Marianne Dorman
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TWENTY-FIFTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME. THIS WEEK SS. COSMOS & DAMIAN, VINCENT DE PAUL, JEROME, &MICHAELMASS.
TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

READINGS FOR THE DAY
CYCLE A: Isaiah 55. 6 – 9; Psalm 145. 2 – 3, 8 – 9, 17 – 18; Philippians 1. 20 - 4, 27; Matthew 20 1 – 16.
CYCLE B: Wisdom 2. 12, 17 – 20; Psalm 54. 3 – 8; James 3. 16 – 4. 3; Mark 9. 30 – 7.
CYCLE C: Amos 8. 4 – 7; Psalm 113. 1 – 8; I Timothy 2. 1 – 8; Luke 16. 1 – 13.

THE WAY OF THE LORD

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
Isaiah 55. 8.



Deutero-Isaiah’s reading in cycle A is preceded by that wonderful invitation to eat and drink at the banquet Yahweh will provide when He renews the covenant of David with the return of the Israelites to Judæa. With that in mind the prophet was appealing to his people to find their Lord once again in their midst. This appeal is even made to the wicked for they shall find that when they turn to the Lord they will discover mercy and the generosity of the Lord in forgiveness. In that forgiveness, hopefully the way of the wayward will come to focus on the ways of the Lord that are higher and nobler. They will discover that when God’s ways begin to filter within them they become like rain and snow that water the earth making it fertile and fruitful.
Paul in his letter to the Philippians was certainly advocating the way of the Lord. Whether in this life or the next Christ must always be glorified, and his advice to the Philippians was to avoid anything that was unworthy of them once they became Christians.
The parable of the benevolent landowner in the Gospel manifested how generous the Lord is in encouraging all to seek His ways. Thus He is continually seeking out His children, even to almost their death-bed. “Come, follow me” is the Lord’s plan for all. None, if possible, should be excluded from the kingdom. The only sobering thought in this reading is for those who have worked for the Lord all their lives. They must not expect any greater reward than those who have only worked for a short time. The old hands as it were should only be too thankful for having known the Lord all their lives. That is a reward in itself.
The Gospel in cycle B indicated that the way of the Lord is no other than the cross and following Him as that cross brought our salvation. Let us not be like the Twelve who took so long to understand that way and were more concerned who was the greatest among them. Our Lord must have despaired as He took a little child and sat him/her in front of them. This is your model, He taught them. Learn to be child-like and you will know what my kingdom is about.
The letter of James made no bones about what is meant by following the Lord’s way. It is the opposite to the way of the jealous and the ambitious. God’s ways are manifested in those who seek peace by being kind and compassionate and doing good deeds without any thought of gain. These are the pure of heart whose only desire is live within the kingdom of God.
The reading from Wisdom is closely linked with the letter of James as it shows the hand of the unrighteous as they scorn the righteous, even if that righteous be the Son of God. They have no desire to uphold the cause of the Lord.
The Lucan parable as the gospel in cycle C has always been one of those puzzling ones for me. How can dishonesty be rewarded? This is the impression on a first reading but when one probes deeper into its meaning it probably reflected the life of Christians at the time this gospel was written. In times of persecution or emergencies how would they cope? Sometimes they had to use their wits in an environment that was becoming hostile towards Christians.
The Old Testament lesson from Amos draws our attention to one of our responsibilities in following the way of the Lord. That is to care for the poor and not to treat them as they were by the rich in the time of the prophet Amos who had many harsh words against them as they trampled on those in need. Yet for all of us as the reading from I Timothy suggests, there is a comforter in whatever situation we find ourselves, Christ Jesus, who is now our mediator in heaven. As already intimated the Lord wants all people to benefit from His gift of salvation, poor and rich, Jew and Greek, slave and free. Furthermore we can all share in prayer and to give thanks for the living presence of the Lord in our midst. That will always help us to live in the way of the Lord.


Heavenly Father, your way is often not my way, but help me to turn back when I stray. Amen.



MONDAY OF TWENTY-FIFTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME

READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Ezra 1. 1 – 6; Psalm 126.
YEAR II: Proverbs 3. 27 – 34; Psalm 15. 2 – 5. 
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 8. 16 – 18.


YEAR I

CYRUS, KING OF PERSIA

Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia, ‘All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.’
Ezra 1. 2.

