Category Archives: Cycle A

Ash Wednesday

Today we start a new journey; a new Lent, journeying towards the great climax of the Easter Tridiuum. Although many of us have journeyed through Lent many times before, each year presents new opportunities and new challenges. Things have changed over the last 12 months; we have changed. New people have come into our lives and some have left us; new opportunities have materialised and some have disappeared. Perhaps the status of our health has changed; some have improved and some are struggling. Perhaps our relationship with God has changed; for some of us it’s improved and for some we’re struggling.

This Lent is not a repeat of previous Lents; it’s a brand new journey.

At its heart Lent is a journey to wholeness; wholeness of self and wholeness as a beloved child of God. But that journey begins with an acceptance of our brokenness – we must first confront the brokenness in our own lives and in the world around us. We confront the barriers that keep us from loving God and the barriers that keep us from loving each other.

This is not a onetime act. We don’t overcome these barriers in a day or even in 40 days but each year as we go through this Lenten process we hope to find ourselves closer at the end of it than we were when we started…closer to the goal of wholeness; a wholeness in our relationship with God and with each other.

The ashes traced on our foreheads today are a reminded of our brokenness and our human mortality and a sign of humility. A reminder that we are striving for sainthood through our imperfection.

If we journey faithfully and try diligently over the next 6 weeks to draw closer to God, the celebration of the Easter Tridiuum will be a new experience; renewed joy and wonder at the miracle of our salvation.

The Easter Tridiuum, the three days starting with the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday and concluding with the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday are the holiest and most sacred days in the year. The Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord celebrated in the Tridiuum are not separate and isolate events; it’s one event that takes place over three days and we are called and expected to participate fully over all three days not just Easter Sunday.

Lent has been part of the Church’s liturgical calendar for close on 1700 years and traditionally the emphasis has always been on fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Through these disciplines we consciously acknowledge our failings and weaknesses, our struggles and temptations and deliberately focus on being more loving, generous and tolerant through spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

There are many ways to practice these disciplines during Lent and it is important for each of us to search our hearts and figure out what works best to connect us more closely with Jesus in his Passion and Resurrection and with each other in our shared mission to know, love and serve God.

These sacrifices in themselves are not the focus; they are there to serve as prompts and constant reminds to us that we are in a time of penitential reflection, preparation and renewal.

Here are a few ideas we could consider and practice over the next 6 weeks:

  • Carry  a pocket size cross , or pocket rosary or a religious medal with you throughout lent as a reminder of the season
  • Participate in the various liturgies at St Michael’s during Lent:
    • Stations of the Cross on a Friday
    • Adoration for 30 minutes with Benediction on the first Tuesday
    • Spend some time in the Adoration Chapel that’s open throughout the day ever day
    • Mass during the week; we’re privileged to have Mass every day in our parish
    • The Ecclesia program on Thursday evenings
  • Keep a daily journal as a means for self-examination and prayer
  • Abstain from something:
    • perhaps a favorite food, or smoking or alcohol or a favourite TV series
    • Give up sugar and all things sweet
    • No eating or snacking after dinner or between meals
    • Remember that every Friday is a day of abstinence from meat
    • Consider some form of fasting every day; perhaps miss one meal or eat smaller portions at every meal
  • No gossiping. If someone says something negative about another person, either say something nice or say nothing. Make a note in your journal every time you slip up. We could memorize and repeat every day verse 29 from chapter 4 of the Letter to the Ephesians: :  “Do not use harmful words but only helpful words; only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who hear you.”
  • Read completely one of the Gospels (perhaps read Luke together with Luke’s Acts of the Apostles)
  • Pray every day for the poor, the brokenhearted, the hungry, the sick and the dying
  • If you are busy and can’t find time – make time by saying no to some activities and commitments and say yes to spending time with God
  • Clean out the house and the cupboards and donate things you don’t need to those who do need; or perhaps find one thing every day for 40 days to give away
  • Donate generously to the Archbishops Lenten appeal and in this way materially assist the poor and needy
  • Don’t buy anything during Lent that you don’t need and put the money that you save into the Lenten Appeal.
  • Pay your spouse or loved one, your parents and children a compliment every day
  • Replace 30 minutes of TV time with some devotional reading and prayer
    • We could use the book of daily Devotions prepared by the Youth of our Archdiocese including some written by the youth of St Michael’s
  • Replace some of your favourite music with Christian and sacred music and song
  • Keep your activity of all social media platforms to a bare minimum …. And if you really must post something let it always be kind and charitable; less about ourselves and more concern for others

Lent is really about going through a process that should change us, that should bring us closer to being fully the people God has called and created us to be.

