Saints not status

Frances writes on this Sunday’s readings :- Our reading from the Johannine Letters (1 John 3:1-3) in its Jerusalem Bible translation gives the impression, by its speaking of God’s lavish love for us, that we are thinking about a question of sentiment. But the Greek original is something rather different, it goes like this, “Consider the manner of the love that the Father has given us that we can be called God’s children”. In this form we are invited to consider or ponder upon the implications of such love, both for ourselves and for God. This indeed fits in much better with the later part of our reading which looks to our future in God. Most of us barely even stop to think about our relationship with God at all, let alone our ultimate futures in Him, but our readings for All Saints do provide some pointers to this issue.

Our reading from Apocalypse (Revelation 7:2-4.9-14) offers to us, as it did for the struggling early Christians of Asia Minor for whom it was written, a wake-up call and the promise of a firm conviction and encouragement to those, not unlike ourselves, who found the faith rather less than exciting, and in the writer’s view were not pulling their weight. It is his vision of our ultimate destiny in and with the Father that is so compelling. Rather like the description of the Pentecost experience of Acts 2, with its geography lesson of the spread of the faith around the known world, our writer speaks of the solidarity of the faithful from “Every nation, race, tribe and language” who are offered equal status among the redeemed, and can stand in the presence of the risen Christ (the Lamb). In the status conscious world from which they all came, when differences of citizenship in the Roman empire really mattered and affected your legal rights, and what you could receive by way of corn doles or help during famines, when your status was marked out in the very clothing you could wear or the accent as you spoke, when your very bodily stance would have differentiated the wealthy few from the others in an increasing lessening of significance; just imagine for a moment how stunning it would be to be told that your earthly status now, and more importantly your eternal status, had been won by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and that this cast all earthly divisions into the shade, nay into oblivion! For the hearers of this piece of Biblical writing who lived in an environment completely dominated by class and the different status it gave, such a message would have been utterly stunning in its implications. Even today, it is a difficult concept to grasp for all we bang on about equality and think that we don’t discriminate between those important – ourselves, and those of lesser status, such as the poor and those handicapped in some way, let alone those of different colour and creed. Those of us who post on Facebook can frequently find ourselves alternately uplifted by the generosity of others towards the refugees flooding into Europe, and appalled by the racism and crass inhumanity of others.

The Apocalypse reminds us that in the end, those called to be included among the saved, the saints, will share in the adoration and service of God, as we worship him continually. What we will all share in equally, as the redeemed, is this great privilege of acknowledging God for what he is and for what he has done in us. This is the “Manner of the love that the Father has given us”, a status in which we will all delight as equal sharers, worshippers, adoring the One who has given us everything.

In our Gospel (Matthew 5:1-12) we get an insight from Jesus as to how that destiny might pan out in present day living. The Beatitudes have, sadly been mistranslated and, I suspect totally misunderstood by the translators. These attributes are not a recipe for ‘happiness’, but rather, as the Greek says, “Blessedness”, our becoming God-like.  If they are anything, they are surely a model for divine behaviour, schooling us in the ways of living which emulate God himself in his grace and compassion for his creation. If and when we can begin to see the Beatitudes in this light they will no longer be a boring and rather sanctimonious list for the do-gooder, to be dismissed as impossibly unachievable anyway, but a vision of hope for the creation the Father and Son willed into being, to share with the humanity they believe have it in them to live with a truly God-like capacity and grace.

Finding God in the storms of life

I expect that all of you, like me, love the seaside. For me it is just the sight of that immense amount of water wooshing or crashing again and again onto the beach.  We must seek God in all things, but for me it is most easy to feel God’s presence when I hear that gentle sound -the swish swish of the waves. I am lucky to live near some large trees, and so I can hear then swishing too as soon as the wind gets going even a little bit. But when the wind turns into a storm or even a tempest then both the sea and those trees begin to roar, and the sound then can be more than a little frightening.