Today we begin reading Ezra set in the post-exilic history of Israel. The exilic prophet, Deutero-Isaiah, promoted King Cyrus of Persia as Yahweh’s shepherd as he allowed the Jews to return to their homeland from exile in Babylon after defeating the mighty Babylonians in 539 B. C. Not only were the Israelites allowed to return but Cyrus would also help them to rebuild the temple. Undoubtedly this is a Jewish understanding, perhaps influenced by Jeremiah’s prophecy that Yahweh would restore His people to their homeland after a period of exile by punishing the Babylonians (Jer. 25. 11 – 12).
The year after defeating the Babylonians Cyrus issued an edict that allowed the Israelites to return home and Judah became part of the Persian Empire for the next two centuries. This empire was divided into satrapies, of which Judah belonged to the satrapy of the West Mediterranean Sea with its headquarters in Samaria. Eventually the Persians would be defeated by the Athenian Greeks in the sea battle of Salamis in 480 B. C. 
Although the exiles were free to return home after the issue of the edict, it would seem not many did at first but over the next few years more returned, but we must remember many remained in exile, either in Babylon or Egypt. From today’s reading it would seem that the families of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin who returned were enriched by gifts from their Babylonian neighbours that would help rebuild the temple. Furthermore those treasure vessels taken from the temple by King Nebuchadnezzar were returned to Sheshbazzar, prince of Judah, perhaps a member of the royal family (I Chron. 3. 18).
One of the first things accomplished on the return to Judah was the taking of a census with a special grouping for those attached to temple worship such as the Levites, priests, singers, gatekeepers, and even temple slaves, some of whom could not prove their identities. This is followed by the restoration of the altar. Just as David had built an altar before the construction of the temple so now in post-exilic time another was built on the old foundations. On this altar were offered those sacrifices prescribed by the Law in the mornings and evenings and on special feast days. One particular festival kept shortly after arrival was sukkot, that happy week that marked the harvesting of grapes and olives. It is also interesting to note that when revising the calendar they included the Babylonian observance of the new moon that marked the beginning of each month.
However the most important work on their return was to rebuild the temple. That magnificent temple of Solomon had gone for ever but perhaps not from memory. Under Sheshbazzar the preparation for this building was begun by hiring stonecutters and carpenters and of ordering the timber needed from various locations, such as cedar trees from Lebanon. However from the laying of the foundation for the temple c. 537 B. C. it would seem little progress was made until the return of Zerubbabel and Joshua with a second group of exiles, perhaps twenty years later. From the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, it would also seem that the people were rather lethargic in this matter. Both prophets stressed that Yahweh would not tolerate this neglect of His house without dire consequences. Meanwhile Zerubbabel had to fight off opposition from Samarian disapproval of rebuilding the temple by obtaining a copy of Cyrus’ decree for this project. This involved a long search. Eventually a copy was found in the archives in Ecbatana in Aramaic, the language of the Persians, and the language that would in time replace Hebrew in Palestine. It would be thus the language that Jesus would learn and speak.
The emphasis in the rebuilding of the temple manifests how important worship was for the Jews and it set a precedent for Christians. Do we always see our worship as being just as important in our lives as Christians? 



THE COMMON GOSPEL

THE LAMPSTAND

No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, that those who enter may see the light.
Luke 8. 16.

Today’s gospel reading is really a continuation of the parable of the sower by mixing the metaphor. The seed that had fallen in good ground and brought forth fruit an hundredfold is now the lamp. That lamp enables light to be shed and so manifests its own illumination for productivity in hearing the Word of God.
That illumination will be the preaching of the gospel by the disciples and early Christian leaders so that it brings forth converts in the name of the Lord Jesus who Himself is the illuminated One. He has come into the world as the Illuminator to cast out any darkness enveloping people. Later on in this gospel the evangelist will return to this lamp image to guard against darkness (11. 33 – 6).
This parable is thus teaching us that we must respond to the Word of God. In other words we must be doers. Our lives should be like a lighthouse that guides others to a safe haven. Life can be as rough as the high seas in a storm, but a captain seeing that light beckoning is an encouragement that can mean the difference between sinking and surviving.
As we sing in a modern day hymn, “We are the light of the world.” This is no doubt based on verses from Ephesians: 
For you were sometimes darkness, but now are you light in the Lord: walk as children of light. … And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them (Eph. 5. 8, 11).
What we are being reminded of here is that before Christ came we were living in darkness. But thanks to Him we have been rescued from that blackness and emptiness. Like the man blind from birth we can now see as we are children of the light. That man born blind (Jn. Ch. 9) knew how different these two worlds were. We too should appreciate the difference between living in darkness and in light. When we read one of the Matthean references to light, Jesus spoke of the disciples being “the light of the world.” That means us! We are a light too. So it is not just good deeds that must illuminate the Lord but the person. Remember you are a beacon to attract others to know Christ.
It is the Johannine tradition that most vividly contrasts the two lives. In the first letter we read:
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in the darkness, we lie and do not the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin (I Jn. 1.6, 7).
And in the Gospel when Jesus was conversing with the Pharisees who often seemed to want to walk according to all their intricate laws rather than by the light, Jesus reminded them. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8.12). So it is very clear, isn’t it, that we belong to light and not to darkness. Indeed we are not just walking in light but we are the light of the world. So let our lamps always shine brightly wherever we are so that others may be attracted to it like insects are. Again we should not forget the old adage, “Religion is caught not taught.”

Heavenly Father, let my light shine brightly in order to bring others to you. Amen.





TUESDAY OF TWENTY-FIFTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME

READINGS FOR THE DAY 
YEAR I: Ezra 6. 7 – 8, 12 – 20; Psalm 122. 1 – 5.
YEAR II: Proverbs 21. 1 – 6, 10 – 13; Psalm 119. 1, 27, 30, 34- 5, 44.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 8. 19 – 21.

YEAR I

THE HOUSE OF THE LORD

I was glad when they said unto me, ‘We will go into the house of the Lord.’
Psalm 122. 1.

