The Two Sons

Matthew 21,28-32

The parable of the two sons in today’s Gospel reading was addressed to the chief priests and elders of the people. Its purpose is to defend Jesus’ invitation to sinners and outcasts to the Kingdom, in the face of the sneers of the religious establishment.  Of course, the parable outraged the religious leaders. The first son represents sinners. Like him, they originally chose to go their own way but repented and followed Gods way and so gained entry into the Kingdom. The second son represents the chief priests and elders.  Like him, they promised to work for God but failed to do so and so excluded themselves from the Kingdom. The parable echoes a favourite theme of Matthew, the split in the religious person between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’. Hence it is relevant for ‘religious’ people of every age.

St. Augustine, Lateran Fresco (Public Domain)

Many of the greatest saints in history were sinners who originally said ‘no’ to God and who later had a change of heart and said ‘yes’. St. Augustine is one of the best examples and there are many others.

A change of mind may lead to a change in some aspect of a person’s life, but a change of heart, a ‘metanoia’ is a conversion at the deepest possible level. The conversion which Jesus sought to bring about in people was a change of heart. Many sinners heeded his call to conversion of heart, changed their lives and made their way into the Kingdom. But many of the religious people stubbornly resisted his call to a conversion of heart, refused to change their lives, and so excluded themselves from the Kingdom.

I am reminded of the story of an Afro-American who was standing outside an evangelical church in one of the southern states in the US. It was many years ago and the Church was for whites only. Just then, Jesus came along and asked the man what he was doing there. The man told him that he loved listening to the singing and that was why he was standing outside the door listening. He went on to explain that because of his colour, he could not enter the Church. Jesus smiled and said, ‘I know how you feel. I myself have been trying to get into that church since it was opened’. In other words they needed a change of heart.

In reflecting on the two sons in today’s Gospel story, it is worth asking, how I see myself in relation to each of them. To be honest, I may find a little bit of each in me, and that is not necessarily bad. However, the aim and the ideal is that I continue to renew my commitment to Jesus, and I continue to open my heart to the fullness of his message.

Fr. Pol Andrew

“It’s Not Fair!”

Matthew 20,1-16

“It’s not fair!” How often one has heard that complaint from children of all ages? Matthew tells us that the discontented labourers in the vineyard complained because the Owner paid all of them the same amount, regardless of whether they had worked one or ten hours.

Christian W.E.Dietrich / Public domain

No doubt their case today would be taken up by the National Union of Vineyard Workers, and their grievance negotiated with their Employer: and whatever the verdict, some at least of them would still complain of being treated “unfairly”. Often the best way to see how we’ve ‘got something wrong’ – whether it’s about ‘fairness’, money, our golf-swing, [or our ideas about God] – is to look at our mistakes, in ‘slow motion’.

This is what the Parable describes if we look at it one step at a time:

  • A Vineyard-owner or Manager went out early to hire labourers to work on his estate.
  • They agreed to accept what was, in those days a “Living Wage”. They went to work. If they’d been looking for more pay, they would, no doubt, have been advised to look elsewhere.
  • Every three hours the Manager took on other unemployed workers. To them he specifically offered to “pay whatever is right”.
  • But, at one hour before closing-time, he took on others; he made no promise of reward, but offered them the opportunity to do some work, rather than standing idle all day.
  • However, at closing-time he told his cashier to pay all those workers the same amount– regardless of how long or short a time they’d worked.
  • But then “all Hell was let loose”. Although the earlier workers had agreed to be paid the “whatever is right” – which meant (in today’s terms) -a living wage – they were all paid exactly the same amount. The early workers complained: not because they’d received less than they’d been promised, but because the latecomers were paid more than they had expected. So all received that “living wage”.

If Jesus had meant that parable to be a lecture on ‘How to Make Your Vineyard Pay’ his listeners would have had good reason to grumble. But that was not His intention!

He used this parable (like many other ones) to describe the Kingdom of God – and explain, whether they liked it or not, there is (literally) a world of difference between God’s idea for His Kingdom, and our idea of what we think God’s idea ought to be.

About God’s Kingdom, Jesus said things like “The first shall be last, and the last first” and “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom” and “Let him who would be first among you be servant of all” and demonstrated it at the Last Supper despite Peter’s protests by washing the Apostles feet.

If we want to become part of God’s Kingdom, we must prepare ourselves for a number of surprises, many of which will, at first sight not be to our liking.
For example, the way we think about ‘fairness’ and ‘justice, compared with the way God sees and administers them in His Kingdom – may require nothing less than a complete transformation of how we think! If that being true distresses us, it can only mean one thing: we have chosen to worship the wrong god, and to believe in the wrong faith; so, like those grumbling vineyard workers, and plaintive children, we shall find ourselves spending Eternity in a state of permanent discontent!

Fr. Francis Gardom

Forgiveness

Matthew 18,21-35

Today’s Gospel reading speaks to us about the need to offer forgiveness, to our brother or neighbour who has caused offence. In our experience, it is not easy to forgive the person who offends because rancour, bitterness, and grief burn within our hearts. Indeed, people say “I forgive, but do not forget!” We hold resentment in our hearts, whereas Jesus is looking for unconditional love.

It is a fact that tension, rancour, provocations, and in general bad behaviour – all render the act of forgiveness difficult at best, and even possibly worthless. Such breakdown of relationships, lead to the hardening of hearts and rejection of God’s grace.  This is the cause of so much misery in the world, and Schisms in the Church.

Jesus spoke of the need to forgive seventy seven times. His teaching is revolutionary. [Mt 18:21-22]  He taught that forgiveness was important to reconcile people in the Christian Community. Why seventy seven times? The number seven indicates perfection, and Jesus goes far beyond Peter’s proposal. Forgiveness is always available to a person who has sorrow for their sins. This is much more than weeping a few tears, but an accountability for the wrong done, a heartfelt desire to put things right. We call this contrition and amendment of purpose.

The expression seventy seven times is a clear reference to the words of La’mech who said “I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly La’mech seventy-seven fold”. [Gen 4:23b-24] Jesus inverts the spiral of violence which entered the world following the original disobedience of Adam and Eve, because of the killing of Abel by Cain, and for the vengeance of La’mech.

In the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant [Mt 18:23-35], Ten thousand talents donates a sum beyond human comprehension. Perhaps like those elusive Euro Millions? It is beyond our ability to comprehend the capacity of God’s gracious generosity. There is no limit to the depth of his loving kindness and forgiveness.

Although it can be difficult to forgive a person who has wronged us, our forgiveness supported by prayer, opens the way for a great showering of grace. If God so abundantly forgives our transgressions, then we are duty bound to forgive our brother. The Our Father, the prayer Our Lord gave us, which we recite at every Mass says, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. In the early years of the Christian Church, it was remarked that Christians were known by their love for each other.

The Christian Community today offers an alternative life style to the “dog eat dog” culture of self sufficiency and greed that surrounds us. Our hope is in a living God, who calls us into relationship through his Son, through faith and grace, with the assurance of sins forgiven and the promise of eternal life. So let us continue to build a community upon the love of Jesus, and just as our forefathers did, challenge the corrupt society around us with the words of the Gospel. 

Fr. Nathan Williams

Discipline in the Church

Matthew 18,15-20

Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone” (Matt. 18,15).

Jules & Jenny from Lincoln, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

It is a grievous matter when human families fall apart, and it should be treated equally seriously if Christians fall out as well. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, we are his family. How awful it would be if Christ were to say to you or to me “You are no longer a member of my family, you are not welcome”. But he won’t – that’s the Gospel message, and the assurance of his love for us should – no must, shape all our dealings with other members of this family. And then that little word sin, which actually refers to any kind of behaviour that is displeasing to God, and which at one level is very complicated – there used to be published little manuals for devout Christians, carrying long lists of sins – but at another level is very simple, because any thought or word or deed that does not reflect the kind of love that Our Lord taught and lived is sin.

……..”And point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” No public bawling out, no public humiliation, no point scoring in front of witnesses. And why? Firstly because to act like that is an offence against love and therefore sinful in itself. Secondly, because within the Church family, the aim of challenging the wrong doer must be repentance and reconciliation, not punishment and humiliation. Only if this doesn’t work are others to be involved, and then not people from outside the Christian family, but other members of the household of faith. And if that doesn’t work, then the whole church is to be told, and the offender is to be treated as an outcast. Goodness: you’d have to be careful about that, wouldn’t you! These days you could land up in court charged with defamation of character and who knows what else. But that simply serves to underline the seriousness with which sin is to be dealt with within the Church. Which begs the question – do we, or do we keep silence?

