Category Archives: Cycle A

Holy Thursday

13 April 2017
Cycle A
Rev Tony van Vuuren

Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, marks the start of the Easter Triduum. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper this evening commemorates the institution of the Eucharist. In John’s account of the Last Supper, which forms the gospel reading tonight, John makes the point that the Church has to make Christ present not only sacramentally, in his Body and Blood, but also in the spirit of service and surrendering of power which Jesus symbolises by washing his disciples feet.

In the other three gospels, the description of the Last Supper was modelled partly on what the early Christians were already doing in their Eucharistic celebration. And what they were doing was modelled, of course, on the actual event of the Last Supper itself, and Jesus’ words over the bread and wine: “This is my Body”; “This is my Blood”. “Do this in memory of me”.

In John’s gospel, that particular aspect of the Eucharist is dealt with in Chapter Six, where Jesus gives his long discourse on the living bread. “The bread I give is my flesh, for the life of the world…whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, lives in me and I live in them”.                                                                                                                                  This evening John doesn’t mention anything about bread and wine becoming Jesus’ body and blood. He uses the event of the Last Supper to emphasise another facet, or another dimension, of the Eucharist.                                                                                                                                                                     John’s version of Lord’s Supper describes Jesus washing his disciple’s feet – and informing them by this gesture that he’s the Messiah who’s come to serve rather than be served. And, just as important, he’s telling the disciples that they’ve got to do the same if they want to think of themselves as his followers.

John’s point in putting that incident right in the middle of the Last Supper illustrates how we can put our belief in the Eucharist into practice. The meaning of the Eucharist is lived out in practice when we all treat each other with that attitude of humility, self-emptying, service and love that Jesus himself demonstrated.

John never got tired of making the point that if our devotion towards God is real; it will express itself in devotion towards our neighbour, an active dedication of ourselves to our fellow human beings. “If God has loved us, so we must love each other”, he says, elsewhere in his writings.                                                                                                          It’s this aspect of our life in communion with God which John wants to emphasise in his account of the Last Supper as well.

For the true Christian, who is genuinely open to God’s influence in their life; taking part in the Eucharist is conditional on this attitude of service and humility – this willingness to take up a stance in life which involves performing menial or servant-like tasks for each other. Washing people’s feet in Jesus’ time was of course a task that only a servant or lowly slave would perform.                                                                                                            According to John, no Christian should approach the Eucharistic table, or receive Christ’s Body and Blood, without this prior commitment.                                                                                                                          At the same time, none of us should go away from the table, having received communion, without having this commitment strengthened and reinforced. We have to find the presence of Christ both in the Eucharist and in the washing of feet. They’re two sides of a single reality.                                                                                                                     Well, the question is: what reality? Why does John say that we as followers of Christ have to take on this servant-like commitment?                                                                                                                                                           The answer is that it’s a reflection of God’s nature, God’s character, and so it’s something that we take on as we gradually realise or grow into the vocation we all have to be like God.

By the time John’s gospel was written Jesus was clearly seen as being divine. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” he said. So the gesture of the foot-washing demonstrates a vital aspect of God’s nature – the fact that he chooses to reveal himself in powerlessness and servant hood.                                                                          God shows himself – to make the point another way – by reversing the ordinary human values and customs, where important and powerful people demonstrate their superiority with all kinds of badges of privilege and ways of being treated in a servile way by their subordinates. Peter shows how far he still holds to that way of thinking by his embarrassment and by the objections he raises to Jesus’ action. ‘You shall never wash my feet.”

Christ is present in the bread and wine as a sacramental sign and when we celebrate Mass together we are making him present in that way. But Christ must also be made present in real life, by a concrete commitment to servant hood. We make Christ present when we renounce our own pride and self-interest and respond to the needs, and especially to the suffering and the distress, of others. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is to remind us not to separate those two aspects of the Eucharist and always to see them as belonging together.

That’s why out of the four gospel accounts of the Last Supper, it’s especially John’s account that belongs within the Easter Triduum: it belongs especially in the context of Christ’s journey to the Cross. And it’s partly for that reason that the Mass of the Lord’s Supper doesn’t have a formal ending – it remains open and unfinished, and picks up again tomorrow, with the remembrance of Christ’s Passion and Death.

So the institution of the Eucharist, the washing of the feet, and the Path to the Cross, are all part of a single mystery, and they all cast light on each other.

These are the realities of our faith which we can bear in mind and reflect on as we come together once again to re-enact and celebrate this year’s Paschal Triduum.

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Lord change me !

