SUNDAY 13 JUNE 2021: ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

Bur_Oak_Tree_1-new-1

Bur Oak Tree, The Tree Center Plant Supply Company.

Click here to access today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.   Mark 4:26-27.

Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

“Great oaks from little acorns grow”. I suspect more of us will be more familiar with that truism than the details of mustard plants, the subject of Jesus’ parable today. But the sense of this expression is the same. From the smallest beginnings, great things can result; yes, even that magnificent tree pictured above began life as a little acorn.  Jesus might even be referring to his own ministry here. Here he was, one small voice amid thousands, with a message he knew not many people would want to hear (as he did not summon everyone to fight against the occupying Romans), so his word was the tiniest mustard seed, or the little acorn, yet it was to grow out of all proportion in the centuries following. How it manages to do this, Jesus says, is a mystery to the farmer who plants it, but it takes root and begins to grow nonetheless. Jesus is talking about God’s kingdom, and Jesus is the herald announcing it. The first reading talks of the majestic cedar tree, forever linked to the image of Lebanon (it even appears on the present unhappy country’s flag). God says it will be planted in Israel and become the center and focus of all around it, the abode of the One True God, strong and true. Then there is the second reading today. That tells us we walk, in a sense, in two ways. One, “in the body” as it says, hence not necessarily with God, then we walk “by faith” which should be with God. But either way we have to try and walk with God, doing God’s will, not ours, so that we can stand before God when our time comes, and “receive recompense” for our behavior. In other words, have we made of our lives the great oak or cedar, which can stand tall in judgment, or not? 

One little element in the mustard seed parable is the mention of the birds of the sky (who) can dwell in its shade. This might well be a veiled reference to the Kingdom of God being open to all people, not just the Chosen People. To be open about that would have been risky at that stage of Jesus’ mission. Remember that the most vulnerable time of a seedling’s life is that first emergence in the world, a few leaves and nothing more. Do you recall one of the final scenes in The Martian movie where our hero, safely home at last, seated on a park bench, looks down and sees a tiny plant pushing up through a crack in the paving, to be greeted by our hero. He knew from his experience just how wonderful, precious and, indeed, sacred that was.

young plant growing in garden with sunlight
The Seedling, iStock by Getty Images

Thus is our own seedling of God’s presence in our lives. Precious, sacred and utterly vulnerable to the wiles and destructive forces of the world around us, just as the wasteland of Mars in the movie was to growing anything at all. The potential of such a tiny beginning is, however, enormous, eternal even. Only with us taking care of our faith in God can it grow to become our solid support, shelter and strength through life. Then we too can take refuge in its branches, secure from the dangers of the world and full of hope for a glorious life to come. 

lebanon-flag-std

The Cedar Flag of Lebanon, The Flag Shop.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please send this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

SUNDAY 6 JUNE 2021: THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST.

Exodus-24

Exodus 24 The Covenant Confirmed, Believe Trust.

Click here to access today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

Then [Jesus] took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them,
“This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

Take a close look at the picture above, following today’s first reading to the letter. It is no work of art, but it does suggest what the event described in today’s first reading, from Exodus, may have looked like. The people had agreed to obey the Law as proposed by God, namely the Ten Commandments, the bedrock of western civilization, in return for which God agreed to be their God, and they would become God’s people, the Chosen People of God. That gave them their identity from then on. Then a solemn ceremony to confirm this event took place, seen in the picture above. A great stone altar was built. This represented God. 12 pillars of stone were built next to it, representing the 12 tribes of the people of Israel. Cattle were slaughtered and half their life blood collected into bowls. The other half was sprinkled over the large altar. The Law, the 10 Commandments, were read out to the people, and they agreed to obey it, saying “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.” Then the other half of the blood was sprinkled over the people. Moses then said “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.” 

