Category Archives: Spiritual

Living in God’s Kingdom

In today’s Gospel, Jesus addresses an audience made up of two groups: ‘a large gathering of his disciples’ – those who have made a commitment to him and his teaching – and ‘a great crowd of people from all parts’ – those who are drawn to him, but hesitate to commit themselves. Jesus ‘fixes his eyes on his disciples,’ but his teaching seems to be directed to everyone. And it is a starting message. The poor, the hungry and the sad, Jesus says, are happy or blessed, while those who are wealthy and comfortable should be grieving.
Jesus is describing the values of the kingdom of God. God has a special love for the poor, while the wealthy and privileged have a heavy responsibility. Recognising their good fortune, they are called to act with justice and love towards their brothers and sisters. The kingdom of God, in our Lord’s teaching, is not just a place where we hope to go when we die. The kingdom of God begins here and now, in our hearts and in our Christian communities. Jesus is calling us to action, here and now.

Jesus the Prophet

Jesus is speaking in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. At first, his words meet with approval. But as he begins to challenge the worshippers, their mood changes. Jesus sees that the people of Nazareth are looking for miracles and wonders, like the ones they have heard about elsewhere, before they will put their faith in him. He reminds them that their ancestors rejected all of the prophets sent by God, and that God’s love and mercy are not restricted to one nation, but are for the whole of humanity. No wonder the members of the synagogue congregation become angry, and try to drive Jesus out of town!
The rejection that Jesus suffers in Nazareth recalls the rejection suffered by the prophets before him, and points forward to his ultimate rejection and crucifixion. Jesus will stand firm in the face of all the attacks on him. His response to opposition is not anger, but perfect love.

This text is being fulfilled today

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks in public for the first time. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he begins his ministry of teaching. In the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, he chooses the words of the prophet Isaiah, to tell the people that his coming is good news for the poor, for prisoners, for the sick and the downtrodden. The promises that God made through the prophets are being fulfilled in Christ.
The Gospels show Jesus encountering different reactions to his ministry. Those who are poor and powerless will welcome his message of hope. The sick will flock to him for healing. Others, though, will reject the challenge of his teaching – the call to act justly and to forgive those who wrong us. The Word of God is life-giving, but also disturbing. It is a Word that changes the world. The Spirit of the Lord has been given to us, too, and the Spirit calls us to action.

The First of the Signs

The wedding feast at Cana would be a huge celebration. The whole village would be invited, along with the family and friends of the bride and groom. It was a joyful day. But if the wedding party ran out of wine, joy would turn into embarrassment and social disgrace for the host family. Jesus’ mother spots the situation, and turns to her son, with absolute confidence that he has the power to help. Though Jesus at first seems reluctant, he works a miracle that saves the day: by changing water into wine, he transforms embarrassment into delight.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ miracles are described as ‘signs.’ They are signs that God is with Jesus, and working through him. The signs bring about faith, for those who are ready to see. This miracle, prompted by the unquestioning faith of Jesus’ mother, reveals Jesus’ glory and leads his disciples to believe in him. The revealing of the Son of God, which begins at Christmas and continues at Epiphany, reaches a new stage. Now Jesus will be revealed to the whole world.

YOU ARE MY BELOVED

John the Baptist drew the people with his message of repentance. They came to John for baptism in the River Jordan; a symbolic action, showing their desire for forgiveness of their sins and a new direction in their lives. So why does Jesus come to be baptised by John? He is without sin, and has no need for repentance or forgiveness. But, by immersing himself in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus shows us that he is fully immersed in our human condition. His baptism symbolises his unconditional ‘Yes’ to his Father’s plan of salvation. Without sin himself, he will share fully in the consequences of sin, all the way to the Cross. After his baptism, Jesus receives the Holy Spirit and hears words of consolation and encouragement from God the Father: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved.’ In our own baptism, we said ‘Yes’ to God’s plan for us, and we were adopted as God’s children – brothers and sisters of his beloved Son.

