Because the gospel today (John 13.31-35) is about love, and is very short, we might not notice something about it that is rather odd.
We hear Jesus speak movingly about love. He places love as central commandment that should characterise the lives of his followers. And yet – here is the strange thing – this commandment comes immediately after a betrayal, for our gospel passage opens with the words: ‘When Judas had gone …’ In fact, only a few verses earlier (v 21) Jesus tells the disciples: ‘One of you will betray me.’
When Judas had gone ….This tells us that Jesus knew that the end was approaching, and that it would not be pleasant. Think of it. A disciple from his own circle has first embezzled the money they pooled in the common purse. This same person has then gone on to betray him for a bribe. Jesus has been tailed by spies, misrepresented and calumnied. An ordinary human response at this point might be to give way to bitterness, recrimination and despair....
Do you remember two of the other major events that took place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee?
One turning-point occurred when Jesus called Peter, James and John. ‘Come with me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Now, three years later, they have been literally fishing, and have found their nets are full to bursting-point, a sign of the great harvest of souls that lies ahead.
Another turning-point by that sea came when Jesus asked the disciples, ‘Who do you say I am?’ It was Simon Peter who said ‘You are the Christ.’ The dawning realisation that this was the Messiah would lead these humble fisherman forward into a life they could never have dreamed of, with their message being brought to the furthest corners of the world.
Now, three years later, they are once more on the shores of Galilee. In each of the first two occasions they had to make a leap of faith and trust a deep, powerful intuition. Once more they have to make that leap of fait...
Did you ever own a kaleidoscope as a child? If you did then you will know the wonder and pleasure that this simple toy can bring. You look through the lens and you find a bright multi-coloured pattern in which the elements have arranged themselves. You turn the kaleidoscope slightly, look again, and behold, there is a whole new pattern to marvel at. The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15.11-32) has the same effect, if we look at it again with fresh eyes. Take the very title. We know it as the parable of the prodigal son, that is to say, the story of the spendthrift, reckless son. But there are really two parables in the story. There is the parable of the lost younger son (verses 11-23) and there is parable of the lost older son (verses 24-32). The younger is lost in his selfishness, the elder is lost in his bitterness and resentment.
The preface is the long part between Holy Holy Holy and the Eucharistic prayer itself. Today’s preface is special for the first Sunday in Lent. It says that ‘By abstaining 40 long days from earthly food, he [Jesus Christ] consecrated through his fast the pattern of our Lenten observance.’
My eye was caught that word abstained. It’s not a word that you hear often these days. To abstain means to deprive yourself of something that you could justifiably have. Something to which you could help yourself. It means that you ration yourself, or deny yourself something. It could be food, it could be alcohol or tobacco, it could be a simple pleasure like going to the cinema – yes, I have known people abstain from cinema on the grounds that Lent is a time for seriousness.
Goodness it all sounds a bit grim.
But look again and you start to see a deeper meaning.
First of all, each time you deny yourself something in Lent, it increases your self-control. All of...
A certain amount of scepticism in life is a good thing. It allows us to test claims and to sift the true from the false. It prevents us from being deceived. But of course, it can go too far. You have probably met people whose scepticism is excessive. They question everything and have a distressing tendency towards mockery and scorn. They find it difficult to trust . The in the synagogue at Nazareth in today’s gospel reading (Luke 4.21-30) is an incident where scepticism has overbalanced. Jesus has just explained a passage from scripture in an enlightening way, making it apply to the present. Initially his words are regarded as gracious, but this quickly becomes mockery: ‘Who are you to preach to us?’ they ask. ‘We know this man. He comes from a working-class family. Who is he to talk to us of sublime and holy things?’
Ask yourself: why did St Paul tell the people of Corinth to remember the body, and the dependence of the parts on each other? The answer is that they were a quarrelsome people. They had factions, with leaders, and the different factions tended to stress their own point of view, their own interests, and to try to dominate the others. It made for tension and unhappiness. Hence his reminder: we need each other. But they sometimes forgot this, as we all do, 2000 years later.
It’s a reminder first of all about humility. We might think of ourselves as people who make decisions, who stride through life, who achieve great things. Well, perhaps we do. Even the most ordinary person likes to have achievements. But everything we achieve in fact will have depended on other people making things possible for us. Your parents made sacrifices for your education. Or a teacher noticed your potential. Or an employer decided t...
I remember once seeing in the newspaper a photograph of Korean children doing physical exercises in the snow. They were shirtless, despite the freezing cold. The caption said that their parents paid for them to do this course in order to give them mental and physical stamina. In suburban London we would worry at such dangerous exposure to the winter cold. But it is thought-provoking. As children grow up they will have to overcome obstacles and rise to challenges, and parents sometimes worry about how their children will cope with life. Initiation ceremonies around the world often hint at this need for courage in our daily living. You find it in our baptism ceremony, when the priest anoints the child on the chest and says, ‘We anoint you in the name of Christ our Saviour. May he strengthen you with his power, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.’
A friend in America recently sent me a kind of questionnaire about family life, not so much questions as observations. One of them went as follows:
Your car contains the cartons of at least four drive-thru restaurants but you haven't sat down for a meal as a family all week.
Well when I read that I made a mental note to clear the cartons and crisp packets out of my car. But it also set me thinking. The point, as you can see, was to say that we are under pressure. I am so aware of how much under pressure families are. You have obligations to work. You have commitments to do things for your children's school. The Church, of course, wants to see you at Mass, at least. You may want to keep in shape by going to the gym. You may be taking classes somewhere to improve your job prospects. Not only are you under pressure, but you spend more and more time in your car, not least because your children need to be, taken from A to B to C - I've noticed...
In the final trimester of a woman's pregnancy, the life quickens within her. The baby kicks and makes its presence felt in many ways. Some mothers will tell you that near the time of birth, their baby seems to respond to external sounds. So it makes perfect sense to read in the gospel today that the infant John within Elizabeth responds to the sound of Mary’s voice. Mary’s greeting must have contained an exultancy that reached even the child carried in Elizabeth’s womb.
The gospel today is all about the quickening of life. Elizabeth's child leaps in her womb. Mary carries within her the life that will be the light of the world. What about us? I think we can say that at this time of year the life quickens within us as well. Using the sacrament of reconciliation, we seek to make our souls worthy of the Saviour. In the decorating our homes for Christmas, we make them shine with the joy of the sea...