In yesterday’s reading we saw how over a number of years the temple was rebuilt, but never to the magnificence of the previous temple, Solomon’s temple. This temple would only last for about five hundred years before it was demolished to make way for the grand temple that Herod the Great would build over a period of forty-six years, and only stand for half of that time before being demolished by the Romans. Over those five hundred years or so the lives of the Jews revolved around the temple.
During the year they were expected to go to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate: Passover, the Feast of Weeks and Tabernacles. This meant that the city was full of pilgrims who had travelled often long distances. Whilst travelling in caravan groups from respective villages the Jews would sing their pilgrim psalms. Amongst those is the set psalm for today. Recall the last story of the Lucan infant narrative. It is Jesus and His family and others travelling to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luc. 2. 41 – 52). Their travel would be along dusty roads, often passing sheep and goats, groves of olive trees and native flowers. As they approached Jerusalem their hearts would swell with the music and words of those ascent psalms (121 – 134).
The first of these psalms, one hundred and twenty-one is one of the most beautiful of all the psalms, beginning with those inspiring words, “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills from whence comes my help.” Jerusalem is situated on Mt. Zion in the hilly territory of Judæa. As well as this mount there are also Mt. Moriah and the Mount of Olives. Yet it is particularly on Mt. Zion that God dwells and so it is to Yahweh that the pilgrims know from whence comes their help. The pilgrims no doubt knew that passage from Joel, “So shall you know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more” (3. 17).
This is followed by our set psalm. Imagine how realistic those words would be when Jerusalem came into view. With that glimpse of the holy city the pilgrims would have sung lustily, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘We will go into the house of the Lord.’” And then when they entered the outer court of the temple, “Our feet shall stand in thy gates: O Jerusalem.” Here we shall give thanks unto the Lord and pray for the peace of Jerusalem. What joy those pilgrims must have felt to have reached the goal of their journey, to be in the house of the Lord after their long journey to worship their God.
Yet the psalm expresses more than joy. The temple represented the unity of all the tribes of Israel for all could come here, although after the exile it was probably only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin who travelled for the festivals. Even today we use a verse from this psalm “O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper who love you” as a prayer for the unity of all Christians and indeed for all people of faith. Despite her divisions, Jerusalem still represents a unifying symbol for both Jews and Christians. 
Just as the Jews were beckoned to rebuild their city and temple we too are called to build up the vineyard for Christ. One way of doing that is to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ who share a common baptism in the name of the Trinity. There are so many ways we can worship together and share prayer and bible study groups. I think amongst the mainstream churches we shall find we have far more in common than uncommon. Very few would disagree with the statements we make in the Nicene Creed. So let us embrace our fellow Christians in a sincere belief that we all seek to love the Lord and want to do His work in a world that is quickly forgetting who Christ is, let alone following Him.  




THE COMMON GOSPEL

THE TRUE DISCIPLE

Jesus said to the crowd, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’
Luke 8. 21.

This very short reading for today is the fitting conclusion to the parables of the sower and lampstand in the Lucan tradition. Those parables were about the fruit that comes from hearing the word of God - in other words discipleship. All the Synoptic gospels have Jesus’ mother and family coming to see Jesus but it is only in this Lucan account that they are portrayed as disciples. In Luke’s account their coming is placed after these parables. Previously, in the Lucan infant narrative, Mary has already been portrayed as the first disciple when she was obedient to God after listening to the message of the archangel Gabriel. From our Lady we have learnt foremost in being a disciple of Christ is obedience. It comes at great cost, which Mary also knew. It is what the World War II martyr for the faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, described as “costly grace”.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son: ‘we were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
 Bonhoeffer in his own life lived out the cost of grace. He knew exactly what it meant to be a disciple of the Lord in his opposition to Hitler and the acquiescence of the Lutheran Church to his policies. It was not something ever to be trifle with, even though it cost him his life.
Discipleship means adherence to Christ, and, because Christ is the object of that adherence, it must take the form of discipleship. An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system, a general religious knowledge on the subject of grace or on the forgiveness of sins, render discipleship superfluous, and in fact they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever, and are essentially inimical to the whole conception of following Christ. With an abstract idea it is possible to enter into a relation of formal knowledge, to become enthusiastic about it, and perhaps even to put it into practice; but it can never be followed in personal obedience. Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. And a Christianity of that kind is nothing more nor less than the end of discipleship. In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ. Because the Son of God became Man, because He is the Mediator, for that reason alone the only true relation we can have with Him is to follow Him. Discipleship is bound to Christ as the Mediator, and where it is properly understood, it necessarily implies faith in the Son of God as the Mediator. Only the Mediator, the God-Man, can call men to follow Him.
If you have never read Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, I urge you to do so. It is a book that pulls no punches about discipleship to the Lord. It is costly but it also has its own rewards which not only Bonhoeffer but every martyr since Christ has known. So let us not ever try to water down our discipleship in following the Christ. It won’t ever serve us or anyone else, least of all the Lord.


Heavenly Father, teach me to take up my cross and follow you, wherever it may lead and whatever it costs. Amen.




WEDNESDAY OF TWENTY-FIFTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME

READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Ezra 9. 5 – 9; Tobit 13. 2 - 8.
YEAR II: Proverbs 30. 5 – 9; Psalm 119. 29, 72, 89, 101, 104, 163.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 9. 1 – 6.

YEAR I

EZRA THE REFORMER

God has given us a new life to raise again the house of our God and restore its unity.

Ezra 9. 9.