Discipline is a dirty word today. We have a live-and-let-live attitude that is uncomfortable with the idea that anyone has a right – much less a responsibility – to discipline anyone else. Parents are made to feel that they should be encouragers rather than rebukers. Teachers dare not any longer discipline their students. Many years ago when I was a teacher, if you sent a boy to the Head Teacher he would be caned; if you sent him to the Deputy, he would get a half hour lecture: guess which the boys preferred! Children without discipline not only fail to reach their potential but also become dangerous to themselves and others. If we were all angels, discipline would be unnecessary – but we are not angels. Even that mighty Christian St Paul confessed that he often found himself doing what he knew to be wrong and failing to do what he knew to be right. The challenge is, that to ignore sinful behaviour can itself become sinful, for whatever undermines the well being of the church is offensive to God. God grant that none of us is ever put in the position where we have to draw the attention of a brother or sister Christian to wrong behaviour, but should it happen we must follow the teaching Our Lord sets before us.

Fr. Edward Bryant

The Foolishness of the Cross

Just as Simon Peter had made his great confession of faith and promise of loyalty to Jesus the Son of the living God, the narrow way opens up like a sink hole in front of him. On the way from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem, the Lord begins to prepare his friends for what they would see him undergo as the suffering servant of God that Isaiah had predicted. Peter reacted with the mindset of a typical Jew of his time and all the Messianic expectations that went with that. The way ahead for the disciples would still require a major transfiguring of their minds. The foolishness of the cross and passion that loomed before him would be an exceptional brand of life with a new concept of love and loyalty, of holiness through sacrifice rather than ritual religion. “To love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who persecute you”. [Luke 6; 27] To do all this with the certain knowledge that it would bring conflict and make enemies. Jesus would follow his own teaching to the letter, ultimately to the world’s lowest place, the cross. No wonder Simon Peter protests, and for a brief moment acts as a stumbling block and the easy agent of Satan. “You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do” says the Lord to him.

El Greco: Christ carrying the cross -1580 (Public Domain)

The new brand of life the Lord brings was not as C.S. Lewis said, “to make better people, mere improvements, but to change us into a new humanity”. Thirty years later Peter would get it! He wrote to his own converts “for this you were called, because Christ suffered for us as an example to follow in his steps”. [1 Peter 2; 21] The first step to this new humanity is the realisation that a change is needed. Truly that step is especially difficult for us today in our religion less pagan religious world. We inhabit a culture preoccupied with the goal of happiness. But Jesus never promised his followers happiness, rather he proclaims the giving up on self interest and the surrender of personal contentment. These are goals right outside contemporary culture, which is often described as “sanctified hedonism”.

Jesus was leading his followers down a difficult path and the same call is before us, to take up the way of the cross. This call has for a long time fallen on deaf ears and even in apostolic times was “foolishness.” Perhaps we may hope that eyes may soon be open to realise that the pursuit of happiness is frankly impossible, dehumanising and cannot last, and it so often leads to utter loneliness. “What profit is it to a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul”. [Matt. 16; 26]

The way that Jesus was taking his disciples was to give up on the temporal in favour of the eternal. This is why in the divine plan, he became a man and revealed to the rest of humanity a divine purpose and meaning for life. He had to do this within the real world of good and evil, of sublime beauty yet appalling evil. The way through these two poles is so dark and treacherous; men will hesitate, the will need a bright vision to give light to their way. That is why, after leaving Caesarea Philippi, Simon Peter and the inner group immediately go on to experience the transfiguration and glory of Christ the Son of the living God as the next step.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

The Church is Catholic

Meditations on the Images and Marks of the Church – Part 3

This is the third of five web meditations launched by Fathers Geoffrey Neal and Edward Bryant on the Church, the images and marks that have underpinned an orthodox vision. An overview of the meditations is available on this site here and on the European website here.

INTRODUCTION

Some years ago at an International conference in London, I was with a group of black suited priests going up the escalator, when a group of Americans going the opposite way said to us, “Hey are you all Catholics?” Here was our problem. Some were Anglo Catholics, some were Nordic Catholic and one was a Roman Catholic. We all said “Yes Sir!” – but we all knew it was not the real answer to the greeting rather it was part of our shared dilemma. This word Catholic, the third mark of the Church in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed has deep roots in the life and the self understanding of the early Church. But it has become our stumbling block. The churches of the Union of Scranton have been meeting over a period of years with other catholic churches, attempting to build a renewed vision of our essential Catholicity, and to do this we have been going back to the sources in an effort to face the challenge brought about by the present crisis of faith.

THE SEED

Beginning with the New Testament it is possible to discern the foundations of Christian self understanding. Just as the first converts were called “followers of the Way” before they were called Christians in Antioch, so too Catholicity took time to emerge fully. For example, the Gospels have images given in Our Lord’s teaching for the people of the kingdom such as the vine and branches, the vineyard, the body and bride and the temple, but it is in the letters of the Apostles dealing with practical and pastoral matters that the seeds of Catholicity are revealed especially as they deal with the need for unity of faith and practice from one local church to another.

The first followers of Christ were simply a faith community of pilgrims living as foreigners in a strange land, but rooted in a belief that they were established by the Lord Jesus himself, led by the Holy Spirit, and guided by faithful human shepherds who were to hand on the one faith. With these leaders they came together and shared in the breaking of bread, looking for the Kingdom that the Lord had promised would come. They were taught by St. Paul that they were a new people of God yet although in many different cities they were one and the same “ekklesia” universally. St. Paul has this in mind telling the Corinthians; “I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.” [1 Corinthians 4,17] He also refers to the Church or Church of God as having her identity in the Eucharist where the many become one: “For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it… Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.” [1 Corinthians 11,18 ff] The identity of each local church united with all the others into the one was reinforced by St. Paul whenever he sent greetings from one city to another as in Romans 16,23: “Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you.”

THE PLANT

By the end of New Testament times the seed of Catholicity had taken root and the next leaders of the Ekklesia of God summed up their self understanding by using the word “Cat-holicos”. This was because very soon living in a real world of human frailty of hostility and persecution; they soon required some explicit dogmatic expression. The simple creeds and basic formulae with the marks of the church then began to emerge. One of the earliest uses of the word Catholic in Christian history was by St. Ignatius second bishop of Antioch in Syria (AD 69) who knew the apostles John, Paul and Barnabas. As a very old man he was arrested and taken on the long and dangerous journey to Rome where he was martyred in the year AD 107. During the journey he writes as the bishop to five of his churches in Asia Minor. He wishes to keep his flocks protected and united with one another and also with the Churches in other regions and holding the same faith they had all received. He wrote to them all, but particularly to the Church in Smyrna, “wherever the bishop is, there is the congregation. When Jesus Christ is present, there is the Catholic Church”. Four decades later in a long letter from Smyrna he tells movingly of the martyrdom of Bishop Polycarp with these words: “of the elect he was indeed one, this most wonderful Polycarp a man who in our times showed himself an apostolic and prophetic teacher and bishop of the catholic church in Smyrna… [Ch 11,16]

Sinai, Christ Pantocrator [Carulmare / CC BY Wikimedia Commons]

THE FRUIT

The increasing use of the adjective Catholic was understood in the sense that it is used by Ignatius and others like Tertullian when he taught about the rule of faith in the Catholic Church or St Cyril when warning against heretics and advising Christians to stay with the catholic church who teach the complete faith universally. [Catechetical lectures 18; ch.23] Finally it bears fruit in the Nicene/Constantinople Creed, which was confirmed by the first four Ecumenical Councils of the whole and undivided Church. The creed expresses faith in a church that is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. All four marks being adjectives are working together, and the whole concept of being Church is to be understood in the mind and practiced in the heart. One mark without the others leaves the whole incomplete. It is inconceivable that members of the Church can be one if they insist on holding their own private opinions. The members of a Church may be fundamentally Catholic by their baptism but to be of the Church they must also be orthodox in doctrine holding the same fundamental beliefs and never losing sight of the call to be lifted into the life and divinity of the Blessed Trinity so that Catholic cannot exist without Holiness or Unity. The four marks “mutually interpenetrate each other in indissoluble unity… the pillar and ground of truth”. [Road to Unity, III,1]

So it was in the third and fourth centuries, struggling to deal with the rise of heretical groups that the word Catholic begins to be applied to those who uphold orthodox doctrine rather than sectarian and non orthodox or what was then called heterodox innovations, which were then everywhere as they are today. Catholic began to mean not only the same faith in every part of the world and hence “universal” but additionally to be “complete” and “whole faith” that needed no additions. This is the meaning of the Greek, “Cat-holicos”. Because the fourth century was the age of endless heresies, the leaders of the church were forced to create the agreed creeds as safe doctrinal pasturage for their people. The creeds were never a substitute or addition to Holy Scripture but created to encapsulate the very core of Apostolic teaching that God had entered human history as a remedy for the destructive flaw that haunts us all. Creeds were not intended to be a straight jacket but rather a fence or safety net. The early Church in the context of the pagan world took very seriously their teaching work, the creed became an important part of three years of catechesis serving as a decompression chamber for converts entering a new journey.

