Today’s Gospel is a real cracker! It puts the so called climb for glamour, ambition and cold hearted authority, right in a box where it should belong, and with a lid on top of it, never to be lifted……but Oh no, once again we can say…’the faces have changed, but the message remains the same.’ Time and time again, the lid gets lifted off that box, and its contents get an airing.
It has always been part of human nature, and still is today, when we try and wangle opportunities in our favour, in terms of climbing the professional ladder, getting more kudos, because we have taken a big risk or given so much time or capital to given causes. It seems to be part and parcel of human nature. I cannot absent myself from this kind of bargaining, because I know that I have done something like it; it is very much part of the mercantile world. Here in Australia, it has always been one of the underpinning norms within mateship. There is a place for it too, but more as a joke than a reality…..However, it is known that bribing and conning others to make way for some else does happen…nearly every day we see hints of this on our Television News. Jesus presents us with a real blockbuster response when it comes to following him! (There are no sweet deals on the side) Let’s have a look at it, through the eyes of the First Reading from the Old Testament, and the Gospel.
In the Old Testament Reading, we see that the Community of Isaiah, while digesting the Word of God, and then proclaiming it, has a very curious blueprint for success. Suffering!!! This is completely contrary to the way our ingrained human nature thinks, with its genetic formula of success and getting to the top; success is often wielding cold authority; success is in being served! As we look at the Old Testament Reading from another angle, it would seem that “the suffering” ascribed to, is seen as failure in the eyes of the world. The question can then be put: – ‘What can we learn from the experience of Biblical suffering?’ It would seem from the Biblical point of view, and that is what matters here, is that we truly have the opportunity to listen better to oneself, to God and to others, whilst immersed in it. It is about listening holistically, that means using using every fibre of our being like a Sonar, and Radio Telescope at the same time. It is the graced ability in also using our intuition which triggers alerts and a sense that something is going on….so, we need to SEE, JUDGE AND ACT on what we have deeply heard. However, let’s be real about this; we have to want it! This deep listening does not come on a silver platter, we have to work for it!
If we strive to live for the opposite to this formula from God’s Word, we are truly then formed in the ways of the world, and can become part of the ‘dog eat dog’ approach to everything. We have all seen this, maybe even experienced it from both sides, and the atmosphere which these kinds of ambitions create, is that of arrogance, selfishness, and ‘the world revolves around me syndrome.’ All that glitters is not gold! In the evening time of my years I would say that people like this are like water striders on top of a pond….flitting over the water to stand momentarily on a Lilly leaf, but never really exploring the world beneath their feet.
On the other hand, Jesus makes it quite clear that true greatness is found within servant hood. Christ centered Servant hood, has its roots deeply imbedded in Biblical listening, and true poverty of Spirit. Let’s just pause for a moment on the meaning of ‘poverty of spirit’. This vital Biblical concept forms the backbone for the Anawim…that is the ‘poor of the Lord God’….the faithful few or remnant who hungered and longed for the promises of the Lord God to be fulfilled. The ‘faithful’ who hung onto, and lived the tenants of the Marriage covenant, initiated by the Lord God with Abraham and Moses, and reinforced by later Old Testament Prophets, was their vision, hope and direction. The Virgin Mary typifies the Anawim of the Lord God….‘Let what you have said be done unto me…’ Mary is the absolute example of true ‘faith-response.’ She epitomised ‘Servant hood’…..not being over concerned with herself, but deeply committed to her ageing cousin, Elizabeth.’ For true Servant hood expresses itself in total ‘otherness’ without the loss of self, while pondering these mysteries within the heart and continuing to listen to them!