The first six chapters of Ezra are concerned about building the temple before Ezra’s time while the next, from which our reading for today comes, centres on reform. It would seem that Ezra, a priest of high rank and a descendant of Aaron and Zadok, was sent by Artaxerxes I or II to restore the traditional practices of the Israelites according to the Law after the rebuilding of the wall under Nehemiah’s leadership. 
When Ezra arrived from Babylon there were problems, one of which was the marriage of Jews to Gentiles, another was worship, while another was the abandoning of the commandments. We are told that Ezra was horrified by the sins of his people, signified by his tearing his cloak and mantle and plucking his hair out. Have not these people realised by now what are the consequences of sin? Have they not learnt from history?
Yet Ezra’s reforms are often seen as an example of particularism or exclusiveness. Those who had married Gentile wives were forced to invalidate their marriages. In carrying out his reforms, Ezra called an assembly of the people during which they made a public confession of their sins led by Shecaniah. “‘We have indeed betrayed our God by taking as wives foreign women of the peoples of the land’” (10. 2). So they gave up their foreign wives after the order was decreed by Ezra. But what happened to them? Did they return to Babylon or did they become some of the poor of Jerusalem? I have often wondered and perhaps it was at this time that the book of Ruth was written as a protest against such exclusiveness.
However one of the practical reasons for this insistence was that Ezra was demanding a return to the requirement of the covenant that were kept not only in the temple but at home. How could a foreigner understand the ways of Yahweh? To remind the Jews of their Torah Ezra had the book of the Law brought out and read to the assembled people from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. 
What was this book? Probably it was an early version of the Torah. In proclaiming its contents Ezra was assisted by the priests and Levites who helped to explain the meaning of the Law. After hearing the Law read to them, again the people were penitent and wept for their sins. The people recommitted themselves to the covenant in all matters while Ezra took the priests and Levites aside to instruct them fully in the application of the Law. Afterwards all celebrated the festival of Tabernacles in its purest form as prescribed by the Law.  
It was during the time of Ezra that the Priestly account of the Torah was written and which appears in the final editing of the Pentateuch. It exists besides the earliest accounts that we have of Israel’s history, and is easily identified with its emphasis on ritual and descriptions of worship and sacrifice. Most of the important events beginning with creation, the delivery from bondage, the Commandments and worship in the wilderness have a priestly version that pertains to post-exilic time rather than the primitive existence in the desert that are recorded in the older versions. 
For us today we must look at what Ezra’s particularism did and ask ourselves is this really the way the Lord wants us to live? After all we know, but Ezra did not, that Christ died for all. Furthermore an exclusive view only brings with it so many problems as illustrated in our times in the holy land since 1948 and elsewhere in Europe. 



THE COMMON GOSPEL

THE COMMISSIONING OF THE TWELVE

Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal.
Luke 9. 1 – 2.

As we approach our gospel reading for today at the beginning of chapter nine we should become conscious of a shift in focus in our Lord’s ministry. Up until now it has been focused in Galilee but now Jesus must set His face towards Jerusalem and what that means not only for Him but also for His disciples. In that context Jesus commissions the Twelve who represent the twelve tribes of Israel to carry on His work.
It is indeed the preparation for the renewed Israel. The Twelve are to carry on the work that the evangelist has had Jesus doing. Firstly, it is to continue that authority over demons, the works of Satan that were ostensibly illustrated in Jesus’ time in the wilderness and His encounter with the demonic spirit in the synagogue in Capernaum (4. 1 – 12, 31 – 6). Secondly, it is “to proclaim the kingdom of God.” Ever since Jesus picked up the scroll in the synagogue of his home town, and sung that passage from the book of Isaiah He has told us about that kingdom (4. 21). Living in that kingdom means caring for the poor, setting prisoners and the oppressed free, and restoring sight to the blind. Thirdly, it is to heal people of their diseases and sickness as Jesus had already done in Capernaum and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon (5. 18 – 19).
After commissioning them what to do, Jesus then tells them how to do it. Luke’s version is more radical than the Marcan one. It is a total commitment from any attachments. The Twelve are not to take anything for the journey, not even a walking-stick for support. They are to journey in the clothes they were wearing; they are to take not any money or food. This is trust indeed that the preacher would be welcomed into homes and given gracious hospitality. Wherever they were not welcomed, they were to shake off that dust from their sandals, an already a Jewish custom when in Gentile territory. Yet in this context it must also have been a sign of rejecting the message of enlightenment about the kingdom of God by the Jews. There is no doubt that once again Luke is portraying his ideal of Christian living – the surrender of all to the Lord. That is true discipleship.
When the Twelve returned whether as a group or individually (Luke unlike Mark does not have them being set out in pairs, that is for the Seventy-two) they informed their Lord what they had done. But the reader is not told. However the next few verses give us a clue. Perhaps they were not too successful as Jesus took them aside in Bethsaida to speak with them. Again we are not told, but in the next breath the evangelist informs the reader that the local people came to learn of the Lord’s presence. Once again in front of a crowd Jesus taught them about the kingdom of God and healed all those who needed to be cured. Was this then a lesson for the Twelve in how it is done? As we know, it would take the post-resurrectional experiences of the apostles to know what was really meant by the kingdom of God. 
It was for them as it is also for us a growing experience. If we were ask to define what is the kingdom of God what would we say? A kingdom indicates that there must be a sovereign. Who is that sovereign? It is God as illustrated by the Psalmist, “The Lord has prepared his seat in heaven: and his kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103. 19). A kingdom also suggests there are subjects. Ideally it should include all those, invisible and visible, who have been created by God. However the kingdom of God is not like an earthly kingdom where a ruler manifests lordship over all, but here membership is voluntarily. One chooses to be a subject of God’s kingdom when one is baptised, that is, born again by the Holy Spirit. That makes sense of what Jesus said to Nicodemus (Jn. 3. 3). Thus for every subject the kingdom of God is within. What is that kingdom like? The Beatitudes give us a wonderful idea of what God’s kingdom is like as do the many parables on the kingdom such as the pearl of great price that we pondered on recently. What we as subjects of this kingdom have is a treasure of infinite value providing we are free of all unnecessary worldly goods and give to the poor. Remember for Luke we surrender all to the Lord as illustrated in his Beatitudes. 

