new horizons & decisive directions
Often in the Sunday Mass readings, there is a single clear point that leaps out at me demanding a voice in my Sunday homily. This week there are many thoughts, so I will use this space as if in casual conversation, chatting about a few things that emerge from this Sunday’s scriptures.
Make sure that you don’t miss the first verse of the first reading from the opening verses of the book of the prophet Jeremiah: “The word of the Lord came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you…”
Wow! Take a moment to consider this. Even before you were conceived, you were a thought of God. You are not just the result of an action of your parents – or even simply the fruit of their love. The fact that you exist is an explicit and expressed decision of God.
Now to the second reading. It is significant that many couples who say that they want nothing religious at their wedding ceremony, then go on to say that they want ‘that poem about love being always patient and kind…‘ Without being aware of it, they are asking for the heart of Jesus’ teaching on love as conveyed by Saint Paul:
Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered,
it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
1 Cor 12:31-13:13
Today’s Gospel reading is taken from the fourth chapter of Luke, and spans nine verses. A remarkable shift happens in the people in these few sentences. At first: “all spoke highly of him, and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”. But just half a dozen verses later “they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong”.
During the week Bishop Barry sent all priests a copy of the pope’s Lenten Message for this year. I have read the message a couple of times and pondered it over the last few days. I think that this message from the pope provides a unifying key to an understanding of today’s three scripture readings.
Every encounter with Jesus is a call to faith. This faith is not about an “ethical choice” or a lofty ideal, but faith (as the pope reminds us) is the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
And here lies the challenge. Perhaps it is easy to like a poem about love that seems simply to outline a ‘lofty ideal.’ Maybe I am willing to ponder the love of God ‘before I formed you in the womb’, as a general kind of comforting thought, that reveals a new dawn on an existing horizon. But a personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ who is God, is quite a different story. A personal encounter requires engagement and response. A direct meeting with Jesus Christ is a call to focus on new horizon and move forward in a decisive direction.
My problem is that while I might be happy to make a slight adjustment or two to my life, I am usually pretty attached to my own directions and horizons. And so I find myself too often wandering aimlessly in a short-sighted (and often hopeless) amble.
This is precisely the situation that was faced by those who were encountered by Jesus. When he speaks in general terms about the fulfilment of scripture, all speak highly of him and praise him for his gracious words. But as soon as Jesus challenges their limited horizons and misguided directions, they respond angrily, even to being “filled with fury”.
Which is probably why we often reduce the life of faith to an existence of polite respectability. If the prophet Jeremiah were to preach at a Christchurch diocese Sunday Mass, parishioners might be initially curious, and delighted at hearing of God’s personal dedication to us. But as the prophet moved onto the next verses in today’s reading, we would begin to feel uncomfortable on hearing “for it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land: against Judah’s kings and princes, against its priests and people”.
If Jesus were to begin to preach in our modern-day temples, the malls and sports stadia, and even our places of worship, we too would most likely respond with outrage and move him on.
Which brings us to Lent: a time of allowing ourselves to be encountered anew by Jesus. A season of listening to our internal desire for greater freedom from all that is binding us. A journey of embracing the new horizons and decisive direction revealed to us in Jesus.
This journey through forty desert days needs to involve all our faculties (heart, intellect etc), to the revelation of God’s gratuitous and personal love for us, fully revealed in Jesus Christ.