With Jesus, what you see is what you get!
Political correctness in speech within Western cultures nowadays, is moving towards madness…my I say! If we are going to criticize something in our society, we have to pussy foot around so that no one gets offended. As soon as one shows some passion in objective criticism, one is told that they are working out of anger! Most of that to me, is a lot of rubbish! I certainly believe that we must be respectful in our conversation with each other on personal levels, and in the public domain, however, sometimes we need to dance around as though we were treading on egg shells, just to get a point over…then often because it is so sugar coated, many people don’t really understand what we are talking about. To just say it as it is: so often rocks the boat, and is open to vicious criticism of the one who speaks and the truth of the matter often gets lost. Not with Jesus!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus does not sugar coat his words nor worry about political correctness in his message, as he speaks to the great crowds following him. Let’s get a handle on what St. Luke and his community who put together this Gospel, are teaching the early Church, and for all times right to 2016 and beyond.
Firstly, Jesus along with his disciples, are gathering a crowd as he, resolutely takes the road to Jerusalem, where the triumph of His life will happen in and through his Passion and Death. Great crowds have always followed Jesus throughout the pages of History, but when the chips are down, some people have had, and will have second thoughts about resolutely taking the road…..just like the rich young man in the Gospel, who prided himself in keeping the Law of the Lord, but went away sad, when Jesus asked him to give away all his attachments, and be attached to Jesus, the human face of the Father. There is an old saying that was put into a pop tune recently, well recently for me is twenty years ago! ‘When the going gets tuff, it’s the tuff that keep going.’ Peter the apostle, had some trouble with this when he denied knowing his master on the eve of Our Lord’s death. However, just because we may baulk here and there as we come to terms with the radical nature in following Jesus, it is not all sad stories! Our God in Jesus, has a soft center, and always wants us to accompany Him. If there are hiccups along the way, we have the opportunity to learn from those experiences…..if pain comes our way as a consequence of following Jesus, it can be a spiritual catalyst for us to listen to God with our whole being, and at the fruits of that is a greater ability to listen to others who are on the same journey, or sitting by the road side, either having a break, resting or undecided.
Now, as we look at the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, we may be even tempted to think that Jesus is somewhat insensitive, as he puts the demands to the crowd about the reality of following him. It might sound harsh to us, but the way Jesus is speaking about the conditions of following him is a typical method of speaking used by Teachers in his day. I suppose that we would call them shock tactics!
Supposing your swimming pool goes green as we saw at the Olympic Games Swimming Centre in Rio…..what made it clear over night? A lot of chlorine….the pool gets shocked, so that it can return to the pristine clarity of clear water.
Shock tactics have been often used, in all kinds of ways in Preaching over the ages…..For example, the Mission Fathers like the Passionists and Redemptorists had particular styles in Preaching, with plenty of drama in their delivery….as a little boy, I could see myself being like them, so that is one of the many reasons why I joined the Passionists. In the Middle Ages Preaching using great eloquence and the use of a Preaching stick, to thump the ground or hit a bell, often took place in the market squares. The quality of the delivery, with sound effects together with the depth of the message, would cause people to stop in their tracks, look at the crowd’s reaction and listen. This combined invitation caused a trigger within the listeners to apply the message to themselves, if they were open to its consequences, or let it sit in their minds till the time was right for them to respond.
Now, let’s get back to what Our Lord was saying to the crowd in his time, and what he is saying to us here in 2016!
As we see so often throughout the Old and New Testament, our God gives us invitations, time and time again, to be in communion with him, and each other. The Covenant that God made with Abram that he would be the Father of many…hence the name change to, Abraham was one such huge invitation. The giving of the Decalogue, and the subsequent Marriage contract initiated on Mt Sinai to Moses, stand out as pivotal moments of invitation, and the opening up of our response within a marriage covenant. The Lord God keeps His Covenant forever, we are the ones that stray and come back, stray away again, and return, stray away again and go around in circles…..then back to God. People along the way, who embody the vision, instinct and Word of God help us and prod us along the way, to stay with the Lord.
The coming of the Word made flesh, was the ultimate Word of God living among us, speaking the Word to us, sending us out in His name. The magnitude of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, was the clearest and loudest Word, that just as ‘life’ was re breathed into Jesus at the moment of His Resurrection; we too have been invited to share in that ‘new life’ as well, and to be ‘on fire’ with the Spirit as we accompany each other as the pilgrim Communion of Saints en route to the Father.