Heavenly Father, grant me the grace to preach about your kingdom so others may know you as their sovereign too. Amen.





THURSDAY OF TWENTY-FIFTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME

READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Haggai 1. 1 – 8; Psalm 149. 1 – 6.
YEAR II: Ecclesiastes 1. 2 – 11; Psalm 90. 3 – 6, 12 – 14, 17.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 9. 7 – 9.

YEAR I

HAGGAI

On the first day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, and to the high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak.
Haggai 1. 1.

Although this is a very short book, only two chapters, we learn more about Haggai than we do from many other prophets with his four oracles, given between August and December in 520 B.C. In the opening line we hear today we are told that he is an authentic prophet, called by God to proclaim His word to Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest, in Jerusalem. The main reason for his prophesising is to stir up both rulers and people to rebuild the temple, the house of the Lord, rather than being concerned with their own wants.
Obviously the people did not think it was the right time to build the temple but Yahweh had other ideas. So he has his prophet, Haggai, challenge the people with the question, should they be living in “panelled houses” while God’s house lies in ruin? Haggai assured them there will be no prosperity from the land until the temple is rebuilt. 
On Monday we saw that the foundation for the temple was laid shortly after some of the exiles returned to Jerusalem c. 538 B. C. Then it suddenly stopped. Why? Was it through lack of leadership? Or was it through opposition from foreigners? Or was it a lack of zeal to worship Yahweh once again in his house? Or were the people fearful? Perhaps they did recall the harsh words of the prophets such as those of Jeremiah about the consequences of their sins. Whatever the reason they needed a shot in the arm that the prophet Haggai provided
Hence in the second oracle the prophet gave hope to Zerubbabel, Joshua and the people with its message that the Lord will fill the land with riches if the temple is built and they will always have His abiding presence. Accordingly both the governor and the high priest led the people to begin work on building the Lord’s temple. The people promised to be obedient and to carry out what their Lord wanted them to do, but as we shall see before the project was completed they needed lots of encouragement. Yet in comparison to the disobedience of the Israelites in the past over and over again, the returned exiles seem happy enough to make an effort to do what was required of them. After all they will need a temple to carry out all those extra sacrifices due to Ezra’s reforms.
The third oracle that is tomorrow’s reading gave assurance and promise to the governor, high priest and people. The date given for this enables us to know that a month’s work has been completed on rebuilding the temple at the time when they celebrated the festival of tabernacles and its association with the tents that their ancestors lived in during their time in the wilderness. Perhaps too they may have recalled that the great temple built by Solomon had been dedicated at this happy feast (I Kgs. Ch. 8). Three questions are posed by the prophet, playing on former memories of the great temple. Who remembers it? What does the temple look like now? Doesn’t it seem worthless to you? Such questions no doubt were proposed to encourage the people to keep up their enthusiasm for its completion.
Of course the temple was not completed during the lifetime of Haggai but his prophesising gave inspiration to the returned exiles as he reminded them over and over again that the Lord was with them and He would remain with them and that Zerubbabel, unlike his grandfather, Jeconiah, would have the Lord’s blessing as His chosen one, symbolised by the signet ring.
What do we learn from Haggai’s account of endeavouring to have the Lord’s temple rebuilt? It probably is very simple – to listen to God’s word and what He is trying to tell us. Perhaps he is also reminding us that looking after His house is important too. Don’t let it run down while those who worship in it live in luxury is a sober reminder from the prophet Haggai. 



THE COMMON GOSPEL

WHO IS JESUS?

Herod said, ‘John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?’ and he kept on trying to see him.
Luke 9. 9.

Herod Antipas who had John the baptizer beheaded to satisfy the whim of his wife, Herodias, asked a question that thousands and thousands have asked ever since. Who is Jesus as we hear in today’s gospel? After the Twelve returned from their missionary trip Jesus will pose the same question to them. Peter will answer that He is the Christ.
When we are asked who Jesus is, what is our answer? As Christians there is only one answer. He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” who was born into this world in order to restore mankind’s primæval condition, a perfect relation with God.
Not long after our Lord’s death Christians began to define who Jesus is? The great schools in Alexandria and Antioch would have different emphases on the divinity and humanity of Christ and the offshoots of that would be Arianism and Nestorianism just to mention two. The Council of Nicæa was called by the emperor Constantine in A. D. 325 to clarify what the Church believed about God and His Son. The outcome of that council is reflected in the first part of the Nicene Creed that we recite weekly. Jesus was born of a virgin named Mary when she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. This made Jesus both human and divine. And we should know the rest - He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died but on the third day He rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, His eternal home.
It all sounds very simple now but that question, who is Jesus, tore the church apart for centuries. Perhaps for us today a more appropriate question would be do you know Jesus? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? Do you really know that the Lord loves you? Most Evangelical Christians would instantly reply “yes” to these questions. But for Catholic Christians that answer is often not instantaneous. 
Why is this? Is it because for decades there was so much emphasis placed on the sinful nature of human beings and not much about the compassion of the Lord? However since Vatican II with more emphasis placed on Catholics becoming biblical people, hopefully more will discover the Jesus of the Gospel. He is indeed compassionate and caring who goes out of His way for the lost sheep. Once we know and love Jesus, it makes a great difference in our lives. We can throw away our rote ways of praying and be content to sit as His feet and learn from Him by reading and meditating on the gospels, by praying directly to Him and especially by being quiet and still in His presence. The joy of our lives is to be with our dear Lord and to learn to love Him tenderly.
Once we do that we notice a great change in our lives and will understand much better what we finished up with yesterday about living in the kingdom of God. As subjects of our God there are certain things that are expected of us if we want to be an inheritor of it. 
So what is expected of us? Paul would tell us to be imitators of Christ. Foremost then that means taking up the cross, denying ourselves and putting our hand to the plough wherever the Lord wants us to do in His vineyard. Discipleship will always be costly but the reward is great for the faithful. Unlike Qoholeth’s approach to life that is fleeting and fanciful, here today and gone tomorrow, Christians know that our future will be living in this glorious kingdom where we can behold our Sovereign lovingly and forever.