look into the sky

On Christmas night, the shepherds looked into the sky and saw angels announcing the birth of Jesus. The wise men, experts in the movements of the stars, also looked into the sky, and they saw the star that signified the coming of the Christ. The shepherds symbolize Israel, God’s chosen people; the wise men stand for the Gentiles, the ‘nations of the earth.’ On the feast of Epiphany – ‘manifestation’ – the coming of the Son of God begins to be made known to all the nations. The wise men follow the star, seeking the truth. They are an example of ‘faith seeking understanding’ in the words of St Anselm. In contrast to the wise men, King Herod and his advisers have access to the Scriptures, but are not ready to hear the message of Christ’s coming. The wise men bring handsome gifts – gifts fit for a King – expecting nothing in return. They show us an example of the open and generous response of true disciples to the birth of Christ. The Feast of the Epiphany reminds us that true disciples are drawn from all the nations of the earth. Christ comes to unite us in faith.

Blessed is she who believed

Today’s Gospel shows us two expectant mothers rejoicing together. Mary is a young woman, not yet married; Elizabeth is older, and she thought that her time for bearing a child had gone. Each has become a mother through God’s miraculous intervention, and they celebrate. John the Baptist, in his mother’s womb, shares in the rejoicing, leaping for joy at the presence of the unborn Jesus. Elizabeth and Mary are faithful daughters of Israel, and they rejoice at God’s fulfilment of his promises to his people. Mary is carrying the Saviour in her womb, Elizabeth the great prophet who will announce his coming. Each of these women will faithfully play her part in God’s plan of salvation.
Sadness, too, lies ahead for both mothers. As Simeon prophesies, ‘a sword will pierce the heart’ of Mary, and Elizabeth will also see her son’s life cut short. Their faith will be tested. But at this moment, they can rejoice. Even before their children are born, hope has been born; hope for the whole world, thanks to God’s faithful love.

What must we do?

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist is asked three times, ‘What must we do?’ John’s preaching has awakened the people’s conscience. He has shown them that they need to repent and change their lives, and so they come to him for guidance. John’s response is simple, practical and radical. Tax collectors and soldiers were despised as sinners, collaborators with the occupying Roman forces. John doesn’t dismiss their question, but simply tells them to be honest and not corrupt. More startlingly, anyone who has more than enough food or clothing is called to share what they have with the poor. John doesn’t tell his disciples to take on extra religious observances, or to withdraw from the society in which they live. Instead, he challenges the people to overcome injustice by acting justly.

Today is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday, when we can begin to rejoice at the Good News of our redemption. The Messiah is coming soon. We prepare the way for Christ by repentance; and our repentance is expressed in simple and practical ways – by acting justly.

Prepare the Way

Luke introduces the ministry of John the Baptist by saying that ‘the Word of God came to John in the wilderness.’ John’s message is one of repentance; a radical change of heart and mind. Like the Old Testament prophets who went before him, John challenges the people to turn back towards God with their whole hearts. The promise is that repentance will bring forgiveness; God in his mercy will set his people free from their sins. John’s prophetic word is addressed to us, too. In Advent, we are challenged to repent and turn back to God. By our repentance, we prepare the path for the Lord, clearing away the obstacles that stand in his way, so that we will be ready to welcome the Son of God when he comes.

The Coming of the Son of Man

As the end of the Church’s year approaches, today’s Gospel reading shows Jesus looking ahead to the last days. The powers of the world will fall. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the words of Jesus’ teaching will not pass away. He will return in judgement, to save those who believe in him.

As disciples of Christ, we are always looking ahead to eternal life. We live in this world, but we know that it will pass away, and that allows us to give the things of this world their true importance. Like the Lord himself, we do not know the day or the hour, and so we have to try to live every day of our lives in readiness for judgement. This doesn’t mean that we are indifferent to the world we live in: it means, simply, living out the commandments to love God and love our neighbour – putting our faith in the truth that will not pass away. Then we can face judgement, not with fear, but with trust in God’s mercy.