Okay, having said all the above, let’s get to practical issues: – Seeing that we are all ‘on the road’ heading towards a place and home in God – our journey is therefore a mystical journey, it is not a Religion of just following moral prescripts….even Big Department Stores like Harrods in London, and Myer in Sydney and Melbourne have Mission Statements which look a bit like Mission Statements containing moral prescripts for a Diocese. What must we do? St. Paul the Apostle gives us a few hints…….He says that the journey to the Father is like a race! We are all runners, or better known as Athletes. We all know that we only would want to be in a race if the destination and prize is worth it. That being the case for us, how do we remain fortified for the race? We have to train like all athletes do!
Our training is that of ‘prayer’ responding to ‘God’s Word’, and ‘Sacramental experience’ and good works within the community. Let’s remember what St. James in his letter to Christians says, ‘Faith without good works, is dead!’
Let’s look at being fed by God’s Word……food for the race! Whenever we hear God’s Word proclaimed, we need to keep this rule of thumb in mind…’Lord, what are you saying to me through your Holy Word? Next, how is my life to be changed according to your invitation?’ God’s Word is like a vitamin pill…one tablet won’t show much difference, but after 30 days, we should get a bit more ‘kick’ in us! Also, having a good sense of Contrition is a healthy platform for listening to God’s Word, and enabling it to find a home in us, which causes a ‘change’….. So let’s have a little Penitential Rite……right now!
INTRODUCTION AND PENITENTIAL RITE: This morning/ tonight God’s Word calls us to check out the quality of our YES to Jesus. We measure people’s commitment to a cause by the sacrifices they are prepared to make for it. We cannot hope to be genuine followers of Christ without making sacrifices. Question! What does it mean for me to be a true follower of Jesus? What attitudes and values do I need to keep ‘in check’ on a daily basis? What does my Christian life cost me?
Lord Jesus, you call us to be poor in spirit – to know our neediness of God’s grace in our life. We praise you. LORD HAVE MERCY.
Lord Jesus, you call us to have open hearts in welcome to other people – to know the need to be flooded with God’s love. We thank you. CHRIST HAVE MERCY.
Lord Jesus, you call us to obedience to you – to be fully alert to your inviting Word, to your nourishing Sacrament, and to see your face in our sisters and brothers. We glorify you. LORD HAVE MERCY.
Now, a short prayerful reflection to keep us on our toes!!!!
O Tree of Calvary, send your roots deep down into my heart. Gather together the soil of my heart, the sands of my fickleness, the stones of my stubbornness, and the mud of my selfishness, bind them all together, O tree of Calvary, interlace them with your strong roots, and entwine them with the network of your love. Amen.
Finally, the Celebration of the Sacraments within the Community are so vital for our journey, our race to the Father. Let yourself be involved in the Celebration of the Eucharist, which is what real Liturgy is about. Whatever missionary activities within the Parish….so simple as even smiling to people that you don’t know, or have seen before….Further still, go and introduce yourself to them….you may be an answer to prayer for them….they might have come from another country and feel a little uncomfortable in Australia…..Missionary activity is as simple as that! When you are at the Shops….smile at people, and if you see someone from your community or suburb…invite them to have a Coffee with you, if you both have the time…. And so on….it’s about having time for each other is a very busy world!
We need to practice, and practice and practice by listening to God’s Word, and Prayer, and Sacrament…..I conclude with a little story on the same theme…..
THE PARABLE OF THE SQUEAKY VIOLIN
A very young man was given a beautiful violin for his birthday……this was something he wanted with all his heart, and he was only 7 years old. He had ambitions to be a concert violinist when he grew up! He was in his room morning and evening, and the squeaks and wrong notes were driving his Dad crazy, as he tried to watch something on TV. Finally, he could take in no longer, and he went out to his wife in the back yard, and he asked her, ‘I know he wants to be a concert violinist, but, does he have to practice?!
Within a crisis situation let us pray: If today you hear God’s voice: harden not your heart.
Within the need to be compassionate, let us pray: If today you hear God’s voice: harden not your heart.
Within the need to be selfless, let us pray: If today you hear God’s voice: harden not your heart.
That we be attentive to the Christ in our sisters and brothers, let us pray: If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart.
And before you receive Holy Communion, you might like to pray……
We give thanks to God, our Father, for the true wisdom which comes from him: Jesus, his Son, crucified and living. In this Eucharist, the Father gives us the bread of the strong, so that we can walk after him….single minded, convinced, committed and daring as we all resolutely take the road to Jerusalem bearing the Cross…living signs of God’s great love. (Taken from The Glenstal Bible Missal, 23rd Sunday Year C, Page 1,323…….From Word, to Thanksgiving)
Fr Kevin Walsh
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia