Encountering Evil

Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 14;23-29

This Reflection is based on a book entitled Encountering Evil dealing with the often-asked question “Why does the All-Powerful God allow there to be so much evil in the world?” The present Russo-Ukrainian war, with all its reported atrocities and suffering, has brought this question to the surface of many people’s minds.

Although this Reflection doesn’t provide an easy answer to this question, and the Lord’s Prayer asks God that we may be “delivered from evil”, turning a blind eye to something which is Evil isn’t the only – or even the best way to encounter evil. At the centre the word ‘encountering’ is the idea of ‘to counter’, suggesting not only our disapproval of evil, but our duty to resist it in God’s Name.

The God-Incarnate Jesus, experienced pain, physical and mental, the moment He was conceived. When Mary and Joseph were teaching Jesus to walk, He often fell over, and they picked Him up off the stone floor in Nazareth, He was shocked, sobbing, and hurt. Being God Incarnate didn’t spare Him pain and suffering, as we know!

Herod ordered His assassination, thus turning God the Son into a child refugee in a largely Anti-Semitic Egypt. At Nazareth He was dragged away by the Synagogue Officials to be thrown over a local precipice. In Jerusalem, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin sought to kill Him. They illegally arrested Him in Gethsemane Gardens, and then subjected Him to what amounted to a ‘Show Trial’. Jesus clearly saw that their plan would involve Him in suffering and death. The next day both came to pass.

In John’s Gospel we hear many paradoxes which Jesus used to help His hearers understand the Truth, especially the Truth about His (and our) relationship with God the Father.

Alvesgaspar [2011], Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A paradox uses two separate ideas which often conflict with each other, to explain the truth. In our reading Jesus talked about ‘giving us His Peace’; “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. [John 14;27] His Peace isn’t what the Secular mind thinks it means, but the Peace of God, which passes all understanding. To the Secular Mind, the word ‘Peace’ means the absence of strife, care, sorrow, disappointment, sickness, and all the other things people seek to avoid in their earthly lives. But the Peace that Jesus offers His faithful servants is something very different: He offers us, in this world at least, anxiety, trouble, strife, uncertainty, betrayal, failure, in fact those very things by which His Father reconciled the World to Himself!

This warns us that if we follow Jesus Christ, in this World, we can’t expect our life to be always a comfortable ‘Bed of Roses’. Roses have thorns, as Jesus Himself knew well from His own experience. What He intends our role to be in fighting evil, hasn’t yet fully revealed to us. Revealing everything to everyone at the same time is seldom God’s way of making His Will known!

Although during our earthly life God gives us some faint foretastes of the joys we can expect when we reach our destiny where His Son “has gone to prepare a place for us” much of His Plan remains a hidden secret, yet most beautifully expressed by the English hymn writer John Mason Neale [1818-1866]:

The cross that Jesus carried, He carried as your due:
The crown that Jesus weareth, He weareth it for you.

The faith by which you see Him, the hope in which you yearn,
The love that through all troubles, to Him alone will turn.

The trials that beset you, The sorrows you endure,
The manifold temptations That death alone can cure.

What are they but His jewels, of right celestial worth?
What are they but the ladder, set up to heaven on earth?

Fr. Francis Gardom

What’s Happened To the New Commandment?

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 13;31-35

We have followed the events of the Passion, the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus for many weeks, but on this 5th week of Easter we go back to the Passover Supper, the washing of the disciple’s feet and the departure at night of Judas from the fellowship to betray his master. The dark time approaches and the time is right for Jesus to give the new commandment in his farewell discourse. This is the crucial precept for all who follow in his steps.

With the mind of St. John we recall the beginning of his gospel, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – we beheld his glory”. [John 1;14] The glory and divinity of God’s Word made flesh was only known through the perspective of the cross. There the Son of Man dies as a human, but reveals the glory of the Christ and Son of God. It is with hindsight that the evangelist tells us about the Passover meal, when Jesus identifies himself as the sacrificed “lamb of God” as he was first recognised by the prophet at the baptism. [John 1;29]

Simon Ushakov (1685), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

At this Passover, Jesus predicts his night of betrayal by Judas who embodies “anti-love” breaking the sacred bonds of friendship. This episode, dark as it is, begins the process by which the light of both Father and Son will shine. [John 13;31] None of this makes sense at the time to the disciples, until they also have gone through times of trial, doubt and despair. Only then will divine glory, the meaning of Scripture be possible. The washing of disciple’s feet becomes the prelude to the unique bond of love that Jesus will demonstrate by his death and require from all who follow him. The washing will underline all that is about to take place and the passionate words of the High Priestly Prayer in Chapter 17 in which Jesus prays that the union between God the Father and the Son will grow in “those you have given me”.