Gracious God, help me to be a loving and thankful subject in your kingdom. Amen.


erience. 
That is also the reward for all who faithfully follow the Lord in this life. We can learn much from Jesus’ transfiguration and the presence of Elijah and Moses. These two as we know represent the Law and the Prophets, but being with Jesus on the mount, it symbolises that both are represented in Him now. He is the fulfilment of all that has been in Israel’s past. Do we really understand that the transfiguration is a window into heaven?


Heavenly Father, teach me to take up my cross and follow your Son and never to lay it down until I die. Amen.
 



29TH SEPTEMBER – MICHAELMAS – FEAST OF ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS

READINGS FOR THE DAY
Daniel 7. 9 – 10. 13 – 14; or Revelation 12. 7 – 12; Psalm 138. 1 – 5; John 1. 47 - 51.

THE ANGELIC REALM

A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousands stood before him.
  Daniel 7. 10.

Today we celebrate the realm of angels and archangels and all the other ranks of the angelic world who serve God day and night, but particularly three archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Michael we all know as the archangel of warfare who defeated the rebelling angel, Satan, and his supporters when they rebelled against God in heaven. Here there was that great battle until Satan and his angels were cast out of heaven down to earth where they now walk around seeking to devour as many as they can. That is why Catholics pray for St. Michael’s “protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.” We look upon St. Michael being our refuge here and especially at our death.
Gabriel we especially link with the Infant Narratives, but he first appeared in scripture in the book of Daniel written a couple of centuries before Christ. The prophet is trying to unravel the significance of visions he has had when Gabriel in “the form of man” came to explain that these refer to the end-time. Yet it is Gabriel’s visits to the elderly Zachariah and the teenager, Mary with whom we mostly associate this archangel. He is the archangel who reveals God’s plan to chosen human beings. In the first of these Gabriel announced to Zachariah whilst in the temple that he and his equally elderly wife would have a child in their old age. This would be a special child who would prepare the way of the Lord in his prophetic role. 
The second human being was the very young Mary. Tradition especially through art tells us that she was praying when she was scared out of her wits when this archangel hovered into her chamber. Soon her fear was alleviated when Gabriel announced the wonderful news of salvation for her and all peoples. She had been appointed by the Most High to be the bearer of the one who will do this. In her reply she became the example of discipleship in doing what God required.
And then there is Raphael. In some ways he is the one easiest to relate to. One of the best reads in the whole of holy writ is the book of Tobit. Raphael is sent by God to heal both Tobit and Raguel and to be the travelling companion of Tobias who is the intermediary for these healings. Not surprisingly he has become the patron saint for healing.
These archangels and all angels are primarily messengers of God, completely devoted to God and doing His will. They never act according to their own will but are completely obedient to God. What a wonderful example they are for us in discipleship. They also set the example of their continuous singing of their praises to the Almighty.  
Most of all of this day we thank God for all angels and also for our guardian angels (a separate commemoration on 2nd October) who protect us in our everyday activities. All of us can tell of experiences where we have been rescued from a potential dangerous situation by our guardian angel.
So today reminds us that we live not only in a world that is visible but also in one that is invisible that is the more real than we can imagine. We never walk alone. That is a very comforting thought for us in a world where Christians seem to have little impact. Perhaps we can do no better than to ponder on Raphael’s reply to Tobit when he wanted to pay him the wages due to him as the travelling companion for Tobias.
Then he took them both apart, and said unto them, Bless God, praise him, and magnify him, and praise him for the things which he hath done unto you in the sight of all that live. It is good to praise God, and exalt his name, and honourably to show forth the works of God; therefore be not slack to praise him (Tob. 12. 6).

Heavenly Father, I thank you for your angelic beings who are always with me and protecting me against all kinds of dangers. Amen.






FRIDAY OF TWENTY-FIFTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME

READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Haggai 1. 15 – 2. 9; Psalm 43. 1 – 4.
YEAR II: Ecclesiastes 3. 1 – 11; Psalm 144. 1 – 4.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 9. 18 – 22.


YEAR I

THE ALTAR OF GOD

And that I may go unto the altar of God, even the God of my joy and gladness: and upon the harp will I give thanks unto thee, O God, my God.
Psalm 43. 4.

Today’s set psalm is another one of my very favourites with its appeal as a preparation for going into the house of the Lord, and more especially to approach the altar to receive the Sacrament. In pre-Vatican II days these verses were recited by priest and server at the altar steps as the preparation for the celebration of the Mass and that is how I first came to know this psalm.
The psalm opens by questioning where God is. Is He only in His house? Is He with us when we have to face so much evil and corruption in this world from the wicked? The psalmist is not too sure. So he pleads to God that He will vindicate him when he has to stand up against corruption of all kinds. Yet the psalmist is not sure that the God he trusts in is with him as illustrated in his question, “Why have you put me from you?” We have all been there, haven’t we when we feel absolutely alone and weak against our adversity. So we can identify with psalmist whose heart is heavy like lead as his enemies take advantage of his weakened state. If God is not there to empower with His strength, how can one triumph or even persevere in adverse situations? The answer is of course “no”. Without the Lord we cannot do anything, but sometimes we are unaware of the silent work of the Holy Spirit within, so let us trust in those moments of adversity.
Obviously the psalmist must be aware of this, as in the next verse he exclaims, “O send your light and truth that they may lead me.” Light and truth are those two qualities that feature so prominently in the Johannine tradition. It is light that disperses darkness, or as it is presented in Genesis light is the absence of darkness. That definition for me is rather powerful. It suggests a light that has no shadow of darkness at all. It is pure, and perhaps that is why light and darkness are always seen in the Johannine Gospel as completely opposed to one another. The same applies to truth and lies. “What is truth?” asked Pilate. Did he ever discover? It is absolute rightness and honesty that was staring him in the face.
The psalmist now dismissive of his early grievance is set to ascend that holy hill that will take him to the temple, God’s dwelling place. Once having reached here he will be oblivious of everything else. His whole focus will be on why he is there. The altar is the focus where the sacrifices are made and offered to the Lord. But it is much more than just being present in the temple. It is to worship Yahweh. That for the psalmist is the ultimate joy and gladness that he will offer as he sings his praise as he accompanies himself on the harp. 
I have always thought worship if it is worthy of God completely absorbs one by taking one out of oneself in union with the whole company of heaven as they offer up its ceaseless praise. Heaven and earth are one, or should be in worship. Why do we endure mediocre worship without too much protest? Is it because we have known nothing else? Yet to be caught up in that heavenly worship is surely a touch of what we shall experience in heaven. It was for this reason that when Vladimir I wanted to make Russia a Christian country at the end of the tenth century that he chose the Eastern way rather than the Western way. When in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople he sensed this was a little bit of heaven and soon after churches in Kiev and Novgorod were following the liturgy as celebrated in Hagia Sophia. 
The psalm finishes on the same note as it started, “why is my soul heavy?” Why is it indeed? The psalmist seems to know the answer. It is because we do not trust in the Lord. So he urges us to do precisely that and to thank and praise the Lord for what He is. What a wonderful way to finish. The psalmist has recognised who God is. He is above all else. How mighty and majestic is our God if we would but realise. Yet He lives amongst us and in us, guiding us against the wickedness of this world but even more wanting us to worship Him in purity of heart that will ascend our souls to heaven where all is pure and lovely. A happy thought! – an expression often used by one of my very dear friends who has now passed over into greater joy.


THE COMMON GOSPEL

THE FIRST PREDICTION OF THE PASSION

Jesus said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.’
Luke 9. 22.

Before the first prediction of the passion in our reading for today Jesus posed that question we asked yesterday, “Who do people say I am?” In the Lucan account, before posing this question, Jesus had been praying alone. Obviously the disciples were close at hand, but whether they were praying too we don’t know. 
In this context Jesus confronted them with the above question. Firstly our Lord was seeking what the people thought of Him. The reply was that some saw Him as Elijah and some as John the Baptist that echoed Herod’s thoughts. In Jewish tradition Elijah is the prophet who is to return while the Baptist’s way of life imitated that of Elijah who also lived in the wilderness and on wild locusts. John was an important figure for the early Christians, and some of Jesus’ disciples such as Andrew had previously been the former’s disciples. It is interesting too that baptism became the initiation rite for Christians that is more in the tradition of John than Jesus who did not baptise (John mentions briefly that He did but in the next chapter refutes this 3. 22, 4. 2).
The next question was directed to the disciples and what they thought of Him. Peter replied, perhaps on behalf of the others, or it may simply be his own belief that Jesus is the Christ. What kind of Messiah did Peter expect? Was it to restore the glories of the Davidic reign? Was it Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man rescuing the persecuted? Or was it Isaiah’s Suffering Servant who through his vicarious suffering and death would bring knowledge of God and His kingdom?
Undoubtedly Peter’s confession made a link with the next episode in Luke’s gospel when the Son of God was manifested in His glory on the mountain. But in between there is the startling rebuke of Jesus not to tell anyone of who He is. If that is not enough for them, Jesus then came out with a pronouncement that must have been shattering for the disciples. He is going to be killed by the religious leaders but it won’t be the end. He will rise on the third day. By referring to Himself as “the Son of Man” our Lord put this prediction in an eschatological context of the fulfilment in the kingdom that is linked later with His words at the Last Supper in the Lucan tradition (Lk. 22.18).
Following this prediction is the cost of discipleship and what is meant to be a disciple of Jesus. It involves the cross, denial of one’s self and losing one’s own life for the sake of the gospel. Here too there is an eschatological touch that some won’t taste of death before they see the kingdom of God. The transfiguration for the inner three, if they had but realised, was a glimpse of that kingdom and the reward for faithful discipleship. That is why some scholars think this event is a post-resurrection experience. 
That is also the reward for all who faithfully follow the Lord in this life. We can learn much from Jesus’ transfiguration and the presence of Elijah and Moses. These two as we know represent the Law and the Prophets, but being with Jesus on the mount, it symbolises that both are represented in Him now. He is the fulfilment of all that has been in Israel’s past. Do we really understand that the transfiguration is a window into heaven?