Lent is not a means and end in itself… today is the beginning of a journey to Easter; the journey of the rest of our lives; our journey home to God.

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Love Our Enemies

7th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
CYCLE A
19th FEBRUARY 2017
Matthew 5: 38-48
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

We are naturally inclined to resent those who do us wrong. But hatred, if we nurture it, can come between us and our loving God, who wants us to be loving, kind and forgiving.

In today’s Gospel passage taken from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus condemns even the mild form of the “Law of the Talion, (Lex Talionis),” the Babylonian tribal law which prescribes a retaliation in kind. In other words it sets limits on punishment; the punishment not to exceed the crime.

In its place, Jesus gives his new law of love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and no retaliation. For Jesus; retaliation, or even limited vengeance, has no place in the Christian life, even though graceful acceptance of an offense requires great strength, discipline of character as well as strengthening by God’s grace.

The second part of today’s Gospel passage is perhaps the central and the most famous section of the Sermon on the Mount. It gives us the Christian ethic of personal relationships: love one’s neighbors and forgive one’s enemies. Above all, it tells us that what makes Christians different is the grace with which they treat others with loving kindness and mercy, even if they don’t deserve it.

The Old Law never actually said to hate enemies, but that was the way some Jews understood it. Jesus commands that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us to demonstrate that we are children of a merciful heavenly Father.
We are commanded to love our enemies as Jesus loves us.

The Greek word used for loving enemies is agápe, which is the invincible benevolence or good will for another’s highest good. Since agápe is not natural, practicing it is possible only with God’s help. Agápe love is a choice, an act of will, more than a feeling.

We choose to love, not because our enemies deserve our love, but because Jesus loves them so much that he died for them as He did for us. When Jesus talks about “the enemy” he is not necessarily referring to an enemy as in war. He is talking about someone who is possibly close to me —to you; someone in our family; in our community, our neighbourhood, in our workplace; someone who is making life difficult for us.

Who are the people we try to avoid at all costs, whom we find hard to forgive, who awaken in us feelings of unease, fear and anger, which can easily turn into hatred? Hatred is a very dangerous thing. It burns up a hundred times more energy than love. It can drive out everything else and will corrode and warp our mind and soul; creating a legacy of bitterness, hostility and resentment.

Christ’s way is a better way. To be able to forgive and turn the other cheek is not a soft way. It’s a hard way that calls for great strength and toughness and sacrifice. A perfect example of this of course is our witness to Christ during his trial and crucifixion “Love your enemies!” –this is one of the most revolutionary things ever said. Love our enemies? Most of us find it hard enough to love our friends and family all of the time.

How can we be expected to love our enemies? To love’ in the Gospel context means to ‘wish the well being of’. It is a unilateral, unconditional desire for the deepest wellbeing of another person. It does not ask any of us ‘to be in love with’, to have warm fuzzy feelings for someone who is doing us serious harm. But we can sincerely wish the well being of those who harm or persecute us.

We pray that they may change, not just for our sake but also for their own. We pray that from hating, hurting people they become loving and caring people. Further, Jesus tells us that the basic reason for doing this is to manifest God’s love towards us. He points to the fact that the action of God is unconquerable benevolence.

He is the one who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and when the rain finally arrives here it will fall on the good and on the bad.
The Gospel passage concludes with Jesus saying, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” On the face of it that sounds like a commandment which cannot possibly have anything to do with us. Surely no one of us can even faintly connect ourselves with perfection.

