Gospel Reflection on 7th of Easter: 29th May 2022

“That they may be one, as we are one.”

‘This beautiful prayer for union is from Jesus’ Last Supper address to his disciples. Here Jesus connects everything: he in his Father, the Father in you; you in God, God in him; God in the world, and you in the world. It’s all one. Jesus is praying that we could see things in their unity, in their connectedness. Oneness is less a goal toward which life is pressing, as it is a return to the truth in which we have always been held.’1 ‘We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.’2 ‘All that is absent is awareness. Awareness opens our eyes to the reality of our oneness, and our openness to the Spirit allows this awareness to transform us. To be one with everyone and everything is to have overcome the fundamental illusion of our separateness.3

On Thursday, we celebrated the feast of the Ascension, a celebration of oneness. ‘In the story of Christ’s ascension as told in Acts, angels appear next to the disciples as they gaze after the rising figure. The angels ask, “Why are you standing here staring up into heaven?” Most of Christianity has been doing just that, straining to find the historical Jesus “up there.” Where did he go? We’ve been obsessed with the question because we think the universe is divided into separate levels—heaven and earth. But it is one universe and all within it is saturated with the presence of God. The whole point of the Incarnation and Risen Body is the revelation that the Christ is here—and always was! The Ascension is the revelation of the final reunion of what appeared to be separated for a while: earth and heaven, human and divine, matter and Spirit. Jesus didn’t go anywhere. He revealed himself as the universal omnipresent Body of Christ1 On this feast, Jesus asks us to be his witnesses. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the doing that we forget that simply taking time to be with our God is an important witness. This time helps us experience God beyond us, God among us, God within us.

‘Slowly we begin to see that both the one and the many are held together in the One—the Eternal Godhead. And as we come to know our self within this One, we also come to know our oneness with all that is held by the One.’3

[1] Richard Rohr [2] Thomas Merton [3] David Benner

Gospel John 17:20-26

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said: ‘Holy Father, I pray not only for these, but for those also who through their words will believe in me. May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may always see the glory you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Father, Righteous One, the world has not known you, but I have known you, and these have known that you have sent me. I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.

Gospel Reflection on 6th Easter: 22nd May 2022

“The Holy Spirit will remind you of all I have told you.”

Jesus said these words to his apostles at a time of transition in their lives, at a time when they must have felt that all their dreams were about to be shattered, that everything that mattered to them was about to be lost.

‘One of our greatest fears, and the cause of so much resistance to change, is that we think that we are on the verge of losing irrevocably what we have valued from the past. Don’t be afraid that in letting go you are losing anything at all, because everything that matters, from all the experiences and encounters in your life, has been internalised and is firmly lodged in your heart. It is yours. It is part of you. It travels with you and can never be lost. It will continue to enrich you. Walk on with empty hands so that you will be able to receive the gifts that are still to be given to you.

We internalise what matters. When we realise this, we find a new freedom to move forward. We internalise what matters. We can safely let go of what doesn’t matter, just as our own bodies absorb all that is good and life-giving from what we feed them and let go of the waste.

When we are in transition, we cling to small tokens that remind us of the past. Holding that cherished item may be an excuse to wallow in regret for what has been lost. Or it may be a gentle reminder that all those memories have become part of who we are now and we have every reason to revisit them with gratitude but no reason to let them swallow us up in fantasies about how the grass was always greener in the field we left behind.’

Margaret Silf. The Other side of Chaos

“The Holy Spirit will remind you of all that I have told you.” A definition of remind is ‘to awaken memories of something’. God speaks to us in so many ways: in the words of Scripture, in the people we meet every day, in the circumstances of our lives, in the places we have visited and in the wonders of Nature. Let us allow the Holy Spirit to awaken in us the many treasured memories which we have internalised and which nourish us and remind us of who we are. When holding these life-giving memories, may we feel more fully alive in the present moment, more hopeful for the future and may we experience true peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

Gospel John 14:23-29

Jesus said to his disciples: “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him. Those who do not love me do not keep my words. And my word is not my own: it is the word of the one who sent me. I have said these things to you while still with you; but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you. Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your heats be troubled or afraid. You heard me say: I am going away, and shall return. If you loved me you would have been glad to know that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you this now before it happens, so that when it does happen you may believe.”

Gospel reflection on 5th Sunday of Easter: 15th May 2022

“Love one another just as I have loved you.”