True Servant hood does not look for suffering; suffering is found within Servant hood and so is God! This element is always a refining component, it is the true catalyst for Biblical love, which makes new, enables the best in others, and brings about the will of God, and welcomes unconditionally all people into God’s family. The growth in, and living of Biblical Servant hood, rests on a certainty which is foreign to worldly standards. Having an inner silver thread of God’s unfailing love within us, Servant hood does not outwardly guarantee greatness as the world sees it. That being the case, and in the 21st Century, we live with more uncertainty than ever before in world history. We live in times where many people in the world who have access to the Internet can not only view their suburb, but their house and garden on Google, and next door, as well! Every financial transaction that is made through Credit or Debit Cards can be tracked! Every ‘phone call, email or text message can be viewed many months after they have been sent or tracked, telling us who was talking to who, and on what date and time through metadata retension. Some Nations in our Global Village have the capacity to destroy every living thing on our Planet! From within us, comes a latent desire for certainty, and this lives deep inside the human Psychic. Often within a social climate like this, subterranean fissures of ultra conservative movements often spring to the surface in a society while these conditions are ripe; ways of doing things become scrupulously exact, so that we can totally have within our power, the certainty of things that pertain to God, especially manifested in Law. Unfortunately, a bi- product of this ‘sticking to the letter of the law’ is the dissolving of the ‘spirit’, and replaced by cold regimentalism, which smacks of arrogance, in the face of our ‘thinking and daring’ sisters and brothers in society. Unfortunately, but not unexpected, this is sometimes practiced and lived within the Church to some extent. One only has to troll through some Facebook accounts and see this almighty conservative backlash, which in its delivery, there is no room for conversation with anyone! They think that they have the truth, and the upper hand. What also concerns me these days is the kind of military language which us often used by these conservative groups….like Warriors! Solders! Prepared to do battle with the Devil! Unfortunately, these so called ‘self-righteous’ groups, often have the audacity to say that they have the complete truth! The Prophetic contrast that our Pope embodies, highlights some of the wayward shepherd leadership, within the ranks of Cardinals, Bishops, Priests and Deacons, Religious and Faithful. It amazes me to see an unhealthy return to ‘by gone days’ which is often illustrated through types of Clerical Dress, and Honorific titles. There is a warning echo from Jesus in the Gospels….. The wearing of longer phylacteries, and being greeted obsequisely in the market squares with titles of honour. Also, the plethora of perfunctory laws which cross every t, and dot every i, from living Liturgy, to Pastoral Letters, which read like raw Government Gazettes.
As the People of God, we are called to be free, to be faithful in Jesus, as Servants of the Word. Laws and Regulations which try to monitor every movement of the follower of ‘The Way’ can be nothing short of modern day Pharisees at their computers, and some of these core practices, though practiced differently today, Jesus condemned vehemently. The external expressions of this spiritual cancer is so often manifested in the plethora of Hierarchical titles, and in sporting very expensive ceremonial clothing to boot. There is also within some water tight, and self-catered Leaders the claim of ‘speaking the truth in love’….. Which scorns the ‘Poor of the Lord God’ as being ignorant, and unworthy Prophets of the Word. Moreover, aught not our spiritual maxim, or text message be: ‘Listening to the truth in humility!’ Food for thought!
Having being ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament for 41 years, and being formed in Post Vatican II visions and goals, and for us ‘oldies’ we remembering the opening of the council over 50 years ago, I have seen a kind of pulling back from the Council’s overall vision, lest it gets out of control or rather in control by the Holy Spirit; I use the word control here in a specific way, namely the Spirit’s Vision getting to far ahead for the people steering the Carriage. This seems to be coupled with a greater underlying uncertainty in our world; the culture is just ripe for retroactive slowing down, in embracing the daring vision of the Gospel. This cocktail of events gives the green light to people holding the reigns of this Carriage to reintroduce scrupulously exact liturgical practices and laws, which can stifle the Spirit’s movements, and crush the inspiring thrills for daring Christians alive and alert in Mission within today’s needs. Running hand in hand with this, is sadness, a lack of joy, and a misguided movement towards superstition, in order to harness lost mystical experience and wonder. One of the great sayings of St. Teresa, which raised a few eyebrows at the prayer was, ‘Save me Lord from silly devotions and sour faced saints…” It says it all doesn’t it? Gloominess and cold Rubrics often go hand in hand; whereas warmth’ joy and celebration speak of a real sense of community in worship, and it is a sign of real Liturgy!
It’s not all doom and gloom! Throughout world history and today, God’s Holy Spirit can always outwit our handmade speed humps, which we build so as we can enforce our angle on truth and authenticity. Pockets of daring Christians pop up all over the world responding to the Spirit’s invitations to renew the face of the earth.
Often this happens within areas of great suffering where joy abounds. Many Founders of Religious Orders had to deal with all kinds of persecution from those whom they would have thought would listen, and foster God’s new deed being done. One of the many profound themes which run through some of the Letters of St. Paul is: – Joy in the midst of Suffering. See, we are back to the theme in the First Reading and Gospel of today; the Cross is always in the forefront of change and growth within God’s people. The Gospel today underlines the two sided coin of Our Lord’s call to us in mission……Servant hood/The Cross! Let’s renew our commitment to be Servants of one another; living the Passion and Cross of Jesus, the greatest sign of God’s love.