This was the situation Clement of Alexandria [AD 150-215] faced as he compared heretical sects with the true and ancient Catholic Church, and Cyril of Jerusalem [315-387] encouraged his people to do what many have to do today, and avoid churches that could not conform to the Catholic faith, and to a large extent this clarity kept the Church united for the first 1000 years. But it did not last!

THE PLANT NEEDS ATTENTION

Having managed to maintain a degree of working unity, we have to face the fact that all is not well because a grievous and major fracture took place within the Church by the second millennium. The Latin Church of the West made a change in the definition of catholicity by including communion with, and obedience to, the office and supremacy of the Roman pontiff as a requirement for membership of the Church Catholic. This changed everything! Although the creedal marks had themselves not changed, a fatal flaw was opening up in that important concept of unity and wholeness as it had been understood for the earliest centuries. A Papal Catholicity had been created which is an addition or at least an innovation. This alteration also restricted the meaning of catholicos from “whole and complete” just to the idea of universal. This discipline was not accepted by the four other patriarchs of the East. Although it cannot be judged an act of heresy but of innovation and addition in dogma, it has continued to create difficulties for the mark of unity until today. So there are since the second millennium two understandings, first the ancient descriptive definition and then the later Western addition. There have been attempts to resolve these difficulties but so far without success, and still contributing to the root cause of such weakness throughout Christendom which enfeebles us all, especially now. Having witnessed the progressive hardening of the dogmas surrounding Papal Catholicism during the twentieth century, the Old Catholic Church stands with the East in believing that more and more elements have been added to the concept of Catholicity as it was first developed by the Apostles and their successors, and this is a matter that has to be resolved so that we can work and witness together.

CONCLUSION

Regrettably this most important word Catholic is probably the most problematic of all the marks because it is still applied exclusively to the Western Roman Catholic Church, becoming the focus of misunderstanding not just on London escalators, but over many centuries. So this important descriptive word “Catholic” rather than assisting the focus of unity brings about the exact opposite just as the worldwide Church faces a very difficult future.

The only possibility for progress was foreseen by Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict, when he believed that we would all need to return to the beginning to become a simpler Church. This conviction runs through the whole of St. John Paul II’s “Ut unum sint” [1995] which not only recognises the seriousness of Christian division and the impediment to the work of Christ [section 98] but the two lungs of the Catholic Churches of the East and West can only come together based on the model of the first millennium [section 55]. Twenty five years have passed with very little sense of urgency. If the vision could be revived, then perhaps the canon of St. Vincent of Lérins could be preserved and used again by all Catholics having a valued place again as a focus of unity,”that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.”

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

You are Peter, the Rock

Matthew 16,13-20

There have been many strains during the covid19 lockdown but some people have enjoyed the peace and quiet, the blue skies, songbirds and nature. Like the moon astronauts some see the earth in a new way. We need these precious times of retreat to see life from another and perhaps sharper angle, and have a chance with eyes and ears open to see our world and ourselves in a new light.

In the Gospel for this week, Jesus and his disciples are in Banias, in the far north of the Holy Land. In the days of Jesus this mountain city was called Caesarea Philippi; it was a place of retreat with sparkling springs and waterfalls, lush vegetation and exotic views especially of the snow clad Mount Hermon further north. In every way it was starkly different from the descent the disciples were about to make to the Jordan valley and the noise, heat and politics of Jerusalem and the city where Jesus would soon take his followers to face his persecutors and the final days of his trial.

Caesarea Philippi must have been a specially selected setting in which the eyes of his disciples were opening to see the true nature of their Rabbi and companion as “Christos, son of the living God”. If this retreat had not happened, they would have struggled to deal with the future battles. So it was the spokesman, Simon Bar Jonah whose confession was to become the turning point. “Who do people say I am?” was the question the Lord asks. “You are the Christos, son of the living God” was Simon Peter’s reply. This is truly the decisive moment, because Simon goes beyond the Jewish religious or political concept of Messiah in which he had been raised into the unique filial communion at the heart of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, and at the heart of their own relationship with Jesus the Christ.