These words are so familiar to us. Perhaps this new commandment is our raison d’etre, our daily aspiration. We may even have the T-shirt. Surely Jesus’ command to love one another was nothing new for the disciples and those of their time. The commandment is well known in the Old Testament: ‘Love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself.’ So what is new?… “Love as I have loved you.” When we reflect on these words, what are our thought processes? Do we look for various Scripture references which speak of God’s love for us and in them find a God who loves unconditionally, a God whose love is indiscriminate, a God who is loving, caring, forgiving, compassionate, understanding and self-sacrificing. We find so many qualities of love for us to emulate. We are constantly looking for ways in which we can do this, ways in which we can show that we love as Jesus loved. But do we have the correct starting point? We are familiar with the story of the traveller who stopped to ask someone the directions to his destination. “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here,” was the reply. Jesus’ starting point was his awareness that “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

John 14:11

‘How we embark on our journey of loving others is rooted in our personal experience of who we are. Love is not something we decide to do now and then. Love is who we are. We are created in the image of God and God is love. We were created by a loving God to be love in the world. When we get the “who” right and realise that who I am is love, then we will do what we came to do: Love God and love all that God has created.’1

‘Jesus commandment to us is not that we should wear ourselves out, trying to conjure love from our own easily depleted resources. Rather, it’s that we’re invited to abide in the holy place where all love originates. We can make our home in Jesus’ love. Our love is not our own; it is God’s, and God our source is without limit, without end. “Love one another as I have loved you.” For our own sakes. And for the world’s.’2

[1] Richard Rohr, [2] Debie Thomas

Gospel John 13:31-35

When Judas had gone Jesus said: “Now has the Son of Man been glorified, and in him God has been glorified. If God has been glorified in him, God will in turn glorify him in himself, and will glorify him very soon. My little children, I shall not be with you much longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

Gospel reflection for 4th of Easter: 8th May 2022

You cannot get there, you can only be there

Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly to the Jews. “Since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, we must turn to the pagans.” Yes, we are not worthy of being one with God, which is eternal life. However, the Jews created a worthiness contest, imposing performance principles which were meant to help us earn or deserve God’s love.

‘Scripture assures us that we are made in the image and likeness of God. The image described in Genesis refers to our original goodness which cannot be increased or decreased. Nothing can change that. “My me is God.” (Catherine of Genoa) We surrender to God’s likeness in varying degrees and stages. The spiritual journey is about realisation, not perfection. It is about awakening, not accomplishing. You cannot get there, you can only be there. But for some reason, that foundational being-in-God is too hard to believe, too good to be true. Only the humble can receive it because it affirms more about God than it does about us. The ego does not like that. The ego makes life all about achievement and attainment. Yet union with God is really about awareness and realignment. It is not that if I am moral, then I will be loved by God; rather, it is that I must first come to experience God’s love, and then I will—almost naturally—be moral.’[1] ‘Each one of us has our own venue where we experience the presence of and our oneness with the One in whose image we are created. For some it might be reflective reading of Scripture, for others it might be art, or poetry or silence. A daily rendezvous with God in those venues will take us to the deeper place where we discover the spark of the divine that is in our hearts.’[2] Then we will discover that the divinity within ourselves is one and the same in all individuals, all creatures, all of life. This is everyone’s supreme purpose in life, this is our vocation.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also known as Vocations Sunday. ‘The word vocation is rooted in the Latin for voice. Vocation does not mean a goal I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity.’ [3]  We are all called to shepherd each other. “Our calling as shepherds is not to introduce something new, but to reveal, purify and intensify what is already there. Every shepherd is called to be a Sacrament of the mystical, a reminder for others of their divine loveliness.” [4]  

Adapted:  [1]Richard Rohr   [2] James Finley  [3] Parker Palmer                         [4] Daniel O’ Leary

FIRST READING                                                           Acts 13:43-52

Paul and Barnabas carried on from Perga till they reached Antioch in Pisidia. Here they went to synagogue on the sabbath and took their seats. When the meeting broke up, many Jews and devout converts joined Paul and Barnabas, and in their talks with them Paul and Barnabas urged them to remain faithful to the grace God had given them.The next sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of God. When they saw the crowds, the Jews, prompted by jealousy, used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly. “We had to proclaim the word of God to you first, but since you have rejected it, since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, we must turn to the pagans. For this is what the Lord commanded us to do when he said: I have made you a light for the nations, so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.” It made the pagans very happy to hear this and they thanked the Lord for his message; all who were destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside.

