RAPID RESPONSE

RAPID RESPONSE

The people who met Jesus on the road in today’s gospel, and who all had reasons to delay following him, are mirror images of Elisha when he was called to come and follow the prophet Elijah. After an initial request to go and say goodbye to his parents Elisha realised the enormity of the calling. There and then he killed a pair of oxen he was using to plough the field with, killed them and cooked them by burning the plough. The meat would have been absolutely fresh but not very tender!

 It’s noticeable that, when Jesus was calling his apostles, we are told that they left their nets etc. “at once” and followed him. For those who choose to be followers of Jesus there is an immediate attraction, something which is no mere half-way house appeal. When the famous prophet Elijah throws his cloak over the simple farmer Elisha, then Elisha knows he has a claim on him.

 If there’s one thing God can’t stand then it must be half-heartedness. Am I serving God with every ounce of strength and commitment or am I just doing enough to keep my conscience quiet? Am I just covering all bases and paying the premiums on my heavenly insurance policy? Or do I feel a magnetic attraction to Jesus and all that he asks of me? In my life is God a passion or a hobby?

 When Jesus calls us to be disciples, he calls us to make a lifelong, irrevocable, absolute commitment. Most of us follow Jesus to the best of our abilities but we are also aware that there are areas of our lives where we hold back, aspects of the way we live that are not helping our commitment as disciples of Jesus. This is because following Jesus is an ongoing, lifelong commitment. We have continually to ratify our commitment, to keep signing on the dotted line as disciples of Christ.

 What are the nets that Jesus is still asking us to leave, the oxen that we need to slaughter, the ploughs that we have to burn? Are there relationships in our lives that dull our response? Are there habits that we have taken for granted but which make us slow to respond to the challenge of being followers?

 Or have we felt the cloak thrown over us, God’s mantel in Christ, which calls us to follow wherever he may lead and to proclaim the best news possible to those we meet on the road?

JUST FINE TUNING?

FAITH IN FOCUS: JUST FINE-TUNING?

 The passage in today’s gospel where Peter tells Jesus that he is the Christ, the anointed Messiah of God, is usually considered to be a pivotal one. For it means that to a degree the penny has dropped. Although everyone seems to recognise that Jesus is someone special, like Elijah, John the Baptist or another prophet come back from the dead, Peter puts his finger on the truth and is quickly told by Jesus not to go around telling others about it.

 It’s easy to say, “You are the Christ”. But faith in Jesus is about more than just words. It’s about adjustment: adjustment in the way we think, the way we behave, the way we relate to God. That’s because believing in Christ turns our lives upside-down.

And this adjustment is not just a fine-tuning; it’s a somersault. For following Jesus does not mean doing the same as everyone else except that we throw in a few hymns and prayers from time to time. It means having a radically different outlook on why we are here on this earth, what this demands of us and what we expect of the next world.

 The values of God’s kingdom are not simply refinements of ordinary human goodness. In fact, they are often diametrically opposed to what society in general considers to be desirable. That’s why Christians talk about sacrifice, about bearing a cross daily, about self-denial, about serving rather than being served, about putting ourselves always in second place, about disregarding the reputation others credit us with and about giving till it hurts rather than seeking to receive.

 All of this is counter-cultural. Those with no faith either pity us as mugs or else they look upon us a quaint bunch of do-gooders. The worse thing Christianity could ever do is to make a bid for popularity, for social respectability or for “national treasure” status. The cross that is at the heart of our faith is too severe a symbol for a world that is self reliant.

 At the very instant that Peter professed his faith in Jesus as Messiah, Jesus told him that he would suffer grievously, be rejected, and be put to death. This is what it means to follow Christ. Both Jesus and Peter travelled the same route to glory and there is no reason to suppose that any present-day follower of Christ will be spared the well-trodden path.

Thank God it’s a path to glory!

 

FLAWS, FAULTS, FAILINGS AND FORGIVENESS

Psychologists tell us that often when we get on our high horse about someone else’s faults, it’s because we recognise those same failings in ourselves and our ranting and raving at others is a way of exorcising them from our own psyche. As long as we have a target at which we can direct our anger we can push our own imperfections to the back of our mind. So we love to accuse other people of the very things that we know deep down are the same flaws that we have. As a nation we need to be satisfied by demonising certain types of criminals who become our national hate figures. It makes us feel righteous and clean.

To refuse to forgive another person is an extraordinary thing yet one which we often hear from those who feel wronged. It’s tantamount to saying that they have harmed us and we are so perfect that we have never needed forgiveness from another person or from God.

For that’s where forgiveness comes from: God. Our sins deface the beauty of God’s presence in our world and we need to ask forgiveness from God. And it usually happens that someone who is deeply aware of their own defects is also acutely aware of how much they are in need of God’s love and presence, that presence which is stronger than all of our sin. The more we live lives that recognise our dependence on God’s love and forgiveness, the easier we find it to pass on the forgiveness that has first been shown to us. We don’t forgive out of our own store of forgiveness but out of God’s.

When Jesus went out to the Pharisee’s home for a meal he had his feet anointed by a weeping woman who gate-crashed the dinner. She had a reputation in the town and it wasn’t a good one. Jesus cleverly pointed out that the great love she showed him would be impossible if she had not experienced forgiveness in her life. Strangely it was the religious people who had difficulty forgiving her. Maybe they had kept the rules and felt better than her, and in no need of God’s forgiveness?

Our “trespasses” are only forgiven to the same degree that we forgive those of others. How forgiving are you? Your answer will tell you a lot about how much you have experienced God’s love.

THE GRACE OF BEREAVEMENT?

It’s hard to imagine the grief of the widow in today’s reading as she takes part in the funeral of her only son. How anyone can cope with such a situation is hard to fathom.

When someone we love dies, our first reaction is often shock and denial. Nothing seems to make sense; we can hardly believe it and we keep thinking that it’s all some sort of mistake, even if we’ve been expecting it for months or even years. We can feel numb, and there seems no point in lots of things that previously we took for granted. Yet this shock and denial can be our way of getting through things, since without it everything could become too much for us.
Could it be that shock and denial are part of God’s grace?

And we can feel angry. Maybe we direct our anger at the easiest targets; perhaps it’s the medical staff, maybe it’s the priest, often it’s the Church or even God. Later, it becomes those who didn’t attend the funeral, those who never sent their condolences, those who’ve avoided you since the death. And sometimes we get angry at ourselves, blaming ourselves for not doing enough, being hard on ourselves for not being as loving as we could have been. Such anger is a powerful thermometer of our love for the person who has died.
And love, of course, is grace.

But anger like this inevitably leads us to feelings of guilt. We feel that somehow we have let ourselves down as well as the other person. We experience bargaining situations with God or whomever we believe in. “What if….”, “If only… ” There’s a real temptation to go back in time and act in such a way that the death could be avoided and the clock turned back. We try to negotiate our way out of the hurt. Doing this promotes healing.
And healing, of course, is grace.

It’s not surprising that people become depressed in bereavement. It’s perfectly normal to feel depressed under such circumstances; it’s a natural reaction. Yet grief is part of the healing process that restores us to some sense of equilibrium.

With the passing of time, however long or short, we manage to accept if not exactly embrace what has happened. But we do reach a stage where we can survive, where we can be grateful for our time with the person we loved, where we go from good days to bad and back again, and where we realise that this new reality is with us for the rest of our lives. We realise that other people still need us and that we are called to respond to the world and to life.

On that day in the town of Nain, no one could have missed the grace of God at work when Jesus raised the widow’s son to life. Today, when we are faced with bereavement for the loss of someone we love, there is no shortage of God’s grace.