This was a heavily symbolic community action which forever changed the Hebrew people into God’s Chosen. The blood, to begin with, represented life, not death. We say today one’s life blood. That is as true today as it was those 3000 years ago. Sprinkling this symbol of life over the great altar and over the people, the 12 tribes, linked the life of the people to the God’s life directly. So important was this that the annual commemoration of the acceptance of God’s Law, the celebration of Shevuot, the Feast of Weeks, is still one of the three great Jewish festivals. It could easily have been called the Feast of Identity, because ever after this event, the Jewish people were identified as the Chosen of God. It was and remains the most important moment in Jewish history.

moses

Moses Before the Burning Bush, Feti 1614, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

Then there is the concept of relationship. Prior to that event, Moses had encountered God in Exodus 3, in the famous scene at the burning bush. God gave Moses his vocation, to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt and ultimately for them to live in the Promised Land. More than that, God revealed to Moses the sacred name, YHWH, the first time that had been revealed. God was, up to then, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph, or some combination of that. That is a title, not a name. God, at the burning bush, called Moses by his name. God revealed the sacred name once Moses wanted to know it. This established a personal relationship between them, the first between God and us. At Sinai, that relationship was expanded to the entire Jewish people. As far as I know, contemporary ancient peoples never had such relationships with their gods. Their relationships were more hierarchical, begging or pleading for help. The Jewish model represents a beginning of a different character of relationship, which was to come to fruition with Jesus. 

Today’s gospel is set at the Last Supper, when Jesus astonished his friends (note that Jesus had called them that, recorded in John 15:15) by taking simple elements of bread and wine and declaring them to be his body and blood. He even refers to the covenant ceremony described above: “This is my blood which seals the covenant…” (Matthew 26:28), “This is my blood which is poured out for many, my blood which seals God’s covenant” (Mark 14:24) and “This cup is God’s new covenant sealed with my blood…” (Luke 22:20). The Sinai covenant was the reference point Jesus took. That was sealed with the blood of sacrificed animals. Now, not only does Jesus state that the wine of the Passover is his blood, but that we must take and drink and hence take him into ourselves literally! At that point, the relationship between Jesus, Son of God, and each of us becomes intimate, personal and life affirming. No greater relationship could be possible. It is the utter fulfillment of Sinai, to an ineffable level unsurpassed in human history. We are intimately united with God, the fulfillment of the burning bush, Sinai and the life of God. We are not talking about the blood of sacrificed animals here, we are talking about the blood of Christ sacrificed for us! 

LastSupper

The Last Supper of Christ, miniature from the Gladzor Gospels, Armenia c.1300, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, USA.

So, in conclusion, it can be said that Christ walks with us, and we with him. It is the most intimate friendship that we have, as explained above, and is the most consequential, as this friendship lasts beyond the grave. True friends stand up for each other through bad times and good, through forgiveness and disappointment, through joy and happiness. Friendship demands loyalty and expects mutual support. All these we have in our relationship with the Lord. We may fail, but his devotion to us is steadfast and permanent. Through the strength of that, seen each time we accept his body and blood to commingle with ours, we can be sure of the path we tread, the direction we go and the goal we seek with a friend ever ready to pick us up, dress our wounds and redirect our life. We are the close friends of God as God is with us! This Friday is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is a fitting culmination of the relationship just described above, the ultimate symbol of God’s love for us, permanent and unbreakable. We are asked to return it fully, a complete and eternal relationship with our truest friend.

Friends

Friends, Marie Reed Photography.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please send this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

 

SUNDAY 30 MAY 2021: THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY.

Jan_Cornelisz._Vermeyen_-_The_Holy_Trinity

The Holy Trinity, Vermeyen c.1530, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain. 

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…  Matthew 28:18-20.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

These words conclude the gospel according to Matthew, and there is nothing like them in the other three gospels. There is no discussion in Matthew as to what they mean. But there has certainly been an enormous amount of discussion about their meaning in the centuries since. There is universality in Jesus’ commission: “Make disciples of all nations”, hence not just the Jewish people. These new disciples are to be baptized, clearly seen as the new rite of initiation (not Jewish circumcision), also indicating a universal acceptance. And of course, there is the Trinitarian revelation. There had been several moments in the life of Jesus which had pointed to three divine strengths, powers, persons, call them what you will, to support this final revelation from the Lord. But as to the meaning – nothing. How on earth do you equate three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit with a monotheistic vision, a belief in One God? It is the Christian mystery, inexplicable on just about any level save that of blind faith. One either accepts it in faith or rejects it.

