Todays Gospel reading is so packed with symbolism, with references to the tribal history of Israel, with allusions to traditional practises, gender inequality, and historical tribal animosities that I will not even try to make sense of it for you. That is unless you have a couple of hours to spare. A great theme or symbol in the Bible are water. For areas like the middle east which are desert, semi-arid or subject to periodic and prolonged droughts, water is very much bound up with life and health. People are accustomed to travelling long distances to obtain water. It is a great blessing, equivalent to life itself. Having a constant and dependable source of water was a very great gift indeed. Even here in England if you have ever experienced dry taps for a short period you will get some idea of the importance of water in our lives. We have all experienced the rejuvenating effects of an early morning shower. Jesus uses this constant preoccupation with water in his teaching and parables. “Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” We all have a great thirst for love, for compassion, for recognition, for appreciation, for respect. We cannot get enough of these things. The lack or denial of these things, especially as we grow up, can have grave consequences in our lives. Can cause great damage. Jesus of Nazareth claims to have, and freely offers us, all these things. As he said “whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.” But do I have the bucket to lower into the well of living water? There always seems to be this hitch. God’s gifts are there before me. They are freely offered. But I lack the motivation, the ability, the will, the courage, to reach out and take them. I do not have the bucket and am not willing to go to the trouble of going and getting one. I instinctively understand that accepting God’s living water will mean surrendering my life to God. Handing over control to God. Saying goodbye to self-interest. As Jesus said “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me.” But I don’t want this. I am not ready for this. I like to dip in and out as I feel like it. So what’s the solution? I don’t know. I am in the same boat as the rest of you. The saints and Jesus of Nazareth tell us that handing over control to God is the path to true freedom – freedom to love and to be loved.
These weeks will encourage children and young people to engage in theit faith through fun, games and spiritual input.
They take place at the Marist Convent, Nympsfield. For more details and registration see the notice board or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Todays Gospel reading is full of symbolism. Without understanding the meaning of these symbols it doesn’t make much sense. Jesus goes up a high mountain. Jesus is often depicted as going up a mountain or hill when he wishes to make an important speech or perform an important action. The mountain signiﬁes a place of revelation. It brings to mind mount Sinai where God appeared to Moses and to the people of Israel. Where he made a covenant with them and gave them the ten commandments. Where his presence was signiﬁed by peals of thunder, ﬂashes of lightening and dense clouds. It does not necessarily mean that he actually climbed all these mountains or hills. If it did, then he was quite a mountaineer. He brought along Peter, James and John to witness what was to happen. He was transﬁgured in their sight ; his face and clothes shining brightly. Moses and Elijah appeared with him, talking with him. Moses represents the laws of the Old Testament and Elijah the prophesy of the Old Testament. Moses and Elijah were not transﬁgured. This signiﬁes that Jesus was more important that Moses and Elijah. In the Old Testament nobody was more important than Moses and Elijah except God. Peter, missing this signiﬁcance, suggested that they build three shelters one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus. ( This assumes that Peter regarded them as equals.) This building of shelters refers to the very important Jewish feast of Tabernacles which happened at harvest time every year when the grape and olive pickers lived in little shelters in the ﬁelds until the harvest was gathered. It was a time of joy and camaraderie. It harkened back to when the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years and lived in temporary shelters. Peter had no sooner ﬁnished speaking when a bright cloud enveloped them ( the cloud signifying the presence of God) and a voice from the cloud said “this is my son, listen to him.” ( this also correcting Peter’s assumption that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were equals). The great teachers of the Old Testament were Moses and Elijah. Now God has replaced them by sending His own Son to be our teacher and exemplar. The one who must be listened to is now Jesus of Nazareth and not Moses or Elijah. The three Apostles were terriﬁed and fell face down to the ground. But Jesus came and touched them telling them not to be afraid. Jesus touched the sick and brought them healing and joy. Here his touch frees his Apostles from fear of the God, often depicted in the Old Testament as vengeful, cruel and judgemental. The God of Jesus was ‘Abba’ the beloved parent. This clash between the God of Moses (the God of Law) and the God of Jesus of Nazareth (the God of Mercy) was a major problem in the early church. The ﬁrst council of the Church ( the council of Jerusalem) was devoted to solving this clash of opinion and attitude. One section of the church ( Jewish and conservative) wanted Christians to observe all the traditional laws and regulations of the Old Testament ( putting new wine into old wineskins, as Jesus himself described it ). The other section ( mostly Gentiles or non Jews ) wanted none of this, as they regarded such traditions and regulations as irrelevant. It is uncanny that we have the very same problem in our church today. Pope Francis and his followers want us to put the new wine ( Christianity) into new wineskins. A group of cardinals, bishops, priests and some lay people want to hold on to the old wineskins at any cost. That is basically what the present debate and contention in our church is all about. This debate and contention is not necessarily bad. In fact it is good and healthy – as long as my side wins!!!
Today’s gospel reading illustrate symbolically the temptations that Jesus of Nazareth had to contend with all his life.
On examination we will find that they are the very same temptations every one of us has to deal with also, in one way or another, throughout our lives.
