is more significant is that Thomas’ response “My Lord and My God” marks the climax of John’s Gospel. No other character in the Gospel had named Jesus as God. His act of faith has been the catalyst for two thousand years of theological exploration into what we now call Christology.

Thomas was courageous enough to insist on an experience of the risen Jesus that would satisfy him. He needed a personal interaction with Jesus. Clearly, Mary Magdalen’s experience of the risen Jesus was not something the other disciples had. They had only her account of what she experienced. A person’s account of any experience is not the same as the experience itself. Similarly, the other disciples could not experience the risen Jesus on behalf of Thomas.

Easter proclaims that Christ is risen and alive and active in our world. No amount of repeating that will reinforce our faith. Like Thomas and Mary Magdalen and all the other disciples we, too, must encounter the risen Christ. The only way in which we will encounter the risen Christ is in the people in whom he resides. As we honour and respect and reach out to everyone of our sisters and brothers in whose lives and hearts Jesus dwells, we will experience glimpses of the risen Christ. As we build relationships that are just, respectful, compassionate and caring we will encounter the risen Christ. As we take the risk of sharing our scars and wounds, our disappoints, failures and fragility, we will share with those around us something of the peace, compassion and life of the risen Christ alive in us.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Easter Sunday – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So, she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.”   John 20, 1-9

The accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, not surprisingly, differ from one Gospel to the next. After all, all stories depend on the narrator’s perspective to whatever he or she is describing. However, one element that is common to all the Gospel accounts of the resurrection is the inability, or even the reluctance, of the earliest witnesses to accept the reality which confronted them.

Today’s gospel-reading (I suggest you read all the way up to verse 27) gives us an insight into John’s skill as a storyteller at its very best. He tells us that, when Mary Magdalene discovered the tomb empty, she just assumed that someone had taken Jesus’ body away. Perhaps she even thought it was the “gardener” whom she later failed to recognise (John 20, 14-15). After Peter had run to the empty tomb and inspected the cloths that had been neatly folded, we are told that he went back home. – no fuss, no excitement, no hint of expectation!

The clear implication from the way John tells the story is that all the followers of Jesus (except one) viewed their leader’s death from the same perspective as they viewed every other mortal’s death. Jesus the man was executed, and his lifeless body was placed in a tomb. Jesus was dead and gone, and it was now up to them to pick up the pieces and get on with their lives to the best of their ability. Those who were left behind were all practical women and men, firmly grounded in the reality of this world. From that perspective, they were unable to recognise an earth-shattering revelation of God that had taken place in their midst.

Let’s, for a moment, take another look at the succession of events and what those events imply. When Mary Magdalene alerted them to what she had discovered, Peter and John (presumably followed by the other disciples) ran to the empty tomb, saw the situation for themselves, and apparently came to no conclusions – “The disciples then went home again”, concluding, perhaps, that grave-robbers had been at work. Even Mary Magdalene, after lingering at the tomb weeping, and engaging in conversation with two angels, still concluded that some unknown person had carried away Jesus’ corpse. Then Thomas, the ultimate sceptic, insisting on clear, empirical evidence, would accept no rumours until he had touched the wounds left by the nails of crucifixion. Then, when the risen Jesus did appear on the lakeside shore, he looked like any other man who had built a fire on the edge of a lake. In painting these scenes, John attributed to all those first witnesses human expectations that fitted the way in which Jesus was known to them – as a highly admired and dearly loved, yet very mortal, man. And if there was anything to confirm Jesus’ mortality, it was his brutal death by crucifixion. All this, of course, underlined the authenticity of the incarnation – that Jesus was as human as we are, in every way except sin.

Underpinning John’s Gospel are the dual foundational assertions that the God whom Jesus Christ named as Father was both creative and loving, a God who loved us all into life. That is one message that the very first disciples of Jesus absorbed and embraced. Moreover, it is a message from which all four Gospel writers did not deviate.
The interactions between Jesus and those with whom he engaged are described by the Gospel writers in ways that confirm Jesus’ humanity. He encountered the halt, the lame and the sick, believers and sceptics, soldiers and their leaders, tax-collectors and prostitutes, scribes and Pharisees, representatives of all the social ranks of his day. Some of those encounters were fraught with human friction and tension, many were friendly and full of compassion and understanding.

Those closest to Jesus had seen him in all his humanity. They had also seen him as a persuasive teacher and preacher, a faith-healer and a wonder-worker. They had witnessed death during their lives, and they saw him executed on a cross. They saw him buried in the same manner of other dead people. In their grief at the loss of someone dear to them, they were not sitting around eagerly awaiting his resurrection. The news of his missing body brought by Mary Magdalen and their own experience at the empty tomb left them utterly confused. Understandably they were not expecting his resurrection, and it took time and a succession of encounters before the truth dawned on them.

It took thirty years for Jesus himself to discover that God was inviting him to be the Messiah, the Christ of God. He came to realise that his own integrity demanded that he challenge the religious leaders of his day. Moreover, he discovered that such challenge would eventually lead to his death. But Jesus was also a Jew of his day. He worshipped in the temple with everyone around him. He was not conscious of being the “Second Person of the Blessed Trinity”. That was a theological proposition reached centuries after his time by very intelligent theologians. There were times when Peter recognised Jesus as God’s Messiah and was courageous enough to say so. But his subsequent behaviour demonstrated that it took a lifetime for his words to become a conviction he embraced.