 Our first reading (Job 38:1.8-11) however reminds us that although we may feel God close in the gentler sounds of the natural world, he also speaks and is present in the midst of a storm or a tempest. Then we are reminded that God is a power beyond our imagining, far more powerful than any storm however terrifying that may be. So Job hears God say to the sea from the midst of the tempest, when the sea is roaring uncontrollably  “Come thus far, and no farther: here your proud waves shall break.”

 In our Psalm too (Ps 106:23-32) we hear more about the sea, with similar words He stilled the storm to a whisper: all the waves of the sea were hushed.”, which, of course, points us forward to today’s Gospel. (Mark 4:35-41)

 But let’s look at our 2nd Reading first, where Paul reminds us, as he so often does, that we meet God most of all in and through our fellow human beings, most of all in that one human being Jesus, who brings God close to us in a unique way. So Paul says “The love of Christ overwhelms us”. Yes, overwhelms us. It ought to. We should never get so used to looking at Jesus on the cross, that we forget what an amazing thing that love is.

The power to love like that is something given by God that all of us have within us. It leads people to do something for others that goes beyond just being kind. Think of firefighters or lifeboat crew risking their lives to save others. There we see humanity at its best, and need to thank God that such love, such service of others, exists. It’s something that should lead us to pray every time we hear or see a fire engine or an ambulance pass by. Think too of the many young parents caring for their children when they are sick or frightened in the middle of the night. There too we see powerful love at work, and there too we should recognise the presence of God.

 I always think that the most important part of the story of Jesus in the storm is not when he wakes up and the storm dies down, but the picture of him asleep. I think it is the only time that Jesus is described as being asleep, and it is worth picturing this in our minds. Think of the times you have found yourself in a storm, even in your own house. The wind roars around, the trees sound as if they are falling down, and if you are by the sea, the sound and sight of immense waves roaring and crashing on the beach can be quite terrifying. This is what is happening all around Jesus, and what is more, he is not in a house but in a relatively small fishing boat!  Most of us know what it is like to be woken in the night by such a storm, and to find it impossible to go back to sleep. Most of us know too, the times when the worries and anxieties of life have been like a storm waking us in the middle of the night, and leaving us shaken and frightened.

 Think of all this, and then think of Jesus, asleep through it all. His sleep reminds us that God is with us however frightened we are made to feel by the storms of this world, whether they are caused by the forces of nature, or happen inside our heads.  Jesus knows all the Psalms by heart, as well as The Book of Job; but he doesn’t just know these writings as words, he lives then out in his life, in that utter unity with God the Father into which he is calling each one of us. It is not an accident that in one place (1 Cor 15:12-20) St Paul describes Christian death as “falling asleep in Christ” – as a time of undisturbed sleep.  Think of those times when you sleep well and wake refreshed, and you get some idea of what it means to be one with God.

So whatever storms we face in life, we are reminded today that God is always with us. It can be hard to feel this, especially in the middle of the night when we cannot sleep; but just because we cannot feel God’s presence does not mean he isn’t there. The disciples had Jesus right with them in the boat, but his presence did not stop them feeling frightened. In one sense we are thus reminded that feeling frightened is OK. It doesn’t mean we lack faith. It means that we know how much we need God, and that, in the end, is all we do need. In the end there is only God.

 

 

 

Closer to God in the storm

Frances writes on next Sunday’s readings :- These readings all explore the idea that our vision of God is too small, too domesticated and prosaic. We need to rethink it and our whole relationship to the divine. Our Old Testament and Gospel passages do this by way of imagery related to the sea. Now, whilst most of us in the West nip off for seaside holidays at some time or other, and may be rightly impressed by a huge storm at sea, as well as delighting in sunny times, we have to remember that none of this was the experience of Israel. Theirs was a land-locked country, with the pagan Phoenicians on the coast. They were the great sea farers and traders of antiquity and Israel feared the sea as something alien and unknown. Pagans in this area worshipped the storm gods Ta-hunta, in the Bronze Age, and Baal in the time of the Old Testament, and were well aware of the power of sea and storm. In the time of Jesus there were of course fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, but that too called for exceptional skills, as the arrival of sudden storms could easily sink a small boat as we see from our Gospel. (Mark 4:35-41).

