All Saints Day

Matthew 5,1-12

From Whitsun we have been reflecting on being the Church in the world and now All Saints Day brings the season of Pentecost to a climax with the witness of the thousands upon thousands of individuals who have been shining lights within the life of the Church for Christ’s kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven was not a vague end time proclamation that Jesus announced but an alternative domain to the way of the world that begins here and is raised to eternity. The conduct and examples of the “saints” are for us always a dramatic contrast with the standards of the religion-less world. Far from being simply pious and nice people doing good, the saints were acutely aware of the power of evil both in the world and also in themselves, and the destructiveness that evil brings, their attitude was summed up by St John [12,35-36], we are called to become sons of light, lest the darkness overtakes us and we do not know where we are going… They knew where they were going and were not sidetracked.

We are living today in an age where there is almost a total absence of the sense of the soul, little idea of the divine, and unwillingness to recognise the deadly power of evil that has reached pandemic proportions. Today the virtues of the Judeo-Christian culture have been rejected; the people of Christ and his kingdom will be bound to keep alive their sacred history and the memory of the heroes of faith.

The Gospel reading for the day is the remarkable summary at the heart of the Lord’s kingdom teaching on holiness called the “Beatitudes”. Blessed are the God fearing, who know their need, who have a gentle spirit, who thirst for goodness, are merciful and pure of heart are some o the characteristics of the kingdom. If this is thought to be far too difficult, then one only needs to see the scale of the enemy the kingdom people face. The cruelty of dictatorships, or the violence against the police, paramedics, fire and emergency services on the streets and hospitals among many things that witness to the challenge we face. The saints are our heroes who precede us, and, inspire us to raise our mediocre game and become participants with them in the kingdom of heaven.

A crucial part of the Christian mind is “remembrance” which we do at every gathering for the Eucharist and daily when we read Holy Scripture or recall the men and women, the young and old of every race culture and generation who in their lives revealed the light that shines in the darkest of places. We stand on the shoulders of these giants of holiness who withstood whatever the world threw at them. Such people as the very earliest saints like St Moses and St Anthony who came from North Africa as well as those from the Middle East and Europe were those whom the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he described as the “great cloud of witnesses who surround us “. For we are like athletes in a stadium being urged and encouraged by those who raced before us and now it is our turn to” run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

The Law of Love

Matthew 22,34-40

Jesus was asked to name the greatest of the commandments and he responded by naming two, both found in the Old Testament. Jesus brought them together and made them of equal importance: love of God and love of neighbour.

Christ Pantocrator, Cathedral of Cefalù, Sicily, c. 1130 (Andreas Wahra, CC BY-SA 3.0)

However often we hear the words of these two commandments, we are struck by the demands they place upon us. Jesus brings together the love of God and love of neighbour as something inseparable, like two sides of the one coin. We cannot have one without the other. Love of God whom we cannot see is, is false if it is not complimented by love of the people we rub shoulders with in our daily life. 

Our neighbour is not thrown in as an afterthought because it is through people around about that God makes contact with us on a daily basis.
Also, the scriptures constantly remind us of the message than ‘anyone who says he loves God and hates his brother is a liar’. Therefore, we cannot call ourselves Christian if we do not love our neighbour. 

Loving our neighbour as we love ourselves is a necessary element in giving our hearts and minds to God and that is where the challenge lies. It is wonderful in theory but sometimes difficult to put into practice.

In the Gospel story, Jesus challenges us to take a good look at the nooks and crannies of our lives that are sometimes sealed off from God, those parts of our lives which we are sometimes uncomfortable with. To profess that we love God while remaining indifferent to the plight of others is a contradiction. We all want love to be like a thorn-less rose that is smooth and velvet to the touch. However, in following Christ, we find that love involves sacrifice and also the shadow of the cross. Love is, waiting upon the aged, nursing the sick, patching up quarrels and taking time to listen to the broken hearted.

Very few expect to find love in weakness, powerlessness and suffering and yet that is the heart of Christ’s message to the world. From his birth in a stable as one who was homeless, to his death on the cross as a common criminal, Jesus always identified with the spiritually, physical and materially poor of this world. The Gospel which we proclaim is not just an ideal to be admired but a way of life to be lived if we are to walk humbly with our God. 

Heavenly Father look with pity and mercy on all who are in need this day. May your Spirit guide us always to walk in your ways with joy and peace. 
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr. Paul Andrew

Paying Caesar, paying God

Matthew 22,15-22

Previously, Jesus criticised the Pharisees in the parables of the tenants and the wedding feast. Today’s Gospel reading is the first of four disputes between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day. The Pharisees conspired to trap Jesus through cunning argument and so posed the perfect question, “is it against our Law to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor or not?”