(Except maybe when we fill in our CV’s) But seriously though this obviously is an ideal, a goal to be aimed at. The perfection intended is not total perfection for us, but rather to pray for ourselves for that total impartiality of a God who extends his providential care and love equally to all; good and bad, and he does not love the bad less than the good people. So, if we want to identify with Him, we have no right whatever to withdraw our love, that is, our desire for wholeness, from a single person.

Whether a person returns our love or God’s love is not important. If we reflect on it, we will begin to see that this is the only reasonable way for us to deal with people both for our own personal growth and fulfillment and as contributing also to that of others. Jesus is not asking us to do something impossible and unreasonable.

He tells us to open our eyes and see the reality and discover the most sensible way of relating ourselves with the people around us. Our faith assures us that in our relationship with God we will be able to do as he did and now instructs us: to be generous to those in need; not retaliate when offended; pray for our persecutors and even, with God’s grace, love our enemies.

People of Inner Unrest

Epiphany of the Lord
Cycle A
8th January 2017
Matthew 2. 1-12
Rev Tony van Vuuren

Those of us of a certain age will remember the TV detective Columbo, the guy wearing the shabby raincoat, who was the master of the parting question. He would finish questioning someone and, as he was going out of the door and their guard was down, he would turn back with a ‘Oh, just one other thing.’ and ask that crucial question.

The Magi are like that final question. Christmas has been well and truly celebrated, the Boney M CD has been packed away together with the decorations, and the New Year is here, life is getting back to its normal routine; but then at the last minute Christmas turns back and throws us one last question, throws us the story of the Magi. The Magi are like that final question.

It seems to us like the Magi just appear at the end of the Christmas story, but for these foreign travellers the journey has been a long one. We don’t really know exactly where they come from, probably Persia, in which case they have travelled a great distance to get to Bethlehem.

We are misled by the fact that they appear, stay briefly, then depart, into thinking that this journey of theirs is a brief one, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is a long journey of extortionate cost, fraught with danger. Whatever possessed them to set out on such a mission, just to spend a few moments in Bethlehem?

This question brings us to the heart of the Epiphany Feast. If we can understand why the Magi travel all this way, we will be able to see what this feast is really about. We are rather misled by the romance of the three exotic gifts.

Our focus tends to be on the Gold and Frankincense and Myrrh, so that we come to think of the Magi as little more than gift bearers to transmit these beautiful gifts into the presence of Christ.

But this is not what they themselves say they are doing. Addressing Herod they ask ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews…we have come to worship him?’ and then when they arrive in Bethlehem they first throw themselves to the ground in homage before the Christ child; and only then do they reach into their bags and bring out the gifts. The wise men have not travelled all this way just to bring Jesus gifts; they have travelled all this way to worship him.

If we lose sight of that, we lose sight of the real spiritual significance of this feast. The giving of gifts is very potent; it is a prophetic act, because as we know, these are gifts with a spiritual significance, but this is nothing like as important as the Epiphany as a moment of worship.

The wise men have come all this way, have faced all that danger and discomfort, in order to worship the divine Son of God.

Still, though, we are left asking ‘why?’ Why would they travel so far in search of a God who is outside their culture, outside their territory, outside their experience? Pope Emeritus Benedict, in his book (Jesus of Nazareth Vol 3.
The Infancy Narratives p.95), has a beautiful expression that he uses to describe the Magi. He says that they would never have set out on such a journey unless they were people of “inner unrest”, that is “people of hope, people on the lookout for the true star of salvation” They travel all that way, they take all those risks including the great risk of entering Herod’s presence, because they are people of “inner unrest”.

They are not satisfied with their lives, they are driven to seek some deeper meaning, some sense of truths beyond their grasp, some sense that there is a world outside their control which they cannot master, but which they can begin to comprehend. Their minds, their souls, are restless and unable to settle, and this translates into the need to travel, to journey in search of something that will draw them upwards, up towards the truth. They are in a sense disturbed souls, but they feel very at home with that sense of incompleteness, of challenge, because for them it is the doorway to growth.