And then there is the mystery of human life on certain levels which might be termed inexplicable. Take, for example, the apparent fusion of two minds of people who have been close to each other for a long time. There is, it seems, even objective evidence for this. That two independent people can be so close that their thinking becomes aligned is very mysterious, but does it echo the Mind of God? Perhaps so. Clearly such relationships must be harmonious, perhaps a description of love?  Can it be explained in rational, scientific terms? Perhaps, but probably not too satisfactorily, with lots of ifs, buts or maybes. Could it be a reflection of the profound truth of the nature of God reflected in God’s creatures, namely us? All children carry their parents’ DNA; is there a case to be made that as human beings, made in God’s image according to Genesis 1:27, we carry God’s DNA? That would account for the human communication mystery mentioned above, and also help explain, to quote from popular songs,  Love isn’t love ’till you give it away, and To love another person is see the Face of God. There is an essential element in all of these, that one isn’t enough; there has to be a community of at least two people. True love cannot exist in isolation. Hence the God of Love, 1 John 4:16, read last week, indicates community in some way, the mystery of the Trinity. Love cannot exist in isolation. So before time began, there was love. And we were loved into existence by that same loving God. 

earth

How God Loves the World, Glory Dy, Christianity.com

It seems, as a consequence, that Jesus, in giving us the supreme command to love one another (John 15:17), is calling us to be like God, to be God-like. Jesus is asking us to align ourselves as closely to God as it is possible to be. Love is the driving force of the Almighty, that which brought everything into existence and found it to be good. As God’s children, then, it is our task to live out our lives in ways that echo the life force which created us. To respect all life, to employ our talents in ways which build up and strengthen God’s creation and help and assist others to do the same.  That will fulfill Jesus’ command in today’s gospel, assuring us that we do not do it alone: he will be with us at all times as our strength and assurance. 

hands

We’ll Walk Hand in Hand, Sojourners.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please send this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

SUNDAY 23 MAY 2021: PENTECOST SUNDAY: THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT; WHIT SUNDAY; THE BIRTHDAY OF THE CHURCH.

PentecostPentecost, Mayno 1618, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings. 

Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…   Acts of the Apostles, 2:3-4a.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that there were Jews in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost from all over the place, stating that there were “Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene…” just to emphasize the point. They were not there to celebrate the Birthday of the Church which is not too surprising as at that moment the entire Christian Church was huddled in a small room somewhere in the city, fearing for their lives. Being the followers of the crucified criminal Jesus of Nazareth, they expected to have the same punishment meted out on them for claiming he was the Messiah. The gospel of St. John tells us that they were behind locked doors, and says it twice! They were definitely not pilgrims for the feast of Pentecost! Yes, it was originally a Jewish festival, and still is, except the Greek name for the feast has been changed to the Hebrew name, Shevuot, the Feast of Weeks. We Christians eventually took the name of Pentecost to ourselves! Pentecost sort of means weeks; the Greek word Pentēcostē, Πεντηκοστή, means fiftieth, or the 50th day, about seven weeks, after Passover. It was originally the Hebrew feast of the First Fruits of the Harvest, but evolved into the Feast of the Law, the giving of the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai. Tradition had it that 50 days after leaving Egypt, the Hebrew people arrived at Sinai. In a sense, the first fruits of their liberation was the acceptance of God’s Law, hence becoming the Chosen People. It became one of the three Jewish pilgrimage festivals, meaning those who could would journey to Jerusalem and worship in the Temple (the other festivals are Passover and Sukkot, the feast of shelters or tabernacles, shortly after Yom Kippur). And so Jerusalem was packed that day, as mentioned in today’s first reading. Then it happened.

What could possibly explain the total and complete transformation of a group of terrified people huddled in a locked room, into boisterous, loud, preaching and proselytizing missionaries for that same Jesus of Nazareth?

A loud bang, a strong wind (inside the locked room), something looking like flames of fire coming down on each of them huddled there, and they were all transformed. The locked door was ignored, smashed open, never to be locked again. The Christian message was unleashed on the world for the first time, and the church was born! Not only that, but these new missionaries could suddenly speak all those languages listed above, out of the blue. It was as if the curse of the Tower of Babel, the sinful pride of whose builders angered God so much that they suddenly could only speak in incomprehensible languages to each other (Genesis 11:1-9), was reversed! All who would listen could now hear the new teaching in their own language. The new teaching was universal! Whoever it was that had achieved all that, had God-like power of transformation and focus. The Church was born! 

