Please be aware that we have Advent Calendars and Christmas Cards of all shapes and sizes, available each week after Mass. We would be grateful for your support in buying these.
In the run up to today’s Gospel reading we have Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees, (all experts on the Scriptures and the religious traditions) asking Jesus difficult questions in an effort to trap him. One of the Scribes, who was listening in and impressed with the answer and explanations that Jesus gave asked him a very important and sincere question. “Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Judaism, at the time of Jesus, was an utterly confusing aggregate of hundreds of laws and regulations covering the minutest details of life. This Scribe was hoping that Jesus could bring some sanity to the legalistic confusion.
To his delight he got a simple, straightforward, and very clear answer – love God and your neighbour.
We human beings, in our usual inimitable way, take this simple answer and obfuscate it.
We ask, ‘who is my neighbour?’
The answer is equally simple if I really want to know. Everyone who has ever lived, is presently alive and who will ever live in the future is my neighbour. If I in any way question this, if i quibble in any way, if I seek exceptions, then I am not a citizen of the Kingdom of God. After all, in God’s Kingdom, I hope to meet all these people face to face, on an equal footing. Can I face that?
We ask, ‘What do you mean by love?’
Love is a word which has been so bandied about, so analysed, so loosely used and abused, that it can mean anything.
In the New Testament Jesus of Nazareth was quite clear about love:
‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’
And God in the Old Testament:
‘Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.’
Since we are all ‘once off’ creations we all experience and express love in different ways – physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. If I were to give one word that was to cover ‘love’ in all circumstances I would say ‘service.’
By and large in the Old Testament official religion functioned independently of ‘love’ and ‘neighbour.’
By and large I was brought up in a religious atmosphere which gave only lip service to ‘love’ and ‘neighbour’.
If Jesus of Nazareth were visibly with us today he would have exactly the same problem with religion today as He had 2000 years ago.
Our Pope Francis has the very same problem, the very same opposition today, because he too is trying to put ‘love’ and ‘neighbour’ as first priority in religious practise.
We wold love to help him.
The greatest way for I and you to help Francis is for each one of us to put ‘love’ and ‘neighbour’ as our top religious priority in all we do and say.
Life is a bit like a batsman in cricket. Balls come at you fast, slow or in between. They spin and bounce this way or that way. They can bounce short or long etc. No matter how good you are you are eventually bowled out.
When bowled out the batsman does not give up playing the game. He/She learns from the experience and continues to try and improve their game.
Many Christians, when they are bowled out give up the game. They experience their faith and trust in God wavering and fading when they experience difficulties in life. They ask angrily ‘why me?’
They are annoyed at God and ask ‘what good is God to me?’ ‘What do I get out of it?’
Today’s Gospel reading shows us Bartimaeus. Imagine him a strong resourceful man earning a good living. He goes blind. He cannot work any more. He becomes a huge burden on his wife and family. He is led to the side of a road every day by one of his children to beg from passers bye in an effort to eke out some sort of a living. His and his families’ once strong religious observance now seems pointless. They do not attend the Synagogue any more except rarely.
But there is still something there – a faint spark of faith and hope in the God of his earlier life.
Hearing from the unusual crowd that Jesus of Nazareth, the so called ‘prophet,’ the so called ‘man of God’ is passing by, Bartimaeus, in his despair and depression at what life has thrown at him, cries out in a last gasp of fading faith and hope – “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
A lot of us find ourselves or have at one time found ourselves in a spiritual position like Bartimaeus. Our faith and hope in God is formless, wispy, inconsequential, unhelpful, pointless. I am almost fully convinced that there is nothing there for me.
This is the time, in my spiritual blindness, in my spiritual helplessness, in my spiritual barrenness, in my rapidly fading faith and hope, to cry out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
We are so used to people blowing their own trumpet that we take it for granted.
We should be aware that self-praise is no praise. It amazes me how often I listen closely to someone telling me about all they do and have achieved, and more or less believing it. Even we can recommend a person for a job or a position solely on the strength at what that person has said about themselves. We make an art of self-promotion and self-deception.
When I feel the need to praise myself or the amount of work I do or to emphasise how busy I am, it is because I am unsure of myself or of my abilities. Self-praise demonstrates my weakness rather than my strengths.
Today’s Gospel reading is alien to the mores of this world.
It emphasises the gulf which exists between life in the Kingdom of God and our everyday life and aspirations. And I quote “You know that those who are recognised as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
It surprises me that so many of you here in St’ Patrick’s parish do spend so much time and energy in service to others. Your example helps me, and I am sure many others, to do a reality check on our own commitment to service to others.
The seats at the high table in the Kingdom of God will not be allocated to the dignitaries of State, Church or commerce but to those whose lives have been ones of humble service.