Contrast them, in this, with Herod. By the time the Magi arrive he is very definitely disturbed.
But whereas the Wise Men are at home with this inner unrest, and are able to feed off the spiritual energy that it brings, Herod does not cope with disturbance. It is at about this time that Herod has three of his sons murdered because he fears they may be a threat to his security, so he is clearly not a man who thrives on challenge and the unknown. The Magi arrive in serenity and ask their questions, throwing Jerusalem into turmoil.

Herod doesn’t just ask about where the Christ is to be born, his enquiries are frantic with evil intent. So he stands as a contrast to the Magi. They are men of inner unrest, certain that there is much they do not know, nor understand, and are anxious to open themselves to a new and deeper vision of reality; Herod already has his own vision of the World, with him firmly at the centre, and he will do anything he can to protect that set up, to make sure it is preserved at all costs.

Now, at last, we are able to understand what the final ‘Columbo question’ is that the Magi ask of us. It is perfectly timed, coming as it does just as we close off the Christmas season but also at the start of the New Year and Ordinary time.

As Christ is presented to us once again through the Gospels in the coming year, will we react like Herod, or like the Magi? Will we insist on bending and twisting and warping Christ so that he fits in with our way of doing things, with what I want to do, with what I want to be, will we try and force him to fit into our plans for the future?

Or will we allow him to challenge us and to change us; will we allow his words and his actions to disturb and unsettle us, even to make us change course, to turn life around, to do things differently? Will we allow ourselves to be led on a journey far from the place of comfort, so that we can take our place in God’s plan?

The Magi had to travel a long way on their journey, but most of us can make the journey within, because the real journey takes place in our minds, in our souls. It begins with a change of heart, with a decision to allow the Holy Spirit to help us find God’s presence.

If we can face each situation with confidence and with an open heart, fear and doubt will begin to melt away. We will find Jesus in unexpected, unlikely places; just as the Magi did.

Even Caesar is accountable to God

29th Sunday Year A
19 Oct 2014
Les Ruhrmund

In the 1st Reading, Isaiah proclaims with great certainty that the God of Israel is the only God; there is none other. The Lord is the God of Israel and he is the God of the pagans; he is the God of believers and non-believers alike.

Cyrus, the Persian king who rescued the Jewish people from bondage in Babylon and encouraged them to return and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem was a pagan and yet he was chosen by God as his anointed one to set the Jewish people free. Isaiah says that though Cyrus didn’t know God, God is God, and God knew Cyrus, and the hand of God can be seen in the actions of Cyrus.

The game changers in the world and in God’s plan of salvation will not necessarily be people

who we recognise as God’s servants and shepherds. The Holy Spirit is everywhere in everything and we cannot know with any certainty who or how different people, believers and non-believers, will respond to God’s abiding presence in the world.

The Psalm is a beautiful song of praise to God, acknowledging Isaiah’s declaration of one God of all; the universal king.

The 2nd Reading is from the opening verses of Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica, a prosperous port on the Aegean Sea on the northern coast of Greece, named after the sister of Alexander the Great.

This letter written just 20 years after the death and Resurrection of Jesus is probably the oldest of the preserved letters written by Paul and is the oldest written book in the New Testament.

Paul greets the young church in Thessalonica which he had founded and says he carries them in his prayers always giving thanks for their tireless faith, hope and love; actions, behaviour and works that come as their direct response to the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The account in Matthew’s Gospel of the challenge on Jesus from the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians about paying tax is better understood when one knows something of the political and religious environment in which the question was asked.

The Herodians were followers of Herod, the stooge Jewish king who was appointed by Caesar. Strange bed fellows were these disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians; united only in their determination to discredit and incriminate Jesus.

The tax in question was the annual ‘poll tax’ which was imposed on every man, woman and slave between the ages of adolescence and 65 for the privilege of being part of the Roman Empire.

The Jewish people living grudgingly under Roman rule in Israel, resented having to pay this tax; on political grounds because they detested the Roman authorities and on religious grounds because the tax had to be paid in Roman coins which on one side bore the image of the emperor Tiberius and on the other the words “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Pontifex Maximus” (literally “greatest pontiff”).

The Jewish people considered payment of this tax as an acknowledgement that Caesar was a divine king  – clearly an act of blasphemy. The Pharisees considered it blasphemous even to touch one on these coins, let alone carry a coin on one’s person.