El Greco – Public Domain

The words of Simon are for the evangelist Matthew, the foundation upon which the Church will be built, and Jesus recognises this, renaming Simon as PETROS (the rock). Simon Peter has put into words the rock (PETRA) upon which the Catholic Faith of the future Church will be anchored and in so doing he has opened the way to the Kingdom of Christ. This confession is the key and Simon Peter is the first to hold the key to being the new people of God.

Today, only those of us who can truly make the same confession that Jesus is the Christ and son of the living God are thus the “successors of Simon Peter” as some of the early Fathers of the Church wrote. The Church is forever called to be like a solid rock built upon these words and no others.

From this moment before leaving Caesarea Philippi, Jesus is preparing his followers for the difficult and narrow way of self sacrifice, persecution and suffering. As today’s followers of Christ this is the journey we too will be required to embrace more and more.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Teenage Troubles

Matthew 15,21-28

When Matthew and Mark describe Jesus’ healing of the Canaanite’s daughter, they don’t say what form her ‘devil-possession’ took. I’ve never had the experience of bringing-up a teenage daughter, but I have seen how my sons, and their wives, have coped with their five daughters – and it’s easy to suppose that their experience was sometimes little different from that of the Canaanite woman. But there’s enough in this episode to suggest one or two ideas which influenced what Jesus did. It’s important to know that the ‘region of Tyre and Sidon’ wasn’t part of neighbouring Jewry, but was where many Canaanites had fled as the Jewish Empire, under Joshua, grew larger. There they intermingled, as best they could, with the Native Phœnecians, who had built the prosperous cities of Tyre and Sidon. So the Canaanites were like today’s ‘refugees’. Although they weren’t persecuted by the locals, they were seen as being ‘different from us’, and ‘second-class citizens’.

For teenagers, growing up that way is never easy: lacking a sense of ‘Personal Identity’, being ‘neither one thing nor the other’, leads young people to lose self-respect, and to behave anti-socially. Jesus understood this. So He ‘went out of His way’, to cross the Border into a No Man’s Land – and an anti-Semitic one. But this was how Jesus laid the foundation of the Kingdom which His Father meant His Church-on-Earth to be.

Condé Museum (Wikipedia Commons)

This Canaanite woman recognized Jesus as a Person who could ‘make sense’ of her predicament. Unlike the Jews (and many Gentiles) she was inspired to believe that He was indeed the promised Messiah that Jews were always talking about. So she decided to put her belief to the test. She greeted Him as ‘Son of David’, a Messianic Title – and fell at His feet begging Him to make her daughter whole again. Well, there followed a battle of wits between the two of them. Instead of granting her request immediately, he challenged her by quoting the Jewish twin beliefs that salvation was limited to the Jewish people, and that non-Jews were mere ‘puppies’. But the woman came straight back at Him. She pointed out that mere puppies have a place under their master’s table, eating the crumbs which drop on the floor, and were also deliberately offered more tasty scraps by some of the guests. Well, her faith, like that of the Roman Centurion (whose batman Jesus had healed); or the other centurion who came to faith in Jesus as the Son of God at Calvary: these were precisely what Jesus was looking out for in His fellow Jews – but so often failed to find; whereas the Samaritans, at Sychar Well, believed on Him. Jesus revealed both to Jews and Gentiles that, although Salvation was, indeed, ‘of the Jews’, it wasn’t exclusively for them. His vocation, on the contrary, was to inspire and lead all mankind to Faith in Himself, His Heavenly Father, and in the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Francis Gardom

Jesus Walks on Water

Matthew 14,22-33

Peter’s boat on the rough sea is an icon of the Church, symbolising the Christian community’s mission is to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and a new way of living as God’s people. Despite the many obstacles and struggles, the Lord’s help and protection will never be lacking, and Christ’s Church will never be overcome. We learn to face together the difficulties, united and strengthened by faith in Jesus who sends us into the world.

Walking on the water, Jesus gets close to the disciples; however they did not recognise him. They cried out in fear, thinking that he was a ghost. Jesus calms them down saying: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” [Mt 14,27]. The words “it is I” reminds us of God overcoming the fear of Moses, who was sent to liberate the people from Egyptian oppression. [Ex 3,14]

For the communities of today as well as for those of yesterday, it was and it is very important to be always open to God’s Word: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” Then Peter addressed Jesus as “Lord [Mt 14,28] this indicates the deep trust and respect, disciples have for Christ’s divinity. “Throughout his public life, Jesus demonstrated his sovereignty by works of power over nature, illnesses, demons, death and sin”. From the beginning of the Christian faith [Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 447-450], the assertion of Christ’s lordship over the world and over history has implicitly recognised that man should not submit his personal freedom in an absolute manner to any earthly power, but only to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Caesar is not The Lord. No one can say “Jesus is Lord”, except by the Holy Spirit. [1 Cor 12.3] Jesus is the Logos, the Word made flesh, the beginning and the end. Indeed, “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow”.