Our passage from Job (38:1.8-11) is part of God’s great answer to Job’s bewailing of his lot and his suggestion that God has treated him unfairly. Like many of us, his approach to God, whilst respectful, can be winging and petty, blaming God for our difficulties, even suggesting quite wrongly that God causes suffering, when in fact the Creator, the sustainer of creation, is far above such pettiness. In this part of God’s rebuke of Job, the Lord firmly puts our ‘hero’ in his place by reminding him that it is he, God who is precisely creator of the universe and that Job is merely one of the products of this huge creative power. Only when Job recognises this, can he be reconciled to God and rewarded, drawn close to the wealth which is the divine nature.

In our Gospel we meet a similar situation. The disciples have been properly impressed by God’s work, met in the healing miracles of Jesus, his feeding of the hungry and so on; but, they had stories of other healers, prophets like Elijah, and did not really appreciate who they were meeting in Jesus. With Jesus’ stilling of the storm, quite simply with a word, something quiet and quite undramatic, they are suddenly immersed in the awesome power of God. This man, the one they thought they knew, reveals himself as totally other in his power and outreach. This man is not simply within the created order, he transcends it and is in control of it. He is not just one of us only bigger; he is the maker and sustainer of the universe. He is this in his being, his essence, and he has deigned to come and share our human nature.

Our reading from 2 Corinthians (5:14-17) really spells this out. Unfortunately our Jerusalem Bible translation once more completely misses the point: It reads “For anyone who is in Christ there is a new creation.” But the Greek actually says “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation’, something wholly different, as it insists that our baptism so incorporates us into God, into Christ, that we become divine. In Christ each of us is now of a new order, not looking at the change from the outside, as implied by the Jerusalem Bible, but here and now living as a new creation, as members of the changed humanity redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Each of us now has a new relationship to divinity, being now members of the divine family. Paul will often express this in the two different words Greek has for flesh, in sarx we meet the unredeemed flesh, with its capacity for sin, but redeemed by Christ we become soma, bodies, beings with a capacity for God. We have therefore put aside corruption with all its vices and have taken on the limitless possibilities of the divine. Just as the divine Jesus lived a human life in this world, so each of us is now called to live in and through his image, seeing his creation from God’s vision, alive to the infinite possibilities we all have as the redeemed. Now transformed, we can never claim that something is impossible or too difficult, for in God everything good is possible.

 

How do we pray in God?

Frances writes om this Sunday’s Readings :-  Our Gospel, (John 15:1-8) and our reading from 1 John (3:18-24) both state that when we are in the right state with God we can ask anything of him and we shall be granted it. The Letter says that if our conscience is right whatever we ask him we shall receive. The gospel says “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it.” Such passages are deeply troubling, for we know that all too often our prayers are not answered.

Traditional responses suggest first that we have asked for the wrong kind of thing: ‘Give me a million quid’, or other equally frivolous things which may not be for our good, or that we have asked in the wrong way, demanding things from God. This suggests, as both readings do, that the fault lies in us. But what about prayer that is apparently heartfelt and altruistic, such as praying that the horrific violence in the Middle East will stop; or a solution to the problems of the trafficked from North Africa will be found; or even at a more personal level, prayer for a sick child? Why are our prayers apparently not answered?

I wonder if part of the answer may lie in the structure of Johannine Christian communities. I suspect that discipline and even control in these groups may have been very strong, and whilst John recognised the existence of other Christian groups such as Jewish Christians and even those with different outlooks, his gospel does seem to distinguish between their values and his own. Add to this that it is almost certain that when speaking of the formation of conscience in 1 John 3 he is not thinking of that of the individual by the individual as happens today, and certainly he would not have approached such issues with the looseness of thinking we take for granted. The ‘love’ St John speaks of, and which we explored last week and see so developed in John 17, is when one stops to think about it, a very tall order. Loving one another with the love with which Father and Son love each other and us is clearly only palely reflected in many human relationships, even the very best, though those shadows are a genuine reflection of the divine reality.

