the capacity to satisfy

Aug 18, 2013

Take a moment here to consider these key points from today’s scripture readings (full text of the readings at this link):
Jeremiah 38
“In those days, the princes said to the king: “Jeremiah ought to be put to death; he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such things to them; he is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin.” … And so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern … letting him down with ropes. There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.”

Psalm 40
R. Lord, come to my aid!
The LORD heard my cry.
He drew me out of the pit of destruction,
out of the mud of the swamp;
he set my feet upon a crag;
he made firm my steps.

Hebrews 12:1-4
“…let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”

Luke 12:49-53
“Jesus said to his disciples…Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided,three against two and two against three.”

I remember one of my seminary teachers suggesting to us that all that the people of Catholic parishes in New Zealand wanted from a priest was that he would be nice to them. The discussions that followed this comment were lively, and helped us to appreciate a significant difference between what people might say they want, and what they in fact need or are entitled to.

It was evident to us very quickly that if Jesus was appointed as Parish Priest to most NZ parishes, he would get driven out pretty quickly!  What parish would tolerate a priest who calls the respectable locals “brood of vipers” (Mt 12:34) or  (as in today’s gospel) announces that he has come to bring division, even in families. (Lk 12).  

Over the years I have read and heard a number of commentaries on these contentious scripture passages. At times some of these seek to dismiss (or at least to tame) the radical and challenging teachings of Christ. No doubt these commentators are well intentioned as they attempt to make the preaching of the prophets more easily digestible to parishioners of this twenty-first century.

Commenting on today’s gospel, they might write that this reading, (and other similarly strong passages) are not meant to be taken literally, but instead Jesus is perhaps being a bit over-dramatic in order to catch attention before he goes on to give a much “nicer” message.

But as much as we might like our preachers and prophets to be less challenging, that fact is that the life Christ offers us is radically different from the modern comforts and compromises that we accept as the norm for twenty-first century existence. The popular contemporary view is that discomfort and suffering are obstacles to full healthy and happy life. But the gospel presents a different reality. Therefore the one who preaches the full message of the gospels will often not be welcomed.

Let’s return for a moment to the difference between what people want and what they need. It would be interesting to interview a cross-section of parishioners at the end of a working week. If the interviewer asked “what do you need,” the chances are that most people would reply saying that they needed some some food and a chance to rest, perhaps with some good company. But from our own past experience we know that even when we do have the good food, company, and rest, there is still something lacking in us.  So perhaps what we are REALLY REALLY looking for, is something more than food and friendship?

Pope Francis spoke about this last Sunday at the Angelus gathering in St. Peter’s Square:

The poor person is the one who has no desire, no desire to move forward towards the horizon. For us Christians, the horizon is the encounter with Jesus. This encounter is with the one who is our life, our joy, the one who makes us happy. 

So I ask you: do you have a willing heart, a heart that desires? (think and answer this in the silence of your own heart.)  OR do you have a closed heart, a heart that has fallen asleep and therefore a heart that is under anaesthetic for the things of life? 

The problem is that most of us don’t do this kind of reflection very often. It is difficult (to say the least) to remain with the thought that we are powerless to satisfy our own needs. So to escape from this discomfort we often attach our desires to another possession, a project or a person in the hope of satisfying our yearnings.  As the pope puts it, we settle for living under an anaesthetic.

The prophet is the one who will continually, and in the face of opposition, reminds us of this reality. The good preacher will proclaim that we are created by God and for God, and that, to paraphrase Augustine, our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

While we might not like what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, our own experience verifies that what he says, is in fact the reality of our own Christian lives. The one who seeks to live in full intimacy with Christ will encounter divisions and tensions that appear to be caused by her/his Christ-centred life. It is so easy at a comfortable dinner of family or friends to remain silent when contentious issues surface. Too often the Christian becomes timid in the presence of views that are contrary to the gospel. Perhaps we are most vulnerable to this timidity when these views are expressed by friends and family?

This does not mean that we should take the stance of the hostile warrior up against an enemy. The more effective approach is most often a word or two that offers the way of Christ as another way, a way that brings more hope, a way that has the capacity to satisfy the longings of all human hearts.

Let’s especially encourage our preachers to have the courage to present the uncompromised beauty of the Christian life.






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