The first is the temptation to put my physical desires before the wellbeing of others. To put my self interest first. It concerns my physical appetites. Comfort, eating and drinking, sexual desire, dress, how I look, possessions. As usual, all these appetites are in themselves good and God given gifts. The problem is my allowing all or some of them to rule my life. I allow myself to become the slave of one or some of these appetites. Even worse, it damages or even ruins the lives of those closest to me. Galatians 5. “I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. … Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions. … In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
The second temptation is particularly applicable to religious leadership. Using God or the Church to promote ones own importance is a constant temptation. Religious organisations are tempted to put their own glorification, their own interests, before the glory of God. Church leaders can try and exercise control over everyday matters over which they have been given no authority. For example …… Church authorities have been given authority to lead people to God. They have been given authority to selflessly seek the total wellbeing of the ordinary members. The temptation is to overstep this.This can be true of all human organisations of course. The party, the company, the club, the religious organisation, can become more important than the members it is supposed to serve. People in leadership roles insist on clinging to power when well past their sell by date. I don’t think our Church or our parish should seek to publicise the good work that we do. I don’t think that, alluring as it can be, we should be speaking of how good we think we are, how well we think we are doing, what we think we have accomplished. A good antidote to this acclaim seeking is to read Mark 10: 17-22. “As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, … You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honour your father and your mother. He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth. Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to (the) poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
The third temptation is the allure of power, of control, be it in the home, the church, the country or the world. Just look at our world today or any day. Is not the desire for more power, for more control, behind every military, diplomatic, political and economic move. Within our own church there is a struggle for control. Losing control is a great fear in each and every one of us.
Mark 9. “Then Jesus sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to
be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Luke 6. “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
I don’t think that, during this Lenten season, I will run out of issues that need to be addressed in my life.
Last week we spoke about the Canon of the Mass.
The Canon of the Mass makes present again, for our benefit today, the events of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday evening. The bread and wine – things essential for our life and wellbeing and symbolising the offering of our lives and possessions to our God – are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The separation of body and blood signifies the execution which Jesus underwent on Good Friday on a cross.
During the Canon, as well as following the words spoken by the priest, we might find it helpful to picture ourselves reclining at table with Jesus and the Apostles and participating in what is happening. The Apostles, although well aware of the danger they were in from the authorities while they were in Jerusalem, were unaware of events about to happen and the significance of what they were taking part in. We, on the other hand, are well aware of what is happening and of what is about to happen and their significance. The changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ signified his death on the cross which in turn signified the lengths our God was willing to go to in pursuit of our total wellbeing and in his stand in the fight against injustice and oppression. This he has asked me to do in remembrance of His trust-wordiness, faithfulness and total dedication to my welfare.
During the elevation of the body and blood of Christ after the words of consecration (the elevation of the bread and wine) it can be helpful to look on the crucifix and ask myself if this man, Jesus of Nazareth, who is willing to go to such extremes in pursuit of my total welfare, can be trusted. What more could he realistically do to win my total confidence in him and in his promises?
Should I not ask myself if the above is not sufficient to awaken in me a deep and abiding sense of gratitude to my God.
(As an aside, at this stage, it might also be helpful to consider how such a God could possibly be confused with the judgemental, accusatory and punishing god many of us were brought up to believe in).
The concluding part of the canon is when our offerings of thanksgiving now incorporated, or changed, into the total self offering of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross is raised up by the priest and presented to God our Father as the ultimate expression of our gratitude.
Raising up the Baby and Blood of Jesus of Nazareth and our self – offering the priest intones:
‘Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, for ever and ever.’ And God’s whole family here present respond all together in a joyous chorus; ‘Amen.’
This is called the great Amen and signifies our total agreement with, participation in and response to, all we have done and said.
We then move on directly to the Communion.
The Communion is God’s response to our gifts of gratitude to Him/Her.
God receives our gifts (signified by bread and wine). In doing so they are incorporated with, changed into, the self giving (the gifts) of Jesus of Nazareth and offered to us (God’s family here present) as our food and drink. This food and drink is now God’ only begotten son. This unites us with God the Son and thus unites us with the Holy Trinity. It makes us full participants in the life of God. It Makes us participants in the eternal life of God.
This means that symbolically, spiritually, we have already entered into the Eternal Life of God.
We are already in Heaven but cannot experience it physically until our bodies are glorified at the resurrection of the dead.
Receiving Holy Communion is a time of realisation. Realising that we are already one with our God, have already entered into Eternal Life together with and in unity with all our brothers and sisters here present and throughout the world and from all times, past, present and future.
Realising that we should now treat each other as fellow saints in heaven and as God’s beloved children. Realising that the promises of our God are already fulfilled in our lives in spiritual reality.
For the last seven weeks I have talked on the Mass. There is a lot more to be said about the Mass and many more, and different, approaches. I have given you, in these seven homilies, what I myself have found helpful. Some of it is not easily understood so I recommend that if you are serious about learning more about the Mass and about how you might participate more fully in the Mass I would recommend a rereading of these homilies.