I have a bird feeder attached to my back fence. It’s a delight to watch the parents feeding their babies perched on branches. But soon grown, the free lunch is over and competition at the feeder becomes very aggressive – after all this is nature – the natural law for these little creatures is, “the survival of the fittest.
St. Peter in his first letter, chapter two says this: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul.”
What does he mean calling us Aliens and Sojourners: he is not signifying absence from one’s native land, this image denotes rather our estrangement from this world during our earthly pilgrimage on earth. Earth is not our real home, we are only living here for a short time. The spiritual world in the heavens is our true home. The law of the survival of the fittest is not our way of living, something much higher is how we are to act while we spend these few years here on planet earth. That is why James writes today:
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Jas. 4:1-3
This is acting like the sparrows at my bird feeder, not as spiritual people on our way back to the Father’s house. James continues:
Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Jas. 4:4-7
James is a strong antidote for those wish to water down the challenge of holiness found in the gospel.
As we observe Jesus navigating through the gospels people keep saying, “Who is this? He is not like anyone we have ever known.” Jesus is trying to get us to understand who we really are – that we have a calling much higher than the creatures of this world. We must stop acting like the birds at the bird feeder.
Sunday, 23 September 2018
Sunday, 16 September 2018
Today’s Gospel presents us with a rather dramatic picture. At the centre of this drama are Peter and Jesus. It begins with Jesus asking a two-fold question: a) “Who do people say that I am?” b) Who do you say I am?”
One of the characteristics of our Canadian society is that we enjoy the guaranteed privilege of freedom of religion. We can define our god in whatever way we believe god to be, and to worship this god as we see fit. So if addressed to us, Jesus’ first question might sound like this, “Among the religions in your society that claim Christian as their identity, who do these people say that I am?”
Like the disciples answer in today’s gospel there will be a variety of differing answers. But now comes the critical question, “But who do you say that I am?”
There is only one, TRUE answer to this question – and it is critical that people get this one, true answer right. The reason for this urgency can be seen in what takes place next in this gospel passage. Jesus reveals to his disciples that a conflict is about to take place between himself and the authorities. But more than that – a battle between heaven and hell is about to begin and the future of ever human soul is at stake. This battle transcends time and space – this is that cosmic battle reaching right into heaven itself.
Peter puts his arm around Jesus and leads him apart from the others. It says Peter rebukes Jesus for saying this. The Christ they are expecting God to send will be a champion warrior, incapable of such suffering and defeat. At this point Jesus turns and rebukes Peter – and here it is critical that we understand Why?
The answer is revealed in Jesus’ response, “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus sees his enemy standing behind Peter, whispering into his ear. Jesus sees the Great Deceiver, the one who lies, who deceives, who corrupts, who destroys counselling Peter. You are thinking as the world thinks, Jesus replies to Peter and to us as well, we thinking that everyone has a right to their opinion about God – as long as you are happy with your beliefs, that’s all that matters.
My dear friends this is happening to us every day – voices of compromise whispering in our conscience, “its alright, God understands”. But the reality is much different. Just listen to the words of Jesus again:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Of course God understands; understands perfectly what we are up against, he knows what a great challenge this presents to us. We are in the same battle with Jesus, and the Cross is our only means of victory. And what is “our cross” that we are to take up? It is our present life situation and all the drama it entails. Being a good Canadian does not make us a holy person. We must rise far above that standard.
There is so much to say about this, but I will end with these words of St. Paul
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”
Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?
Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish?
For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom,
it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation (of the gospel) to save those who have faith.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 1 Cor. 1:18
Friday, 14 September 2018
Sunday, 9 September 2018
Beginning last Sunday and for these five Sundays of September, the Second Reading in the Liturgy of the Word is taken from the Letter of St. James.
James is referred to as James the Lesser; not a standard of importance but by the chronology of age, being the younger James, son of Alphaeus or Cleophas as mentioned in John. James was leader of the Church in Jerusalem and this letter is thought to have been written about AD 47. St. James wrote his Letter for the Jewish Christians outside Palestine, who, for the greater part, were poor and oppressed.
St. James was moved to write his Letter as he witnessed that the first fervour of the Jewish Christians had grown cold, and a certain spirit of discouragement was developing amongst them. How appropriate for us to hear his words in our own time of declining fervour and faith in the Church. The Jewish Christians James is addressing had come into a beautiful new living faith through the gospel and the Gift of the Holy Spirit – some may have even heard or witnessed Jesus before his death on the Cross. Ignored at first by the people among whom they lived, now they were experiencing backlash, rejection, even persecution. Their social condition was becoming even worse than before they embraced the faith. Our challenges to the Faith today are also rooted in the cultural influence that surround us – the secularism of society – the injustice that divides people – the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer.
Let us look for a moment at some of St. James’ words we will here in the next few Sundays.
In chapter one, last Suday – “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
In chapter two, as we heard today - “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?”
Again in chapter two, next Sunday, one of James’ most powerful lessons – “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Then, the following week from chapter three – “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
Lastly in chapter five – “Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;”
James does not hold back in his use of strong language, because of the urgency of his message. We need to hear the same kind of uncompromising straight talk today, lest we be swallowed up by the chaos around us. Our faith in Jesus is a treasure beyond price. Let nothing rob you of it.