While we ponder the confusion, doubt and uncertainty of the earliest women and men disciples as they tried to come to terms with the resurrection of Jesus, let’s not forget that there have been and will continue to be times in our lives when we have questions and doubts about the central tenet of our Christian faith: “God raised Jesus from death”. And that God’s promise is that we too will be raised from our graves. What exactly that might mean calls for another reflection at another time. But not today!
When we work our way through all the events that led up to the death of Jesus and the confusion and doubt in those whose lives were turned upside down when God raised him from the grave, the ultimate message is that the compassion, generosity, selflessness, mercy and justice that Jesus lived and proclaimed are truly vindicated. The resurrection does not deny the reality of suffering, illness, violence, pain, loss and death. It really reminds us that things like bigotry, prejudice, hatred, injustice and death are really prerequisites for resurrection. The resurrection holds out to us, and to those to whom we reach out in times of loss and devastation, a message of hope that goodness will ultimately triumph. The resurrection of Jesus gives us reason to be agents of resurrection for those who are suffering loss, grief and disaster. If resurrection is something to which we give only notional assent, there can be no sense in getting out and fighting for justice, truth and integrity. It calls for action.

 

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Passion/Palm Sunday – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

One of the criminals hanging in crucifixion blasphemed Jesus: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Then save yourself and us.” But the other one rebuked him: “Have you no fear of God, seeing you are under the same sentence? We deserve it, after all. We are only paying the price for what we’ve done, but this man has done nothing wrong.” He then said: “Jesus, remember me when you enter upon your reign.” And Jesus replied: “I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise.”   Luke 22,14 – 23, 56

In Luke’s account of the events leading up to and surrounding the Passion of Jesus, there are detailed descriptions of three crowd scenes in which many of the participants are carried on waves of high emotion. In describing Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem for the last time, Luke depicted him riding on the back of an ass, with the crowd of bystanders spreading their cloaks on the roadway in front of him. Whether or not those in the crowd recognised the significance of their actions, Luke saw it as the fulfilment of the prophecy of Zechariah: “See, your king shall come to you; a just saviour is he, meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass” (Zech 9, 9). Less than a week later, another crowd (Were some of their number from the previous crowd?) stood before Pilate braying for Jesus’ blood, after both Pilate and Herod had found no reason to condemn him to death. Luke highlights the irony of the situation by citing the name of the criminal the crowd preferred to Jesus – Bar Abbas (son of the father)! The third crowd, seemingly a majority of whom were women, lamented aloud for the one they had come to love. Luke underlines their presence by referring to them three times, reminding us that there are times when the only thing we can offer to those suffering around us is our presence. Of course, this description of the three crowds challenges each of us to reflect on whether there have been times in our lives when we have taken a place in more than one of those crowds.

As an entry point for reflecting on another part of today’s long gospel-reading, I invite you to read an imaginative piece contributed to Commonweal magazine back in 2008 by journalist and regular contributor, Peter Steinfels:

“One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23, 39-43)

And so I was—and so I am. Luke may have patched my grammar and improved my wording. Nonetheless, he had the story right. That’s what I said, that’s what Jesus said. Believe me, I’m not complaining. But, I still feel uncomfortable about the misunderstanding of exactly what I did there, hanging on that cross, just minutes—it seemed like centuries—before dying.

I’m not talking about all the fanciful legends woven around my fifteen seconds of fame. Going down in history, for instance, as the Good Thief, when thief was hardly the word for it. We didn’t just rob. We assaulted, we murdered. We weren’t just thieves. We were bandits, brigands, outlaws, and cutthroats. Revolutionaries, too—or so we liked to think. When your country is occupied, you can justify about anything.

Being whitewashed as a Good Thief was the least of it. Imaginative folks eventually made-up names for me, Joathas or Dismas, the good guy on the right, and Maggatras or Gestas for the bad guy on the left. They concocted stories. It was told that as adults or maybe even as children we had crossed paths with Jesus.

But none of that had anything to do with what was written in the Gospels and especially in Luke. As I said, he had the words more or less right. It’s the interpretation that’s a problem.

Get the picture, please. We’re beaten, bloodied, and gasping for breath. People are jeering at this guy in the middle. It seems he has called himself the messiah or saviour or king of the Jews, something like that. They put an inscription, “King of the Jews,” over his head. So show your stuff, they shout. Then my fellow outlaw joins in.

I tell you the truth. I had never heard of Jesus. Of messiahs, of restored kingdoms, of Davidic kings—that was different. All my life, I had heard such talk. But Jesus? He must have created a stir, gained a following, angered the authorities. Why else would he be bleeding and choking to death here between us? Beyond that, I knew nothing.

Was he the messiah, was he king of the Jews, did he have a kingdom? Or was he a poor fool? Did it matter?

When my mother was dying, I knelt next to her. She would close and open her eyes. “I see Elisha,” she would say. “I see a chariot without a horse. I see streams of water.”

“Yes, mother,” I would answer. “I think Elisha is coming. Yes, there is a horse. Yes, there are streams of water.” Did it matter?

So when the crowds jeered at this dying man and the soldiers did, too, and my comrade in crime thinks he is honouring his last minutes by adding to their taunts, well, I just couldn’t help myself.

“Jesus,” I said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Maybe that would comfort him, dull the pain, combat the despair. Really, I didn’t know.

People have thought that I was making a great confession of faith. They have said that I knew in a flash all that this man I’d never seen before had been endlessly preaching and explaining to his followers. It wasn’t like that at all.

