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This well known story is an allegory or a symbol or parable which has to be interpreted.
It is intended for the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. That is for people who declare themselves to be christian.
With the expectation of the imminent return of Jesus ( the last day) fading, some of the Christians (though still professed Christians) were slackening off in their adherence to Christian values and practises ( something we are all familiar with today).
The parable is a reminder that, even though we trust and hope in our God’s mercy and compassion as regards our Eternal Salvation, we have no absolute certainty as to what will happen ( just as we have no absolute certainty as regards the existence of God). So the message from today’s parable is to look to the future and to be prepared for whatever happens.
The oil for the lamps stands for good works – love God and your neighbour. It pertains to the person themselves and is not a transferable asset.
The final sentence is the message for me today; “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
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One of the hardest things for any human organisation is to avoid a power structure.
Even among the Apostles we see it creeping in.
‘Then James and John, … came to Jesus and said to him. Teacher, we want you to … grant that in your kingdom we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.’
This was problematic among the Apostles and is so to this day in our church.
It is problematic in all churches and all religions. Even those christian churches who abolished bishops and priests have replaced them with different power structures.
Like the exhortation to love God and our neighbour (which we explored last weekend), today’s exhortation to avoid power structures among the followers of Jesus of Nazareth has been sidestepped with exceeding nimbleness.
In fact religions are structured like armies (uniforms and all) with the emphasis on obedience to the next layer of the structure.
In our church this situation is found not only among the clergy but also among the so called laity.
If I ring up a parish asking to speak to Pat Murphy I will get the frigid response from the parish secretary, ‘hold on and I will put ‘the Very Rev. Canon Patrick Murphy’ on the phone.
One finds oneself forced into this power structure. Today’s Gospel reading is not saying that it is wrong to call one’s Rabbi; Rabbi, or one’s father; father, or one’s mother; mother, or one’s teacher; teacher, or one’s priest; father; or one’s bishop; bishop. What is wrong is the attachment of power or superiority to the title. This leads to pride, an overbearing attitude to others and a subservient attitude in others.
Jesus of Nazareth was at pains to teach his followers by example and by words;
‘For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? Yet I am among you as the one who serves.’
‘So when he had washed their feet (and) put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them. Do you realise what I have done for you? 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.’
‘Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’
“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, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.’
Isaiah, prophesying in the Old Testament about the Messianic era to come said; “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.”
Jesus of Nazareth wanted his followers (his church) to be something completely new. Something free from the curse of power structure. This will not come from the top. It must begin and be implemented at parish level. Only we can do it.
Not only do we ‘so called’ clergy need to change our superior attitude in a power structured church but also you, ‘so called’ laity, need to change your subservient attitude towards the clergy.
Pope Francis has told Vatican officials and the bishops of the world to cease and desist from naming members of the clergy to be canons and monseigneurs.
We will see if this instruction is followed.
When and where I grew up, All Souls Day was inextricably linked with a place called Purgatory.
Purgatory projected one image only; all our deceased relatives, friends and acquaintances crying out to me for release from the agony of the fires of Purgatory, which was said to be the same as Hell but of shorter duration. I, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving could shorten their period in Purgatory. Causing myself to suffer for their sake was said to be particularly efficacious.
If people were lucky enough to escape the eternal fires of Hell they, almost in every case, had to do long stints in the fires of Purgatory to be cleansed of their guilt. Depending on their sinfulness, this period in Purgatory could be from mere days to many years.
All the above was aimed at coercing people into obeying the church through the fear of punishment. There is no evidence for such teaching. It is an invention of misguided teachers.
If God could do the above then I want absolutely nothing to do with such a God.
That is why, up to now, and only at the request of parishioners, have I agreed to celebrate All Souls Day as a separate event. For me All Souls today and All Saints, yesterday, is about one and the very same people.
To quote Jesus of Nazareth; ’And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.’
And again on the Cross to one of the murdering thieves; ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ Today, not tomorrow or next week or next year. Nothing about time spent in Purgatory for cleansing from past sins. ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’ It was now 3.00pm and the Jewish day ended at 6.00pm.
Today I agree to celebrate All Souls day not so that I can help them but to remember them and to rejoice that they are with God and can help me.
To even suggest that my God is anything like what I was brought up to believe is insulting to my God and insulting to me, a son of God.
So today we fondly remember all our deceased relatives, friends and fellow parishioners. We thank them for the privilege of having known them. For the help they gave us. And having completer their lives here on earth and received the gift of Eternal Life with our God, we congratulate them and ask for their help in our journey through this life.
Finally we look forward to meeting them again in Eternal Life where everything will be known, understood and forgiven.
Due to the changes in the Diocesan email service the parish emails will not be available from Friday, 3 November to Monday, 6 November. No emails will be received during this time but will be delivered once the service is resumed. Any urgent messages during this time should be passed by phone.
The parish email addresses provided by the Diocese have been changed and are now:
- The Parish – email@example.com (parish business)
- Fr John – firstname.lastname@example.org (personal emails only)
The new Parish email address should be used with immediate effect. Please change or delete any stored addresses on your computer. Emails sent to the old address will be forwarded for a transition period.
Just look around you. Almost all our troubles are the result of ignoring the one reason for, and the basic aim of, all being, all existence, all life.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.”
It is totally outgoing. It is totally encompassing. It is totally fulfilling.
Why is this the greatest of the commandments?
God – the Creator, is the source of all existence. God is the beginning and the end of all creation. Everything comes from God and returns to God. Outside of God nothing exists or can exist.
This commandment or teaching or instruction is not God being selfish or self – centred. It is a simple fact of existence. It cannot be otherwise. It is simply the truth.
To ‘love the Lord my God with all my heart’ is not about feelings and emotions which come and go – are here today and gone tomorrow (although these can sometimes be involved).
Nor is it about praying and other cultic acts and devotions (again, these can sometimes be involved).
To ‘love the Lord my God with all my heart’ is primarily an act of humility. A recognition of the truth – that all I am and have is a free gift from my Creator. Whether I like it of not I owe God everything.
It means that I owe all the works of God’s hand – all of creation – the very same care and respect which I expect for myself. This must not only involve respect and care for myself but also for my family, friends, neighbours, fellow human beings, all living things, the seas, the mountains the lands the forests and everything they contain. This, involving truth and the way things are, is the only way to permanent peace, happiness and contentment at the deepest level. Seeking these things outside of these parameters brings only fleeting peace and momentary happiness.
It involves an ongoing struggle to comprehend God and creation while recognising and accepting human inability to fully understand or explain the whys and wherefores of creation.
It is not really possible for human beings to love an invisible, untouchable, incomprehensible, infinite God. We love God by respecting, appreciating and caring for his creation – fellow human beings and all things animate and inanimate.
Hence the second command (instruction), is like the first; ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
Is it really possible for me to love my God and be unaware of – ignore – the suffering of His children?
Is it really possible for me to love my God and ignore the devastation Hi’s creation is being subjected to all over the world?
This is what true religion is primarily about.
I are inclined to, and often encouraged to, immerse myself in prayer and various devotions and cultic acts of worship, while sidestepping the real meaning of loving God and my neighbour.
I wouldn’t like the words of Jesus of Nazareth, spoken to the Scribes and Pharisees, to be applied to me also; ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!’