Leaving aside the obvious, that wherever you go, people will do their upmost to avoid paying taxes. This was a contentious issue, simply because Rome had occupied and repressed Israel, especially in taxing the Jews. Indeed this subjection to the Roman authorities was a source of bitter resentment. The insult went deeper, in that the very coinage had the image of Caesar stamped on it with the words “Son of the divine Augustus”. To the people of God, this was blasphemy.

Peter Paul Rubens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

So the Pharisees set a trap for Jesus, because they assumed that someone proclaiming the Kingdom of God, would surely not endorse such a tax. If Jesus was the Messiah, delivering Israel from its oppressors must be his priority. So if he supports the tax, then his followers will abandon him. But on the other hand if Jesus encourages people to defy the tax, he will face the consequences of persecution, humiliation, and death by crucifixion.

The Lord’s opponents thought they had Jesus “caught between a rock and a hard place”. But alas, Jesus fully aware of their deceit asks the Pharisees the name of the person whose face is represented on the coin. Caesar. His swift and stunning reply “pay to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay to God what belongs to God” completely disarmed his adversaries.

Perhaps it’s important to interpret this parable in the light of the whole story. This is not a comprehensive statement on the relationship between God and political authority. Taxes are gathered for the common good. We are expected to obey the just laws of society. Jesus is not afraid of political confrontation. Christians should and do get involved in politics, for example the historical abolition of the slave trade. What about unjust laws?

During the time of Nazi Germany, Christians were prosecuted and sent to the concentration camps for opposing the persecution of the Jews. The Sixth Commandment says, “Thou shalt do no murder”. In modern times we have seen the liberalisation of attitudes toward abortion and euthanasia. Surely as orthodox Christians we need to take a stand and protect the sanctity of life. Jesus was fully aware that he is walking to his death, but it will be on his terms. He knows that ultimately the Kingdom of God will defeat the Emperor’s Roman Kingdom, and it will do so on a far more fundamental and cosmic level by defeating an even greater power, death itself.

Fr. Nathan Williams

A Gracious Invitation

Matthew 22,1-14

The king sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come (Matthew 22,1).

“I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.” So runs the line in a dozen gangster movies – refuse at your peril is the subtext. Today’s Gospel is from that point of view a strange case of refusing a wonderful offer, an invitation to a royal wedding. There is a sense of course in which every wedding is a royal wedding, and indeed, in the Orthodox Church part of the ceremony includes placing crowns on the heads of bride and groom. And yet those who had been invited refused the invitation – one by one they all began to make excuses. Strange, isn’t it? All is prepared, the fatted calf has been killed, we can be sure that the wine will flow in abundance, and yet they don’t want to come. Would you refuse such an invitation? What is it all about?

Really, there is no mystery, and there is little doubt that the chief priests and Pharisees, to whom these words were addressed, would have got the message. These parables are allegories – the characters and the situations stand for something else, in this case the king is God the Father, the son is Jesus, the wedding feast is the kingdom, those invited are the Jews who have refused to listen to God’s messengers, in the first instance the prophets, and last of all Jesus himself. Finally, we are told, in his rage, the king sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Because of their disobedience and wilfulness, these folk came to a dreadful end. It is little wonder that the chief priests and the Pharisees hated Jesus and sought to destroy him, for they stood accused.

Jan van Eyck, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

But there is a serious lesson in this for us as well. We too have been invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. For us too the fatted calf has been killed, we too are invited to take the seats of honour. But although the invitation is there for us to accept, remember that it comes from a king, the supreme King, and kings expect certain things from their subjects in return . The king expects us to hear the message that Jesus brings, and to respond in faith and obedience. All these things I have done from my youth up, I hear you say, but we need a watchful faith, because we live in a society and at a time when the pressures on Christians to conform to the way of the world have never been greater, and we need to beware lest what we believe to be a true and loyal faith has been subverted so that it becomes little different from the way of life of our pagan neighbours. We all of us from time to time need a spiritual check up. When did you last have yours?

Fr. Edward Bryant

The Church is One and Holy

Meditations on the Images and Marks of the Church – Part 4

This is the fourth 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, on the European website here as well as the Norwegian NCC blog.

The Church is one foundation in Christ

I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church, but regret that it nowhere exists” – William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury (1942-44). The first part of his comment is of course a quote from the Nicene Creed, which, at least in the Anglican tradition, is recited Sunday by Sunday at the Eucharist. As though wishing that, by writing, it could make it real, the nineteenth century cleric Sabine Baring Gould could pen a hymn, now, sadly, often rewritten as to be virtually unrecognisable, because it offends over-sensitive twenty-first century ears, which included with no apparent irony the words “we are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity”. A fine sentiment but, one that begs many questions.

So, to revert, what do the words in the Creed “one” and “holy” mean? Does “one” mean organisationally one or doctrinally one, and why does it matter? To answer the last point first, we need to turn to the Scriptures. The early part of the Book of Genesis shows a united human race but one which did not accept its responsibility under God to be obedient, and a faithful steward of the Creation; hence the account of the Tower of Babel (chapter 11), where God caused many different languages to be spoken, as a means of putting humankind in its place, and thus allowing Him to reassert his sovereign will. But just as God ruptured the unity of the human race through the Tower of Babel, so He restored it at the first Christian Pentecost when according to Acts chapter 2 the many human languages present on that occasion became one spiritual language of the Gospel, a mark of the New Creation. And the Church itself is meant to be a living sign of that New Creation, in which, as the Lord himself had prayed (John 17) His followers might be one, not to be a self-regarding clique, but that others too might come to believe in him.

Jesus and his twelve disciples – Fresque from Cappadocia, 11th Century

But it goes even deeper than that, for it comes back to the nature of God himself, and the relationship of the Church to God. The Christian tradition has always held firmly to the doctrine of the Trinity, the Triune God, such belief being most elegantly expressed in the Athanasian Creed. In the mystery of the Trinity we see perfect unity, perfect fellowship; the Church, being the continuation, the extension, of the Incarnation through the ages, is therefore called to mirror the perfect unity that we see in the Godhead. The problem, of course, is that human nature gets in the way, and people, sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes not, but rather attempting to subvert,embark on ways of being Church that may obscure or indeed negate its divine character. Sadly, disunity, the unwillingness to wait on God, to submit the personal to the collective (strikingly referred to by Saint Paul as The Body), is often an easier option than unity. And we can trace this trait even to the early years of the Church, for it is a recurring theme in the writings of Saint Paul, met full-on with strong teaching about the responsibility that comes from being a follower of Christ, and his robust chastising of those who sow disharmony in the life of the Church; factions and discord in the Church, jostling for power, grievously harm its witness to a disbelieving world.

Who are the members of the Church of Christ?

The traditional answer would be all who have been baptised in the name of the Trinity. Like so many issues in Christian history, matters are not as simple as that! Many non-believers or non-practising Christians, if asked which body of Christians to their mind most faithfully lives out the teaching and example of Jesus Christ, would say “The Salvation Army”. Problem: they don’t practice Baptism, or for that matter celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Are they therefore not Christians? Another honoured group is the Quakers, the Society of Friends, but they do not baptise either. It gets worse! When Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses baptise, they use forms of words similar to, or identical with, the traditional formulas: does that bring them within the orbit of the Christian Church? The answer as far as these two organisations is concerned must be in the negative because their beliefs are far removed from traditional Christian understandings. The fact that a previous woman bishop of Utah, baptised as a Mormon, was ordained without re-baptism speaks volumes for the lack of understanding by those involved both of the clear teaching of Scripture and the consistent message of the Tradition of the Church. What then of the Salvation Army and the Quakers? While as sacramental Christians we must regret that they do not baptise, we must surely acknowledge their integrity, and recognise that they are indeed our brothers and sisters in Christ, as demonstrated by their beliefs and ways of life, considered as a whole.

So, what of organisational unity? This cannot be considered separately from doctrinal unity, problematic though this is. The World Council of Churches, founded in 1948 in Amsterdam as “a fellowship of Churches which accept Jesus Christ our Lord as God and Saviour” has under God performed wonders in bringing into closer fellowship no less than 350 different Churches which accept that basic formula. But by not pronouncing on matters of doctrine and church order, it starkly highlights the seemingly intractable problem of organisational unity. Unless there is a shared understanding and acceptance of doctrine, such unity is unfeasible. The only Church which organisationally successfully encompasses the whole world is the Roman Catholic Church, which, wherever it is present, has a common doctrine and structure. Other Christian bodies may spread beyond national boundaries but, without a body of doctrine understood and interpreted in a common manner, risk fracture.

To name but two examples, this has happened in the Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht. The use of words on their own to demonstrate accord does not stand up to examination, it is only a common understanding of their meaning that can produce true unity. Although in recent years, the work of ARCIC, the joint Roman Catholic/Anglican Unity Commission, has gone relatively quiet, in earlier years there was much rejoicing over agreed joint Reports on matters such as the Eucharist, but the objections raised consequent upon their publication caused serious doubts as to whether there existed that common understanding. This underlines the importance of Tradition in the life of the Church, for it will guide us as to how in its history the Church has understood the faith handed down from the Apostles.

Unity with Holiness

The Church is called to be holy, a word meaning dedicated or consecrated to God, also carrying the idea of being separated from the ways of this world. As such it is meant to be a sign to the world of God’s love and also, in the way it conducts itself, to point to the coming of the Kingdom; it is not, as some mistakenly aver, the Kingdom itself. Holiness is fundamental to the Church’s self understanding, but it seems to finds more emphasis in the Orthodox tradition. The very fruitful discussions between the Orthodox and the Old Catholic Churches in the 1970s–80s, drew the following affirmation:

“The Church is holy, since Christ its Head is holy and gave himself for it “that he might sanctify it … that the church might be presented before him in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that it might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5.25-27). It adds the important rider, “The fact that members of the Church sin does not nullify the holiness of the Church.” (The Road to Unity, III/1)

As the continuation through history of the Incarnation, the Church in its life it must be animated by the example set by Jesus Christ, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. As Saint Paul reminds the Galatians, to live in the Spirit will produce many fruits – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These qualities are not found in superabundance in the way in which the world operates (indeed, few outside the Church would understand), but will we find them in the Church? Certainly in the lives of many individual Christians – my guess is that while we are rightly reluctant to claim such qualities as our own, many of us will be able to point to others who bear the unmistakable marks of holiness; typically such people will claim no special status for themselves yet they are an inspiration to others who seek to fashion their lives after the example of their Lord.

But what then of the Church itself? Called to be in the world but not of the world, at least in the West the Church has grown complacent, with the view, often practised and sometimes put into words, that if people need the Church, they know where we are! And now the Church is paying the price, with even countries that were historically shaped by Christianity abandoning the faith. Rather than being dynamic, all too often the Church has been weighed down by secular models, by the burden of bureaucracy, by the need to maintain ancient and venerable buildings, by people who see Christian ministry not as service but as a career, and by aping the ways and passing fads of the surrounding secular culture. We need look no further that the words of Jesus himself, who, to paraphrase slightly, is quoted (Matthew 6) as saying you cannot serve God and this world.

While some have a particular vocation to withdraw from the world, the Church and its members are called to be in the world, to be the leaven in the lump, faithful to, Jesus Christ afresh wherever they are, indeed, in that rather frightening phrase, to be alter Christus, but especially in the dark places, way beyond our comfort zones, for in mystic fashion, the Incarnation has sanctified the whole Creation, the dark as much as the light.

Fr. Edward Bryant

 

Make me a pure heart, O God

Matthew 21,33-43

The parable of the tenant farmers has a crystal clear message and the religious leaders to whom Jesus directed this parable had no problem seeing that he was aiming at them. Much of Matthew’s Gospel is critical of religious leaders because these are the people who will resort to deceit to put Jesus to death.

The wicked husbandmen. Jan Luyken etching. Bowyer Bible (Phillip Medhurst / FAL – Wikipedia Commons)

In the story, Israel is the vineyard and the farmers are the Pharisees and priests of the Jewish nation. The owner wishes the farm to be well run. The tenant farmers not only reject the owner’s messengers but kill his son and heir. What will the owner do, asks Jesus? The Pharisees, leaders who are supposed to be trusted with the care of Israel, know that the owner will take the vineyard away and give it to others.

What lies behind Our Lord’s criticism and what is going on in the behaviour of these religious leaders? Why as so frequently in the past are they unwilling to cooperate with God? This is certainly the story behind so much of the Old Testament. “They did evil in the sight of God”. Why this continual failure and blindness generation after generation by leaders both civil and religious? Why so concerned about specks in others eyes unable to see the planks in their own eyes? We see it clearly throughout human history and we still see it today, however many times we also hear the mantra repeated “this must never happen again” human nature repeats its problems.

Reading this parable, Christians need to remind themselves about two things. Jesus Christ addresses many of his remarks mostly the well to do and religious leaders who supposed they were so well instructed in matters of faith and he calls on them to self realism and repentance. They represent the most difficult aspect of all human life, namely our ability to self deception and hypocrisy. This is sad in anyone but especially in those who aspire to the privilege of religious life or leadership. Our Lord said to the Pharisees, “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” [Luke 5; 32.] The issues this parable highlight show up dramatically in those with authority, but exist in us all.

A second confusion is the meaning of sin. People mostly think of moral sin such as the wickedness of child abuse. Today there is a great preoccupation with more and more moral sins. Jesus’ diagnosis is with what lies behind the attitudes of mind and the actions that result which he regards as spiritual sin originating at the core of the self. For Jesus spiritual sin is a refusal to work with God, an atheism which is blind to the laws of God. This is exactly what the tenant farmers committed. Most likely driven by a desire to get their hands on the farm they assumed that without a son and heir, the owner would be forced to surrender the estate and it would be theirs. Murder would achieve their greedy plan. Behind behaviour there is a dysfunction of the soul which has the power to eat away at every human, whatever the creed, culture, age, gender, or ethnicity. None of us are immune from this contamination which attacks us most when we reject the laws of nature and God and even more are unwilling to stand correction or seek forgiveness to turn ourselves around.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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

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