Read Luke’s words carefully and you’ll see. It was no act of faith. It was just a bit of decency. It won me paradise all the same.”

Isn’t it true that every act of decency we do somehow reflects Jesus and the Gospel?

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Fifth Sunday in Lent – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”    John 8, 1-11

We all have some familiarity with the psychology underlying the phenomena of things like lynchings and mob-violence. We are also aware of executions carried out by people blinded to justice because of their attachment to a fundamentalist attachment to law. We have seen how unbridled emotion takes over and reason and logic become casualties. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake when a group of Church leaders, riding on high emotion, labelled her as a heretic and a witch and handed her over for execution to English civil authorities. We have seen the psychology of mob-violence operating in fairly recent times in the death and mayhem perpetrated by supporters of President Trump when they stormed the Capitol building in Washington. We have also seen high emotion driving violent demonstrations by anti-vaxxers across the United Kingdom (Alpha Men Assemble), and in places like Melbourne, and Alabama.

Today’s gospel-reading describes Jesus in conflict with a group of Jewish men hell-bent on lynching a woman whom they allegedly caught in the act of adultery. Strangely, they make no mention of her male partner. Hypocritically, they stood in front of Jesus demanding that he agree to their adherence to the letter of the law which allowed for the stoning to death of the woman they had dragged before him. By pressuring Jesus to confirm their judgement of the woman, they were also putting him on trial.

In reality, like all people who consciously or unconsciously are intent on displaying their power and dedication to law, these men were really revealing their own insecurity. We see it again and again in those who seek to control through command, threat and direction, the behaviour of those in their care. They merely demonstrate just how insecure they really are themselves.

Worthy of note is the fact that those who brought the woman to Jesus for confirmation of their decision to stone her had already made their plans to trap Jesus. They knew well what the Mosaic Law clearly stated in Leviticus: “If a man commits adultery with his neighbour’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Leviticus 20, 10). It is repeated in Deuteronomy: “If a man is discovered having relations with a woman who is married to another, both the man and the woman with whom he has had relations shall die” (Deuteronomy 22, 22). Although Jewish law was clear that both parties should die, there was no clause stating that they be executed at the same time and in the same manner. That might explain why the group confronting Jesus humiliated only the woman in front of him. What’s more, there was a parallel Roman law operating in Judea at the time of Jesus. To begin with, it forbade Jewish authorities from carrying out the death sentence. Moreover, it stipulated that an adulteress could be executed only if the offending man was also executed. So, while according to Jewish law the woman’s execution was entirely justified and even required, according to Roman law, her execution was forbidden unless the guilty man was also executed. Perhaps those challenging Jesus were hoping that Jesus might opt for the Roman law, and get trapped into sparing the offending man, thereby preventing the Jewish law from running its course. If he opted for the Jewish law, the woman could be stoned to death (with Roman approval) and her accusers might conveniently forget to bring the man to justice. Jesus confounded the woman’s accusers by choosing a third way – the way of mercy, compassion and forgiveness. At the same time, he challenged the self-appointed executioners by confronting them with their personal sinfulness: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The group of men hell-bent on scapegoating the poor woman, with their emotions whipped up to fever pitch, would simply have been incapable of recognising that their show of forcefulness and self-righteousness was masking their insecurity.

As for the woman, we can only guess at what motivated her behaviour. Had she gone in search of affection or sexual gratification? Had she been forced to sell her body in order to survive? Whatever her motivation, there was no chance that her actions would have brought her lasting satisfaction or peace of mind and heart. Relationships without commitment are destined to destroy those who engage in them. In refusing to condemn her, Jesus opened for her an opportunity to move toward rehabilitation. In contrast, the men who one by one had drifted away ran the risk of being poisoned by their totally frustrated thirst for vengeance.

This confrontation between Jesus and the group of men demanding vengeance calls to mind Jesus’ appeal to all who would be his disciples to focus on the way of compassion: “Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Pardon, and you shall be pardoned” (Luke 6, 36-37). That’s a message for all of us to heed. If we could look calmly at ourselves when we experience the urge to get even with those who offend us or who upset our sense of superiority and self-righteousness, we just might come to appreciate that insisting on vengeance and revenge poisons our spirit and embitters our capacity to relate to, or see the goodness in, others. If we can’t see that in ourselves, we have only to read our newspapers or listen to radio journalists who conduct talk-back programs and incite their listeners to condemn those whom the law has seemingly dealt with too leniently. The shock-jocks and the virulently critical journalists end up poisoning themselves. Is there any international conflict in our world that is not driven by leaders who cannot contain their desire to get even or to exact revenge on those they say have offended them or reneged on an agreement? Deep down, we know that the desire for revenge poisons the human spirit.

Embedded in this gospel-reading is an invitation to us all to look at ourselves in the mirror that Jesus held up to the would-be lynching mob. It surely is a mirror for us to reflect on the motives that drive us to make cutting remarks to those with whom we live and work, to say things that suggest that we see ourselves as superior to others. Maybe our prayer this week might be that we grow in our readiness to forgive, to work at mending any of our relationships that have become broken, and to find within ourselves a determination to refrain from judging and criticising those around us. There’ll be no peace in our world until there is peace in our hearts.