Counting the Cost

 A poor widow gives a small donation to the Temple treasury in Jerusalem. The money would be used to meet the expenses of worship in the Temple, and also to help the poor. Jesus celebrates the woman’s generosity; her gift shows how much the Temple means to her, as the place where she encounters God’s presence. The rich may have given larger sums, but she has made a real sacrifice. In contrast, there are those among the scribes who revel in the prestige of their position, and make a show of piety for their own advantage. Jesus warns that they will be severely judged for their hypocrisy.

Today, we commemorate those who died in the wars of the 20th century, and in subsequent conflicts. They made the ultimate sacrifice. As we remember the price that was paid for the freedom and security that we enjoy today, we are challenged to work for a world where peace rules, and lives are no longer sacrificed.

The First Commandment

The scribes often appear hostile to Jesus in the Gospels. But this scribe approaches him respectfully, and asks a sincere question: which is the first among the commandments of the Law of Israel? Jesus gives a reply that the scribe can easily understand; he refers to their shared heritage, quoting the commandment that God gave to Israel through Moses: you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. He adds a second commandment, also taken from the Scriptures: you must love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus’ response to the scribe’s question shows us that he upholds and treasures the Law that his Father gave to Israel. Jesus gives us the perfect example of obedience to God’s Law in his own life – on the Cross, he gives up his life out of love for his Father and for us. As disciples of Christ, we are called to follow his example.

Your Faith has saved you

Bartimaeus is introduced in today’s Gospel as ‘a blind beggar.’ As a blind man, he had to beg in order to survive. He would be shunned and despised by the people, who regarded blindness as a punishment from God. Even when he begins to call out to Jesus for help, the people in the crowd scold him and try to silence him. But Jesus stops to speak to Bartimaeus, perhaps because he sees that the blind man has great faith. He is the first person in Mark’s Gospel to address Jesus as ‘Son of David’ – one of the titles of the Messiah. Then he calls him ‘Rabbuni’ – ‘My master’ or ‘My teacher’ – the same title that Mary Magdalene will address to the risen Christ. Mark contrasts the blindness of the twelve apostles – still arguing over the best places in God’s kingdom – with the faith and understanding of Bartimaeus.

Jesus tells Bartimaeus that his faith has saved him. He receives his sight back, and becomes a disciple, following Jesus along the road to Jerusalem. He will see Jesus’ passion and death with his own eyes. His example inspires us to call out to Christ for our needs, with faith that he has power to heal us.

Can you drink the cup that I must drink?

The brothers James and John have a request to make of Jesus. When he is in glory – reigning as Messiah and King – they hope to sit in the seats of honour on his right and his left. Their request shows how completely Jesus’ disciples have failed to understand his teaching. He has explained again and again that he is calling them to service and to love of neighbour. Jesus wants his disciples to follow his example of humility and suffering. Yet the disciples are still thinking in terms of earthly glory and ambition – still falling into rivalry and jealousy, even as Jesus prepares himself to face his suffering and death.

James and John did eventually embrace Jesus’ message. After his death and resurrection, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they became fearless witnesses and teachers of the Good News, and they drank the same cup as the Master, giving their lives for Christ. The Spirit will transform us, too, if we are ready to respond to Christ’s call.

Treasure in Heaven

The people of Jesus’ time believed that worldly wealth was a sign of God’s favour. Rich people were admired and envied. The rich man who approaches Jesus in today’s Gospel tells him eagerly that he has kept all the commandments of God’s law from his earliest days. No doubt he believes that his wealth is God’s reward for living a good life. Jesus looks steadily at the man and loves him, and then issues a radical challenge: to give up all of his possessions and follow Jesus. Once again, Jesus turns the wisdom of the world on its head. He discerns that this man’s riches are an obstacle that prevent him from becoming a disciple. He needs to let them go, for the sake of something better: the treasure in heaven that only Jesus can give him.

The challenge is too much for the rich man, and he goes away sad. He doesn’t appear again in the Gospels, and we don’t know what became of him. This Gospel reading prompts us to imagine Jesus looking at us and loving us. What step does the Lord ask us to take, to set ourselves free for discipleship?