In all of this St. John writing after years of reflection is proclaiming a pivotal moment for the central theme of his Gospel, that the full divinity of Jesus is revealed as he lays down his life for his friends and his enemies too. At the supper he tenderly addresses his disciples and all who will also follow him, “little children, a new commandment I give to you, love each other as I have loved you, by this all will know you are my disciples”. [John 13;35] This is the new commandment and charge to the Apostolic Church, which after the Ascension and Coming of the Holy Spirit is to become Christ’s physical presence in the world. The charge applies to us all and now we are required to restate and reinterpret its unique meaning through the perspective of the cross and resurrection in our age.

Tragically, this crucial commandment is today frequently forgotten within the Church when it thinks in secular institutional terms, with buildings staffed by corporate officials organised to encourage good works, or even worse when it becomes a servant of the political world. Having experienced this failure in Germany, Bonhoeffer was adamant that the Christian Church “founded solely on Jesus Christ and his new commandment, making it absolutely different to all other communities.” The Church, as the body of Christ is to be “Holy” and can only be so if made up with those who have embraced the untranslatable word “agape” Christ’s uses to when speaking of his own love at the heart of his new commandment and manifested even upon the cross.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

I’ve Made Up My Mind, Don’t Convince Me With the Facts!

Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 10;22-30

How often when we ask a question have we already made up our minds what the answer is going to be? In this Gospel reading, the Jews who asked Jesus to say plainly if he was indeed the Messiah had already worked out in their own minds what the answer to that question was. They had firm ideas about who the Messiah would be, conventional ideas about an earthly king who would throw out the foreign oppressors and restore the kingdom of David. There are two problems with this. First, no earthly kingdom is an adequate reflection of God’s kingdom – even the imagined golden age of the first King David was marked by immorality and all the other blemishes that inevitably accomplish all human endeavors, and second it reveals an attitude of mind which confidently expects God to fit in with our preconceptions, our ideas about what is right and what is wrong. The Jews were convinced in their own minds that this outsider, this man who wasn’t even a proper Rabbi, couldn’t possibly be the Messiah.

There are also dangers for us! If we believe that we are above such ideas, and all we have to do is accept Jesus as the Christ, and that concludes the matter. But the sheep of Jesus are to hear and follow and their actions must speak louder than words. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” [2 Cor 5,17], writes St Paul, and if we are honest with ourselves before God, can we really claim that we have discarded the old nature and put on the new? Because if, in honesty we cannot make that claim for ourselves, in what sense then have we the right to claim that we have recognised Jesus, both who and what he truly is as our shepherd?

When it comes to the crunch, when there is conflict between the standards of Christ and the way of the world, what happens? Every human life is marked with failure and sinfulness: the big question is, what do we do about it? Do we just shrug our shoulders, say we are doing our best and then carry on as before, or do we accept the challenge to turn decisively away from the old life and toward the new and eternal life of Christ?

Mosaic in mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, 5th century.
Petar Milošević, CC BY-SA 4.0

Jesus tells us that his sheep “hear him and they follow him”. Both are required of the Christian. A readiness to hear the words of the Lord, and words which we know deep down are words that are not simply going to tell us what a splendid job we are making of our lives, but which are going to challenge us to new ways of living, is the start, but only the start. How foolish, how dangerous to our immortal souls, to hear the words of eternal life, and then ignore them. We are called to hear, and then to respond, by following in the steps of the master, and not, like foolish sheep, to think that we know best and that we can therefore go our own way with impunity.