 5th Sunday Lent
Year A
2 April 2017
Rev Les Ruhrmund

The readings on this 5th Sunday of Lent,  with only two weeks to go to Easter, revolve around life and death; literally, figuratively and spiritually.

In the 1st reading the prophet Ezekiel has a vision in which the dry bones of the dead are raised from their graves and brought to new life through the spirit of God. It’s a vision of a new beginning for Israel.

In the 2nd reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans we are reminded that we are born into this world in the flesh and through Baptism we are reborn in the Spirit. He says that ‘If Christ is in you, although our bodies are dead because of sin, our spirits are alive because of righteousness.’ Though we exist in the flesh, we live in the Spirit. It is in the weakness of our bodies that we ultimately find our strength in the Spirit.

In the gospel John tells us that through the death of Lazarus, the Son of God is glorified. Just as the blindness of the man in last week’s gospel served to show Jesus as the light, so the death of Lazarus will serve to show Jesus as the life.

While this reading from John’s gospel at first glance tells a powerful and moving story about an amazing event in Jesus’ life, typical of John’s writing, the words often have two meanings;  one which appears obvious and true, and the other that lies beneath the surface and is equally true.

As an example, at the beginning of the reading, after Jesus is told that his much loved friend Lazarus is ill he says: ‘This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’

The obvious understanding is that the raising of Lazarus will be a visible sign of his divinity and his power over death and bring his disciples to a deeper faith and understanding of who he is.

But there’s more to it than that.

Throughout John’s gospel Jesus talks often about his glory in connection with the cross.  Jesus regarded the cross both as his supreme glory and as the way to glory. So when he said that the cure of Lazarus would glorify him, he was also saying that to go to Bethany and bring Lazarus back to life would lead to his own death on the cross. As indeed it did. In the verses immediately following the raising of Lazarus, we’re told that the Jewish authorities on hearing about the dramatic events in Bethany, from that day onwards planned to kill him.

A paradox: Lazarus’s return to life leads to Jesus‘s death; and the death of Jesus gives life to the world.

Jesus said to Martha and he says to us; ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?’

Well, do we really believe this?

Up until the moment that Lazarus walks out of the tomb, none of the people present really believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; not Martha, Mary, the disciples nor the Jewish mourners.

They confessed their belief that he was a miracle worker and the long awaited Messiah sent by God but until that moment they didn’t understand that he is God.

Do we believe that? Do we believe that he calls us out of the tombs that we have created for ourselves and that he offers us new life? Do we believe that he can change us and restore us?

We don’t have to be dead physically to be in need of being raised up. We can be dead in the midst of life; spiritually dead, emotionally dead, vocationally dead, psychologically dead, dead to the endless possibilities of life.

We know our lives should be more joyful; more peaceful. We know we should be more loving, kind, forgiving and generous. But instead too often we are anxious, selfish, self-centred and cold hearted. We wrap our conscience in burial bandages and are dead to the cry of the poor, the afflicted, the persecuted, the homeless, the lonely and the lost.

Lazarus is given to us on this 5th Sunday of Lent to help us think about the tombs in which we lie hidden and the life to which we are called. The spirit of darkness, seduces most of us into believing that we can create our own happiness, that we know what is best for us and that we cannot change. We are kept bound by things about ourselves that we are afraid to share and that we allow to sway our thinking and our actions.

It might be a secret we can’t tell, a sin we’re unable to confess, a memory we can’t bury or a desire that challenges our Christian values.

This is the part of us that is buried in the tomb. We carefully guard and defend the entrance and we’re ashamed and afraid that if anyone rolls away the stone they’ll see the mess inside.

This Sunday Jesus stands at the entrance of our tombs and calls us out of them. We’re asked to face the behaviours and thoughts that keeps us entombed, to move away from shame, embrace repentance, recognise the price to be paid to be true to what’s best in ourselves. We’re invited to experience Christ’s healing and forgiveness.

This journey is not easy, but it’s what Lent is all about; the journey from the tomb, through penitence, to the new life of Easter.

In the miracle of the Eucharist that we’ve come together to celebrate, may we see the Lord, the resurrection and the life, standing at the entrance to our tombs calling us by name; “Come, come out !’

To which we might respond asking for our own miracle:

Lord, you are the resurrection and the life.

Change me.

Help me to want to be healed.

JOURNEY OF FAITH

2nd SUNDAY OF LENT
CYCLE A
12th MARCH 2017
Mt 17:1-9
Rev Tony van Vuuren.

