LOOKING THE OTHER WAY

FAITH IN FOCUS: LOOKING THE OTHER WAY

You don’t get to heaven by not committing sin. You get to heaven only by doing good. Or, more correctly, you get to heaven by allowing the Holy Spirit to work through you in building up the kingdom of God.

Today’s gospel presents us with a challenging picture. If we never visit the sick, the homeless and those in prison then we show that we don’t care for Jesus. If we watch the TV images of people who are starving or who are victims of famine, flood and earthquake and then simply turn the channel over then we are turning our backs on Christ.

Traditional language used to speak about two types of sin: commission and omission. Commission is when we do something wrong. Omission is when we do something wrong by not doing anything. Yet today’s society makes it very easy for us to commit sins of omission without feeling guilty. When we see homeless people we can easily say that it is up to our government to sort the situation out. When we hear that our prisons are full to bursting it has become natural for us to think that someone else should be concerned with visiting the prisoners and with ensuring that their conditions are humane.

On a more local level we find ourselves turning a blind eye to things that happen on our own streets because we prefer a quiet life, despite the fact that people are suffering as a result. And in a recent report it was shown that people in Britain are the least likely in all of Europe to come to someone’s aid if they are experiencing difficulty on the street.

Jesus gives us a solemn warning. Whenever we fail to act to help those in any kind of need we fail to show our love for him, for the face of the person in distress is really the face of Christ. And the consequences of this failure and omission last well beyond our short lifespan. They are eternal.

 

CAPITAL GROWTH

FAITH IN FOCUS: CAPITAL GROWTH

Young Antonio’s voice was high and squeaky and so he did not pass the auditions for the Cremona Boys’ Choir. When he took violin lessons the neighbours persuaded his parents to make him stop. Yet Antonio still wanted to make music.

His friends gave him a hard time because his only talent was whittling wood. When Antonio was older he served as an apprentice to a violinmaker. His knack for whittling grew into a skill of carving and his hobby became his craft. He worked patiently and faithfully. By the time he died, he left over 1,500 violins, each one bearing a label that read ‘Antonio Stradivarius’. They are the most sought-after violins in the world and one sold for £1.7 million in 2015.

Antonio couldn’t sing or play or preach or teach but his responsibility was to use his ability, and his instruments are still making beautiful music today. Our potential is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to God, are you investing what you’ve been given, regardless of how much it is? Or, have you buried your blessing and kept it hidden from others?

We can sometimes confuse hiding our talents with humility with not wanting to push ourselves forward, yet if we stop to think for just a moment we’ll soon realise that, whatever our talent is, it is God-given. God has entrusted us with skill and talents to be used for his divine purpose. And no one else can ever be you and me. We’re unique, with unique gifts that God has welded into our character and personality. And it’s part of God’s plan from the beginning of time that we should use what we have been given so that the good news of the gospel might be spread and people should come to experience God through you and me.

Today’s gospel reminds us that life will not last for ever on this earth. The master is returning and we are returning to our master. What answer will we have to give when he asks what we have done with all that he gave us? Will we have buried it, or will we have produced a capital return?

 

KEEP YOUR LAMPS BURNING

FAITH IN FOCUS: KEEP YOUR LAMP BURNING

A class of schoolchildren was told the story of the ten bridesmaids and then asked to comment on it. One little boy said he thought the wise ones were horrible because they should have shared their oil with the foolish ones. After all, everyone kept saying how important it is to share!

When we read the parables there are traps we can easily fall into. One of the most common traps is to try and find a meaning in every little detail of the parable. This is what the little boy was doing in his own way. But he was probably too young to appreciate the wider picture.

There is no lasting significance in the number five or ten for the bridesmaids. No deep meaning in the fact that it was oil which was needed. No great importance to the time, midnight, or that the bridegroom was late. So what is Jesus trying to tell us?

It’s actually about life and death. Each of us has bee invited to a wedding feast, an everlasting one in heaven. We have to ensure that we make all the necessary preparations in life and turn up ready for the event, whenever it may be.

Now the foolish bridesmaids in the story were not excluded from the wedding due to a momentary lapse of concentration. They were habitually ill-prepared, whereas the wise ones had remained alert for whenever the call might come.

It is ludicrous to suggest that God would refuse heaven to a faithful person who just happened to stray the day before their death. What marked the five foolish bridesmaids out was a lifetime of half-heartedness in their preparation for the marriage feast of heaven. Like them, we too can find ourselves practising our faith out of duty or habit. A sign of this is when, unlike the wise bridesmaids, we stop feeling the sense of joyful expectation that our religion offers us.

As Advent approaches we are reminded that Jesus is inviting us not to a funeral but to a joyful wedding. Is it likely, having spent our lives putting oil in our spiritual lamps, that we will be excluded from the celebrations? So let’s look forward to the invitation.

 

HIDING BEHIND THE MASK

 

 In Greek theatre, actors who played the parts of the different characters had a special name: they were called hypocrites. Hypocrite did not imply any lack of sincerity on their behalf. It was simply the Greek word for the job they did on stage. And they never needed to spend hours in the make up room. Instead of getting themselves into character with greasepaint they wore a mask. This mask could be tied on or it might be held in front of the face on a short stick like participants at a masked ball. So the mask told you if they were a hero or a villain.

 Jesus uses the word hypocrite to describe  the Scribes and Pharisees because they do not practice what they preach. They are the leading lights in a movement to teach the religious Law and regulate how people live their life. Yet Jesus says they appear to be offering help when in fact they are only making life more burdensome for people. What’s more, they are quite fond of being given honour for what they do when they should really be the servant of the people.

 Religious people are prone to hypocrisy. In fact, that’s the criticism that’s often levelled against those who go to church by those who don’t. it’s easy to think that we must automatically be better than those who do not outwardly seem to be living the life that God asks of us. Of course, there’s always room for more hypocrites in church, since those who complain about us often display a similar hypocrisy in the lack of commitment.

 At the heart of this hypocrisy is a lack of humility. We do not practise our religious as a result of being good. We practise it because we know how needy we are and how much we depend on God even for the little about us that is of value.

 Humility means acting with our real face on view, with no mask. It means accepting that all of our achievements. All of our skills and our tendencies to goodness are first and foremost the result of God’s initiative and grace.

 So as we settle into our bench today we are reminded that all we have comes from God and we cannot claim to be better than anyone else due to our own merits. Only if we have this humility will we be exalted in God’s eyes.

 Otherwise we are simply holding up a mask against reality and waiting for the hypocrites’ curtain call.