 

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Fourth Sunday in Lent – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“My son, we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come back to life again; he was lost and has been found.” Luke 15, 1-3, 11-32

An unusual aspect of the parable that is central to today’s gospel-reading is that it takes its name from a character who really has little to do with its message. The parable of the prodigal son is essentially about each of us. Moreover, practiced story-tellers are in the habit of saying that their stories begin when they stop talking. As we leave the church after hearing this parable, we have to decide how we will complete the story. In the process of telling the parable, Jesus has held up to us a mirror in which we see in our own lives characteristics of both the younger and elder brother.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s important first to look at the context in which Jesus told this parable. At the start of Chapter 15 of his Gospel, Luke records that “tax collectors and public sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus” (Luke 15, 1). At the same time there was a group of Pharisees and scribes criticising Jesus because “he welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15, 3). The scribes and Pharisees were educated men who had a responsibility to hold up the Law and set the social and religious standards for guiding the lives of the ordinary people. The younger son clearly fitted into the category of “public sinner”. His behaviour had excluded him from the community: he had publicly humiliated his father in that he demanded his share of the family inheritance before his father had died, and he squandered it on a life of debauchery. He lost all self-respect by hiring himself out to look after a gentile’s pigs – anathema to his religion. His motivation for returning home was based on self-interest. In his favour was the fact that he recognised that he had become a public sinner.

The elder brother has also sinned, but his sins are not on public display. His sins are secret. What’s more, he seems unable to acknowledge that he has done anything amiss. By calling his own brother “that son of yours” to his father’s face, he not only dissociates himself from his brother but signals that he, too, has abandoned his family. As the elder brother in the family, he knew that the Jewish Law required him to go out after his younger brother and to do his best to dissuade him from pursuing his errant ways. If anyone in the family should have gone out every day looking for his brother it was he, not his elderly father. In that vein, it’s important that we not overlook that, in telling this story as he shares a meal with public sinners, Jesus has adopted the stance of an elder brother reaching out to those who have been ostracised, to those on whom the scribes and Pharisees have hung labels, and whom they have chosen to abandon.

Surely, there’s a clear message here for all of us who have responsibilities in our Church because of our position, status or years of service, just as there is a message for those of us who have family responsibilities as carers for our younger siblings.

And there is a clear message for every single one of us in the way the parable ends, with the strong implication for those watching on to provide a final line. The father says to the servants:
“This son was dead and has come back to life; was lost and is found” (Luke 15, 24).
And to his elder son his last words are:
“This brother of yours was dead and has come back to life; was lost and now is found” (Luke 15, 32).
And to the scribes and Pharisees Jesus’ unspoken message is surely something like: “You too are lost and without life for as long as you stay aloof and refuse to reach out to your brothers and sisters in the community, who have sinned and gone astray.”

The God-figure in the parable, of course, is the father. He has no time for vindictiveness, recriminations or corrections. He does not lecture the younger son or question why he returned. He offers the older son an opportunity and a reason to join the celebration, but leaves him completely free to choose for himself. That’s the very kind of freedom he gave the younger son as he set off with his share of the inheritance. That’s how God treats us. God reaches out to us, but applies no compulsion.

If there is one message that this parable displays in lights, it is that God’s love, compassion and forgiveness are not earned. They are freely given. Yet, there are times in our lives when, in the midst of illness and misadventure, we tell ourselves that we deserve better because we have kept all the rules and been faithful to the religious practices expected of us. That approach can lead us to thinking that we, like the scribes and Pharisees, are a cut above our sisters and brothers, especially those who have disgraced themselves publicly. We can delude ourselves into the kind of reasoning the elder brother demonstrated: he gave himself a high mark for his fidelity, for his holding the family farm together. He failed to take stock of his resentment and anger, and he was convinced that he was the victim of his father’s extravagant welcome to his younger brother.

This, then, is a parable that invites us to try on the roles of all three characters. We know that we have been the younger son and need to face up to our selfishness and thoughtlessness that have been a cause of division in our families and communities and have caused hurt to others. We are called, too, to be like the forgiving father who is sufficiently openhearted to reach out in forgiveness to those who have rejected and hurt us. And we are challenged to set aside the kind of self-justification pursued by the older brother; to recognise that we can be locked into brooding over the insults and outrage that the behaviour of others has ignited in us; to be big enough to put a higher priority on working for reconciliation.

The linguists among us explain that the Greek word for forgiveness literally means “to let go”. To journey towards forgiveness means letting go of our tight hold on the painful past and looking to build a future full of hope, a future that welcomes our sisters and brothers whose failures have led them to falter. Now there’s a Lenten challenge for all of us!

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Third Sunday in Lent – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his garden, and he came out looking for fruit, but found none. So, he said to the gardener: ‘For three years now, I have come looking for fruit on this tree and found none. So cut it down. Why should it clutter up the ground?’ In answer, the gardener said: ‘Sir, leave it for another year, while I hoe around it and fertilise it; then perhaps it will bear fruit. If not, I’ll cut it down’.”    Luke 13, 1-9

 

On Boxing Day 2004, a tsunami in the Indian Ocean brought devastation to the coastal regions of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. More than 200,000 people lost their lives. People all over the world were stunned by the magnitude of the destruction and the enormous loss of life. When disasters like that occur, there is something about us that sends us searching for an explanation. It is not unusual to hear ourselves and people around us asking: “Why does God allow such terrible catastrophes to happen?” Unfortunately, the quick explanation that even many Christians give for suffering, sickness and death is that it is God’s punishment for sin. That was a popular belief even among the Jews of Jesus’ time, and it is reflected at the start of today’s gospel-reading where we hear members of Jesus’ audience wondering aloud if some people crushed to death in a building collapse and others massacred by Pilate’s soldiers were more sinful than everyone else.