Cenacle

The Cenacle, the “Upper Room” in Jerusalem. Traditionally, this is the site of the Last Supper and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Well, it was the fulfillment of the promise Jesus had made before ascending to his Father in heaven, commemorated ten days ago. As told at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, he ordered them to “stay in Jerusalem (which at least two, fleeing to Emmaus, had disregarded) and await for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. And what a difference that made! It was perhaps the greatest miracle in the Church ever, without which, it must be said, there would be no church. Those cowering people, terrified that a knock on the door would mean crucifixion, could never have carried Jesus’ message anywhere. It would have died with them. Instead, there they were, out amid the Pentecost pilgrims proclaiming the New Covenant, one which overshadows the Old Law or Covenant (the very focus of the Pentecost festival), which had been revealed by none other than the man crucified only 50 days earlier, the Messiah himself. That was what they were preaching fearlessly  to anyone who would listen. 

dove1

Symbols of the Holy Spirit of God, Loyola Press.

This day inaugurated the Age of the Holy Spirit. Centuries before, beginning with the still small voice of God talking to Abram/Abraham, recorded in the 12th chapter of the Book of Genesis, we slowly became aware of God the Father, as God gradually revealed His Divine Nature, through the centuries, to the Hebrews. The Father spoke through the prophets, but then at last sent His Son to speak to us directly, the Age of God the Son. Jesus interpreted all that we knew of God in such a way that we, too, could be the children of God by obeying his teachings and following his example. After his return to the Father in heaven, our present Age began, guided by the Holy Spirit of God, whose immense powers were vividly on display on this birthday of the Church. The last 2000 years have seen the Holy Spirit at work in the church, especially through the saints who have called us back to The Way (the first name given to the Christian Church) time and again. So today the first Christians received the powers of God’s Holy Spirit in the most dramatic and successful way possible, and began to spread the Word to the world. We are their successors. It is up to us to continue spreading that same Word in whatever ways are open to us. This can be directly through what we say and the way we say it, what we do and how we do it, and indirectly through our example of decent Christian living. And ultimately in the overall impression we give to those around us, who, we hope, will be attracted to that same source of strength, hope and happiness which give us our reason for living day in and day out. 

trinity-b-300x277

Symbol of The Holy Trinity, Lightstock.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please send this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

SUNDAY 16 MAY 2021: THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER.

 

LOVE

God is Love, Christianity.com.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in that one.   1 John 16.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

This quote from the First Letter of St. John captures the absolute essence of Christianity, the essence of God and the complete trust and confidence we must have in God, because God is love. It is the only moment in Scripture which states this as fact and gives us the basis for our belief in God. Why? Because love is totally accepting of The Other. When we love someone, we accept them utterly, warts and all. We will stand by them in thick and thin – in fact, through all the promises we make when we marry The Other. No matter what, we are saying, I will be there for you. Why? Because, quite simply, I love you, and in some sublime, extraordinary way, we become one. When things go badly, we might well think that God has warts, that God is absent, leaving us alone when we need help the most, as Jesus may have thought approaching a horrendous death. That is when trust enters the relationship, that God is there, but is asking us do we truly love God? If so, then trust must take over. For whatever reason, in such a moment, God seems not to be present, not helping us.

As God’s children then, perhaps we are asked to stand on our own two feet on occasion, address the problem or crisis, and act as a child of God, doing what we know God would want us to do, and bearing in mind God is always there, even then. Isn’t that what parents must do to help their child grow and mature? Hence Jesus’ last words, into your hands I commend my spirit…. the ultimate expression of trust (Luke 23:46).  So when it seems we are radically alone, with no-one to turn to, that is the time when our faith in God should be the strongest, acting in the conviction that God is with us, even then. Martyr saints have literally lived and died in this fashion, almost always alone, defending their deepest beliefs against those who ridicule and mock them. Many have undergone hideous deaths designed to separate them from their beliefs, to no avail. Such is the strength of belief in Jesus and his church.

Despite the terrible failings of our church in these times and in the past, there remains the pure gold of the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist, the example of those who rejected errors and stood for what was real and good, and the promise that Jesus made, to be with us always, despite all the evil that we might encounter. The rest is up to each of us, to cling to what is right, reject what is wrong, and live our lives as true disciples of the Lord to the best of our ability. In that way, with consciences as clear as possible, we may expect to be received into eternal love and happiness when called from this life. As Jesus, praying to his Father, says in today’s gospel,

I gave them your word, and the world hated them,
because they do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world
but that you keep them from the evil one.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth.  Your word is truth.