Some of course will scorn the whole idea of Jesus speaking to us, let alone having to obey the voice of a mere man who, the world confidently believes (and hopes?), has been dead for two thousand years, but if we will only stop rushing around, we will then find that Jesus the living Lord speaks to us in a hundred and one different ways, in the circumstances of our lives, in the stillness of our hearts, and much more besides, and that his words are true for our lives. That demands of us a readiness to accept that he really is Messiah, he really is Lord. Mere words are unlikely to convince you of that, and that is why, even in Eastertide, we still need the cross in front of our eyes, the reminder of what man’s rejection of Jesus led him to. Can we look at Jesus on the Cross, and still deny his claim on our lives?

Fr. Edward Bryant

Do You Love Me?

Third Sunday of Easter – Resurrection Appearances

John 21;1-19

Some think that the 4th Gospel originally ended with the climax of the resurrection appearances in Jerusalem and the words, “the world cannot contain the books that should be written about all the things Jesus did.” [John 20;25] Yet there is a final chapter 21 which seems to stand alone as a mystical appendix, added by John “the beloved disciple”, at a later date. This is the passage we reflect upon after Easter.

The setting is the Sea of Tiberias in Galilee where the disciples were first called from their boats. [Luke 5] Why did these disciples now return to their nets as if the resurrection encounters made little difference? Galilee was the scene of their initial meeting with the Lord, the feeding of the multitude with bread and two small fishes. This lakeside meeting with the “risen Christ” has familiar echoes with those earlier days. Was the charcoal fire especially important too because it recalled the fire in Jerusalem where Peter had warmed himself as he denied the Lord and where his leadership had collapsed? This scene involves the same seven key disciples who now seem to have been so uncertain that they returned home to their former familiar life, still seem unable to make a catch by themselves or see their future.

Raphael, Christ’s Charge to Peter [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

If chapter 21, was really added at a later date by the “beloved disciple” then the passage must have special importance. St John is the Church’s theologian, the first who recognises Jesus and closest to grasping the mystery of “godly love” within the fellowship of followers. The dialogue that John records after the lakeside breakfast brings to mind the transformation of Isaiah’s calling, for like Peter, the prophet thought he was unworthy and “a man of unclean lips” but whose lips were purified by the Angel with charcoal to enable him to become the mouthpiece of God’s Word. Simon Peter is the flawed leader who needs to take into himself that the resurrection is not just a trampling down of evil and death, but a power to transform his own being and to fulfil his mission. He was aware that he was no Rock but still a sinful man of “unclean lips.” [Luke 5;8].

Peter’s transformation begins with the memorable dialogue witnessed by John and the three crucial questions Jesus puts to Simon Peter. “Do you love me” (that Christ like love). Yes I love you as a friend and brother. “Feed my sheep”. “Do you love me with that costly love?” “Yes Lord, I love you as a brother”. Peter must be transformed from a disciple and friend into an apostle and “be carried where he does not wish to go”. No longer just convinced by the resurrection but changed by it. Only then will Peter become the Rock of the future Apostolic Church.

Pascha means “crossing over” to the other shore, leaving Galilee and the old life, as the Hebrews had left Egyptian slavery. This was to be Simon Peter’s crossing to become the rock, able fearlessly to speak as Christ’s apostle and to be the foundation of the Church Catholic. John the “beloved disciple” sees this clearly and wrote as the Elder Apostle about that powerful love that the Lord brought into the world that went far beyond friendship. Surely he wrote having lived long enough to see the life of the Church being built upon transforming love that Jesus Christ had asked of Peter being acted out by more and more converts. St John still writes for you and me.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Holy Ground

Second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy

John 20;19-31

That story of the Risen Lord appearing to the disciples is remarkable for a number of reasons, but to highlight just one point, and perhaps one that is not immediately obvious, strictly speaking Christianity has no holy places.

Those encounters between Jesus and his friends are assumed to have taken place in the Upper Room, the same place where the Last Supper had been celebrated only a few days earlier. What memories, what associations that place must have held for them all, not just in the turbulence of recent days, but also, going forward – betrayal of the Lord by Judas, one of the brotherhood on the negative side, but on the positive side, scenes of great emotion – breaking of bread and sharing of a cup, washing of feet, unparalleled teaching from the Master, and now resurrection appearances.