Heavenly Father, teach me to take up my cross and follow your Son and never to lay it down until I die. Amen.
 

SATURDAY OF TWENTY-FIFTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME

READINGS FOR THE DAY
YEAR I: Zechariah 2. 5 – 9, 14 – 15; Jeremiah 31. 10 – 13.
YEAR II: Ecclesiastes 11. 9 – 12. 8; Psalm 90. 3 – 6, 12 – 14, 17.
THE COMMON GOSPEL: Luke 9. 43 – 45.

YEAR I

ZECHARIAH

‘I will be for her an encircling wall of fire’, says the Lord, and ‘I will be the glory in her midst.’
Zechariah 2. 9.

For the next few weekdays our readings come from a contemporary of Haggai, the prophet Zechariah, also concerned about the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Like Haggai, the opening lines informs us that he is a true prophet, son of Berechiah, son of Iddo who prophesied during the second year of the reign of King Darius in 520 B. C. His grandfather was one of the priestly exiles who returned with Zerubbabel and Joshua (Neh. 12. 4, 6) and perhaps Zechariah himself was a priest with his concerns for the temple’s rebuilding and its worship. It would seem that he delivered his three sets of oracles and eight visions over the span of a couple of years. 
Zechariah’s opening oracle informed the people that the Lord had been very angry with their forefathers, but they must not follow in their footsteps as the Lord of Hosts desires their return to Him. This of course had been a familiar theme of the prophets such as Joel and Deutero-Isaiah (Joel 2. 12; Isa. 44. 22). 
We are then introduced to the visions that have some connection with the rebuilding of the temple beginning with the night visions of firstly, the four equestrians standing in the shade of myrtle trees. The angel interprets these as “they whom the Lord had sent to patrol the earth.” The leading horseman, taking the part of the angel, claims that they have indeed patrolled the world and have found it “tranquil and at rest”, perhaps owing to the presence of the Persians. Finally the angel spoke out about the misery of Jerusalem caused by the anger of the Lord for seventy years. In the oracular response the Lord is deeply moved for Jerusalem and his zeal takes the form of anger against the complacent nations as He promises to restore prosperity to the city of Zion. The second night vision is of the four horns and blacksmiths, which when interpreted are those who “scattered Judah and Israel and Jerusalem” focusing on the land of Israel.
Now we come to the actual reading for today, the vision of the man with a measuring line that is directed to Jerusalem itself. The encircling of the city with fire must surely be recalling how Yahweh had delivered his people from Egypt in like manner. The exiles must also flee back to Jerusalem and Yahweh will also protect them on their journey as they are now “the apple of my eye.”
The reading concluded with one of the more familiar and delightful passages, “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion!” With the Lord being in their midst again, it is a time of great rejoicing that will be shared by many nations. It is a beautiful imagery, far more universal than Haggai’s of the restored temple in the holy city. Judah once again will be “holy land” as will Jerusalem. In the presence of such holiness all will be silent as such is the holiness of the Lord of hosts. Just as temple worship is shrouded in mystery so is the Lord’s own presence.
Our thought from today’s reading surely comes from that last thought of silence. When we recognise mystery we just want to surrender to it. That is how we should feel about our liturgy but sometimes in this day and age it is hard to feel. Yet I think we can still recognise that mystery when we kneel in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in an empty and darkened church. If you have not done that for awhile try it and find out for yourself the mystery of silence.



THE COMMON GOSPEL

THE SECOND PREDICTION OF THE PASSION

Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.
Luke 9. 44.

The second prediction of the Passion by our Lord follows quickly in the Lucan tradition as we learn today. It occurs after Jesus healed the epileptic boy as He came down from the mountain after the Transfiguration. The father had brought the son to the disciples to be healed but they were unable to do so as this could only be accomplished through faith and prayer. Immediately after this, when all were amazed at the deeds of Jesus, He blurted out what for Him was an extremely important notice. I know I have told you only a little while ago about going up to Jerusalem and being killed and then rising again, but I am telling you again, and I want you to note and digest what I am saying and what it means, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” However as strongly as Jesus said this, the disciples did not comprehend, made even clearer in the next passage when they argue over who is to be the greatest. This is what Luke meant by stating that the meaning was “hidden” from them. Perhaps the truth is that they did not really want to know what this meant for Jesus or for themselves.
Often we can be like this too. We just don’t want to face the stark realities of life. Yet they never do go away, just as Jesus’ passion never went away. It is better to face them squarely when they arise rather than covering them up and pretending they don’t exist. Often this can be very painful, and that is the precise reason why people put off reality. They don’t want to be hurt or to suffer the inconveniences from facing up to a problem or indeed the suffering that is often involved. But that is not being a disciple of Jesus or having any understanding of what our Lord meant when He told the Twelve what was going to happen to Him when he went to Jerusalem.
Some verses from A Hymn at Dawn by one of the Latin Fathers, Ambrose, may be helpful when we want things to be “hidden” from us.
Eternal maker of all things,
Who rule both Day and Night,
And set the bounds on time itself
As a respite for our frailty.



Jesu, look on our frailty,
And by your gaze correct us.
If you look on, our faults shall fall away,
And guilt dissolve in tears.

Lord of light shine on our senses,
Scatter the phantoms, of our mind.
Our voice shall hymn you first this day,
Offering up our prayers and vows.
Let us always want to walk in the light and to be judged by that penetrating beam.


Heavenly Father, let me always be willing to take up the cross whatever pain it might bring. Amen.