That gave Jesus the opportunity to repeat that his very reason for his teaching and preaching was to call people to a change of mind and heart, to transform their lives from putting themselves first and, instead, reaching out to others with care and compassion. He summed it up in words that echoed the Baptist’s call: “Repent and believe the good news.” Repentance is about changing one’s mind and heart and way of living and relating rather than regretting one’s sinfulness.

In today’s gospel-reading, Luke illustrates, through the parable of the fig tree, how Jesus explained that change of mind and heart does not happen in an instant or as the result of a sudden moment of inspiration. Rather, it generally happens over time.

A teaching-practice followed by Jewish rabbis was to invite their congregations to reflect on God by presenting different qualities of God engaging in debate or dialogue. In today’s parable, the two characters of the land-owner and the gardener represent two different qualities of God – God as judge and God as dispenser of mercy. On one hand, God is like a land-owner who is always looking for fruit and, when no fruit is produced, looks to take action. The gardener, however, represents the all-merciful aspect of a God who gives creatures another chance, a chance for change of mind and heart. Moreover, the gardener recommends that nurture and encouragement might well help in such transformation.

In his letter to the early Christian community of Philippi, Paul said much the same. He had developed a particular appreciation of the Philippians because of the way in which they had welcomed him. So, in the introduction of his letter to them he wrote: “I am convinced that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it through to completion” (Philippians 1, 6).

It is true that natural disasters, the brutality of powerful people, illness, the death of a loved one can all turn our lives upside down, triggering us to lose confidence in ourselves and trust in God. Today’s parable is a reminder that God’s patience, mercy and encouragement will never leave us; that God will always offer us opportunity for transformation of mind and heart. Today’s first reading from Exodus illustrates how God found a way into the heart of Moses when, as a wanted criminal, he was forced into hiding. A story I have borrowed from parish pastor and writer William Bausch offers us yet another insight into how even very ordinary happenings can contribute to transforming our lives:

A taxi driver received a call to a run-down neighbourhood. As it was around 2.30 am, he was tempted to honk the horn, wait a few moments and then drive off. Over the years, however, he had encountered many people for whom taxis were their only means of transportation. So, he got out of his cab, walked to the door and knocked. A tiny, elderly woman emerged, struggling with a small suitcase. “Would you carry my bag to the car?”, she asked. This he willingly did, and returned to help his passenger into the cab. When they were settled, she gave the driver an address and asked: “Can you go via the downtown area?” “It’s not the shortest way, you know”, he replied. “I don’t mind”, she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice. I don’t have any family left. Besides, the doctor says I don’t have very long.” At that, the driver reached over quietly and shut off the meter.

For the next two hours, they drove around the city. She showed him where she had once worked as an elevator operator. They stopped outside the house where she and her husband had lived just after they were married, and then in front of a furniture warehouse that had been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. As the dawn was breaking, she announced: “I’m tired now. So, we had better go.” When they reached the convalescent home, two orderlies hurried out to collect her, while the cab driver followed up with her case.

“How much do I owe you?”, she asked, reaching for her purse. “Nothing”, he replied. “You have to make a living”, she protested. “There’ll be other passengers”, he said. And almost without thinking, he bent down and gave her a hug. She held him tightly. “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,“ she said. “Thank you.” He squeezed her hand and walked into the dim morning light. Behind him a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

The taxi driver finishes this story in his own words: “I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove around aimlessly, lost in thought. For the rest of the day, I was lost for words. What might have happened if she had gotten a driver who was impatient to finish his shift? What if I had refused to drive her downtown? As I reflect on it, I don’t think I have done anything more important in my life”. Then he added: “We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But truly great moments often catch us unaware, beautifully wrapped in what others see as only plain.”

The aim of Lent is to open ourselves to a change of mind and heart, to transformation. It’s a succession of unspectacular acts of kindness that will take us there.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Second Sunday in Lent – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

While Jesus was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.    Luke 9, 28-36

Over the years, I have had the privilege of forging friendships with about six or seven different artists. Those friendships opened up for me opportunities to not only view their works but to engage in discussions of how they developed and expressed their creative genius. On many occasions, I came away from those engagements with a clear awareness that something of the spirit and personality of those artists was clearly observable in their work. And isn’t it true that, when we are very familiar with families we see reflected in children many of the characteristics of their parents – facial features, voice timbre, mannerisms, style of relating? The spirit of people is reflected in the life and beauty they create. In today’s gospel-account of the transfiguration of Jesus, we see something of the divine, alive in Jesus, reflected to those who had become his close friends. If we care to stop and reflect on ourselves and our origins, we can come to appreciate that there is a spark of the divine in each of us, too, for we have all been loved into life by the goodness of God reflected in the love of our parents. That raises the question as to how we, in our turn, go about reflecting our divine spark.

While some of us would have read in translation Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, many more of us have seen the Les Mis stage play or movie. The story opens with the introduction of the novel’s protagonist, Jean Valjean, who has been paroled after twenty years of brutal treatment in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his niece. Desperate to regain his dignity, but still bitter from his experience in prison, Valjean is given shelter by a compassionate bishop. During the night, however, he cannot resist stealing some of the bishop’s silverware. Like many parolees, he is ever under the watchful eye of the police, and is soon arrested and marched back to the bishop’s house for identification. But there is a surprising twist. The bishop does identify the silverware as his, but turns and thanks the police for bringing Valjean back, explaining that, when he had given the poor man the silver, Valjean had forgotten to take with him the valuable candlesticks as well.