031820_1713_Sermon15Mar1

Christ in Gethsemane, Hofman 1890, The Riverside Church, New York City, USA.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please send this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

SUNDAY 9 MAY 2021: THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER.

cornelius

 Baptism of Cornelius the Centurion, Corneille 1658, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

To access today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

Then Peter responded, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these [Gentile] people,
who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?” He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  Acts of the Apostles 10:47-48.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

If we could put our feet into St. Peter’s shoes, we would be as bewildered, shocked, amazed, even scandalized at what happened to him in the course of a few days. Peter had arrived in Joppa a few days before, a small town on the Mediterranean coast. He had been called there on a mission of mercy, and was invited to stay on for a few days of rest by Simon, a friend. It was not to be. Dozing off on the rooftop of Simon’s house in the heat of the afternoon, he had a vision: a tablecloth full of different foods, much of which was forbidden according to kosher law, hence forbidden to Jews. A voice told him to eat, and he refused, being a good Jewish boy. Then a voice from heaven said, “Do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean” (Acts 10:15). The vision was repeated three times. That changed everything for the apostle (and indeed for us, as it cancelled the Jewish dietary rules for Christians), for he had abided by the kosher rules all his life.

Then, immediately after that, the voice told him to travel to Caesarea, a big port to the north of Joppa, to a house of a Roman Centurion called Cornelius, today’s first reading. This was an additional sledgehammer blow to Peter. Jews never entered the house of a Gentile, and especially not that of a Roman soldier, the unclean, pagan oppressor of the Jewish people. Yet clearly this heavenly voice had to be obeyed. So it is virtually impossible for us to feel what Peter must have felt on arrival at this Roman soldier’s home, gingerly entering it and then seeing God’s Holy Spirit descend on these Gentiles. With the greatest possible clarity, God was welcoming everybody, even the uncircumcised, into the new Christian community, (and allowing everyone to eat whatever they wanted).

It was Peter’s world turned upside down, by none other than God. There was to be no going back, and it all clearly made it much easier for Gentiles to become followers of Jesus. And that had massive implications when placed against Jesus’ words in today’s gospel, “Love one another…”  Yes, even the Gentiles…. It was the beginning of the first crisis in the early church, because all that was very hard to accept by strict orthodox Jewish-Christians. Yet Jesus said love one another…. and did not place any limits on that command. The second reading, which states that God sent his only Son to us, is a sure and inescapable sign of total, unconditional love, and we are asked, commanded even, to do likewise. Love is indeed the unbreakable theme through all three readings today, along with a crystal clear demonstration of its unlimited meaning. We are to love, no matter what, and remembering Jesus’ forgiveness of his murderers from the cross, there must be no limits to our life-long mission to love everyone. Remember it was almost certainly this central teaching that sent Jesus to his death, ironically. Everyone was waiting for him to rally the troops just before Passover and conquer the Romans and restore the Kingdom of David. What they got was love….. Love does indeed conquer, but not in that sense, and never will. The loving-kindness of the Heart of our God who visits us like the dawn from on high; he will give light to those in darkness and those who dwell in the shadow of death and guide us into the way of peace (The Benedictus, Luke 1:68-79). That is true love, unlimited and super abundant; and there we must be.

sacred-heart-of-jesus2

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Jose Luis Castrillo artist,  My Carmel.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please send this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

SUNDAY 2 MAY 2021: THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER.

I-AM-THE-VINE

“I Am the True Vine”, Eastern Orthodox Icon 16th century,  Byzantine & Christian Museum,  Athens, Greece.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.”  John 15:1.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

The image of the vine is found in several places in the Old Testament, indeed Psalm 80 has the whole of the Chosen People as a vine, planted by God in the Promised Land where “its roots went deep, and it spread out over the whole land” (v9). But then, the psalm states, everything changed, and “now everyone passing by can steal its grapes; wild hogs trample it down and wild animals feed on it” (vv.12-13). The other OT references often have similarly doom-laden images of the vine, for example, Jeremiah 2:1: “I planted you like a choice vine from the very best seed. But look what you have become! You are like a rotten, worthless vine.” But in today’s gospel, having said “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower”, Jesus paints a picture of a living, fruitful vine: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (John 15:7-8). And remember Jesus’ words at the Last Supper as recorded in Mark, having stated that the cup of wine is now the cup of his blood, he says: “Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (14:25). Jesus’ image of the vine and its grapes could hardly be more positive, more fruitful you might say. He seems to state that he is the new Israel, the new vine, fruitful and strong, always remembering that the Father, the owner of the vine, “takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit”. So, unlike the vine imagery of the Old Testament, the new vine, embedded in Christ, will remain fruitful by means of the care and attention of the Father, which also stands as a reminder to us all. To be a follower of the Lord, we must labor in hope and trust.