Lluís Borrassà / Public domain

Discovering that it is Jesus, Peter asks if he also can walk on the water. He wants to experience the power which dominates the fury of the sea. This is a power which in the Bible belongs only to God. Jesus allows him to participate in this power. But Peter is afraid. He thinks that he will sink and he cries out: “Lord, save me!” Jesus assures him and takes hold of him and reproaches him: “You have so little faith!” In our own weakness and doubt we can be confident that he who overcame death for our sake will empower us for service. By his example, Christ taught his followers the value of personal prayer. He is the model of Christian prayer, because he prays in us and with us, and for us – in our place and on our behalf. All our petitions were gathered up, once for all, in his cry on the Cross, and in his resurrection, heard by the Father.

Finally Peter was overcome by the waves because of his lack of faith. After Jesus saved him, both of them go into the boat and the wind calms down. The other Disciples, who are in the boat, are astonished and bowed before Jesus, recognizing that he is the Son of God: “Truly, you are the Son of God”. This is the first instance in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus was addressed as the Son of God by his disciples. The title “Son of God” signifies the unique and eternal relationship of Jesus Christ to God his Father; he is the only Son of the Father. In this way Matthew suggests that it is not only Peter who sustains the faith of the Disciples, but also that the faith of the disciples sustains Peter’s faith. At Caesarea Philippi, Peter will go further and professes Jesus as: “the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Let us then who believe in Jesus the Son of God and worship him, encourage each other in this faith as we face the challenges of life, and faithfully bear witness to the Gospel.

Fr. Nathan Williams

A Tale of Two Parties

In a way, this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 14,13-21), together with the preceding verses, could be thus described. The first party is the one that King Herod throws to celebrate his birthday; the second is the impromptu picnic party Jesus throws in the wilderness for a hungry crowd of thousands.

At the first, a young woman dances for the king; captivated, he promises her anything she asks for. So she settles an old score by asking for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. John had committed the fatal error of condemning Herod for marrying his brother’s wife. Criticise the powerful at your peril! 

The second party is very different. Jesus takes a boat to escape from the crowds, but so charismatic is he that they follow him on foot in droves. He cures the sick among them, one by one. Jesus doesn’t turn them away – he puts their needs in front of his own.

Giovanni Lanfranco / Public domain

But all this takes time. The sun begins to set, and the disciples worry. They tell the Lord to send the crowds away to find something to eat for themselves, but Jesus challenges them. “You don’t need to send them packing – you can feed them!” You can almost hear the sharp intake of breath. They are totally out of their depth. But Jesus saves the situation. He takes five loaves and two fish, blesses the loaves, breaks them and gives them to the crowds and there is more than enough for all. And note in passing that there are clear Eucharistic undertones to this, for to take, bless, break and give is precisely what the priest does at every Eucharist.

In these two contrasting parties, we learn more about the pathetic King Herod than we could possibly want to know, but what do we learn about Jesus from his impromptu party in the wilderness? He heals the sick, he feels compassion for hungry crowds. He discerns what can be done for them, and reveals the care and generosity of our loving God. The crowds are given sound reason to believe that God is still at work for good in the world.

Herod’s party becomes a celebration of death, not simply the man dead and decapitated in his prison cell, but the spiritual death of all those complicit in this orgy of self indulgence where life becomes just a commodity to be used or abused or done away with.

But these are not simply past events, they remain options, between which we choose repeatedly. One is the way to death. The other is the way to life. We are welcome at each of them, and the invitations are always there, waiting for an answer. Herod’s party is easy to find; it is the way of the world. The picnic Jesus puts on can be harder to locate; it occurs in an out-of-the-way place, but accept it, find it, and you will not regret the decision.

For all his finery, for all his opulence, Herod shows himself to be a slave to the world. Jesus wears no crown, yet he reigns as king. 

You can tell a lot about people by the kind of parties they throw; you can tell a lot about people by the kind of parties they go to.

Fr. Edward Bryant

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