SELF MADE PEOPLE?

The 1980s were known as the “me” years. We were encouraged to take care of ourselves by sharing in an economy that was supposed to make us all richer and give us a greater share in the wealth of our nation. A booming financial market, wider ownership of shares due to privatisation, champagne in the city and a “loads o’ money” culture ensued. For some. Yet we were all enticed by the philosophy of getting out there and grabbing what was ours.

The pundits of the ‘80s would have found it hard to make any sense of Jesus’s words in today’s gospel. They are counter-cultural: they fly in the face of the accepted standards of society. In fact, they say that to be a Christian is to put yourself not in the front line when it comes to receiving, but to stand in second place and allow those more needy than you to come forward.

What lies behind the teaching from the Sermon on the Mount is the fact that none of us is a self-made man or woman. The world belongs to God not to the rich, and whatever skills and talents we might have are not the result of our own greatness but of God’s generosity.

Success is not measured by bank balances or public adulation, by civic honours and titles or by column inches in the national newspapers. Success is measured by our ability to espouse the values of God’s kingdom, values which do not draw attention to ourselves but point us in the direction of God.

People who are selfish, or self-absorbed, lack integrity. They lack integrity because humility is missing from their make-up. And humility does not mean that they pretend to be less than they are; it means that they acknowledge where their strengths come from.

Jesus urges us to go beyond the world’s definition of strength, success and happiness, for seen through the lens of eternity they are shallow. Instead, he invites us to rejoice in true poverty of spirit and boast of the values of the kingdom, which are our wisdom, our strength, our holiness and our freedom.

 

GOOD NEWS AT LAST

 

Generally speaking, is your life full of joy and light, or darkness and despair? Do you wake up in the morning with a bounce or with a leaden weight?

 The people of Zebulun and Naphtali, in the Galilee area, lived with a dark memory. Their ancestors worshipped idols and were slaughtered and deported by the Assyrians. This ran deep in their psyche.

 We’re all a bit like them. There are things from our past than haunt us and that we never fully shake off. Then there is the daily struggle of just keeping body and soul together. Not to mention the dismal news that constantly greets us from the newspapers and TV.

Isaiah tells the people of Zebulun and Naphtali that their time or mourning is over because God is about the send the Messiah who will put an end to their troubles. And this is what St Matthew quotes when he introduces the public preaching of Jesus.

 We may be tempted to think that idolatry is something that we needn’t worry about. Surely it is something that is long dead and buried? Yet our lives can easily become clogged up with worshipping the inessential, the false gods. How many of us live our own lives through the comings and goings of ‘celebrities’, eagerly awaiting news of their latest love affairs?

 How many of us worship on the altar of other people’s opinion of us? How many sacrifices do we make in order to seek after that elusive fortune?

 Sometimes life can be lived at such a shallow level that we become unaware of how really joyless it has become. We long for meaning in our lives and we yearn for fulfilment, yet all we seem to find is the spectre of what’s gone wrong in the past and the tinsel invitation to the future.

The teaching of Christ breaks this cycle by being good news. It offers fullness of life to those who believe and live by it. It brings light.

 

THE SIN OF THE WORLD

FAITH IN FOCUS: THE SIN OF THE WORLD 

Previous generations of Christians had a more lively sense of sin than we have today. Perhaps it was due to the vigorous style of preaching that reminded people of their lowliness and the propensity for doing wrong. In Catholic circles this showed itself in long queues each week outside the confessional; on the Protestant and Free Church circuits sin was the stuff of many a mission or revival meeting.

John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus is sent from God to take away the sin of the world. What exactly is this sin? It is clearly more that the pettiness of being nasty to your brother of sister, shoplifting from the supermarket, telling lies to your teacher or selling black market goods at knock-down prices.

The sin of the world is a disease that has infected all of us. We live with it, often without realising it. It is endemic; it affects the very structures of our society and our world. It is often more about what we don’t do than what we do. We find it in institutions just as much as in individual people.

When a public body is accused of being institutionally racist we are beginning to scratch the surface of what the sin of the world is. It is an atmosphere that we breathe and take for granted but do nothing about, sometimes claiming that the problem is too big for us to make any impression on alone.

 Hence, we become reconciled to the fact that farmers or workers in poor countries receive low payments for their products so that we can buy them cheaply here. We know that there are those around us embroiled in a life of drug dependency but claim that we are powerless to tackle the pushers. We see international pharmaceutical companies charge prices for medicines that prevent missions in Africa from getting relief. We continue to trade with repressive regimes, to stand by while countries commit genocide, to presume that all immigrants are scroungers, to ignore the polluting of the environment, to take as our standard whatever false gods our government or the media decide to put before us……

 Of course, we reply by saying that it is not us who do these things; it’s just ‘how the world is these days.’

 This is the sin of the world that Jesus came totake away. Do we have a role to play in this?

 

MODERN DAY MAGI

FAITH IN FOCUS: MODERN-DAY MAGI

The Epiphany is the feast of the catholicity of the Church. This means that the Church is for everyone, in all places and at all times. The opposite of catholic is exclusive.

But the Church is not exclusive; it’s all embracing and catholic. We don’t stand like nightclub bouncers at our church entrances, deciding on who should be let in and who should be excluded. We stand there to welcome in anyone of any race, colour or creed who wants to know more about Jesus Christ, the God who became one of us.

 And so the wise men entered the stable at Bethlehem at the end of their star-led journey to find this new king and to pay him homage. The Magi from the East show that Christ’s message was not just for the neighbours, but for the ends of the earth. Epiphany is Christ’s manifestation to the whole world, far and wide.

 You and I are called on today to be both stars and wise men. It was a star that led the Magi to know where to find Jesus. In a world that seems so often to flounder in a sea of darkness we are called to shine, to shed our light on the difficult task of making sense of life. We are to offer the wisdom of God to a world that seeks true meaning.

We must presume that, when the Magi left, they returned home to tell other people about what they had seen and heard. It would be pointless to keep it to themselves. So too with us. We cannot leave it to those with theology degrees to let the world know what a difference believing in Jesus makes.

 We must be Magi, wise men and women. A simple test of how we are doing as Magi in the 21st century is to ask ourselves how many people we brought to Christ last year. What sort of advert are we for Christianity?

Are we ashamed of the Good News or proud to let others know how much it means to us? And at the end of this new year how many people will we have led to Jesus by the light of the way we live?