Saturday, 17 December 2016

Advent thought for O Sapientia day

Matthew 1:1-17

When I was a country Rector in the Church of England I would receive from time to time requests for information from our parish registers. Serving traditional country parishes, the parishes were reluctant to part with their ancient registers into the central diocesan archive, so it was not uncommon for me to receive a request for a register search. Although they didn’t always arrive at convenient moments, in a way I quite enjoyed dusting off the old registers and peering through their crisp pages. I was often struck by the beautiful handwriting of all entries before the 1950’s and how the hand-writing went downhill from there! But I was also struck how in the 19th and 18th century so many entries contained signatures consisting of an X and alongside the Rector’s annotation “the mark of…” For some people the researching of their genealogy is very important to them.

Clearly for Matthew the genealogy of Jesus Christ is very important. Today we hear the long list of names read out at mass (Matt 1:1-17). We might think it a little boring. We might think there is nothing of inspiration in today’s gospel. But we need to ask ourselves, “Why?” None of us would miss these 17 verses if Matthew hadn’t included them. Well the point is that although we might not, Matthew’s original hearers/readers did appreciate it. Matthew is establishing Jesus’ kingly messianic credentials as he effectively states in verse 1: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” He is establishing that Jesus is in fact of the line of Abraham and of the line of King David.  God promised long before that “kings” would stem from Abraham’s line (Gen 17:6) and later promised, in a covenant oath, that David would always have a dynastic heir (2 Sam 7:16; Ps 89:3-4).

Matthew establishes for us Jesus’ earthly credentials while not undermining His divinity. Jesus is of course not the biological son of Joseph, but Joseph does accept Jesus into his family lineage. Matthew reminds us of this at the end when he says, “and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” Despite the long list of “the father of”, now at the end Matthew is preparing to reveal that Jesus was miraculously born of the Virgin Mary, without the contribution of an earthly father, but instead the Holy Spirit.

One final comment on this genealogy is to say that the gospel here is ensuring we understand that Jesus is human as well as divine. It doesn’t use that sort of language, but by establishing Jesus human ancestry we can be in no doubt that His divinity did not exclude His human nature received from Mary. This is the wonder of the Incarnation, which in this last week before the great and solemn feast, we contemplate. God’s plan for the salvation of mankind was worked out through the lives of real human beings. This is not just for the past, but even now God has a part for us to play, in His great plan.

Fr Ian

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Advent thought: live out what you promise

The sons represent two groups of people. In the context of the gospel they are sinners who repent, and Israel’s leaders who refuse the Baptist’s message (even when tax-collectors and harlots do!).

So the son that initially says “no” to his father, but later thinks better and actually does what the father wants him to do, are the sinners who repent. The other son who initially says “yes” to his father, but does not actually do what his father wants, are the chief priests and elders. They talk a good game, but they do not actually live it out.

All of us for whom our faith is very important need to be reminded of this teaching of Jesus. It is easy to say “yes” and not follow through, especially if we get caught up in a sentiment towards God. Then we might promise all sorts of things; whereas sentiments do not last, our promises to God do. 

Following through on our promises is hard work and we do not usually have the motivation of warm feelings all the time, yet it is of utmost importance lest we find that we actually deserve the title hypocrite!

Fr Ian

Monday, 12 December 2016

Advent thought: spiritual blindness

Matthew 21:23-27

Christ came to teach but not engage in a battle of wills. That is why when (as in today’s gospel) the chief priests and elders quizzed Him with evil intent, He replied not with an answer but a question. He was not however playing a political game.

Our Lord would answer sincere questions but those who asked with cynicism or with evil intent (like entrapment) He would answer with a question they could not answer. This ‘question they could not answer’ would reveal their evil intent and that they were not genuinely seeking the truth. The problem for these chief priests and elders was that they were spiritually blind. And as with physical blindness there is no point in showing the blind man light because he cannot see it.

Perhaps we might say, surely the Lord wanted them to be saved, wanted them to benefit from the light? Indeed it is so. God ‘desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:4). However spiritual blindness arises from the human will. In our choice to sin we choose darkness, and unless we choose to repent, to turn away from darkness and seek the light, our hearts prevent us recognising the truth, even if it is proclaimed by the Person of God the Son!

Not every part of the Gospel is comfortable or easy to accept. Indeed men may prefer the darkness to the light (see John 1 and 1 John 1). The choice of rejecting the Gospel, shows our spiritual blindness, because we reject the source of the Gospel, we reject God. This was the problem of the chief priests and elders and until they repented they could not have the light.

The Christian is called to dialogue with the world but we can only go so far until people are willing to leave the darkness and seek the light. That is why prayer is so important in this missionary task. Let us remember in this Advent season that one of our greatest callings is to pray for the spiritually blind that through repentance they may come to the spiritual light, even Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Fr Ian

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)