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Appearance Behind Locked Doors [Wikimedia Commons]

What a holy place that must have been! And yet there is not the slightest evidence that it became a place of pilgrimage in the years and centuries that followed, that the hundreds and thousands of converts to the new faith regularly resorted there for spiritual inspiration, that the souvenir sellers’ stalls blocking the streets as they sought to sell mementoes to all and sundry.

Contrast that with, say, Islam, which expects its followers, or at least the men, to go on pilgrimage to Mecca and the other holy places, or indeed how Jews from all over the world used to come to Jerusalem for the festivals of the Jewish year. Now of course in practice certain places have acquired for Christians a special significance, and it is natural that, for example, the route that Jesus took on his way to the Cross should have a deep place in Christian hearts. Even at the local level, that there are particular church buildings held in great esteem by the community, as places that are somehow the repository of community and personal memories. Being an unashamed traditionalist I’m glad for that, but we still have to hold on to that essential truth, that the incarnation, God becoming man in the person of Jesus, has made the whole world holy, the world, and not this place or that, is the holy place for Christians. That means that not just my local church, or your local church or Westminster Abbey, or indeed St Peter’s in Rome, are more holy, but the factory floor, the supermarket, the hospital, the classroom, the high rise block, the pub and the club are holy ground as well.

This concept of the Holy ground being everywhere has the profoundest implications for us as Christians as we seek, however imperfectly, to continue the Lord’s work of building the Kingdom. And especially as in the beautiful Springtime of 2022 we mourn for the battered people and cities of Ukraine and weep over the images of devastation that we see, we must never lose sight of this great truth – there too is holy ground. We live on holy ground. Not only can we meet the Risen Lord anywhere, we must also be prepared to live his risen life anywhere – the holy people of God must make others aware too that, wherever they are, they are standing on holy ground, made such by the birth and dying and rising again of the Son of God.

Fr. Edward Bryant

The Risen Christ In Our Midst

Eastertide

Luke 20;1-18

In my student days many seminarians were helped by the work of London’s Keston College who gave support and publicity to dissidents in the Soviet Union. Many of these were martyred and many have since died, but their suffering deepened faith and courage all over the world. Theirs was a courageous Easter faith witnessed especially by priests like Father Gleb Yakunin, a disciple of Father Alexander Men, who was sentenced to ten years imprisonment under article 70 for Anti-Soviet activity. He had continually written letters condemning Patriarch Alexi II and President Khrushchev for the persecution of Christians and the abolition of Easter. Father Gleb by his ministry restored the moral authority of Orthodoxy in a way that is needed again today. This high doctrine of The Resurrection in Soviet days survived the culture of atheism particularly in monasteries like St. Nicholas in Makachevo in Western Ukraine in which the Abbess Mother Paraskeva who died 1967 publicly declaring her hope in the resurrection.

Even now, their successors continue to accept that suffering in both Russia and Ukraine at the hands of the Russian Government, supported by highest ranking Christian leaders, enforcing a new Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation, as before, prohibited Christians from expressing their convictions that the shedding of innocent blood in Ukraine is an error. This Eastertide is a time to express solidarity and stand with our courageous brethren in both countries, not only for what they have given in the past but what they now are shouldering in the present persecution. With them we all cry “Christ is in our midst, He is risen indeed”.

Ascension of Christ with the Hetoimasia, Andreas Ritzos (1421-1492),
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Easter proclaims the Risen Christ for a season of 40 days rather than just one day, because it is so central to the Christian faith. Easter is not just about personal survival or the preservation of myself, but about the transfiguring of self, which culminates in a union with God. The first martyr Stephen revealed this as his eyes saw the crowd stoning him to death, his heart saw the risen Christ. The scale and consequence of what Jesus accomplished by his death and resurrection is absolutely massive. By descending to the place of despair and darkness, of horror and alienation, brings light and love even to the depths of hell. St Paul saw clearly that without this the faith, life is futile and creation is in continual bondage. [Romans 8] So many persecuted Christians over the ages have seen this too as will those who on every continent in increasing numbers today see the futility of a world with no way of deliverance from the evil that has to be defeated in every age. The risen Christ in our midst is the Christian conviction that in Christ there is a new creation in which everything can be restored. It is based on the promises of Christ ringing in our ears, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. [John 10;28]

Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) in his day witnessed the effects on society where people live as if God is dead and Christ powerless. He knew how totalitarian governments flourish taking for themselves the place of God, setting up their own laws, where cruelty becomes justified and wrong becomes right. Dostoyevsky went on to say “the secret of man’s being is not only to live but to have something to live for”. Micro cultures of love, kindness, humanity will survive whenever the Easter faith is alive, as we read again and again of hundreds of miracles where people endured the cruel labour camps of the Soviet system such as the criminal Vasily Ivanovitch Koslov imprisoned for 15 years for dreadful crimes was transformed by sheer purity and kindness of Christian inmates who were witnesses to the Risen faith. Christ was not dead and for believing this Vasily endured a further 25 years. May the Risen Christ be in the midst of all faithful believers especially those on every continent who face these present testing times.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

Bread – The Staff Of Life

Palm Sunday

Luke 22;14-56

Let us reflect on Jesus speaking of himself as “the bread of life”. People say bread doesn’t taste like it used to. I can remember walking in the evening past a local bakery and being almost carried away by the smell of the bread. Nowadays most people buy their bread at supermarkets. I don’t know whether it is true, but I have heard it said that they use some kind of spray to imitate that smell of freshly baked bread! Bread has been called “the staff of life”, because it is the basic food in virtually every culture to support bodily life, yet it really is a case – there’s nothing worse than stale bread that can break your teeth! People say how lovely French bread is, they’re quite right, it is, but you have to go to the baker’s two or three times a day to get fresh supplies, because it goes stale within hours of coming out of the oven. Here today, gone tomorrow!

When Jesus says he is the bread of life, what images does that conjure up? We do not think of lovely crusty, mouthwatering bread, or even the different kinds of bread used in Christian Communion Services? But the “staff” which is a spiritual guide (like a bishop’s crosier) is the angle that we need to ponder.

Today’s reading recalls the institution of the Holy Eucharist at the last Supper with the betrayal by Judas, the Betrayal, the Vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane, to this day a place of haunting beauty and is so pregnant with meaning. At that Supper, Jesus blesses the bread and the wine, and says “this is my body, this is my blood”. When we receive Communion in the blessed bread and wine, we are receiving again life of Jesus into our lives, and also, amazing thought, as one of the saints put it, – we become what we receive – in receiving Our Lord in communion, we are being called to become Christ ourselves.

(C) Magne V. Kristiansen – www.adfontes.no

What a challenge that is, and one that assumes particular significance as we reflect on the events of the first Holy Week. In our day to day living, we need fresh bread to be our “staff” of bodily life as part of a balanced diet, and it is so common place that we do not normally give it a second thought. But, the Jesus bread is actually even more important for the nourishing of our souls. We also need Jesus as the “staff” of our spiritual lives, we need to get close to him as our soul’s staple sustenance, to rely on him as much as we do with ordinary bread, we need to let him feed our souls, and nourish us in our Christian life. And how are we going to do that? It is a salutary truth how even for devoted Christians the daily routines of living can push Jesus to one side.

This week in particular we need to acknowledge our brokenness, we need to ask him to come again into our lives, we need to repent of all the things in our lives that we have done and which are displeasing to him, we need to take time regularly to be with him through prayer, and through the Scriptures. In other words, to use a common saying, Holy Week is the time for a spiritual Spring Clean! Jesus has promised that he will be forever with those who truly want him, and of course the choice is ours, but every time we receive Communion it should be the opportunity to re-commit our lives to him. Remember Jesus’ promise that He would be with those who love Him forever, and pray as you receive the bread of life in Communion that he will feed you spiritually all the time, so that you may be more worthy of the name, Christian.

Fr. Edward Bryant

The Friends of Jesus

Fifth Sunday of Lent

John 12;1-8

Jesus travelled with twelve disciples, but also had a considerable group of friends in Galilee and Jerusalem upon whom he relied. There are, men, women, singles and couples, who come into prominence before his trial and after his resurrection. Mary the mother of John Mark, cousin of Barnabas offered a home large enough for the Last Supper, [Colossians 4;10]. And Cleopas, mother of Jude and James the less in Emmaus, hosted gatherings, where many of the 70 apostles could meet. [Acts 10;1-20]

The large following of women who followed the cross and witnessed the resurrection will have gathered in these homes. Among them all was the home of Martha and Mary whose brother Lazarus, Jesus had raised from the dead. This was a special place of refuge and hospitality and the setting for crucial events that precede the Crucifixion. It was the home in which a refreshing form of “godly friendship” is manifested, and which feels missing in our modern world.

Wolfgang Sauber, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today it is increasingly difficult for men and women to have wholesome friendships, which Cicero 50 years BC called “the foundation of social order”. Professionals like teachers in schools are prevented from physically consoling distressed children. We are told that those offering hospitality to refugees and orphaned children from Eastern Europe must now follow rules of safeguarding. What was so different among the friends of Jesus or even St. Paul?

Threading through the Gospel narratives and Epistles is the concept of “godly love”. St. John records Jesus saying “Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are my friends.” [John 15;12-14] It becomes clear in the very final meeting of the risen Christ with his disciples by the Sea of Galilee that Jesus speaks not sentimentally, about loving bonds but specifically (John 21;ff).

Jesus asks Simon Peter, “do you love me?” The word love is “agape” – costly love. Peter answers “Yes, I love you”, but he uses the word “filia”, the loyal love of a friend and brother. Jesus asks for the deepest love of all that is his own, taking friendship to its limits. He is asking for “godly love” among his followers. This was the love that was displayed by the two Bethany sisters and Lazarus. They were entirely different in their devotion to Jesus. Martha was hospitable and practical, Mary attentive and devotional in her act of anointing her Lord’s feet with expensive perfume. Meanwhile in the background is the cynical Judas, keeper of the community funds believing all this was an extravagance even as he was preparing to betray his friend for silver.

Aristotle was right, a loyal friend is worth 10,000 relatives! Today godly love and friendship has become a devalued casualty of our culture, there has also been a loss of moral compass diluting the foundations of friendship. Virtues like loyalty, trust, fidelity, justice, have become overshadowed by stressing the importance of self fulfilment and feelings. Friendship enabled society hitherto to better police itself than is the case today. Without moral order, families collapse, crime surges, together with self harm, social disorder and mental instability. Progressive politicians and intellectuals have continually fed this instability. The friendship of the Bethany sisters reminds us of an altogether higher level of human relationships based on godly and moral sense. Throughout the New Testament the writers continue to use the word “agape”- godly love when they speak about the greatest commandment, “that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. [John 3;23ff]

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

The Tear-Away Son

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Luke 15,1-3+11-32

Jesus, like other great teachers teaching about spiritual truths, uses parables or analogies based on earthly, every-day ideas – like fishing, building, bread, water and wind to describe heavenly things – about which we know so little, and understand even less.

Of course, parables and analogies are only approximations. But good approximations are better than no understanding at all!

Today’s Parable, as St Luke tells it, is about relationships: between God and man, and man and his fellow-men, and this is a story, told by Jesus, about a father and his two sons. One son was very conscientious and hard-working, who always did what his father told him; the other Son was what we call in English ‘a Tear-away’ – someone who wants to “live his life to the full”. There’s no suggestion that the father preferred one to the other. They just were different.

One day, the younger son asked his father to pay him his share of the estate, in one lump sum. That was a reasonable request, which many fathers accept today, in order to set up their children in business; or to train them for a career from which they and their family will eventually also benefit.

The Father, being aware of his younger son’s impulsiveness, doubtless realised that it involved a risk. For example, if a tear- away didn’t complete his training, failed his final exams, or his business went bust. But impulsiveness is also often what leads people to success rather than failure; and the father may often have wished his elder son would take a few more risks – instead of staying at home and valuing security above enterprise.

But the tear-away’s plans all went ‘pear-shaped’. A great famine played havoc with everyone’s finances, and he was forced to work for a pig-farmer at a pittance!

But this parable then took a remarkable, but very credible turn. Our tear-away realised that he’d been foolish, and regretted it; but his thinking remained self-centred. He guessed that his Father would take him back home, even if only as a servant. He would have to apologise, of course for wasting his money.