Perhaps in reflecting on this aspect of things we can begin to develop some insight into when and how our prayers can be answered: when they truly take on something of the persona of Father and Son. Clearly we also have to understand just how that relationship came to its great salvific climax, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps once again then we can say that the true prayer and ordering of Christian life will have this sacrificial quality. Certainly prayers of petition are not to be tossed off lightly, though if you are anything like me I fear they all too often are.

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it.” What does it mean for each of us to ‘remain’ in Jesus? All that talk of the pruning of the vine (Christ) by the vinedresser (God the Father) suggests some fairly radical and constant surgery for us the branches. Those bearing no fruit are simply cut out and discarded, but those bearing fruit are pruned ‘to make (them) bear even more’. It is suggestive of constant vigilance on the part of the Father and on our part too, as bearers of fruit submit to the pruning process. It appears this is a two way process and we must continually be on the alert for this action in us by God.

Only when this work has been done do we see the result. “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples.” The disciple of course is not one for his own salvation, but is sent out, to witness and draw others into relationship with God.

In our reading from Acts (9:26-31) we find that the converted Saul/Paul started to ‘preach boldly’ about Jesus in Damascus. But very quickly the situation changed and we are told that once in Jerusalem the disciples were afraid of him until Barnabas, ‘took charge of him’. Paul, it appears, had to submit to the requirements of the community in Jerusalem and when his preaching and presence stirred up a hornets nest, once again he had to obey the common will. “They took him to Caesarea, and sent him off from there to Tarsus.” Paul would then spend a considerable part of his early missionary life in the Roman province of Syria/Arabia, out of the limelight, in situations in which through instruction and suffering he learnt to become a true follower of the Lord. Now we will never emulate the likes of the apostles or Paul, yet quite clearly there is room for us too to develop our relationship with the Father and Son so that our prayer will conform to their life and wishes until our knowing of them will be complete.

Listening to God with our whole being

Frances writes on Sunday’s Readings :- What does it mean to be a listening person, someone alert to the call of God and able to distinguish his voice amidst all the other sounds and voices or attractions and messages thrown at us by the world?

What is interesting is that Samuel (1 Sam 3:3-10.19) had been living with Eli in the temple at Shilo for years before he heard God calling to him. His mother Hannah had weaned him and then left him there in thanksgiving for the gift of her longed for son. We might have expected that this child who grew up in the temple would almost automatically have been attuned to God’s call, but clearly this was not the case. As our text indicates; it was only when both he and Eli were repeatedly accosted by the Lord that the penny dropped. Both the prophet and his servant Samuel had to come to a slow realisation that the Lord had some special task prepared for Samuel, and it was the Lord’s persistence that finally brought them to the state where they could actually listen to him. Perhaps Eli and Samuel were simply too busy with the daily round of ritual sacrifices, and their relations with ‘important’ visitors, to truly listen to God. When they finally did they would both embark on journeys to God which would be very taxing; Eli would see the loss of his own sons and heirs, and Samuel would rise to be a great prophet and a reluctant king-maker, one who would change the course of his nation’s governance and its approach to God.

When we come to our Gospel (John 1:35-42) what struck me was the way in which different men heard the voice of God speaking to them. First of all we have John the Baptist.He was already a significant figure in the world of ordinary Jews and challenged the power of the Jerusalem hierarchy. But, when he could have courted personal power, he was clearly sufficiently in touch with the divine to recognise the greater power of Jesus and twice hails him as ‘the lamb of God’. Now this was a deeply meaningful term for Jews looking for redemption of their own sins and those of the nation. Hundreds of years earlier, the early ceremonies on the Day of Atonement called for two lambs, one to be slaughtered for God and the other to be led out into the wilderness bearing the people’s sins. The Passover lamb also was the ever present reminder of their divinely given redemption from slavery in Egypt; it was literally the ‘making’ of the nation.

