Sports psychologist are all the rage nowadays aren’t they, telling us things that some of us always knew; that how we think about ourselves and the contest we are engaged in makes a great difference to how well we will do. I say that some of us always knew this, because for a Christian it is “faith” that is the essential ingredient of our relationship with God. But notice what “faith” means. Faith is not a belief in a series of ideas, it is an attitude of mind, just like the successful sportsman or woman at Wimbledon, on the Football field or at the Olympic who has the right measure of confidence and realism. And just in case you are not sure you believe me, listen to what it says in Hebrews (11:1) “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Confidence, not belief.
But for a Christian our confidence must be in the good and loving God that Jesus shares with us in the Gospel. We have to build up a sense of trust not just that God exists – even the Devil believes that – but that God is good and loving and concerned for our welfare. Now often our 1st Reading from the Old Testament does not help us here, because it tells us of a time when the Jews believed in a God that wasn’t that much different from the God of the pagans. Admittedly the God they speak of is an invisible power, but their God is still thought of as behaving like a very powerful and rather fickle human being. So when they did good they believed that God would be kind to them, and when they did evil then God would be angry and would punish them.
The Catholic Church teaches us that we must not read the Old Testament as if it were as important as the New, so we do not have to get agonised about these more primitive presentations of God. They are there to show us how gradually, over the centuries, the Jewish people came nearer and nearer to the true God that we believe was finally and fully revealed in and through Jesus. So we do not see Jesus asking if people were good or bad before he loved them and healed them. Our Gospel today (Mark 5:21-43) sees his power of healing going out to a woman he does not even know, who simply touches his clothing; and Jairus the father of the little girl is not asked for a report on how good he is before Jesus will come to his aid.
Remember too the story of Zacchaeus, the little tax-collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus? Jesus proposes to go and eat with this greedy and evil man, and to other bad people, without asking them to be good first. This is one of the things that the holy people at the time found quite shocking because they were stuck in a more primitive view of God. Oh yes, Jesus can be tough on people, but usually it is people who pretend to be something they are not, to others he is simply generous and loving whatever they are like.
To get back to the psychologists, I am sure you all know their little challenge of presenting us with a glass of water and asking us to describe it. Too often, they point out, we say that the glass is half empty rather than half full. In other words we emphasise the negative in life rather than the positive. It’s certainly a popular way of seeing things isn’t it? We humans just love a good moan, which is why the newspapers fill their pages with things we can moan about!
The Church has also been guilty at times of presenting the Gospel as a series of negatives. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. But the teaching and actions of Jesus are full of positives. He says things like, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10) and we hear it today too in the Old Testament, (Wisdom 1:13-15) “To be – for this he created all ; the world’s created things have health in them” and in our 2nd Reading (2 Corinthians 8:7-15) “Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was.”
So that’s our message this week. I can do no better than read to you a great piece on this theme from St Paul. Some people think Paul is difficult, but listen to this! (Phil 4:4-8) “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”