Notice that that when Jesus asks to see a coin, they are able to produce one!

Hypocrites in word and deed!

Jesus’ reply to their question whether it is lawful (and by that they meant allowed in their religion) to pay this poll tax, is sometimes interpreted as a teaching on temporal and religious obligations as if the two are distinctly separate; the separation of state and religion.

That is not what Jesus means when he says “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’.’’ Jesus is not suggesting that there are two independent spheres of power, obligation and authority; that of Caesar and that of God.

God has dominion over everything, the whole of creation, and Caesar is subservient to God.

The state is subservient to God. All governments are subservient to God. Government officials who are elected to serve God’s people are ultimately responsible to God.

We should by all means give to Caesar that which Caesar is justly entitled to have for the sake of the common good; to provide services for the community; water, sanitation, security, transport, hospitals, schools, electricity, etc..

A greater obligation, however, is due to God who, in time,will call all Caesars to account for what they have done and what they have failed to do.

And if they have acted unjustly we might be asked how we allowed them to get away with it.

We can and are so easily seduced by those who want the church and God sidelined from the mainstream of the debates that shape our lives; the way we live, the values we share and the laws we draft.

This argument is fraught with danger. Evil, corruption and immorality thrive when good, honest, God fearing people exclude their Sunday faith and prayers from their Monday to Saturday politics.

We cannot exclude God from government because government is not excluded from the jurisdiction of God.

We are obliged to declare again and again and again that God’s love includes everyone and encompasses everything; to speak out and act against injustice, intolerance, violence, war and poverty.

Jesus looked at the coin and said pay to Caesar what is due to Caesar. He now looks at each one of us and says give to God what is due to God.

We are created in God’s image and we are God’s coins. In each other we see not the face of Caesar but the face of God. We carry God’s image to the places we live and work, study and play; everyday, everywhere.

We owe each other and all others, love, kindness, forgiveness, tolerance and generosity because that’s the currency of God.

Out of such wealth a kingdom can be built – God’s kingdom on earth

St Michael: “Who is like God?”

  28th  September 2014.
The Holy Archangels
John 1: 47-51
Tony van Vuuren

“St Michael, the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.”

The opening line of the ancient prayer to St Michael. This weekend we break away from the sequence of the Ordinary Sunday Cycle and celebrate the patronal feast of our parish St Michael’s; honouring our patron saint, Archangel Michael together with the other two Archangels; Gabriel and Raphael.
It is a belief of faith that angels exist. We say it in our profession of faith in the Nicene Creed; “I believe in God who created all things visible and invisible”; which of course includes the Angels. The theology of the Church teaches us that angels are spirits without bodies who have superior intelligence, power, and most of all, holiness. Each angel is a “saint” because he dwells perfectly in the presence of God. In all who they are, and in all that they do, angels provide a perfect example for us to follow as they dwell in intimate and affectionate relationship with God, praising Him, and loving Him both in heaven as well as wherever they are sent.

The functions of the three Archangels whom we venerate this weekend correspond to three major thrusts of Jesus’ ministry; announcing good news, healing the sick and delivering the oppressed. They are particularly important to us in the Christian life, both for the messages they have brought from God to mankind, as well as for the examples they provide us in what it means to be holy; a quality which we strive for in our Christian life.

Michael – meaning “Who is like God?” … serves as the leader of God’s holy angels; whose name is their war cry against Satan and his followers. As one of the chief princes of heaven, Saint Michael wields the strength of God to lead heaven’s powers in victory over the forces of hell. He is the defender of Holy Mother Church and stands ready to help us in both our personal and collective battles against the forces of the Satan. The reading from Revelation gives us a dramatic account of St Michael on his mission. Our parish is indeed honoured to have such a powerful patron and we should all make daily use of his patronage, saying at least the prayer to St Michael, instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1899.

Gabriel, whose name means “God is Mighty”, is God’s messenger. He announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Saviour. Raphael, whose name means “God Heals”, is associated with God’s healing power in the book of Tobit; helping Tobit and Sarah.