Today’s first reading is a clear illustration of that demand. Paul, still known as Saul, returned to Jerusalem a changed man after his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. Not many knew about that, however, so they were scared to death of him. He had tried to destroy the new community believing in Jesus as the Messiah, locking them up, perhaps even killing them. They quickly realized how he had changed, and rallied round him and even protected him from others who clearly also saw how he had changed, and tried to kill him as a traitor. He was spirited away by his new friends to safer places where he might continue his work in the vineyard…. The second reading paints a more philosophical picture of devoted obedience to Christ’s word and that we “do what pleases him”. Hence the vineyard remains bountiful, nourished by Jesus himself, and tended by our Father. Completing the Trinitarian imagery, we are told that “we know that he [Jesus] remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us”. 

So each one of us is reminded that we have to do our bit in maintaining the fruitfulness of Christ’s vine, making sure that our words and actions demonstrate that we are real, true and active Christians, acting out of love of God, neighbor and self. And now to something which comes as completely new to me, something I can hardly believe in fact, after researching today’s Scriptures. And it ties in so well with today’s image of vineyards, grapes and wine. It is that the best wines come from the poorest soils! You don’t believe it? – read this, but be aware of its earthy language… And so, Jesus’ claim to be the vine must mean he produces the best possible wine. But that can only come with the poor vine branches (us) doing our best with whatever we have been given, even amid the meanest and poorest and most difficult conditions (and that goes for all of us at times, no matter how rich or poor, well bred or low born and so on). But the climate has to be right – meaning our own attitudes and belief systems have to be present, connected with the Lord, his teachings and his example. We will, as a consequence, produce the very best grapes, the fruit of our labors and His grace! Hence, although life might be challenging, tough, awful, overwhelming at times, we are Jesus’ branches, and the fruit of our labors will be superb if we stick with it. What a message of hope, because we know that we are not alone in that – we are branches connected to none other than the Son of God, whose Father helps us, prunes us even, and whose Spirit is our strength and perseverance. And finally after all this, Scripture does seem to approve of a decent glass of wine with no guilt but certainly with common sense. 

The_Marriage_at_Cana_-_Decani

The Wedding at Cana, Jesus Turns Water into Wine 14th Century , Visoki Dečani Monastery, Deçan, Kosovo.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

SUNDAY 25 APRIL 2021: THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY.

Galla

The Good Shepherd, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia c.AD425, Ravenna, Italy.

Click here to see today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.   John 10:11.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

To start with, looking at the image above, shepherds in Jesus’s time, or in Galla Placidia’s time or, for that matter, today, are not dressed in gold fabric outfits clutching golden crosses or shepherd’s crooks or anything like it! Zeffirelli’s movie of Jesus of Nazareth (1977) has a much more likely depiction of shepherds appearing at Jesus’ birth. Another movie version has the innkeeper’s wife calling them “thieves and robbers the lot of you”! again a possible popular image of shepherds 2000 years ago. They were probably among the poorest of the poor in ancient societies, even though their job was very important. Livestock ownership was an indication of wealth back then, so hiring others to take care of sheep was a serious business. Also, sheep are herbivores and are ill-equipped to take care of themselves in the presence of a predator, as any shepherd will tell you. They need help, hence their shepherd, a herder of sheep; and remember that the Latin word for shepherd is pastor… It was also my impression that sheep were basically stupid, but apparently that is wrong. As Jesus was clearly referring to us as his sheep, that was good news! Back in the day, about the time that Christianity became legal in 313 under the Emperor Constantine, the most popular and earliest image of Christ was as the Good Shepherd. Nowhere to be seen was Christ on the cross, a symbol of criminal malfeasance in the extreme. That image would only become common some centuries later, well after crucifixion had been abolished in the Roman Empire, and hence became, as it were, respectable. We would have had the same response today if the Lord had been executed in the electric chair….. It would never have been seen in any picture or statue. A shepherd identity would be much more acceptable.

The-Good-Shepherd-Catacomb-of-Callixtus-mid-3rd-century

The Good Shepherd, Catacomb of St. Callixtus early 3th century, Rome, Italy.

Shepherd_edited-1

Good Shepherd Oil Lamp, early 3rd century, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany.

