The kingdom of God is a mixed lot

My taxi driver the other day happened to be a young British Pakistani man that I knew in East Oxford when he was a little boy. In this week in which so much news has been filled with horror stories, from the blowing up of the Malaysian air liner by  fanatics in the Ukraine to the threat by Extremist Muslims to execute Christians in Mosul; it was welcome and important  for the survival of our planet to meet a devout Muslim who believed strongly that he should do all he possibly could to counteract the bad impression of Islam that the media so often presents by highlighting these extremists This young man had been inspired by  a talk in London by Cat Stevens in which he emphasised that believers in Islam must hold as imperative their need to be educated in the faith as a means of combating ignorance and misinformation. He had been emphatic that this was not simply about their personal survival but that of good relations between east and west; and that it is the task of educated Muslims, (and also of course Christians), to know their faith and practise it properly.

Now what has this got to do with our Readings this Sunday? Quite a lot really, because St Paul in our 2nd Reading (Romans 8:28-30) makes it clear that God can make something of every effort we make for goodness and love however small. He writes “We know that by turning everything to their good God co-operates with all those who love him” So God can use the good will of my Muslim friend who clearly loves God because every little action of his, as of ours, makes a difference.

 

I was delighted to see another person I know via Facebook responding to his local church’s invitation to go and meet the local Muslims. Before he went, he had been expressing some rather anti-Islamic views, but he was bowled over by the welcome and kindness he was offered and has completely changed his tune.  It is so easy to condemn others if they are different from us rather than exploring what they have to offer us in this strangely mixed up human world of ours.

 

Jesus brings this out in a different way in the fourth of the 4 parables in our Gospel  (Matthew 13:44-52) It is worth remembering that these 4 parables were not originally spoke together as they appear now in the text. The Gospel writers were using material that came from the memories of those who lived with Jesus during his 3 years of public ministry. Each of these parables was probably given on a separate occasion and they therefore have different messages for us. Trying to get the same message from all four is a complete mistake. The first two are about how important, how precious the Kingdom of God is – like a great treasure or a precious pearl. The third is about how God allows the bad and the good to exist together as in the weeds and the wheat from last week. The fourth challenges the assumption that the message of Jesus is either old or new. He points out that it can be both, that God can take both old ideas and new ones and use them both in the building up of his kingdom. That is true wisdom, he sort of wisdom Solomon prayed for, in which God works in and through all sorts of things and all sorts of people, not just the people and the ideas we feel comfortable with.  

 

Jesus is encouraging us to open our minds to everything that happens around us.  Some Christians sadly would want to say that nothing good can come from a Muslim but when they do that they are as bad as extremist Muslims who think nothing good can come from anyone who is not a Muslim.

 

For me, it was a wonderful example of this truth as I  heard this young Muslim taxi driver talking about all of us working together – Muslims and Christians and Jews – to build a better world

 

Explicitly undermining Marriage

This is the bulk of an article, from the Toronto “Star” of 5 March 2011  by Brent Ledger. It is certainly a new take on some Gay Couples’ views of Marriage.

“Jealousy rears its head in gay marriages, too.”
I was perplexed recently to read about some guy in the gay community complaining to a love columnist about his honey-pie’s extramarital loves. Not perplexed because the guy was shocked or hurt or angry, just surprised that he thought to raise it. Infidelity isn’t a concept that has much traction in gay life.
For a generation or more it’s been an article of faith that gay men don’t worry too much about their partners straying. Gay lib came of age in the shadow of the ’60s sexual revolution, and for a long time the very idea of monogamy was viewed as an anachronism, an unhealthy leftover from patriarchy’s command-and-control ethos, its stalker-like possessiveness. People weren’t possessions, went the thinking, so why should anyone feel jealous or insecure?
As the straight novelist Martin Amis put it more than 25 years ago, ‘The consoling idea of the quietly monogamous gay couple is an indolent and sentimental myth…[sic] The relationship may remain “focal,” may well be lifelong, yet the sex soon reverts to the “distributive.”‘
Yet that too is a consoling myth, and sooner or later most couples have stumbled on a messier psychological reality. Jealousy isn’t an emotion that’s easily extinguished, and sexual straying can fray an already fragile relationship. Yet even today most gay couples at least pay lip service to the idea of open relationships. Declarations of monogamy can seem a little unhip.
You might think that in this, the golden age of gay marriage, more orthodox notions might well have taken hold. But marriage has had only a limited effect on the day-to-day workings of gay relationships.
Like many another-oppressed people, gays have adopted the oppressor’s[sic] institutions and made them our own. Many couples, even the officially married variety, often have some sort of sexual ‘arrangement.’
If they’re smart, they lay down some clear rules, like only at the baths, not with friends and no second dates. If they’re not, they may rely on an unspoken agreement, like the tricky notion that what happens on the business trip stays on the business trip.
It doesn’t always work, of course. But the centrifugal force of desire sometimes leaves little choice but to try. As a friend who’s been struggling to balance three competing relationships said recently, ‘I’ve never been good at monogamy.’
All generalizations are false, of course. Lots of gays at least aim for monogamy. Some succeed. Some are as devoted to the white-picket-fence ideal as any straights. But that’s the nice thing about gay culture, it offers options. Oppression has made us inventive, creative, and less inclined to toe the relationship line. Because gay relationships were for so long invisible, unrecognized or outright forbidden, we’ve had to come up with other ways of living. We’ve had to decide for ourselves what is and isn’t important in a relationship.
All relationships are alike under the skin. They demand care, comforting and a firm grasp of the boundaries.
But there are many ways to nurture a relationship, and if gays have anything to teach the wider world it’s that there’s more than one place to draw the line.
Personally, I’ve tried it both ways, with and without the monogamy, [p.L4, c.2] and I’ve got to say that neither had much to do with the eventual success (or failure) of the relationship. Sex gets a lot of attention in our culture but there are always other dimensions between two people and they’re often the hardest to figure out.
Brent Ledger