With the police out of the way, the bishop urges Valjean to use the proceeds of the silver to rebuild his life and to show to others the same kindness and compassion he has just experienced: “God has raised you out of darkness. I have bought your soul for God.” The bishop’s mercy is the catalyst that leads Valjean to complete the circle in his life and discover in himself once again the selflessness that led him to steal the bread for his niece all those years ago. As he draws near to the end of his life, he articulates what he has discovered about the real meaning of love in his life, and, indeed in the lives of us all: “And remember the truth that once was spoken – to love another person is to see the face of God.”

In each of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the accounts of Jesus’ prediction of his passion, Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and the Transfiguration of Jesus are all in close proximity. But in John there is no mention of the Transfiguration. It is also clear that Jesus felt frustrated by the inability of the disciples to cotton onto the message he gave them that he was going to meet a violent death at the hands of those who were threatened by his presence and his message. While Jesus repeatedly put that message to his disciples, they could not grasp it or preferred not to entertain it as a possibility.

Luke tells us that, eight days after telling the disciples that he would be put to death and then raised up three days later, Jesus went up a mountain with Peter, John and James to pray. It is no coincidence that it was eight days after his resurrection that Jesus encountered the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and it was in that encounter that they finally began to grasp the significance of the predictions he had given them of his death. Predictably, the three disciples fell asleep on the mountain and almost missed what eventuated as Jesus fell into communing with God. His engagement with God was so intense that his outward appearance began to shine. The spark of the divine within him blossomed into a dazzling light, illuminating his whole being. Such was the union between Jesus and the God who had loved him into life. Peter, James and John were startled from their slumber in time to hear Moses and Elijah confirming that Jesus would participate in an exodus through death to resurrection. Overcome by the insight they had experienced into who Jesus really was, Peter spoke out enthusiastically on behalf of John and James, advocating the construction of a monument to commemorate the event. In so doing, he missed the point that what had just happened marked the start of what was about to unfold.

Luke recounts how the two figures of Moses and Elijah also appeared in the dazzling light, conversing not about light and life, but about death, using the image of exodus (departure) familiar to all Jewish people. The significance of these two giants of Jewish history is hard to miss. Jesus, like Moses before him, was on the verge of setting his people free, not from bondage to a pharaoh, but from the grip of fear. – fear of death, of oppression by fearful religious leaders, of mental and emotional paralysis, of an inability to take control of their own lives. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, an even greater exodus would come to them. The presence of Elijah served as the seal of divine approval of the plan that was about to unfold. For the Jewish people the arrival of the Messiah would be heralded by the reappearance of Elijah. So, in effect, the Transfiguration event set the stage for the death and resurrection of Jesus that would give to all of humankind something of the light that Peter, James, John, and Jesus, too, experienced on the mountain.

In each of us, as it was in Jesus on the Mountain, there is something of the light and life of God. That extraordinary Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, reminded us that God has entrusted us to bring light and love and life to everyone we encounter on life’s journey. In a speech he delivered to the faculty of Marquette University back in 2004, he issued this challenge: “God places us in the world as God’s fellow workers – agents of transfiguration. We work with God so that injustice is transfigured into justice, so that there will be more laughter and joy, so that there will be more togetherness in God’s world.” To do that, we might have to dust ourselves off a bit, in order to let our light shine a little more brightly. Now, there’s a challenge for Lent.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

First Sunday in Lent – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty days and nights he was tested by the Devil.                Lk. 4, 1-13

Today’s gospel-reading gives us Luke’s account of how Jesus went into the solitude of the wilderness or desert to concentrate on discerning how to live out his mission as the Messiah. To understand the implications of Jesus’ deliberate decision to take time for such a retreat, we have to keep reminding ourselves that Jesus was fully human, as human as the people among whom he lived. He had to work out for himself the best way to live out the vocation to which he had come to realise God was inviting him. He had to do the hard work of praying and discerning as we all have to do. He had no special privileges.

Jesus had gone to the wilderness in search of solitude, to find an opportunity to reflect, pray and discern. He fasted from food not as a way of doing penance but to give his full attention to God. Having fasted for forty days, he was in need of sustenance. So it comes as no surprise that Luke described him as being hungry. That gave the Devil, personified evil, the opportunity to tempt him to assume a sense of entitlement, to use his power to turn stones into bread for the sole purpose of self-gratification. He resisted being drawn into that, responding that everyone’s life is nourished by a lot more than bread – for example, friendship, love, acceptance, sunshine, music, art. There are things in our lives that are more important than food and drink, even though we all need sustenance.

The second temptation that Jesus encountered was about power. We are aware of the inclination we all have to wield a bit of power, be it in the work-place or on the sporting-field. At the same time, we are repelled by the manner in which power is being grasped and abused in the tragic events unfolding in the Ukraine at this very moment. We witness abuse of power frequently, in the way politics are acted out at the national and local level in our home countries. We see elected leaders jockey for position and advancement by fair means and foul. Jesus was tempted to compromise the values espoused by God and to opt, instead, for the kind of power and control that manipulates the lives of others. He refused to accommodate injustice. He had discovered that dedication to God would give him all the freedom and authority he needed to accomplish with integrity the mission to which God had invited him.

