The danger of crowds

What on earth is Jesus getting at in today’s Gospel when he tells us to “hate” our family? (Luke 14:25-33) Strange words because we know that he taught us that we must not hate anyone, that we must even love our enemies, so why does he appear to say the opposite here? I think the answer lies in the words that come before it. “Great crowds accompanied Jesus on the way.” The point is that Jesus was quite rightly suspicious of crowds. He knew how easily people will follow the crowd, and think that where a crowd is there must be something important happening. And most of us are more than a bit like this. If there are lots of people in church, we tend to think that means success. If most people go shopping or stay in bed sleeping on Sunday, we find it difficult to be different.

 Jesus says instead that “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:20) – not two or three hundred, but “two or three”! On another occasion, when he’d begun teaching them about his presence in the bread and wine, the crowds were shocked and turned away from him; and instead of pleading with his few disciples to stay, he challenged them with the words, “Do you want to leave too?” (John 6:67) The final instance of a crowd being wrong was at his trial wasn’t it?  One day, as he enters Jerusalem, they’re all cheering, and the next day they are all shouting “Crucify him!” (eg Matt 27) And if you want a more modern example of the way crowds can turn to evil, look at the way Hitler and the Nazi Party manipulated the crowds in 1930’s Germany.

 We may think we are not like this but beware, for it’s a very natural human tendency to want to be like the people around us, and to behave like them, and Jesus knows this. Try this experiment, sit talking to someone, and put one hand in a different position and watch the way the person will very often mirror your movement. So, when Jesus is faced with the crowds who are all wanting to see him because everyone else seems to want to see him, he has to really challenge them to think and act for themselves, rather than to just go along with the crowd. So he uses brutal language, even that word “hate” to make them really think hard about what they are doing, just as in another place he shocks people by telling them to cut off their hand, if it does wrong!

In today’s Gospel, he explains what he is saying with two stories, one about building a tower and the other about going to war. In both cases, he reminds us, it is like everything important that we do in our lives, it requires real commitment, not just going along with the crowd. If we really want to following Jesus –  to be a Christian – then we have to realise the challenge this is, and not give up halfway because we hadn’t realised how difficult it would be!  

People here in England, especially young people at school, have a big problem here. Most want to be and to think like their friends, and not to stand out from the crowd, and being a real practising Christian – even more a Catholic Christian – is not what most of their friends see as trendy. Much of the scorn poured on the Church is, of course, nonsense, but if the crowd believes it, then it’s difficult not to believe it too. The crowd, for example, in their ignorance, say that since the Universe was created by the Big Bang, there cannot be a God. This is nonsense, of course, because the Big Bang theory is a Christian idea not an atheist one, and was first put forward by a Physicist called George LeMaitre who was also a Catholic priest. But try telling the crowd that. As this example shows, the crowd has their own kind of wisdom which is often just nonsense.  Listen to what St Paul says on this subject:- “If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” (1 Cor 3:18-19)

So when in our 1st Reading (Wisdom 9:13-18) we are told that we need “wisdom”, we need to remind ourselves this is not the kind of wisdom comes from the crowd, from what people around us are saying or thinking, but the wisdom that comes from God. Being a Christian and following Jesus is not easy. It’s much easier to believe vaguely in God as a quiet force that makes few demands on us, or not to believe at all. than to believe in the challenging loving God that Jesus brings to us. Crowds will come and go in their support for this or that, and are not to be trusted. We are called to follow Jesus, and that can often be a hard path of service and sacrifice, and not an easy road.

 

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Homily on loving God

St Paul makes a dramatic statement in is Letter to the Galatians that he is “dead to the law” and that he has been “crucified with Christ”! But what on earth does he mean by these two startling declarations? (Gal 2:16-21) I think we should start by working out what he means by “the law”. The law for us is the law of the land wherever we happen to live, but clearly St Paul does not mean that he is dead to that kind of law. Indeed he says elsewhere that Christians must respect those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-3). No, as many of you probably know, the Law, when spoken of in the Bible means the Law of God – the things that God expects of those who are truly good human beings. Well we know what that means from the passage where Jesus sums up the law as two things – to love God with all our heart and mind and soul, and to love our neighbour as our self. (Matt 22:36-39)

 

Now this is certainly hard stuff isn’t it? We may well try to love God, but to love God completely, as Jesus suggests, is much more difficult for we have so many other competing interests! I may love God when I say my prayers, or am desperate for help, or very thankful when something good has happened, but a lot of the time my love for God has to compete with lots of other things happening in my life. The idea of loving God completely is  therefore something I aim for, not something I actually achieve.