How often do you think about angels and the influence they have in your life? In some ways it is easier to accept the reality of Satan and his cohort of fallen angels, than it is to recognize the heavenly spiritual bodies who remain faithful to God. As we celebrate the archangels today, however, we should consider the role of all angels. Because they are called to help advance God’s kingdom, it’s not unthinkable that angels would have a role to play in the lives of God’s people—- you and me; so called, our guardian angel. St Jerome said that each one of us has an angel to help and guide us and inspire us with the greatness of God.

The Gospel gives the account of Jesus telling Nathanael, one of his newest disciples, that he will “see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus was telling Nathanael, and He is telling us, that heaven can be opened for us. Just as Nathanael will receive consolation from God and from his angels, so can we. What a compelling image! Jesus is the gateway to heaven, the focal point of the communion between heaven and earth.

We know from scripture that God’s angels played a significant part in the life of Jesus on earth. As messengers and ministers from heaven they gave comfort, strength, encouragement and guidance; and they are still at work today. You can be sure that they will do the same for the RCIA candidates presented to us this weekend, as they make their way to full acceptance to the Catholic Church. Angels communicate God’s wisdom to us. They protect us in times of danger, and they comfort us in times of trial. Nowhere is this truth more evident than in mass, the meeting place between heaven and earth.

Every time mass is celebrated, the heavens are opened in a special way. The Catholic Catechism says, “In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God.” At every consecration, angels descend to the altar, bringing heavenly grace and blessings.

True to their name, they act as messengers. They descend to testify to the miracle that is taking place in our midst. But the angels’ ministry is not just to descend on the altar and minister to us. They also ascend to heaven, bringing glory to God. They bring the songs, hymns and prayers that we offer to our heavenly father. They join us as we say “Holy, holy , holy “ to the Lord God of hosts. They join us as we sing or say “Glory to God in the highest.”

But it’s not just our prayers that bring glory to God. Everything that we bring to Him—instead of keeping to ourselves or seeking answers else-where—-gives God glory. The angels are here on the altar, ascending and descending. They are here, taking all of our offerings to the Father and bring His blessings and grace to us in return.

God has set forth as humanity’s ultimate destiny to be raised higher than the angels. The very reason why Lucifer, the fallen angel we know as Satan, refused to serve God. To use the words of St Paul, our future will far exceed that of the angels. The angels of heaven are God’s messengers sent to help us realize our ultimate goal of perfect communion with God in heaven.

We are not in this battle alone. Maybe we need Saint Michael’s superhuman strength to battle the evils of particular temptations or sins in our life, so let us call upon him for heavenly aid! If we need Saint Gabriel as a source of heavenly power to become a better person of God, then we need to ask him for help.

If we need God’s healing of deep wounds in our life, then we should seek Saint Raphael’s assistance. May their angelic holiness inspire us and their leadership direct us to embrace, in our minds and in our hearts, that holiness which manifests the perfectly loving essence of who God is and what God does, so that we might be transformed more fully — as individuals and as a Christian community — into God’s holy people and dwell forever in heaven with Him.

Love fulfils everything

Les Ruhrmund
23rd Sunday
Year A 2014
7 September 2014

The readings this weekend touch on an aspect of our human relationships that is taxing both within and outside of our church faith community. They tackle the responsibility we have to deal with people who have offended us personally – and to do this in love, which is not easy. It is often easier in these situations to choose a path of silence that avoids conflict or alternatively a confrontational path that is inevitably judgemental and unkind.

In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel writes that he has been given the responsibility of being God’s watchman; entrusted to warn God’s people of the consequences of their sinfulness and urge them to turn away from evil. God tells him that if he chooses to remain silent rather than speak out, he will be held personally responsible for their fate and will suffer the same unhappy destiny.

Paul in the verses we heard from his letter to the Romans has a very simple message: “Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

The reading from Matthew’s Gospel follows on from the first reading.

Jesus had been with his disciples, followers and detractors long enough to know that in ego-sensitive communities and families there are going to be disagreements, differences of opinion, hurt feelings, mistakes and disappointments. He also understood that without a means to resolve these conflicts, the consequences could be very damaging. That is as true in our society today as it was 2000 years ago. One might have thought that in a world that is super connected and driven by social media, we’d have found more effective ways of handling our personal conflicts but I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, more often than not, the ease of communicating our hurt feelings and frustrations to a wide audience reduces the likelihood of an amicable outcome and complicates the conflict even further.

So let’s have a look at what Jesus says we should do to find a loving resolution when we feel that someone has deeply offended us.

First thing says Jesus is to tell the person; and that person only. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is remaining silent…….. and letting the grievance stew in our hearts and imaginations. The stew eventually comes to the boil and we’re then likely to act rashly and unkindly. Often, just speaking about it can make things better. Tell doesn’t mean write a letter or an email; or send an sms, whatsapp, mixit, or use any other means of written communication. Tell means speak. Tell the person privately…. that means no complaining to someone else, no anonymous letters, no cryptic comments on facebook.

We often find it difficult to tell someone face to face that they have offended us but it is the surest way to get a favourable response and a change in behaviour.

And we must be motivated by a sense of love. Often we are motivated by a desire to inflict pain in return. That’s jungle justice. Or we may be motivated by our perception of our own goodness. That’s arrogance. Our motivation should be to tell the persons how their words or actions have hurt us. That’s not the same as criticising their behaviour; that’s likely to elicit an aggressive response and create an argument. If those who have hurt us are made aware of the effect of their actions on us and are motivated to respond in love, we can expect a change of heart and behaviour and to have gained a friend.

If that doesn’t work, Jesus suggests that we try again but this time with the assistance of a wise person or persons. They’re not joining us to support our argument or to prove wrongdoing; they’re there to help find reconciliation. “For when two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

It may well be that we are the ones who are in the wrong and we need the wisdom of others to see our shortcomings and mistakes.

If that still fails, we must take our personal troubles to a higher level of expertise and wisdom. In Matthew’s gospel he’s addressing conflict within the Christian community specifically and that authority is the Church. It is in an environment of Christian prayer and love that conflicts in personal relationships are best resolved.

The next step seems a little out of character. Matthew says that if all the previous steps have failed then the person who has wronged us is to be regarded as a Gentile or a tax-collector. The first impression is that the person must be abandoned as hopeless and beyond redemption but Jesus cannot have meant that. He never set limits to human forgiveness or conversion.

Jesus spoke of tax-collectors and sinners with welcoming gentleness and love.

In the words of William Barclay : “It may be that what Jesus said was something like this: ‘When you have done all this, when you have given the sinner every chance, and when he remains stubborn and obdurate, you may think that he is no better than a renegade tax-collector, or even a godless Gentile. Well, you may be right. But I have not found the tax-gatherers and the Gentiles hopeless. My experience of them is that they, too, have a heart to be touched; and there are many of them, like Matthew and Zacchaeus, who have become my best friends. Even if the stubborn sinner is like a tax-collector or a Gentile, you may still win him (over), as I have done.’”

What Jesus says is not an injunction to walk away from people; it is a challenge to win them over with love. It is not a statement that some people are hopeless; it is a statement that Jesus has found no one hopeless – and neither must we.

Who do you say I am?

24th August 2014.
Matthew: 16: 13-20
Dcn Tony van Vuuren

The lingering question to ask ourselves after listening to the selection of readings is the same one that Jesus asks the disciples in the gospel reading. His second question is, “But who do you say that I am?” In other words, who is Jesus to us in our daily lives?

This seems like a simple question, but the answer should profoundly influence who we are and what we do and not do. While it is important to know Church teaching and use it as a guideline, ultimately, we have to look deep inside ourselves for our answer rather than anywhere else.
The second question that Jesus asks invites his followers to take a personal stand and Peter answers for all of them: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus was, in fact, asking his disciples about his relationship to God, on the one hand, and his relationship to the human race, on the other.

It comes over pretty clearly from the picture that Matthew gives of Peter that Jesus chose him as the leader of the disciples not because of any great leadership skills that he showed or because he was a particularly charismatic personality, but because he had faith: the insight to discern Jesus’ identity as the Saviour.
Peter’s faith didn’t spring up overnight. It had grown since his first meeting with Jesus three years before; and that’s the way God’s influence usually works on people – changing us slowly, deepening our faith and making us more like him.
Peter’s position as the leader of the twelve Apostles is shown in many narratives in the Gospels, but they also do not spare him, clearly showing high and low points in his life.
If we were to make a thumbnail sketch of some of Peter’s characteristics based on the Gospels, I think these will highlight his personality:

A sharp self-awareness of sin (Luke 5:8)
When Peter first met Jesus he said – “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
The paralysis of fear (Matthew 14:29-31)
When Peter got out of the boat and beginning to sink he cried out – “Lord, save me!”
A Blessed insight (Matthew 16:16)
Simon Peter replied – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
A temper (Matthew 16:21-23)
Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying – “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
Bedazzled (Matthew 17:4)
The Transfiguration: “I will make three booths here”
Mortal and weary. (Mark 14:37)
Jesus said to Peter – “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?”
Broken, fallen. (Matthew 26:69)
“But he denied it before them all, saying — I do not know the man.”
The most important question and answer. (John 21:15-17)
He said to him the third time — Do you love me? “Lord you know that I love you. Jesus said to him — Feed my sheep.”

Peter’s lowest point would be when he denied knowing Jesus and probably his finest moments would be when he recognized Jesus as Christ the Son of Man as in today’s Gospel reading, together with his declaration of love for Jesus during the last earthly interaction between them as recorded in John’s Gospel; “Do you love me?”

The interaction and dialogue that we see between Jesus and Peter today and in John’s Gospel may be the most important reason why it is upon Peter that the church will be built. In short, it has nothing to do with being worthy and everything to do with faith and the capacity to sincerely love Jesus.

At some moment, life will put the question to us, “Who do you say Jesus is?” It might be a moment of testing when we need to choose between doing right or wrong. It might be a transition time when we are leaving home to set off on our own; and we must own the choices we make. On what values and on whom will we base those choices? We will need to make our own, the faith we received from our parents and our church. Being listed on the baptismal registry of our parish is not enough.
When we do answer the question, “But who do you say I am?’ from our own conviction and exemplify our response by our actions, then we will know Jesus, no longer as an object of obligation and custom, but with the conviction Jesus looked for in his disciples.

By Peter responding — You are the Christ, the Son of the living God– he declares Jesus to be chosen; to be the Son of God — the Living God as opposed to the dead, false gods of his time.
And that should be our answer too: Jesus chosen as our Lord and saviour.
Jesus the completely human, and completely divine Son of God. God, our living God, who we should worship above all other competing forces and desires in our lives.
Putting this answer into action is to help build up the Church upon the rock that is Peter. If Peter is the rock, the foundation, then we are the small stones, the building material, helping to support the structure of the living Church.
How will we do this? What are we doing to be supportive, to be constructive, to be generous, and to love?

When called upon; let us never say – “Who me? I am not worthy! You must surely mean someone else; for I am very self-aware of my sin, I am paralyzed by fear, I have a temper, I am only mortal and often too tired, I am sometimes broken and fallen”
Well, so was Peter!
What made Peter stand out was his great love for Jesus and it is this love that changes the world and builds up the Church and builds the kingdom of God.
So let us hear both of these questions from Jesus this weekend: “Who do you say that I am?” and, “Do you love me?”
Jesus does not ask – “Will you ever sin again?” Jesus does not ask –“Will you ever be afraid again?” Jesus does not ask – “Do you promise that you will never fall on your face again in the midst of fear, darkness and danger?”

Rather, Jesus asks Peter and us—“Do you love me more than these?”
What does — these — refer to here? Whatever it is; we must look within ourselves to answer that, but regardless of what — these — refers to; what is important to Jesus is love, not the unachievable promise of human perfection and sinlessness. Jesus knows that saying YES to love is a faster track to holiness than constantly saying NO to sin and darkness. Both may lead to holiness, but saying YES to love makes for a more enjoyable ride there.
St. Augustine said – “Love God and do what you will.”
In other words, the love for Jesus and for neighbour will naturally lead to a moral and spiritually fulfilling life.