So it seems Jesus likened us to a flock of sheep, apparently intelligent, responsible, caring, and so on. But vulnerable and in many ways, defenseless. In other words, we are open to the wiles of the Evil One, the wolf, the fox, the bringer of injury and death. We can succumb to all sorts of destructive nonsense,  our predators being anything from illegal drugs and sexual obsession to criminal behavior and infliction of psychological or physical injury. We need the Lord to protect us from all that or even to lead us out of it, when we have come to our senses. Today’s second reading refers to us as children of God, perhaps a better description of all of us when we act like children no matter our age. The first reading paints a picture of who we should be, or who we really are, people who care of ourselves and others. And our Good Shepherd Sunday gospel has Jesus talking of “other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” That is thought to be a reference to the Gentiles in Jesus’ day, that they too are welcome into his “flock”, even though they were considered to be utterly beyond the Jewish world. Perhaps today we could add those who are beyond the Judeo-Christian fold, remembering Rahner’s “Anonymous Christian” thesis described a few weeks ago (4th Sunday of Lent, 14 March 2021). It is up to all of us to show a good example of Christian welcome, respect, warmth and love to those others, as Jesus did to those he encountered who were not Jewish. It has been known in other sheep-like dimensions….  So today is a rallying call to behavior which is welcoming and attractive to others outside the fold, so that when they see us, they see the Shepherd who inspires us, ever open and loving. Surely in this day and age, that would be a most encouraging sign.

lamb

  Good Shepherd Francis…   and   UCA News.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

SUNDAY 18 APRIL 2021: THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER.

Luca_Signorelli_-_The_Resurrected_Christ_Appearing_to_His_Disciples_-_29.42_-_Detroit_Institute_of_Arts

The Resurrected Christ Appearing to His Disciples, Signorelli c.1514, Institute of Arts, Detroit, USA.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus said] “Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”   Luke 24:39-41.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

Well it can never be said that the Lord was not practical. With his followers just about speechless with joy/wonder/incredulity/fascination/bewilderment, he asked for something to eat! Not that he needed it, on the other side of death, but just to prove he was real! The gospel begins with “The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” Those two were the ones making a break for it, running away to Emmaus for fear of capture and death as followers of Jesus. Clearly their encounter with the risen Lord had transformed them, and here they were, meeting the Lord for the second time. And as Jesus had done for them, he did again with the others, revealing the prophecies concerning the Messiah in Scripture down through the centuries, and how they all applied to him. Then all of them understood that he was indeed the total fulfillment of the words of the prophets, including the resurrection. Remember that all of them must have experienced a sense of despair before the Lord’s appearance. After all, they had dropped everything to follow him, only to see him crucified on Calvary. Indeed, two of them had even fled in terror. So there was extreme delight in seeing him, but, as we shall see, they were still terrified of the authorities, those who had caused the Lord’s terrible death.

And there is a strong theme in this Sunday’s readings, one of sin. The first reading says “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.” The second reading says in part, “Jesus Christ [is] the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world”. And then, in the gospel, Jesus revealed all that had been prophesied about him in Scripture, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name…” 

Expiation means the removal of guilt, so that Jesus took our guilt on himself, freely and totally, so that we may be free of guilt by confessing everything to him and following his command to love God, our neighbor and ourself. There is no room for guilt in love. It is, in a sense, a cancer which can grow and consume us, unlike love, which liberates us when it is nurtured. Remember the lesson of last Sunday, with its message of Divine Mercy. That means we must be as merciful to ourselves as the Lord is! We must, in a sense, stand back, look upon our actions, see that we probably could have done better, have compassion on ourselves, and with the liberation that that brings, resolve to improve. That is even more important if we have to deal with far heavier sources of guilt, such as hurting others, and indeed hurting ourselves. Remember the Lord endured his Passion so that we could be free. To refuse freedom for ourselves, to wallow in the guilt, oppression and chains which are the result of evil actions, is to deny all that the Lord achieved for us. It is to reject his suffering for us, refusing to accept Jesus’ supreme gift of all, forgiveness, and a welcome back to the embrace of pure freedom and love, indeed life everlasting. He freely took all our sin, guilt and crushing remorse upon himself, in a sense, becoming sin himself, so that we could all be free. In conquering that absolute pit of evil and death, symbolized by his suffering on the cross, he released us, and grants us freedom to be who we truly are, God’s children. We are all called to be Christ to the world, using our God-given gifts to serve others freely, just as freely as he served us. We serve him in doing that to others, and to ourselves. 

freedom-in-christ1 copy

Freedom for Free, CoffeeForTheSoul.net

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com