 

This is even more the case with loving our neighbour, especially when Jesus adds elsewhere that this includes loving our enemies. What would you feel like if someone in your family was killed, maybe by some careless driver in a road accident? I even get angry with people who damage trees, so what I would feel for a fool driver I cannot imagine! I am always impressed by the quiet dignity of someone who says that they will forgive the person who has killed their loved one. But I am not sure whether I would be that good, even though I must admit to being disgusted with people who still rage with hate in such circumstances.

 

So there it is. The Law of God is a wonderful thing to aim for, but it is actually impossible to follow completely, and it is because of this that St Paul says that he is “dead to the law”.  He had thought, along with many other people both in his time and today, that getting to heaven, being accepted by God, was achieved by keeping the law. Taught by Jesus, he had now to die to this old way of thinking – so that is what he means by being dead to the law and crucified with Christ – and, as he says “to live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me.”

 

We see now why our other two readings are all about the way God forgives us. (2 Sam 12:7-10.13 and Luke 7:36- 8:3) We have to rely on that forgiveness of God, given us through Jesus, because we cannot, however hard we try, keep God’s law completely. Now some of you may well have heard me go on about this before, and the reason is simple. However many times we hear this message, most of us easily revert to the old way of thinking. When I was a University Chaplain I met many students who came from good Catholic families and really thought of themselves as good people. They had never committed any really big sin, and so deep down they did not think of themselves as sinners.  Then suddenly they faced at University new and far bigger temptations, and they found themselves doing things that they knew, according to what they have been taught, are really big sins. Faced with this, some just gave up on the Church, and some even gave up on God, because they thought that such sin cuts them off from the Church. Somehow they have missed out on the heart of the message of Jesus.

 

Look at it in practice in the Gospel. This woman with a bad name comes into the house and begins to weep and to kiss the feet of Jesus. The Pharisee who is the host is horrified that Jesus is allowing this. How can such a person be accepted by Jesus? But it is the Pharisee that is wrong. He thinks being close to God is all about being a good person, but Jesus turns the whole thing upside down. He says that the more we realise how much God forgives us, the closer we are to God’s love. He says cuttingly to the Pharisee, and to us, “It is the man who is forgiven little who shows little love.”  Ouch!  That’s really hard! 

 

I wonder too if this is also a man/woman thing? I hate to stereotype, but perhaps we men tend to like things to be absolute. We like solutions. Either this person is bad and need punishing or he is good. Women, maybe, are more like God. They prefer to talk things through, to accept that things are less than perfect and get on with life. It was the male apostles who failed Jesus, and needed to learn to be forgiven. The women got the new message and lived it much more easily, and maybe it is still the same today

 

Standing out from the crowd

Frances writes on the readings for next Sunday :- These readings are all about how the Good News of our salvation went out to the Gentiles, those non Jews who were pagans and became Christians. In our case it is the story of two feisty women; one clearly a pagan and most likely originally a worshipper of the Sidonian gods of Canaanite belief and the other a Galilean; in the view of Jews, impossibly contaminated by pagan ideas since they were not exiled in the 6th century BC along with the Southern ‘pure’ Jews, and of course we have the renegade Jew St Paul with his mission to the Galatians. In our reading of the Letter to the Galatians, (1:11-19) the product of the late 40’s AD, he recalls his own unpromising life story and the way in which God called him to faith in Jesus Christ. He does this because these Christians had, not unlike himself he felt, been led astray by Jewish insistence on full adoption of Judaism as a prelude to acceptance of the Christian faith. Paul had, of course, converted these pagan people during his early wanderings after his own conversion in what is loosely termed ‘Arabia’: territory stretching from the Persian Gulf up into Turkey. For him a Torah-free acceptance of the faith in Jesus was absolutely fundamental.

 

We have to remember that ancient paganism was all about ritual practices and carried with it no-personal-faith in the deity as we would know it. Worship was much more about social cohesion and the placating of touchy deities frequently associated with storms and the fertility of the soil and all life. Imagine therefore the dread and horror of the woman of Sidon in our reading from 1 Kings. (17:17-24) Here we find a widow who had given hospitality to a foreigner, one who did not follow her ancestral gods, and now it appears they have punished her by removing all hope for the future by depriving her of her son: her hope of future support in her dotage and grandchildren to carry on the family lineage and work their lands. Elijah himself could clearly see the difficulty he was in, indeed, it might have put his own life at risk again, as he had previously fled trouble after having caused a famine in Israel, and fled the wrath of Ahab and Jezebel his pagan queen. In our story, Elijah appears to perform some kind of process of resuscitation upon the young boy, bringing breath back into his lungs, so that it is this critical physical action which confirms the widow in her belief in the God of the Hebrews, given through Elijah who trusted in God to intervene, and saved more than one life that day.

 

In our Gospel (Luke 7:11-17) we meet a remarkably similar story, yet what is significant are the recorded details. Jesus is in southern Galilee, in a town called Nain, and encounters a funeral procession. This would have been a frequent even daily event in any town in the ancient world, ignorant as they were of microbiology, sources of infection, and deprived of proper medical care. What is intriguing here is the different responses of Elijah, apparently moved by fear for his own future, and that of Jesus, moved by compassion, or as the Greek has it, gut-wrenched at the sight of the corpse and the grieving mother. In this possible precursor of the Passion, he lives through, vicariously, what his own mother will endure. Here we see no body to body contact as with the prophet, for Jesus, Son of God and Lord of creation, simply calls a halt to the bier and touches it and commands the young man to get up. (St John, of course, has a similar motif for Lazarus). The dead are raised in both cases. The reaction of the onlookers is however very telling, for in 1 Kings the widow affirms her belief in the God of Elijah, whilst the reaction of the mourners of Nain is, not ‘awe’ as in the Jerusalem Bible, but rather ‘fear’. This man is  one to change history, and his action shakes the nation to its foundations. How acutely did old Simeon in the temple predict that this child would bring about the falling and rising of many in Israel, and be a sword for his own mother’s soul?

 

It appears then, that the call to the Judeo-Christian faith for the Gentiles is one which requires a certain feistiness, an odd-ball nature, a capacity to stand out from the crowd, from those who generally just go along with the way things are. This is quite difficult for us to grasp today, when so many are de facto Christians, simply through an act of history (rather like the pagans of former times). Yet my experience in preparing people for reception into the Catholic Church has led me to think that the converts I have had the privilege of preparing are still to be counted amongst the odd-ball and the feisty. For today, becoming a Christian in the UK is quite an act of defiance, quite a statement that one wants to be something other than the general, one wants to belong to an organization which stands for something, something which Popes like Pope Francis have made profoundly attractive. It is this ancient link with those extraordinary few right back in the origins of Christianity who stand as a witness and a welcome. We should pray for all new converts, attracted to the Church by the strange history of which they are becoming a part.

Homily on the God as Trinity

I was fascinated to discover recently that tests have shown that sick people recover more quickly if they can see growing things – trees and plants. Seeing them out of the window, or being amongst them, is best, but even a picture of them on the wall makes a difference to recovery times.  Plants, of course, also make a contribution to our health in all sorts of other ways, from what they provide in the way of vitamins and minerals as we eat them, to the drugs that can be made from, or copied from, what the special properties that some of them possess. You probably also know that drinking water is very good for us, and, not least, sunshine – unless we let it burn us.

 

Now why am I saying all this? It’s because today we celebrate that God is Trinity, and what we need to realise is that the Trinity is not a complicated theory but something we experience in our daily lives. So when we pray for God to help us we need to be open to all the different ways this will happen. And the first and most obvious way that God works in us and through us, is in the created world as I have just described. God is the Father, the creative power underlying all things as we heard in our 1st Reading today (Proverbs 8:22-31) – “He made the earth, the countryside… the first grains of the world’s dust..”

 

The second way that God helps us is through one another. When I am sick or sad I do not just need sunshine and medicine, I need people to care for me. We all know the difference between the nurse or doctor who doles out the medicine like a machine, and the one who actually listen to us and shows in all sorts of ways that he or she cares. We are all aware too how the support of family and friends is really important when we are ill or depressed or facing some real difficulty in our life. This surely is why God came to be with us as a real caring human being – Jesus Our Lord. There is a prayer that runs “Christ has no hands but yours.. no feet but yours..”  All the care we humans get from others, or give to others, is an experience of the human face of God.  It is an experience of God the Son, Jesus our Friend and Guide.

Finally we meet God deep within us. We have resources within that are a powerful part of the way we cope with life and make the best of whatever life throws at us. We all know that we are more likely to get better when we are sick if we have a positive attitude to what we are facing. We also all know how irritating it is to be told this when we feel like death, when we are depressed or facing continuous pain. It may still be true, but finding the positive side of things is immensely difficult.  Here, it is God the Holy Spirit that can and will work deep within us giving us hope even when we cannot feel it for ourselves. As we heard in our 2nd Reading, (Romans 5:1-5) “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us.” There it is, that inner strength, and reminding ourselves that it is there even when we cannot feel it, as we pray alone or as we pray together, is why prayer can be so powerful.