There must have been that in Jesus which John discerned from his long relationship with the Father that enabled him to understand that in some way Jesus would act as the new and definitive and ultimate redeemer and sin bearer for his people. Then there is the reaction of his disciples, who abandon John in favour of Jesus. Perhaps they had listened to John enough to realise that he was simply the forerunner of the redeemer. At any rate, such was their enthusiasm for Jesus that they followed him to his home and stayed with him and I imagine talked and listened to his ideas so that they could become his followers. Then we have the surprise that it is Andrew, a disciple of whom we know comparatively little, who announces to his brother Simon Peter that they have “Found the Messiah”. Now we might have expected Peter to have done the research and taken the action on his own behalf, but this is not the case. Simon listens to his brother and is persuaded by him to embark on this life-changing enterprise. Clearly then it can be the speech and actions of others, even those whom we do not think particularly significant who can be the all important announcers of the truth to us, and if we are alert and listening we shall be able to follow their lead.

Yet our reading from Paul (1 Corinthians 6:13b-15. 17-20) speaks powerfully of the myriad of different voices which assail our ears and tug at our attention span. Just as this is a great problem for us today, so it was for the Christians of Corinth. We have to remember just how small the Christian group in Corinth was in Paul’s day, probably numbering between 25-50 in the prosperous and densely packed international trading city. Corinth was a Roman foundation, the earlier Greek city having been destroyed in the 3rd century BC and refounded by Caesar. It was stuffed full of pagan gods jostling for elbow room and its competing attractions, from the theatres, the Games, with animal fights and gladiators and hunts, meant there were hugely competing interests vying for attention. Add to this the abundance of brothels and the chances of making a quick buck, and you can immediately appreciate that this was a city which was never at peace, indeed, hardly even slept; so that listening to the right voice and acting upon that information was no easy deal. Paul was deeply concerned about the integrity of Christian believers, and so he speaks of their bodiliness, here, soma, not the sarx of their flesh. He wants to get over to them that their entire being, flesh, soul, person, is wrapped up now in Jesus Christ. One cannot simply be a Christian in name only; one has to be one in one’s entirety; the integral wholeness of the individual is involved. As a way of entering into this teaching, he addresses the issue of sexual immorality – something which was of course not an issue to many pagans to whom the resort to prostitutes, of either gender, or the abuse of slaves was simply taken for granted.

It was Paul’s unique teaching on the  value of the common man and the total integrity of the human body which helped to make the Christian message so unique and so compelling, albeit frequently so difficult for them to achieve. The significance lies not in a narrow and shrivelled moralism full of ‘don’ts’, but instead in Paul’s insistence that the Christian is wholly one with God. God’s will for all of us is that we share his life, his being and as he says in Romans, that we are heirs of God with and in Christ. In our relations with others therefore, we must act as a corporate body, a single being, totally committed to God’s valuation of his creation, for we are the ‘body of Christ’. He goes on to spell this out “Your body…is the temple of the Holy Spirit…..you are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for.” Like the slave, the Christian is totally in the power of God, his master and owner, and must always be on the alert, listening out for his summons.

 

Already in Christ

Frances writes on this Sunday’s readings :- We have to recognise that Jesus’ parables are never what they seem; they are not about wine production or agriculture, or here, in our gospel (Matthew 25:14-30) about capitalism and the making of money by judicious investment, nor are they fundamentally about morality. The key lies in the introductory phrase Jesus uses time and time again, “The kingdom of heaven is like…They are parables of the kingdom, of our life with and in God.

In this particular case, as my Dominican tutor would constantly say, ‘the context of the particular parable is everything.’ I think in retrospect I would also add that the particular use of the Greek is equally important, a factor the translators of the Jerusalem Bible seem stunningly to ignore.

Throughout Matthew’s gospel Jesus’ actions, such as his healing of the sick and his fraternising with those seen as ‘unclean’, causes the temple authorities and the religious purists to see him as a scandal and one to be removed. In his outreach to the needy, Jesus will be outraged by their lack of care and generosity, and will see those in authority equally as a cause of scandal. He will castigate them as ‘blind guides and hypocrites’, and the tension between them and Our Lord will mount and come to boiling point.