But the Jews worked upon some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city and persuaded them to turn against Paul and Barnabas and expel them from their territory.  So they shook the dust from their feet in defiance and went off to Iconium; but the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

GOSPEL                                                                             John 10:27-30

Jesus said: “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life: they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me. The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone and no one can steal from the Father. The Father and I are one.”

Gospel reflection for 3rd Sunday of Easter: 1st May 2022

The Dawn of a New Day

‘When life gets difficult, when we become lost, confused, and afraid, when the changes of life are not what we wanted or think we deserve, we try to go back to the way it was before, to something safe, something familiar. We revert to old patterns of behaviour and thinking. No wonder that after the events of the previous days, Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” My hunch, however, is that Peter is not really trying to catch fish as much as he is fishing for answers. We can leave the places and even the people of our life but we can never escape ourselves or our life. We take ourselves with us wherever we go. Peter may have left Jerusalem but he cannot get away from all that happened during those three years of discipleship. So he fishes for answers. What have I done? What were those three years about? Who was Jesus? Where is he? Who am I? What will I do now? Where will I go? What will happen to me? Peter is dark night fishing. We have all been there, asking the same questions as Peter, looking for our place in life, seeking peace, and some sense of understanding and meaning; fishing through the darkness but ‘catching’ nothing. We come to the limits of our own self-sufficiency, when we have nothing to show for our efforts and nothing left to give. We are empty. But this emptiness is not the end or a failure. It is a beginning.’1

Then “it was light and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.” He looked like another fisherman. ‘The limited presence they had called Jesus has become a universal presence we call the Christ who is available beyond all the limitations of space, time, ethnicity, nationality, class and gender. He no longer looks like the Jesus the disciples knew. He looks like you and me. The Christ Mystery is the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything and is encountered in ordinary occupations like fishing and is present in all the circumstances of our lives.’2

Returning to the familiarity of our former routines may help initially but at some point we may become aware that we need to ‘cast our nets’ in another direction, that we need to see and do things differently. Only then will we experience what it means to be “filled with the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19), a fullness that belongs to everyone. (The number153 refers to the fact that at that time in Israel the Jewish people believed that there were 153 nations on earth.)

‘The dark night of fishing has given way to the dawn of a new day, new hopes, new possibilities.’1

Adapted: [1] Michael Marsh [2] Richard Rohr

Gospel John 21:1-19

Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. It was by the Sea of Tiberias, and it happened like this: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee and two more of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing.’ They replied, ‘We’ll come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat but caught nothing that night.

It was light by now and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. Jesus called out, ‘Have you caught anything friends? And when they answered, ‘No’, he said, ‘Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.’ So they dropped the net, and there were so many fish that they could not haul it in. The disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ At these words ‘It is the Lord’, Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak round him and jumped into the water. The other disciples came on in the boat, towing the net and the fish; they were only about a hundred yards from land.

As soon as they came ashore they saw that there was some bread there, and a charcoal fire with fish cooking on it. Jesus said, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore, full of big fish, one hundred and fifty-three of them; and in spite of there being so many the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘Who are you?’ They knew quite well it was the Lord. Jesus then stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish. This was the third time that Jesus showed himself to the disciples after rising from the dead.

Reflection on 2nd Sunday of Easter: 24th April 2022

That You May Come to Believe

John, the author of today’s Gospel, deemed the story of the so-called “Doubting Thomas” an essential one to help us “come to believe.” John invites us to face our doubts, speak our fears, and yearn for more — more intimacy, more encounter, more experience of the living Christ. In Thomas we see a man who wouldn’t settle for someone else’s experience of resurrection, but stuck around in the hope of having his own; a man who dared to confess uncertainty in the midst of those who were certain; a man who recognised his Lord in scars, not in wonders. What is striking about Thomas’ story is not that he doubted, but that he did so publicly, without shame or guilt, and that his faith community allowed him to do so. And Jesus’ response was that he met Thomas right where he was, freely offering the disciple the testimony of his own scars, his own pain. Thomas’ story reminds us that resurrection is hard; hard to accept, hard to internalise and hard to apply to our lives, especially when our lives are marked by pain, loss, uncertainty and death. If nothing else, Thomas reminds us that faith isn’t straightforward. Accepting the resurrection, living it out, sharing it with the world, is tough. It’s okay to waver. It’s okay to take our time. It’s okay to hope for more.