 So there we have it. God the Father in creation around us, God the Son in the people who care for us, and God the Holy Spirit in the power within us.

As we hear in that great hymn – St Patrick’s Breastplate – which is based on his prayer:-

 I bind unto myself today The strong name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same, The Three in One and One in Three,

Of whom all nature hath creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.

Praise to the Lord of my Salvation Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

 

 

God delighting in the creation

Frances writes on next Sunday’s readings:- It appears that the compliers of our lectionary deliberately selected readings for Trinity Sunday which turn our thinking about God in a very Jewish direction. We can all too easily think of God in Trinity in three distinct ways, even, following the Greek sense, as three ‘persons’ in one unique being or essence. But the choice of our first reading from Proverbs (8:22-31) harks back to the personified wisdom of God powerful and active in creation. Wisdom is God’s companion and always party to God’s actions in creating the cosmos. Proverbs appears to have been compiled from very early material assembled together in the late 6th century to the 5th century BCE. As the historians among you will recognise, this places this important Jewish affirmation of the One true God around the time of the Babylonian captivity. As it shares ideas with Second Isaiah and Jeremiah, both prophets of the exile, we can assume it too used thinking gleaned from that experience and the people of the Fertile Crescent, or even demonstrates the insistence of the Jewish exiles in keeping God as One against the plethora of the gods they met there. Our passage from Proverbs aims to stress the solidarity, the unity of the divine purpose, and the solidarity of what might appear different elements in the divine. This is drawn out by the frequently repeated “When he (God) fixed the heavens; the surface of the deep; the springs; laid the foundations of the earth” and so on. Wisdom is, like the Christian understanding of God the Son, ‘from the beginning’ before any created thing, indicating that it is part of the divine himself, intimate and in perfect union with him. Indeed, so intimate is the relationship between God and Wisdom that in reality it appears almost impossible to separate them. Yet this is precisely what Proverbs seems to do, both by emphasising their unity and by indicating that Wisdom is in some way distinct.

 

This manner of speaking acts both to emphasise the unity of God and to allow for distinctive ways of thinking about God’s actions, the creation of things other than himself, and thereby keeping God aloof and separate from the creative action itself, yet its master and Lord. This can be a real help in thinking about the Christian Trinity which often seems so complicated and near impossible for many believers ever to grasp. If we think about the way in which St John for instance uses this concept, we can find both Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit reflected in the wisdom concept. John will speak of Jesus as the creator, saviour and redeemer and also, as we have in our Gospel (Jn 16:12-15) as the Holy Spirit, his spirit, present in the universe after his physical withdrawal to the Father. There, the distinctiveness of each of the persons of the Trinity is emphasised, while at the same time their perfect unity and solidarity is maintained. What we have is always the fullness of divinity, emphasised through different tasks, redemption on the cross by the Son, continual succour and support of the Church by the Spirit.

 

What is significant, I think, is the very antiquity of this way of speaking about God. Some distressingly difficult modern writers on the Trinity seem to give the impression that it was gleaned entirely from Greek philosophy. But if the appeal to Proverbs is right, it appears we are entering a territory altogether more ancient, going right back to the origins of Judaism, in which, far from witnessing a remote and detached deity, Wisdom gives us a picture of God delighting, involved in his creating of the universe, an experience so exhilarating that somehow it had to be shared.

 

Perhaps this is why we are also given the passage from Romans (5:1-5). This brief summary of the relationship between Father and Son, and of Our Lord’s continuing action in us which is the work of the Spirit, is a masterly summing up of the whole purpose of the Trinity. The Greek, rather than the Jerusalem Bible makes rather clearer the Trinitarian nature of this passage. Paul does not claim that we are ‘judged righteous’, suggestive of our behaviour, but instead, “Having been justified by the faith of Jesus Christ”, emphasising that this is not our work, but that of Jesus the Son. Because of his work, we are now able to enter into the glory of God the Father. The certainty of this new and heavenly inheritance is continually affirmed to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. In this then, we meet not simply God in Trinity, God as he is, threefold, but also God in Trinity working continually for our salvation. This seems to be why St Paul pops the rather odd bit about our sufferings into the picture amidst all his talk of the divine glory. Perhaps he is emphasising our human solidarity, the solidarity of the redeemed by Christ who won this great glory by suffering himself. Through the work of the Spirit of Christ in us, our human sufferings take on a different hue. It is not that we in any way save ourselves, that is entirely the work of God; yet in solidarity with Christ, our sufferings take on a greater and perhaps eternal dimension, conforming us to the divine outlook and mindset. Indeed, in Colossians 1:24, Paul will even go so far as to claim that in his sufferings “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.” For sure, we are not sharers in the Trinity, but we are sharers in God’s glory.