At the time of our gospel passage, Jesus was already in Jerusalem and it was two days before the Passover and his death. This parable is delivered to his disciples, so is for his intimate and close community and its message is sharp and urgent, meant to instruct them precisely on the meaning of discipleship and belonging to the Church. This is why attempts to draw morals from it, or generalise it, devoid it of its power and potency.

First, we notice that the three men involved are ‘slaves’, entrusted with vast sums of money by their Lord, as was common with aristocrats who could not engage directly in commerce but did so indirectly through their slaves. Implied then is that they belong to him body and soul; as we do to God. A talent was a weight of gold or silver, and it is reckoned that it would take the average labourer some 200 years to acquire a single talent. Clearly then these slaves are trusted members of his household, not just any old riff-raff. This is a message for intimates, and the disciples, hearing this parable in this context should have been keenly aware of its significance.

Secondly, we notice in the Greek that the Lord does not ‘entrust’ these colossal sums to his slaves; rather he ‘handed them over, (paradidomi). This is the same verb Jesus has frequently used of himself, as when he three times predicted his passion and death; he would be delivered up, “handed over”, to the Jewish powers and the Gentiles for death. Surely this can be no coincidence. Indeed, this is borne out when the slaves who had doubled their master’s money report back to him. Both the slave with the five talents and the one with the two say ‘Lord, you handed over to me five talents….two talents, here are five more….’ They have amply fulfilled their Master’s trust. They have guarded and enriched what has been handed over to them.

The weight of the Passion hangs heavy over this picture, with the devastating abandonment of the Lord by the disciples, but is redeemed by their subsequent post resurrection rehabilitation and their mission out to the world. In most cases this ended with their deaths, as missionaries and martyrs for Christ. The proximity of this powerful parable to the passion and the resurrection cannot be accidental, and it is surely meant as a lesson to the 12 and as reassurance when they fail at his arrest, but subsequently return to give their lives for Jesus.

This is even more borne out by the sting in the tail; the problem of the slave with the single talent who simply hoards it up. Unlike the two who speak of the Lord’s having ‘handed over’ their talents, this man strives to defend his action by going on the attack, aggressively defending himself. Here is a trusted slave who should have responded well to his Lord’s faith in him, but who contemptuously turns against all that he had been given and graced with. Surely he is Judas. The picture from the perspective of the mechanics of ancient society is appalling, horrific and devastating and we should not dismiss it lightly. Slaves and freedmen who betrayed their master or patron could expect the death penalty.

What we have then is the picture of a tightly structured society, a picture of what the Church is meant to be like and of how terrible it is when we fail to be that community. Our reading from Proverbs 31 looks at this from the perspective of the Good Wife. What we notice there however is that this woman does not merely organise and direct her own household, she is outgoing too, generous in almsgiving, and a member of the community who earns its praise – in this case; unusually for a female, being ‘praised at the city gates’, that bastion of masculine meeting and discussion.

St Paul too (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6) reflects this concern for the Christian community, warning them not to merely observe ‘times and seasons’. For all time is now hallowed in Christ, and the purpose of each and every Christian must be continual preparedness for the Day of the Lord. He will constantly emphasis that we are already ‘in’ Christ, that we are not simply awaiting a far distant advent but live now as redeemed and saved, already members of the Kingdom, and his motif for all this will be ‘watchfulness’. Christians are those who are on the alert, continually living out the grace we have received, handed over.

 

 

 

My discovery of Jesus

By the time I was 12, I had decided that religion was a load of nonsense – a series of fairy tales with no reality behind them. But then I found a new friend at school, a highly intelligent person, and discovered he was a Christian! Soon he had invited me to join him at a Christian Boys Club and they introduced me to Jesus! Yes I had known about Jesus before, and sung about him in Hymns and Christmas Carols, but the Jesus they introduced me to was a real person, a strong dynamic preacher who was prepared to die for the message he carried, and did so. What’s more they introduced him to me as someone who could become my friend, my companion on the way, and he has been that for me ever since.