Jesus had come to realise that love and human freedom do not flourish in circumstances driven by coercion. And that true allegiance does not grow out of trying to win people with free food and drink. We have all seen people who try to win power and status with promises, or who fete electors with lavishly catered receptions. Sometimes they succeed, but all too often the promises are not met, the receptions dry up, and the electors disappear. Jesus was not going to be drawn in by that tactic.

Finally, Jesus was enticed to play games with God by a tempter who even quoted to him a psalm. In inviting Jesus to throw himself from the Temple parapet, assuring him that he would have the protection of God’s angels, the Devil quoted Scripture as the trump card in his arsenal. Jesus responded that only God is worthy of worship and not to be toyed with.

We have all experienced temptation and failure. We have all felt the urges to put self first, to go in search of power and to try to convince God to do things our way, to fix up our problems in ways that suit us. Those urges are variations of the very same temptations Jesus experienced. Moreover, let’s not ignore the very last sentence of today’s gospel-reading in which Luke observes: “When the devil had finished all the tempting, he left Jesus, to await another opportunity” (Luke 4, 13). Fully human, like each of us, Jesus had to contend with temptation all through his life. So, let’s not think for a moment that, after his desert experience, he was exempt from temptation for the rest of his life. As we, too, journey through life, we will encounter seductive people and forces offering us easy, attractive and corrupt ways of satisfying our wants and desires. There will even be some who will offer us short-cuts into manipulating God. If there is one thing that stands out in this account of Jesus’ temptations in the desert it is that Jesus willingly chose to stand with all of us in the struggle to live decent, honest, upright lives.

At the same time, if we truly believe that God’s Spirit dwells within each of us and is also alive and active in our world, we can only conclude that the same Spirit invites us to venture into the desert of our lives throughout the forty days of the Lenten season. The very word “Lent” has come into contemporary English from an Old English word lencten, meaning Spring. Lent, then, is a time to Spring-clean our lives, to embrace the newness and transformation to which God’s Spirit is constantly and consistently inviting us.

Nobody’s life unfolds without struggle, be it struggle that accompanies the unforeseen or unavoidable circumstances of day-to-day life or be it struggle that arises from our personal frailty, errors of judgement or straight-out sinfulness. Lent offers us the opportunity to ponder and depth those struggles. If we can find the courage to engage honestly with those struggles, there is every chance that God’s Spirit will bless us with the insight and vision to move creatively into the next phase of our growth into God.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

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

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“…remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”  Luke 6, 39-45

 

In today’s gospel-reading we hear of Jesus making a comparison that is so far-fetched that it is almost ludicrous. And, of course, that’s his point. It is so ridiculous that it forces us to scratch our heads and ask ourselves: “What exactly is he getting at?” Talk about the nonsense of someone with a roof-beam in his eye trying to get a speck of dust out of somebody else’s eye is rather like you or I wearing a blindfold while trying to use a pair of tweezers to extract a thorn from a friend’s foot. Moreover, if I happened to be blinded by a large foreign object lodged in my eye, I would not have the faintest idea whether anyone volunteering to guide me had 20-20 vision or was only partially sighted.

Underlying the first of the two parables in today’s gospel-reading is Jesus’ awareness that we all have our blind spots. We can be inclined to notice the blind spots in others and criticise them for being unaware of their blindness. We can even project onto others a lack of self-awareness and insight from which we seem to get some satisfaction. All too often, what we project onto those whom we like to criticise, are mirror-images of our own inadequacies, biases and prejudices.

As we ponder this parable, we would do well to remember that it follows hard upon Jesus’ directive to all of us who would be his disciples that forgiveness of our enemies must rank high on our list of priorities. What’s more, implicit in this parable is a warning that we ought to be slow to hold tightly to the opinions we have and the judgements we make of our neighbours, friends colleagues and associates. We ought give the same level of trust to our views and opinions of those around us as we would give to a blind guide. And that, of course, calls into question our own reliability when we proffer advice and guidance to others. Coming to accept that we don’t have a monopoly on truth and wisdom, that we don’t have all the answers is a major step towards true humility and an admission that we can be as blind as anybody else.

Today’s first reading from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) indicates that its author, Ben Sira, had a similar understanding of human nature as Jesus demonstrates in the gospel-reading: that the criticisms we are inclined to direct at others are really no more than a reflection of our own inadequacies. Our words about others, the opinions we express are the windows through which others can see us as we really are. Ben Sira put it this way: “In a shaken sieve, the rubbish is left behind, so too the defects of a man (sic) appear in his talk”.   (Sirach 27, 4-5).

It’s important however that we don’t take away the wrong message from these readings. While we may well be as fragile as those whom we are inclined to criticise, Jesus is not advocating that we turn a blind eye to our own failings and weakness and those of others. We are all meant to reflect the compassion, tolerance, forgiveness and love of God in the way in which we speak and behave. The first step on the way to change our own behaviour and to encourage others to change theirs is to have the humility to recognise and acknowledge the splinters and beams in our own eyes, and then reflect on how and why we have allowed them in.

In our better moments, we can admit to ourselves that self-interest, fear of potential criticism, insensitivity to the plight of those in need and injustices perpetrated by the systems we tolerate in society can blind us and dull our ability to name injustice when we see it. In accord with that, today’s gospel-reading is a wake-up call to shake us out of complacency and self-satisfaction and to acknowledge that, despite our best efforts, we are all vulnerable to slipping into mediocrity.

