Friday, 6 March 2015

What causes the heart of man to consider the murder of a good man as the best option?


In the Mass readings today (Gen 37:3f ; Mt 21:33-43,45-46) we find the theme of the rejection of the good and innocent man doing his father’s work. First in Genesis it is the rejection of Joseph by his brothers who are jealous of the favour shown to their father’s youngest son. They almost kill him in the wilds but instead sell him into slavery and fake his death by a wild animal. In the Gospel parable of wicked tenants of the vineyard the tenants in the vineyard refuse to pay the owner of the vineyard his dues in the form of a proportion of the harvest. They thrash and kill the owner’s servants, and then when the owner sends his son (whom he thinks they will respect) they murder him.
On the face of it we might well ask, why is it that good people can be so rejected even to the point of murder? What was it that drove Joseph’s brothers to consider selling him to slavery or even consider murdering him? What was it that led the religious opponents of Jesus to consider finding a way to have him killed? Jesus had only done good in His life. But He had also challenged and pointed out the Jewish leaders’ errors. Was that enough for them to consider having him executed? It is naturally difficult for us to see how this can happen, and I think the early Christians must have also struggled with this question. The parable of the wicked tenants of the vineyard in part answers that question, showing the long history of the rejection of the prophets by Jerusalem leaders, and then finally the rejection of the Father’s only Son.
What causes the heart of man to consider the murder of a good man as the best option? The short answer is, of course, sin. It was jealousy. It was anger. It was looking for the easy way out. It was fearing earthly powers more than God. It was pride and not wanting to lose one’s own status.
The sad fact is that when light shines, those that wish their deeds to remain hidden despise the light. The light that shines from a good and righteous man can cause those who are attached to their sin to react against that good and righteous man, sometimes in ways that are surprising and shocking to us. But this is the way of the witnesses of Christ, in which we are all called to walk. We are called to live Christ’s way even when it is counter to everything that the world stands for. We are living in a time when increasingly we who answer the call of Christ to bear witness to him will face rejection and conflict. Let us ask for the prayers of the Martyrs that we may have the courage to be faithful to Christ and less concerned about the world’s reaction. And when we suffer because of our faith, whether it is in a small or big way, let us offer that suffering to God as a prayer for the salvation of souls, praying especially for those who persecute us.
Fr Ian

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The gulf that divides


The Parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19) deals with the gap between the rich and the inhumanly poor. The economics of the world can be deadly and it makes the rich live separately: in their housing, by transportation, recreation, and medical care. In the parable the wall the rich man willingly builds in this life, becomes after his death an abyss that no one will be able to bridge. We who live today in the richest parts of the world should be disturbed by this parable, for the one who is content with such a divide in this life may well find himself on the wrong side of the abyss in the life to come.
In the parable, the poor man is named Lazarus, but the rich man is not named, thus the world order is reversed. In the world today, the well to do man is treated with dignity; the anonymous poor man is not. This de-humanisation is at the root of the problem. We also see that on dying the man Lazarus finds many friends (angels, father Abraham) whereas the rich man finds neither friends nor lawyers to relieve his situation – hell is isolation.
We must remember that the table of the rich man is in fact God’s table not his. And God invites all to eat at His table. In Lent traditionally we are exhorted to practice almsgiving to remind us that we are to be detached from our wealth; not so much seeing it as our own wealth, but that which God wants us to use for His glory.
Perhaps most of all, this parable reminds us that we must not shut off our hearts from the needs of the poorest in the world. In the parable one of the most chilling aspects is that the rich man didn’t even notice Lazarus in his misery.
Fr Ian

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Plotters and schemers


Jeremiah 18:18-20 ; Matthew 20:17-28

The prophet Jeremiah was not only a faithful and great prophet of the Lord, but he was also a sensitive soul. He took to heart the wicked machinations of his enemies conspiring to do away with him. The verses today (Jer 18:18-20) contrast the words of the plotters (v18),

“Come let us make plots against Jeremiah…”

with the prayer of the prophet which expresses his anguish knowing the plotters want to do away with him.
The Church Fathers saw in the scheming of these plotters a type of the plotting and scheming that Jesus faced. Many of the Jewish authorities wanted to do away with Jesus. They tried to trap Him in His own words just as Jeremiah’s adversaries had done.

The Jewish leaders had forgotten what it meant to be a leader of God’s people. It was not a ticket for personal advantage. Alas they seemed to be more concerned with holding on to their power and status, especially in the fragile situation of Roman occupation. They feared that it all could be lost so did not hesitate to do away with this man from Nazareth who threatened to destabilise everything.

Sadly, even today, there are those in the Church that fear the loss of their status or power. And I have to hold my hands up and confess that I also feared such a loss when I contemplated leaving my position in the Church of England to become a Catholic. Status for religious leaders can become far too important and can lead them to become corrupt and be tempted to do some very evil things. So our Lord’s answer to the mother of James and John who asks that her sons be given status in the Kingdom, is to be kept in mind by all who are called to leadership especially in the Church, but also in the world. Jesus said,

…whoever would be great among you must be your servant…even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Please pray for those called to Holy Orders in the Church. It is so very easy to be trapped by our perception of our “status” as if it belongs to us. Of course it doesn’t! For while the priest is to be respected because he acts in persona Christi capitas, the priest is ordained to be able to act in the person of Christ the Head primarily for service to the people of God, and not for personal kudos!

Remember too those who are called to lead in all walks of life, that they too will see it as a service and not be concerned with their status. And if you are called to lead always remember leadership is a service for others and not a ticket for personal advantage.

Fr Ian


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Hierarchy and Equality



Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi, to which the priests and those in charge of religious activities belonged. Nor was Jesus part of any religious party or association – he was not a Pharisee nor a Sadducee. He was on the side of the common man and He saw how the leaders of God’s people acted.

However even from the perspective of seeing how poor the leaders were (not practicing what they preached and not being merciful) our Lord does not suggest doing away with them. Our Lord wants leaders who are not so much concerned about what they look like nor what others think about them, but men of integrity and who are humble. No religious leader should stand in the way of a person and their God. Jesus makes this point by saying “Call no one Rabbi”, “Call no one Father” and “Call no one Teacher”. Jesus is not banning the normal use of these words, because the words would then just drop from usage and lose their meaning. Jesus is making His point through hyperbole and it is not to be taken literally.*

We are being reminded today of the profound equality of all children of God. No member of the Church should think themselves better than others. No one should be seeking titles and honours. We all share an equal dignity given us by God through our creation, and new creation in Christ by baptism. However our Lord does not suggest bringing down the hierarchy! The Church has a hierarchy but no member of the hierarchy should consider themselves better than anyone else. Each member of the Church is called to grow in holiness and draw closer to God, and each of us must strive to do that through the grace given us through the Holy Spirit – this is true of priests, bishops and popes, as well as the Religious and the Laity. We are all in the same boat struggling against sin and seeking grace to grow in Christ and bear the fruit of the Spirit. Yes we should honour those that sit in the seat of the Apostles because through them we honour the Apostolic and therefore Christ, but the man who sits in the seat is not better than anyone else. We are all where we are through the grace of God alone.

Each member of the Church has their vocation and their work to be doing. We must all pay one another the respect due to our dignity in Christ, and we all must pray for one another that we will resist temptation and grow in the life of grace.

Amen.

Fr Ian

NOTE

* “father” is used in the New Testament referring to human fathers (Heb 12:7-11) and spiritual fathers (1 Cor 4:15 ; Philem 10), and this emphasises Jesus was not intending His words be taken literally.

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)