One Body

The Pharisees ask Jesus, ‘Is it against the Law for a man to divorce his wife?’ and in response to Jesus’ question, they add ‘Moses allowed us to draw up a writ of dismissal.’ Their words reflect the inequality of the Jewish Law at that time; a man could divorce his wife by a very simple procedure, but a woman had no right to divorce her husband. A woman dismissed by her husband could be cast off without money, property or place in society – she was nobody. In his reply, Jesus goes back to the origins of the human race. God created man and woman to be ‘one body,’ supporting one another in the covenant of marriage, which cannot be dissolved by human power. It seems a hard teaching to his disciples, but Jesus is challenging the unjust custom of his time.

Today’s Scripture readings remind us how important it is for the Church to support married couples and families on their journey through life. This week, the Synod of Bishops is meeting with the Pope in Rome, to discuss the Church’s ministry to young people. Young people today grow up in families of different shapes and sizes. Marriages can break down and families can find themselves in difficult situations. Pope Francis has often reminded us of the need to support and encourage every family, whatever their circumstances.

What Really Matters?

The apostle John is indignant because Jesus’ name is being used by a man who is ‘not one of us.’ Jesus has a more generous and inclusive vision. If the man is using Jesus’ name to bring healing, there is no reason to stop him; Jesus has come to bring healing for everyone. Today’s readings invite us to focus on what is really important. Jesus uses dramatic language to emphasise the reality of sin: if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off… He is telling us, not to mutilate our bodies, but to cut out of our lives anything which leads us away from faith in him. St James warns the rich that their wealth and comfort will not last – they can’t take it with them. Instead, we are invited to store up treasure in heaven. Even for the smallest acts of kindness, we will not lose our reward.

Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples for what awaits him in Jerusalem; betrayal, condemnation and death. But they still don’t get it, even after all the time that they have spent living with him and hearing his teaching. Instead of following his example of humility, they are doing the very opposite; jockeying for position, arguing over which of them is the greatest. And so a little child becomes Jesus’ helper in making his point to the disciples. In the kingdom of God, a leader must be a servant of all. Jesus’ disciples must have a special care for the vulnerable, the little ones without status or power. Today’s Gospel challenges us to purify the Church from all traces of elitism and ambition. The Church exists to serve God’s little ones.

Who do you say i am?

Jesus asks his disciples, ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter has the right answer; Jesus is the Christ, God’s anointed one, the Messiah for whom Israel has been waiting. But Peter is shocked by what comes next. The Christ is destined for rejection, suffering and death. His model is the Suffering Servant, described in today’s First Reading from the prophet Isaiah, who trusts completely in God’s power to save him. Jesus makes it absolutely clear to his disciples, and to the people, that anyone who wants to be his follower must walk the same road that he does – the way of the Cross. No wonder Peter is horrified.

Christ’s disciples are not called to seek out suffering for its own sake, but to give ourselves to others with self-sacrificing love, and to accept patiently whatever difficulties life may bring us. There are many Christians whose lives are an inspiring example of Christ-like love and sacrifice. This is what we commit ourselves to as followers of Jesus. If, like Peter, we recognise Jesus as the Christ, then he calls us to take up our cross and follow him.

Speak Out

Jesus is in pagan territory when a man is brought to him for healing. The man is deaf and unable to speak clearly – isolated from society, because he can’t express himself. The story clearly shows us Jesus’ compassion for the man, reaching out to him with a healing touch, and sighing as he looks to heaven for a cure. He speaks a word – unusually, Mark gives us the word in Jesus’ own language, Aramaic – and the man is freed of his impediment and enabled to speak for himself.

There are many people in our world who are silenced; by disability, by poverty, by lack of education, by the prejudice of others. Now, movements are arising that harness the power of the internet to allow the silent to speak. Shamefully, many victims of abuse have also been silenced by those holding positions of trust in the Church. There can be no justice until every member of society can speak out and be heard. Jesus is the healer who loosens the tongues of the poor and powerless.