I have to acknowledge that I also see Jesus reference to “blind guides” as a veiled criticism of the religious authorities of his day, who considered that they had a clear understanding of how God was inviting them and their people to live. They were unable to imagine that their sense of certainty about God’s ways may have been limited and inadequate, and may, indeed, have placed unjust burdens on those whom they were privileged to guide. Surely in that there is a reminder to all who have a part in Church, civil and legal leadership to take time to reflect on their responsibilities and to audit their personal vulnerability to invasive beams and splinters.

Finally, today’s gospel-reading serves as a summary of what Jesus proclaimed in the discourse he delivered when he came down from the mountain (Luke 6, 17-26). It is often said that good teachers do their teaching and then take the time to tell their audience what they have taught. Luke sums up the “Sermon on the Plain” with a simple statement: “Every tree is known by its own fruit”  (Luke 6, 44). The only authentic way of teaching the ways of God is through the way in which we live and act. Our words will be meaningless if God is not present in our hearts. Another way of saying that is that the best gospel insights we will ever experience will be found in the people we encounter. You and I, then, may be the only gospel some people will ever read.

 

 

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

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

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“Love your enemies and do good to them, expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High…Be merciful as your Father is merciful…For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”   Luke 6, 27-38

A little over fifty-seven years ago, the Orlando Sentinel reported Martin Luther King Jr as stating: “Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” (Orlando Sentinel, Dec. 11, 1964). That was the day after he had accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, saying: “I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.”

In recent days, the world’s news media have been preoccupied with the posturing, threats and counter-threats that world leaders have been hurling at one another with seemingly little regard for the welfare of the citizens of Ukraine. There has been little or no mention of working in collaboration towards a peaceful outcome. And certainly nothing about loving those who disagree with us or allowing them to bring out the best in us. Like the rest of us, world leaders seem to resent it when they think their peers are trying to take advantage of them.

The readings of this seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time challenge us all to stop and reflect on how we expect other people to treat us, and then, without hesitating, to go and do that for them. If there has been anyone in living memory who has done that, it was Martin Luther King Jr.   Despite having been repeatedly arrested for demonstrating for freedom and justice for his people, and having been stoned and stabbed, King did not retaliate, but persistently preached the way of non-violence, proclaiming: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

Today’s first reading from Samuel sets the scene for the gospel-reading. It’s a story of how David spared the life of King Saul who was hunting him down to kill him. The story of David’s refusal to have the king’s blood on his hands was thought to be so important in defining the character of David that it occurs twice in the First Book of Samuel. Chapter 24 is completely devoted to how David came up behind Saul when he was intent on relieving himself in the privacy of a cave (To cover one’s feet was a Hebrew idiom for “to relieve oneself). Saul was so preoccupied that David was able to snip the hem of Saul’s garment and sneak away. Today’s reading from chapter 26 describes how David and his lieutenants came upon Saul and his men so sound asleep that the writer describes it as a sleep induced by the power of God. David took the spear and bowl of water that Saul had left by his head. In the light of day, in both accounts, David confronts Saul from a distance and reveals that he had spared the king when he so easily could have slain him. In each story, David admits to those close to him that he was unable to take the life of God’s anointed representative. We are left wondering if David acted out of the fear of bringing God’s wrath down upon himself or if he was responding in love to the one who intended to murder him. The fact that he spared Saul probably raised his status among those who were close to him. In so doing, he demonstrated that he was the nobler of the two of them. However, we can safely conclude that they did not become the best of friends

However, we already know that it is the theme of love for one’s enemies that it is at the centre of today’s gospel reading. And that’s so difficult that we are inclined to think that Jesus is asking a bit too much of us. When we discover somebody walking off with our property or conducting fraudulent transactions on our credit-card, we are quick to cry foul. But Jesus seems to be urging us to seek out the miscreant and double the amount of which we have been relieved. But that’s a bit simplistic, isn’t it? There are fraudsters and schemers whose sole purpose is to get rich at the expense of the unwary. They are wealthy people bent on accumulating even more through sophisticated crime. Jesus, however, is talking about people who are victims of class distinctions and locked out of opportunities they deserve in justice. While he urges us to double our efforts to reach out to those who are genuinely in need, the crux of his message in today’s gospel-reading is to be found in the last few verses: “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven”  (Luke 6, 36-37). That’s what he practiced in his own life, even to the point of forgiving those who crucified him. True, he did challenge the injustices and hypocrisies he saw all around him, especially as they were exhibited in the oppressive religious system of his day. But his heart was always open to forgive. Not once did he advocate violence. There was no one whom he refused to forgive.

If we dare to stop and reflect on the way in which we can slip almost automatically into judging and labelling those who have an opinion or a way of seeing things different from ours, we might well come to recognise that all we are doing is to admit to our limited capacity to love, or our reluctance to acknowledge that somebody else might have a point of view worth hearing.

A good place to begin venturing into what Jesus is calling us to consider is to be found in the opening verses of today’s gospel-reading: “Pray for those who treat you badly” (Luke 6, 28). Our first inclination may well be to set about planning how to even the score. To move into the territory of praying for those who treat us badly is not about asking God to help them see things as we see them. Surely it’s more about opening ourselves up to begin seeing others as God sees them – people worthy of compassion, love, forgiveness and mercy. And isn’t that precisely how God sees us?

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection