PRAYER IN TIME OF DANGER AND ILLNESS

God Our Father, each person is precious to You. You are the Giver of life. Have mercy on us and protect us at this time, as the Coronavirus threatens health and life. You are an ever-present Helper in time of trouble. Watch over those who are suffering, give strength to those who are aiding the Sick and give courage to all in this time of anxiety. We ask this of you in the name of your Son Jesus Christ. AMEN.

DAILY SIGNS

We don’t need to look to the future to find signs of the end of our world. It’s happening every day before our very eyes.

When Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jews’ world was destroyed along with it. We have the same sort of experiences in our lives. We experience the end of many things and the loss of many people in a lifetime. The physical world as we know it can be destroyed by flood, hurricane, fire or earthquake. The whole earth does not need to be destroyed, just our little part of it, for us to know what Jesus is talking about.

Our social world can be destroyed by final arguments ending in divorce, being disowned by family, shunned or treated as an outcast. Our political world can be destroyed by war. Our economic world can collapse due to depression, recession, or unemployment, not to mention famine, hunger, disease and epidemics. We live in many worlds or spheres of meaning, and any of them can collapse at any moment.

What Jesus is giving in today’s gospel is not a script for what will happen in some future era. It is a symbolic account of how all created things will come to a climax under the judgement of God. We’ve already seen stars falling from the sky, persecutions, famines, revolutions etc. They happen each day. The important thing is how each generation views these normal things and how we learn from them.

It is possible to become so wrapped up in transient things (like the people admiring the beauty of the Temple) that we forget the purpose of our existence and we lose sight of the daily signs. We are here to serve God by serving each other. This is what we will be judged on. Will we stop living, loving, caring and giving when the end of our own little world comes upon us? Will we see the wars, famines, earthquakes etc as a wake-up call for Christian action or just something to watch on our TV screens and then talk about the next day?

Disasters, whether personal or global, are opportunities for growth. They summon us to ask the deeper questions about why we are here and how God intends us to respond. We can join the doom-mongers and the armchair commentators, or we can show that our faith has endurance and can bring good out of evil.

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 closer to 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.

SECOND FIDDLE

)ne day, a woman came up to Leonard 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.

FOLLOWING A PATTERN

The little boy knew where his mother had mislaid the car keys but was keeping quiet. At night time he knelt by his bed and prayed, “God, if you get me a bike I’ll tell her where they are.”Sometimes we use prayer in this way. We act as if we can make a bargain with God and then get what we want from him. I promise to do such and such and in return I want this and that. Then when we don’t get what we want we say our prayer has not been answered.

When Jesus taught his disciples the Our Father he wasn’t teaching them a prayer. He was teaching them how to pray, the pattern of prayer, the attitude to take before God. We use the words of the Lord’s Prayer in our public and private prayer, but these words are only a coat hanger for our conversation with God. We acknowledge God’s holiness, our dependence upon him, and then we ask for what we need in order to live life as he intends and to inherit eternal life.

Only those who know their true needs and who have the persistence to put them before God can really pray. And, of course, what we want is not necessarily what we need. That’s why God always answers our prayer but doesn’t always give us what we ask for.

Sometimes the answer might be “no” and sometimes it might be to receive something we least expected from God. But the key to prayer is persistence, never to stop praying. The more we pray the more we come in tune with God’s will. Then our prayer changes. Instead of asking God for this and that we find ourselves able to be at one with the will of God, and this means that we are sure that God is giving us what we need as long as we keep asking and listening.

To think that God would make us ask and ask without bothering to answer is bizarre. Such a God would be perverse. God encourages us to pray in order that we may know him more, discern his will and love him for what we know.

If your child asked you for something reasonable would you ever refuse if you could give it? Then why should God be any different?

A TALE OF TWO SISTERS

We all know the story of the two sisters, Martha and Mary. When Jesus came as a guest, Martha complained that Mary was leaving her to do all the work in the kitchen and just sitting around talking and listening to Jesus.

Surprisingly, Jesus came down on Mary’s side!

Yet we all live our lives like Martha. We shave in the shower and listen to the news on the radio at the same time to save precious minutes. At traffic lights we join the queue with fewer cars so we can be off first. And we scour the supermarket checkouts to find the least dozy-looking cashier.

We’ve become consumed with doing as much as we can as fast as we can. We’re not so much burnt out as burnt up, consumed with activity. However, we rarely stop to ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing and whether our priorities are right.

Of course, we have to work. And we have to prepare meals if we invite people round to eat. But, just for a moment, forget about the work you have to do to earn a living. How do you spend the rest of your time?

What are your priorities? Does God feature in them? Do you pray or read the bible or is watching the soap operas more important? Do you ever just try and sit back for a few moments in God’s presence? Do you have a sense of the spiritual? Of God being at your side in all that you do? Do you ever try to listen to what God might be saying to you in the events of your daily life? Do you try to process your activity?

The Greek word that describes Martha being distracted actually means “pulled here and there by one thing and the next”. Sometimes in our flurry of activity that’s exactly what happens to us. Our rushing around becomes an escape from reality. We find refuge in being busy. It seems to validate our existence but really it stops us from asking deeper questions about our life’s direction.

Jesus speaks Martha’s name twice.
“Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things…” What a lovely reassurance of how fond he is of her! And what a reminder that from time to time we have to stop hiding behind activity and challenge ourselves at a more thoughtful level.

KITCHEN SINK HEROES

Jesus rubs up everyone in today’s gospel. First he angers the Jewish establishment by telling a story about a man who was mugged, ignored by two clergymen and helped by a member of the hated ethnic minority.

Then he shuts the legal boffins up by saying that you don’t need a degree in jurisprudence to understand God’s Law. Just a bit of common sense will do. You can know the Law but still be incapable of love.

In fact, that’s what God said through Moses in today’s reading from Deuteronomy: “This Law is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach… it is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart.”

Yet we have problems thinking that God’s Law should be so easy. Coming from a superhero culture we tend to expect some great heroic sacrifice will be asked of us, some death-defying feat that will hit the front pages of the newspapers. But God simply says: look around and make sure your neighbour is OK. Christian morality is as simple as that. Love your neighbour.

Today’s Samaritans are not those who go off to save the Third World but those who keep an eye out for the elderly or sick person on their street. They’re the kitchen sink heroes whose daily acts of kindness show that everyone is their neighbour. We shouldn’t need to ask, “Who is my neighbour?” Rather, we should listen for the call within us to become close to those in need around us.

St David said, “Do the little things well”. Perhaps that’s what God is trying to tell us today. For if we want to fulfil God’s Law, then we will do so by opening our eyes and ears and responding to people of all races and creeds when they need us.

This is not something so difficult that only professionals can grasp it. It’s obvious, says God. It’s what we would want others to do for us, and we can do it for others simply by doing the little things well