One of the books I read on Retreat last week was “The Wonders of the Universe”. You might think that a strange choice, so I had better tell you quickly that I also read the latest book by Pope Benedict on Jesus and a book by Gerard Hughes. But I do not regret reading about the Universe alongside these other books, because it brought home to me once again the amazing and infinite mystery which is the space-time thing that we are a tiny tiny part of. I am just simply amazed that we exist at all, and it just brought home to me the power, mystery and wonder of the loving creative force behind all this – Almighty God.
In the Gospel today (Matt 18:21-35) Jesus is making the same point by quoting an immense sum of money as the amount we owe God – ten thousand talents is millions of pounds. He does this to make us aware of God’s mercy “The master… cancelled the debt.” This message is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. If we’re not aware how much God loves us and how much mercy he shows us then I can’t see why any of us is at Mass! Of course we can never fully grasp how much this is, and that’s OK, provided we’re always open to the fact that it is far more than we can ever realize.
One of the startling things about the Introduction to the new translation of the Mass is this amazingly over the top use of language. The Confession doesn’t just have us saying that we have sinned, but makes us repeat 3 times “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” and it tells us to strike our breast as we say it! Now before some of you get hung up about this, stop now, and think about it positively. I see it as a reminder that there is always more I could do, something I need to bash into myself. More love (BASH) more care for the world (BASH) more vision (BASH). It’s a reminder too how easily we forget our failings and get annoyed by the failings of others. The other driver on the road; that other idiot who began the quarrel ; that other person who created the problem. It’s always the politicians or the bankerd that we blame for our over-greedy society ; it’s always someone else who is responsible for starvation in Somalia or the homeless in Oxford ; and it certainly isn’t our fault if too many carbon emissions are pushing the world into climate change!!
Jesus doesn’t mince his words about the sin of the world, and particularly the hypocrisy that makes us claim that we are more or less Ok and someone else is the sinner, and that is precisely why the Church has reintroduced this dramatic action as we begin our Mass. BASH. BASH. BASH.
But notice that it is balanced by extra words in the Gloria that follows. In the new Translation, we do not just praise God, but we also say “We bless you, we adore you, we glorify you” – a neat balance to the 3 fold bash. Both, of course, have always been in the Latin text, but were left out in the 1970’s translation. The reason for this, as I see it, was that in the late 60’s and early 70’s we were over-confident that we could sort out the worlds’ problems. The last 40 years have reminded us that this is just not so, and that removing evil from ourselves and from the world is a mammoth task in which we will fail without the help of God.
This is the heart of the Christian message. The world is very wrong in lots of ways and we describe this as “sin”. Sin is the great gap between the world as it is, and the world as we would like it to be, the world that God intends – a kingdom of love and justice and peace. We humans may try as hard as we like, but we cannot solve this problem. It can only be solved by God, and God can only work in us if we let him in, and we can only let him in if we say “Lord I cannot cope, help me, come to me and to us with your mercy and love.” BASH x3!
Every Mass does this, and so the Introductory Rite sets the scene for all that follows. We admit our failings, we really admit them, even if we cannot see them or understand them. It’s better to do this than to blame others, for to blame others takes us back into the round of endless recriminations like little children quarrelling. “It’s his fault” says one “She did it” says another. Parents will recognize this only too well, and God has the same problem!
But we also rejoice, that God has come into our world to draw us back into his love, for we cannot get there by ourselves. God has come as Jesus Our Lord, and so as we admit our failings we can immediately join in with the song of the angels when Jesus was born “Glory to God in the highest”, and the words of praise that follow. “We bless you, we adore you, we glorify you”
Why does God bother with us? Why does he choose to become one of us, to become our brother and our friend? Why does he want to draw us from a world of sorrow and sin into the glory of being with him and in his love for ever? For no reason at all, except that at the heart of his being, God is love, and that’s it!