But his real interest was still his own welfare. Even if he were only taken back to be a servant, he would be far better off than in his present pigsty, where nobody fed him. So he went back home, with his apology “at the ready”.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

But as we know, what happened in fact exceeded anything he had a right to expect. His loving Father, instead of chiding him for wasting his money, embraced him, overjoyed at getting him back, and restored him to full sonship on the spot; and arranged for him to be clothed and a celebratory party to be held, to mark the occasion of his return and full reconciliation with the family.

Nobody was more surprised than young tear-away himself, who had been anticipating, at best, a life of servitude. The household too were all delighted. As St. Luke says, “they danced, and sang for joy and made merry”.

But not everyone! His older brother, who had never put a foot wrong, was disgusted at their father’s decision to throw a dance, that he refused to participate. He began to feel resentful and hard done-by. It just isn’t fair, he complained, and refused his Father’s entreaty to join in the celebrations.

But God has different ideas about fairness from those people of today have been taught to believe in. And the question each of us should ask himself this Lent is: “Which character do I resemble most?”

Is it our-tear away, or his brother, or his loving father, who ran to greet his lost Son, embraced him, and restored him to his own Family?

Fr. Francis Gardom

The Need To Repent

Third Sunday of Lent

Luke 13,1-9

Whose fault?

Our Gospel for the third Sunday of Lent is another call to focus on personal behaviour. The passage is in two parts. First a general discussion between Jesus and the people followed by remarks about the fig trees. St Luke does not tell us the circumstances that provoked the discussion but it is possibly the Jewish historian Josephus’ recording of the murder by Governor Pilate of Galileans who had objected to his theft of Temple money, gathering on the holy mount Gerizim seeking divine vengeance. Popular feelings at the time believed this was a divine punishment. The Galileans like the eighteen killed in Jerusalem by the collapsing tower of Siloam, must in some way have been blameworthy. Jesus does not get involved in the “blame game”. Condemning wickedness in others, Jesus says, is a distraction from looking at ourselves. “Do not look at the speck on your brother’s eye when you have a plank in your own”. [Matthew 7;3] “Let anyone without sin, cast the first stone.” [John 8;7] Now, his words are, “those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell, do you think that they were worse sinners than all others; I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” [Luke 13;4-5]

”The Lord does not engage in judgement of others and he does not share the same idealised model of society. He teaches that society is the sum total of a humanity with the same flaw running through all from one generation to another. Over and over again his own model of rightness with God is beautifully revealed in the image of the publican who prayed “Lord have mercy on me a sinner”. An individual like that is aware of self delusion and therefore capable of reconstruction simply because he was honest with himself. Blaming others is alive and well in every age, maybe more forcibly today, as people are almost encouraged to blame parents, the government, economic or social policies for every ill.

C.S. Lewis makes the point when he said “Christianity does not aim to make better people in the old variety but a new kind of person”. The attitude of Jesus depends upon believing that a weakness runs through the heart and soul of every individual but is capable of a cure and this is the connection with the fig tree.

Phillip Medhurst, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

Anyone who has a small orchard will be familiar with the poor fig tree, Jesus uses in his teaching on the deep disorder that runs throughout humanity and in past times was called “original sin”. Trimming branches will often reveal the ominous dark stains of canker that blights a tree causing it to slowly perish from the inside. The owner will do everything possible to cut out the disease to bring about a cure, and enable it to bear fruit, but when all else fails the tree must be uprooted to avoid the spread of the disease. God in the Old Testament acts towards His people as the keeper of the vines giving them all His love and care in the hope of a plentiful harvest.

With this background we can only imagine the sadness of Jesus looking at today’s culture, that having dethroned God and the wisdom of Christ, is empty handed in dealing with mass psychosis of fear and despair that sweeps through the human vineyard. No psychology, social or political theory by itself can produce the new creation envisioned by Jesus, but only a willingness to start again to partake in His divine nature. The Greek writer Aristides (117-138) saw this at work when he described at length early Christians in a letter to the Emperor Hadrian, “they labour to become righteous, truly a new people with something divine in them”. Christians were in times past distinctive and must be so again.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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