 

In our Gospel (John 16:12-15) taken from the great teaching passages of Jesus in Jerusalem prior to his saving passion, we see him instructing the disciples about the fullness of understanding to be given us through the work of the Spirit after the death and resurrection of Jesus to the Father. At that time, their knowledge, or perhaps understanding, of what Jesus would achieve for them was limited. Later, he says, they will know, and this knowledge and joy will be the work of the Holy Spirit assuring us of the unbreakable union of Father and Son, a gift given to every Christian, to you and to me, through the continual presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Epiphany : a vision for all the world

I was watching a recording the other day of a rather special orchestra playing Tchaikovsy’s 4th Symphony, and I found tears welling up in my eyes. Well yes, the music was very grand as Tchaikovsky’s music usually is, but it wasn’t that which moved me. No, it was the orchestra itself;         for this was the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra created by Daniel Barenboim, and the young musicians in this orchestra are drawn from most of the countries torn by war and hatred in the Middle East, from Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon Palestine and Syria. As the commentator said, “They play with such power because they believe so strongly in what they are doing.. creating beautiful music that transcends the sad divisions their countries face.”  Yes, it was looking at them, creating such beauty together that moved me to tears. And that beauty is a vision isn’t it? A vision of a world in which all men and women of every race and religion can see themselves as one family working together to make the world not just a place of peace, but a place of beauty as well, for us all.

 

This, as you have probable heard me say before, is the heart of the Epiphany message. The wise men traditionally represent all the nations of the world, coming to Jesus, and being united in and by him in a common pursuit for wisdom and light and peace. As we heard in our 1st Reading (Isaiah 60:1-6) The nations come to your light, kings to your dawning brightness” and as we sang in our Psalm “All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord”

 But it’s easy to turn this great vision of peace and light into something awful ; an encouragement for Christianity to dominate the world – to have the idea, and impose it on others, that everyone should be a Christian, and then the vision of Epiphany would be realised. As you know, there have been times in the history of Christianity when this is just what so-called Christians have tried to do. I only have to mention the word “The Crusades” and remind you of how fierce Western soldiers ravaged the Middle East in the Middle Ages. It is no wonder that the so-called Islamic State – note the parallel! – calls us westerners, the Crusaders, and then seeks to imitate such ways, by trying to turn everyone into their kind of Muslim, killing their opponents, just like the Crusaders did.

We know from history that even when nations are all Christian that doesn’t stop war, does it?  Look at Europe where every nation once claimed to be Christian, and yet its people were ravaged by war for centuries. Look at Britain facing endless Civil Wars for hundreds of years! No. Peace is not achieved by everyone having the same faith, for the Epiphany vision is not one of Jesus as a great King imposing himself on us, but of a tiny baby drawing us into a vision of love and peace that lies within and beyond him. Remember that one of the temptations of the grown-up Jesus is to be the ruler of the world, but he sees that if he takes that path it is the evil one who will win, and so instead he takes the path of service and sacrificial love.

 So one of the great dangers we Christians face is to identify Jesus as like us in every way, to make him, as some have done, into a nice Western man with fair skin and blue eyes, the kind of man that we think of as good-looking. The reality is that Jesus almost certainly had brownish skin and brown eyes and looked distinctively Middle Eastern and was probably not particularly attractive. For it was his personality that attracted not his looks! Christians of every nation therefore, wanting to think of Jesus as like them, often depict him as looking like themselves. So in Africa you can find images of Jesus as black, in China as Chinese, and so on. In fact we have no idea what he actually looked like, and so depict him in one way or another, like this, not because that is what he was really like, but as a way of making a theological statement.

 Seeing this sort of thing is however good for us, for it reminds us that Jesus cannot be identified with any particular race. What matters is that he was human, not what his ethnic origin was. For if he were not really and fully human, if God had just appeared in human form without actually being human, then our faith is a waste of time. It is only by becoming a real human that God declares his utter oneness with us, despite all our terrible mistakes as human beings, from the way we kill one another to the way we pollute our planet. Despite all this, God is with us. He loves us and will never desert us, and it is that vision of all that is best about being human that is the vision we are called to proclaim. We may not be able to create superb music like those young musicians in that orchestra, but we can all do something to make the world a more beautiful and loving place. That must be our calling this year and every year and for ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope in the midst of evil

Frances writes on next Sunday’s Readings :- As Advent is meant to be a contemplative time, a learning, time before we greet the Christ-child, I for one found this week’s readings very significant. In a powerful Christmas sermon Pope St Leo the Great once wrote “Christian, be aware of your nobility – it is God’s own nature that you share.” Advent then is perhaps also a time for stripping down to basics, a discovering of what is truly important, especially when we so easily fall into the shopping trap, and the festival becomes a time of excessive spending, rather than a taking on of the person of the Christ-child and his ways of being human.

 

Our Gospel (Luke 3:1-6) really can help in this task. In it we are presented with the tremendous contrast between the world, and the power of rulers and states, and the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist. Luke goes to great lengths to locate the incident in Roman and Herodian real time, telling us that it was in the 15th year of Tiberius reign as emperor, i.e. 28 AD; he speaks of the Roman Prefecture of Pilate which ran from 26-37 AD and under which, of course, Jesus was put to death; and he goes on to speak of the division of the kingdom of Herod the Great under his sons and grandsons at his death. Now anyone who knows any of the history of this time will immediately be aware that almost without exception all these people share a terrible track record. They represent power, cruelty and oppression at its worst. We know of Tiberius as a depraved and suspicious monarch killing with impunity those who threatened him. Pilate came to power under the Praetorian Prefect Sejanus and, as we see in John’s Passion, would kill to protect his own back, in times of difficulty. The sons of Herod, all by different wives, had inherited some of their father’s worst traits. Philip, the least awful, ruled the North, the anti-Lebanon from Caesarea Philippi. His capital was a thoroughly Roman city, built for him and in honour of Rome and its gods. Annas and Caiphas represent the High Priesthood in the Temple at its most corrupt and self-serving. Here, authority and power had become a question of dynastic expediency which paid lip service to the Jewish faith. The dramatic shift to the desert and John’s ministry is stunning with its quote from Isaiah 40 and its promise of God’s salvation for his people and the significant and symbolic levelling of the mountainous terrain. Luke intends us to stop and ponder this sharp contrast and its implications. It is where we shall see the salvation of God.

 

In similar vein our reading from Baruch (5:1-9), a late work of the Intertestamental period and very reminiscent of Isaiah, reminds us that redemption can only come from God and from our faith in him.  Significantly we are assured that ‘peace’ will come through integrity, and ‘honour ‘ through devotedness; attitudes so important for the well being of our world, but hardly at the top of the agendas of the powerful and power crazy. The fact that Baruch recalls the exile under the Babylonians, and the shame, disgrace and utter destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem, is no accident. For earlier prophets had all been convinced that the fall of the nation was due precisely to its turning away from God, and the lack of integrity this brought about. His picture of the return of the exiled, so familiar from the works of Isaiah and Jeremiah with the return of the royal families in honour and glory, acts as a reminder that the exile was precisely their fault and that their and our salvation can only be the redemptive work of God. To press home once more the difference between human power and that of God, Baruch will resort to naturalistic imagery, borrowing from Isaiah 40, but emphasising not just the levelling of the terrain but life amidst forests and fragrant trees. This bucolic image is meant to press home the absolute difference in the action of God, a return almost to the time of creation, something innocent, fresh and new.

 

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (1:4-6.8-11) speaks of the integration of the believers in Philippi into the life of God. It is Paul’s most warm and positive of letters but sadly its power is reduced to the sentimental in the Jerusalem translation “God knows how much I miss you all, loving you as Christ Jesus loves you.” The Greek has something far more gutsy and powerful; “I long after all of you in the bowels of Christ Jesus.” The bowel – the guts – in ancient thought being the seat of affection, love and concern. Here he writes of a people so inflamed with the love of Christ, so integrated to his will, that he, Paul who identifies himself heart and soul, gut to gut as it were, with Christ, can see how close they are to God, and how they will grow more godlike through the Christian exercise of their love for each other in the community, which in its turn will increase their knowledge of God and their perception of the right ways of living. Truly, here we are given a vision of those who are at least partially aware of their nobility, open to God and growing in grace. Paul foresees that on Judgment Day such people will be the singers of the Father’s great praise song. It is an exultant and hopeful picture, one of which we too are a part.