It was Jesus who gradually brought me back to God the Father That may sound strange to some of you, but to start with Jesus was all that God was for me if I believed in God at all! I was still stuck with the idea that God the Father was an old man with a beard sitting up there somewhere on a cloud. But Jesus was a real person with a radical message that challenged people to make a choice – for God or for Caesar – (Our Gospel Matt 22:15-21) for a world of love and peace, or a world of money and privilege and power. So I chose Jesus!

This, of course, is precisely why God chose to become a man, a real historical person with a real historical background, as a 1st Century Jew, with a real mother who was clearly as radical as her son. For Mary said “God has put down the mighty from their seat, and raised up the poor and lowly.”  (See Luke 1:46-55) This was another reason why I loved Jesus. When I had been taken to Church as a boy, it was to a very conventional middle of the road place in respectable London suburb. But the Jesus I now met challenged all this, because whatever else he was, Jesus was not respectable!

It took me some years to realise, at least in part, what it means to say that Jesus was not just a man with a wonderful message that he died for, but also that he was God in human form. This is an amazing claim you know, that we too easily take for granted. The pagans at the time certainly had stories of gods appearing as human beings, but they were still gods only pretending to be human. Now there are some people who think Jesus is like that, but beware – he isn’t. Pagan gods in human form do not suffer and bleed and die. Pagan gods zap in and out of this world at will performing miracles like a marvellous magician who can disappear in a puff of white smoke. Jesus was not like this.

This is particularly shown by his reluctance to say that he was the Messiah – the Christ – the Holy One of God. We believe that now, but we are looking at him after his death and resurrection; but Jesus knew how easily this idea of him as the Christ could be misunderstood. After all the great prophet Isaiah even hailed as Messiah a foreign Persian king who ruled the greatest Empire then known. “Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus.” (1st Reading Isaiah 45:1.) No, Jesus knew he must not be thought of like that.

Actually in the time of Jesus all sorts of people appeared at various times claiming “I am the Christ”, and, if you think about it, by claiming it showed that they were not. It would be a bit like me wandering around saying “I am the greatest Catholic priest ever”. As soon as I began to say it or even think it, I would have condemned myself. Jesus knew that people had to discover for themselves that in him they were meeting God, and only gradually to work out the implication of this earth-shattering discovery. Think of St Peter, who at one time declared Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16) and yet couldn’t cope with the idea that this Messiah could suffer and die like an ordinary man.

Again and again, when he is asked questions about himself Jesus turns the question upside down and leaves us to decide whether to choose the way of the world – or the way of God. Later, after he has died, the risen Jesus does not appear like a thunderbolt from the sky, so obviously God that no-one can do anything but accept him and bow down before him. No, even in his risen Body, and still today, Jesus allows each of us to choose whether to follow him or not, whether to take up our cross alongside him, as our Master and our Friend, or to go the way of the world.

We, you and I, still have to make that choice every day. I may have chosen to follow Jesus when I was 12, but I have had to choose to follow him again and again in the years since. You have to do the same. It is not enough just to come to Mass. We have to make it real for ourselves. Yes with the help of the Church and of others around us, but also on our own inner spiritual journey with God. Sometimes we just have to say “Jesus, God, help me. I am really struggling to believe in you.” At other times we must not forget to say “Jesus, God, thank you for being with me when I was at my lowest ebb, or at this wonderful moment of joy.”

This journey for me has been a discovery of his power and his presence, but also a hard road in which there have been many worries, difficulties and tears. It must be the same for you. Blessed John Henry Newman makes a distinction, which I have only just discovered, between “difficulties” of which there are many, and “doubt”. Before, I often said I had many doubts, but now following him I call them difficulties, because deep down, despite so many things that worry me and trouble me, I have no real doubt that God in Jesus is with me, and will be with me to the end of time. So I offer my life to him, and plod on.