MAKING THE FIRST MOVE

MAKING THE FIRST MOVE

 There was a sign outside a church that read, “Don’t let your funeral be the next time you come and visit us!” We can understand what it meant; it was encouraging people to think about the place of God in their lives and their response to God’s workings.

 But, actually, the sign is fundamentally flawed. Why? Because it encourages people to think that they are the ones who must make the first move. It gives the impression that God is sitting back waiting for them to decide to start doing something about their lives. And that simply isn’t true!

 The amazing thing about God’s dealings with us is that he always makes the first move. Think of Zacchaeus in today’s gospel. He’d heard all the rumours about Jesus and wanted to see for himself. Being a small man he climbed up a sycamore tree to get a good view. But before he could say anything, before he could make his mind up, it was Jesus who made the first move and told him he was coming home with him to stay for a while. When Zacchaeus heard what Jesus had to say he was immediately moved to repent and give half his property to the poor. (He’d cheated people by charging them too much tax and then keeping most of the money himself.)

 God never ceases reaching out to us. We find this hard to cope with because we think that God is so concerned with weighty global problems that he has no time for us and our particular situations. Yet the opposite is true.

 When we feel drawn to God it is only because God’s grace has been offered us in the first place. Our lives are a response to Christ’s example of sacrifice and love; our response comes from hearing God’s word; our actions are inspired by God’s Spirit working in us, if only we take the time to discern it.

At the eucharist we thank God for never abandoning us and for continually offering us the chance to enjoy the life that Christ promised. Amazingly, God never stops leading us on to deeper trust and love. And all he asks in return is that we respond.

 

HOW TO IMPRESS GOD

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is the classic “goodie” versus “baddie” tale. The Pharisee represented the pillar of Jewish society: a religious man who knew the Law backwards and observed it in all its minute details. The tax collector was the outcast of society: he collaborated with the pagan occupying army of the Romans, overcharged people for their taxes and kept a commission of the money for himself. Yet by the end of the story Jesus reverses their roles.

 The story only makes two points. The first is that it is impossible to impress God. Maybe there are Pharisees in some of our churches today. Those who feel that they are pillars of society; they are well respected in the community; their family has always supported the parish and they live a moral existence – unlike some of the other members of the congregation that they could name!

 Why would we want to “impress” God? Could it be that we can’t actually face up to what we are really like? Could it be that we think God will only have time for us when we improve a bit? Do we need to shape up before God will pay us any attention? Yet the reality is that God knows us even better than we know ourselves. For we can fool ourselves but we can’t fool God. And the truth is that we can only gain access to God by being totally sincere. Anything else cuts us off.

 The second point of the story is that we can do absolutely nothing to earn God’s mercy. The tax collector’s body language was the complete opposite of the Pharisee’s: he beat his breast and didn’t even dare to look up. He was open about two things: he was a sinner and he needed God’s mercy. And he poured his hEart out.

 This total honesty before God frightens many people. That’s because they believe God acts on a “Brownie points” system and they find it hard to accept that God loves people for what they are not what they should be. God’s way of acting overturns any idea of merit, any thought of earning our salvation. God’s love and forgiveness are indiscriminate and open to anyone who asks sincerely.

 Of course, if you accepted your true condition and knew that only the free gift of grace could save you, then you’d really impress God.

A GOD’S EYE VIEW

 

 

The story of the widow pestering the judge for justice in today’s gospel cannot fail to amuse. The poor woman (widows were on the bottom rung of society because of their economic status) must have worn the (important) judge down over time. Judges did not work in buildings; they set up their court in a tent that travelled around their region, rather like our Assizes. So every time he turned up at a new place and pitched his tent, there she was! Eventually he decided to do something just for a quiet life. And it’s her persistence in prayer that Jesus praises.

 Being persistent in prayer is probably one of the greatest challenges facing us as Christians. It’s easy not to pray. We can claim we’re busy doing good and don’t have the time. We can say that we never seem to get an answer and so what’s the point? We can look back on things we asked for that never materialised and so wonder whether God is really bothered by our prayer at all.

 Prayer isn’t words. Prayer is being constantly tuned into God so that we see and interpret our experiences from God’s point of view. If we can learn to appreciate God’s vantage point then we become less absorbed with our own demands for God to act in this way or that.

 There is a difference between being persistent and being a pesterer. Being persistent in our prayer is a sign that we are being faithful to staying close to God. Barraging God with what we think should happen is a sign that we have probably not yet come close to wanting God’s will to reign.

 Prayer is a sign that we want to become closerto God and to what God wants for his kingdom on earth. Perhaps it is not too much to say that that by praying we are expressing our desire to become like God. Yes, it is natural to tell God of our plans, our hopes and our fears. It’s natural to place others in God’s “mind” and ask for their wellbeing.

 But prayer is first and foremost about our relationship with God, our closeness, our gradual coming to know God’s will and his plan for salvation.And while it is natural for us to see things in terms of the present, God’s perspective is that of eternity.

 

GRATITUDE

Rudyard Kipling was known to be a successful writer. A cynical US reporter found him one day and, in an attempt to embarrass him, said, ‘Mr Kipling, it has been suggested that you make as much as $100 for every word you write’. The reporter then pulled out a $100 not, handed it
to Kipling and said, ‘Could you give me a $100 word?’ Kipling folded the note, put it in his pocket and said, ‘Thanks’.

Thanks, of course, is a $100 word. But it’s worth much more than that. It’s one of the two magic words that we teach children to say, along with ‘please’. And just as a parent is disappointed when the child fails to show basic manners, so Jesus too, appears a bit disappointed when only one leper returns to say thank you for being cured.

When a person doesn’t bother to say thank you it’s usually because they do not see the need. Whatever it is that has been done for them they consider it either to be their right or something of slight importance. Of course, that is usually because they have become desensitised to what’s going on around them; they have become jaded and prone to ingratitude.

Since you got up this morning, how many times have you uttered the phrase ‘thank you’? And how many times have you thanked God so far? What do
you have to be thankful for and is it worth thanking God? Surely God knows?

The actual act of acknowledging our gratitude makes us more grateful because it makes us more aware of the reasons we have to be grateful and it allows us to enjoy the benefits of our privileged positions. Yet we often fail to thank God for our health until we are in danger of losing it. We
scarcely think about the amount and the choice of food that is at our fingertips until we run out. And we often are unappreciative of people
who make our lives fuller.

Eucharist mean thanksgiving. It is the act by Which the Church gathers to hear God’s word, to thank God for all the blessing of our life in Christ and it is the privileged moment when we call upon the Holy Spirit to make us a grateful people worthy to share the body and blood of Christ.

But it would be a pity if we waited until we were inside a church before thanking those whose debt we are in. And that includes God.

GETTING GOD IN FOCUS

Habakkuk couldn’t understand why his country had been taken over by Iraq (called Babylon in those days). After all, they were counting on promises from God that they would be his special people and he would look after them. And so in today’s reading we hear him complaining that God is powerless or, at best, that he doesn’t care.

Today our television screens are equally full of pictures from modern-day Babylon. Suicide bombers, roadside bombs, people cruelly cut down at the whim of others who crave power or have a warped sense of religion. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming and our minds cannot cope with the enormity of the horror.

On a different level we can find our own lives taking a direction that we don’t want them to. We might lose our job, find ourselves unable to make ends meet, suffer the death of a loved one or the breakdown of a marriage. All these are stressful events that can leave us reeling.
If our view of God is mechanical then we can blame him. Why doesn’t God appear on his white horse with a magic wand and stop all these things from happening? Why doesn’t he make the world a better place? If God exists then why does he allow earthquakes and famines? Why do innocent children continue to suffer?

But maybe our view of God goes further than this? Maybe we see a God who has created us with the freedom to behave as we choose. Perhaps God would be doing violence if he interfered every time we made mistakes, every time we turned our back on our own humanity and treated others inhumanely.

Maybe our God is one who in Jesus Christ has established a Kingdom on earth that is in process of being completed and that requires our gradual compliance and understanding. Could our purpose for existing as humanity be to discern the will of God and his purpose for history? Could it be that a God who overrode our decisions and the patterns of nature would be nothing more than a puppeteer, pulling our strings and making us think that we were making the decisions? Is it conceivable that God is able to bring good from what seems to us like pure disaster?

When we create havoc in our own world, and when catastrophes strike, it is easy to blame God. But maybe we have to take a closer look at what we think God is.