HOMILY : 4th Ordinary Sunday 2010

I always get furious when people say that they are not religious because religion causes wars. Greed causes wars, desire for power, exploitation of the desperate, fanaticism – these are the things that cause wars – NOT religion!  Yes, religion has sometimes been used by evil people to justify war, but not really in modern times. No, more recently war has been more often caused by atheistic ideologies like Nazism, Communism or Capitalism, or even more often, simply by the fear and hatred of what is different.

This is what upsets the people of Nazareth about Jesus in our Gospel today (Luke 4;21-30). He’s the local boy come home, and at first “he won approval of all, and they were astonished at the gracious words that came from his lips.” But then he reminds them of something that they don’t want to hear. They think God is a cosy God, their own special God – just for them, and certainly not for foreigners. So when he talks about God healing foreigners, they are so angry they try to kill him!

He has challenged one of the greatest causes of war, fear of the foreigner.

Christianity follows the teaching of the great Jewish prophets who proclaim that the one invisible and all powerful God of the Jews, is actually the God of all peoples. We heard Jeremiah in our 1st reading (Jer 1:4-5.17-9) being appointed by God “as prophet of the nations.”, and we know that Jesus died for all men and women, not just for Jews, and certainly not just for us Christians. Now this doesn’t mean that we won’t find ourselves at times in conflict with other groups of people, just as Jesus finds himself in conflict with the people of Nazareth, but conflict for Christians should rarely, if ever, mean violence or war.

Indeed, it is precisely because we know that our God is a God for all peoples that the Church teaches that all people of goodwill, whatever their beliefs or lack of them, are not far from God, and may, through God’s mercy, find themselves eventually accepted into his presence after death.

As our Catechism says : “The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”

This doesn’t mean that we think all beliefs are the same, for we believe that in Jesus the fullness of God is revealed. But just because some people do not know Jesus in the way we do, does not mean that God does not love them, or worse wants them punished or destroyed. No, our God is a God who teaches that the greatest virtue, is not faith or hope, but love, which, as we heard in our very well-know 2nd Reading (1 Cor 13) “is always patient and kind… does not take offence… is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope..”

I was reading a very interesting article by an atheist last week, the novelist Howard Jacobson. He argues that the most dangerous thing for the world is not belief or the lack of it, but the view that some people hold that they are right and so everyone else must be wrong. It was interesting in that he used this to criticise what he calls “the new aggressive form of atheism”. He goes on to say that “you don’t need God’s encouragement to be a fanatic” as they “learn their lessons from the godless ideologies of the likes of Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot, not the Bible.” What kills, he says “is the determination to make a single simplistic view of the world prevail.”  Well! I never thought I would quote an atheist in my Homily with such enthusiasm!

Sadly, some of our history as a Church has been to condemn others, for which we must always be sorry. But that was a world of the past where everyone thought like that. Gradually, the full teaching of Jesus, and of Paul following him, has prevailed in the Church -“to love as Christ loved”. Paul taught us in our reading last week how amazing and wonderful our faith is, how many wonderful things God can do in us. But this week he says that if we have all that – “faith in all its fullness.. to move mountains, but without love”  then we are “nothing at all!”

Love is a hard road, of course. It is so easy to slip into prejudice and the suspicion of other people, just like the people of Nazareth had done, despite the teaching of their prophets. We come here to Mass to offer ourselves in love to the God of love that we may find a way always to follow that road of love, however hard it may be.