Just as Abraham, the first of the great patriarchs of Israel, was called on to make a journey out of ignorance and error and towards knowledge and love of God, and just as Jesus’ mission meant journeying towards Jerusalem, where he knew he would be put to death, our life, as disciples of Christ, also involves a journey: away from our sinful leanings and our self-assertiveness and towards greater closeness to God and holiness of life.

The bright light of Jesus’ transfiguration transfigures us, as long as we don’t turn our backs on it. When God calls someone or some group, and they answer his call, God doesn’t leave them as they are. If we’re serious about getting to know God, he never leaves us unchanged.

The story of Abraham being told to uproot himself and set out for some unknown destination, and an uncertain future, is the story of the beginning of the Hebrew people, the beginnings of the Jewish faith in God. It’s the story of the origins of the community that held that faith.

With anyone who hears God’s call or becomes aware of the reality of God and the way he draws us to himself – which should mean all of us at some level or other – it doesn’t usually involve settling into a contented, comfortable situation. It involves uprooting, a shift of direction, the sacrifice of certain securities and attachments – in our spiritual lives, in our habits, in our consciences.
“Leave your present way of life,” God says to us, “for the new life that I will show you”.

The gospel reading this Sunday is about another journey, or at any rate, the halfway point of another journey: the journey that Jesus is on towards Jerusalem and his death and resurrection.

If the temptations, which we heard about last Sunday, described what happened at the start of Jesus’ ministry, what we get in this Sunday’s gospel story of the Transfiguration is a sort of anticipation, or a preview, of the end of the journey: Christ’s glorification and his return to the Father.

Jesus had already announced to the disciples that his ministry would end with his being killed. What the transfiguration on Mount Tabor showed them was what was to come after Jesus’ death. This was such a mysterious and wonderful experience that Peter wanted to freeze it in time. In the transfiguration, the three disciples caught a glimpse of the divine, glorified Jesus.

But after this glimpse of the presence of God in Jesus, Matthew reminds us of the context. The bright light fades, Jesus and the disciples have to come back down from the mountain top. Jesus has to prepare to re-embark on the journey to Jerusalem and to Calvary. He must have felt himself comforted, reassured, affirmed and strengthened for the ordeal ahead.

It wasn’t that everything would now be rosy and comfortable. In fact nothing changed! He still has to face a dark and threatening future. He knew that it was what God wanted of him and that God would give him the strength to face it all.

The Tabor experience could be called a “peak experience”. (Pardon the pun!) We too can have peak experiences or moments of transfiguration. We can have intense experiences of peace, unity, joy, exhilaration, meaning…and of the presence of God.

These are true moments of grace that can be triggered off not only by prayer, but by music, nature….but they are also more likely to be the fruit of suffering and painful struggle. In His love for us, God allows us to taste on earth the joys of the world to come. He gives us glimpses of the Promised Land to which we are travelling in faith; moments given to us so that we can remember them when God seems far away and everything appears dark and empty.

But after a peak experience we too have to come down from the mountain and return to our valley, where life goes on in the darkness of faith. The truth is we are undertaking not one, but two journeys. The first is the outward journey we make through involvement in the world around us and finding our role here. The second is the inward journey; which is a search; a search for oneself and ultimately a search for God.

Life’s inward journey is truly a journey of faith because we don’t know where it will take us. Faith begins with a call from God in some shape or form. God calls us forward, away from idols and distractions where we might find ourselves; not necessarily into a new location, but into a new vision, new values, and a new way of living.
We can draw inspiration from the examples of many folk within our parish.
That life is a journey is a very powerful metaphor, but don’t understand it in too linear fashion. It’s not that simple. Every stage of the road is different.

Even with the best faith in the world we may still end up on dark roads we never imagined or wanted for ourselves. To have faith is not to have all the answers. It is to have bearings. There will be times in each of our lives when we will have to go forward armed only with our courage and our faith.

Abraham’s voyage into exile turned out to be a journey towards greater knowledge of God. Jesus’ progress towards Jerusalem was a journey back to the Father who’d sent him.

Especially during the season of Lent let’s think about how willing we are to make the same journey: in our case, from sin to holiness; from self-centredness to love; from an outlook centred on our own desires and ambitions to one that revolves around God and what he wants us to be like.

So what to make of all this? We should understand that, if we are Christian disciples; our attitude, if we follow the model of Abraham, is to be firm in trusting God and willing to endure what he asks of us, confident that “he knows what he is about.” And confident, too, that while we may not receive what we ask, we will receive the grace and strength to achieve what we are called to do and be; which though it is more than often hidden from us, is truly what we want.

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.

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