SECOND FIDDLE

 

 

One day, a woman came up toLeonard Bernstein, the famous composer and conductor, and asked him, “Mr. Bernstein, of all the instruments in the orchestra which is the most difficult to play?” He told her, “Second fiddle is the hardest. You see, I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who plays second violin with enthusiasm, or even second horn, or second flute, now that’s a real problem. And if no one plays second, then we have no harmony.”

 The thing about second fiddle, second flute and other ‘seconds’ is that it never gets the tune to play. It’s always a support line to the main melody and so the audience always applaud the instruments that they recognise for having provided the beautiful tune but they rarely are aware of the supporting sections. Yet without these “second fiddles” these solo instruments would sound very thin indeed.

 In our society today no one wants to be second fiddle. All politicians want to be Cabinet ministers; all actors want the leading roles and all weather forecasters want to be celebrities. No one wants to be last; everyone wants to be first.

 Being a disciple of Christ means being humble. Rather than putting yourself in first place it means accepting that last can be just as good. This topsy-turvy way of thinking and behaving seems alien to many people. We are taught from a young age to strive to come first, and yet Christ tells us that the Christian’s favourite number should be “two”. Of course, to try always to come second means that we come first in humility!

 There is nothing fake about humility. It does not involve denying our gifts and talents; it’s not about hanging back and not helping just in case our true skills become apparent. But what it does mean is that we recognise where our talents have come from.

 We can claim no merit for ourselves; every good thing we have comes from God. So, humility allows us to do everything within our power to display our gifts, while at the same time giving the glory to God rather than claiming the limelight ourselves.

 

HEAVEN AND HELL

 

 

Some modern people don’t believe in hell. They say that it’s an old-fashioned way of frightening people into behaving in a moral manner. If God is so loving, they argue, then no one will be allowed to miss out on heaven Of course, this is not what Jesus says in today’s gospel. He says “there will be weeping and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves turned outside”.

 Hell is not a place. It doesn’t have a floor and walls, or even a fire. Hell is the never-ending state of pain and frustration after death at realising that we were given the chance of eternal happiness that comes from choosing God, but that we chose not to accept it and now it is beyond our grasp.

 If God were to ignore our life choices and simply “smooth things over” when we die, then we would have been made fools of during our life. Life, rather than being a drama, would have been reduced to a divine farce in which we thought we had freewill but in reality were just playing a part in some predetermined global heavenly extravaganza. God has too much respect for us to toy with us like that.

 And so Jesus warns his audience today about becoming complacent, about thinking that they are guaranteed a place in the kingdom of God because of their nationality, their ancestors, or their religious practice. And just as Isaiah had done centuries earlier, he angers them by saying that heaven will be full of “riffraff” while some of them will be excluded. For God has no favourites. People of high standing in society and the Church will find themselves at the foot of the pile, and vice versa.

 And what about you and me? Have we joined the throng of people who never give heaven and hell a second thought? Do we automatically think that we have some sort of season ticket for religion that will see us through at the eleventh hour? Or are we acting on Jesus’ words and trying to enter by the narrow door?

 

MAGNIFICAT

 

 

 

Mary’s song for today’s feast of the Assumption is called the Magnificat and is based on an Old Testament song by Hannah.

But the song is not actually about Hannah or Mary. It’s aboutGod and it’s about you and me. The word “Magnificat means that I am praising God for his greatness.Mary was blessed because the Lord was with her. Everyone with whom God dwells is blessed, and you are one of those people. Christ dwells with you. He has given you faith to believein him. He has done everything necessary for your salvation. He talks to you, through his word. He feeds you, with his body and blood. God watches over you and protects you until the day he calls you to be with him. All generations can most certainly call you blessed. You are blessed because Jesus is with you, and he always will be. So with Mary as our example we too can sing the Magnificat.

 What are the great things that the Lord has done for me that I want to burst into song about and sing Magnificat? What have I done that needs God’s mercy and how do I feel the forgiveness of God? What are the ways that God shows he is working in my life, with the power of his arm, and which make me want to sing Magnificat?

 Time and time again God stops me from getting proud-hearted, Magnificat!The God who thwarts the high and mighty and raises the common and garden folk, this same God never ignores me when I stand before him with honesty of heart, Magnificat!

 He fills me when I am hungry and he laughs at my false claims to be needy, Magnificat!

 Through my baptism God has promised that I will be his child and he will be my Father, until that day when I shall see him face to face, Magnificat!

 Today’s feast represents the crowning glory of Mary’s life of faith lived in the hope and trust that the promises made to her would be fulfilled. By singing the Magnificat Mary shows that she had a deep understanding of God’s continual presence at her side in good times and in bad, and that her gratitude was such that her heart overflowed with praise just at the thought of what God was doing in her life.

 By making the Magnificat our own, we too can recognise a God who has favoured his lowly servant; we can show our gratitude to God for the many ways in which his love surrounds us daily; and we can hope and trust in his promise that, like Mary, we will one day see him face to face and praise him for eternity with the saints in heaven. Magnificat!

 

Scrunge

If you were having a competition for ugly-sounding words then “scrunge” would be a strong contender. What does it mean? I don’t know, but you can tell from its sound that it won’t be anything pleasant.  (Actually it doesn’t exist!)
Some words are off-putting. “Stewardship” sounds so stuffy and institutional. It’s the sort of word we give a wide berth to because it sounds rather boring and  overly religious. Yet today’s gospel has Christ  reminding us that we are all called to exercise stewardship over what God has given us.
It’s easy to talk about global stewardship, about  saving the planet for our children and grandchildren.  It’s easy because it doesn’t necessarily bite home in  our lives. But stewardship is much closer to home  than global warming and carbon footprints. It’s about how we use the ordinary things in our life.
How do we use our time? What are our priorities?  Is my time mine or am I aware that I am given it to do good with? Am I generous with my time? They say that  if you want something doing urgently then ask a busy person. Maybe that’s because people who pack lots  into their time are aware of how much needs to be  done, whereas the couch potato can never quite “get round to it”. If my time is valuable then do I use  most of it on valuable things?
How do I use my talents? God has never made anyone without talents. Are you even aware of what yours are or do you falsely stay in the background pretending not to have gifts and talents that can be put to the service of others? Do you hide your talents or do you make them useful by letting others benefit from them?
How do you use your treasure? And what is your treasure, the thing that really “turns you on”, the  thing that you most value in life, that you would give  anything to defend and would do anything to possess? Your treasure is what you love most of all in life. God has given everyone treasure in abundance but it’s  to be used so that others can have a better  quality of life.
Jesus reminds us today that we all have time, talents and treasure. And he tells us that one day we’ll have to account for what we’re doing with them because they’re only on loan. It’s called stewardship.