John’s desire for his readers was that they would come to believe, that they would consent to the process, the path. The implication is that belief is not instantaneous. Conversion is a lifelong process. Maybe this is why the earliest Christians referred to their new faith as “The Way.” A ‘way’ is not a destination. It’s a road to walk. It’s an invitation to journey. John chose an encounter between doubts and scars to help us come to believe. Though we are a resurrection people, we are also a people in pain. The world around us is wounded, and the scars we’re carrying will likely last a long time. Jesus’ scarred body resonates for us in so many ways. Jesus and his scars are everywhere. Jesus opened a way for Thomas through the marks of his own suffering and trauma, sharing his broken body so that Thomas could find his way to wholeness by accepting his own woundedness. The story that comes after Easter is a story of scars and doubts. This is a tremendous gift; ponder it “so that you may come to believe and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Adapted: Debie Thomas journeywithjesus.net

‘The encounter between Thomas and the Risen Jesus is not only a story about believing in the fact of the resurrection but it is a story about believing that we are wounded and also resurrected at the same time.’

R.Rohr

Gospel: John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Reflection on Easter Sunday: 17th April 2022

Hope and Believe

“Early, while it was still dark, Mary came running to the tomb”, while there was no hope, while she was in despair, while she felt lost, alone and bereft. The dawning of hope arises in those places where we are most hopeless, lost in the darkness of our despair. It is a hope that we are unable to engineer ourselves because it is a much larger hope than we can ever imagine. Unless the small picture that we have of our lives is shattered, we will not be able to awaken to the fuller picture that is possible. David Hawkins tells us that ‘every life crisis carries within it the kernels of a reversal, a renewal, an expansion, a leap in consciousness, and a letting go of the old and a birth of the new.’ 

John “saw and he believed,” although he didn’t yet understand. This belief does not rely on conceptual understanding. To believe is about opening one’s heart, with an inner knowing that something enormous and mysterious is happening and entrusting ourselves to God without having to understand exactly what it is or how it works. Jesus’ death and resurrection and the transformation process that this invites us into is so enormous and profound, mysterious and life-altering that to reduce it to one explanation is to lose the profound level of healing and deep transformation that it has the potential to evoke in us. What this calls us to is a response, not to try to reduce the ways of God to something our minds can understand, but rather to stand in awe and wonder as John did at the open tomb, believing that we are in the presence of profound life-altering mystery, and opening our hearts to that mystery, allowing it to transform us from within.

Adapted: Sharon Grussendorf

God of the empty tomb, untomb and uncover all that needs to live in us.

God of discarded cloths, your wisdom enables us to know what needs to be left and what needs to be carried into the future. We yearn for insight and wisdom.

God of the wonder of Resurrection, remove our resistance to the surprising ways you choose to enter our lives.

Adapted: Joyce Rupp

Gospel John 20:1-9

It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came running to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’ 

So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

Reflection on Palm Sunday: 10th April 2022

The day between dying and rising

From Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday we immerse ourselves in what we call the Paschal Mystery which includes the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Although it is for liturgical and catechetical reasons, spread over a week, it should be seen as an indivisible single experience.1 Today we are being invited to slow down so that this week doesn’t go by without our taking the time to enter into its meaning, which is the ultimate meaning of our lives.2

Perhaps Holy Saturday is the day we find most difficult to respond to this invitation. We may even have the feeling that Lent is over. However, ‘this is the day that our cross consists of holding the tension between one space and another. This is called liminal space where we sometimes need to not-do and not-perform according to our usual successful patterns. It is in these transitional moments of our lives that authentic transformation can happen.’3 ‘Holy Saturday is the ultimate liminal space.’4

‘For Jesus’ followers it was a day of sorrow and bewilderment, bereft of the one around whom they had shaped their lives. This is the day between dying and rising. This day calls us to hold our anguish and our hope in the same hand. It invites us to marvel that when our hearts have been shattered, they somehow manage to keep beating, that we somehow manage to keep breathing. On this day we may identify with the psalmist when he says, ‘I have become like a broken vessel.’ (Ps 31). For this Lenten day, I offer you this blessing:

Blessing for a Broken Vessel

Do not despair. You hold the memory of what it was to be whole.
It lives deep in your bones.
It abides in your heart that has been torn and mended a hundred times.
It persists in your lungs that know the mystery
of what it means to be full, to be empty, to be full again.
I am not asking you to give up your grip on the shards you clasp so close to you,
but to wonder what it would be like for those jagged edges
to meet each other in some new pattern that you have never imagined,
that you have never dared to dream.’5

Adapted: [1] Living Space, [2] Living Liturgy, [3] Richard Rohr, [4] Alison Barr, [5] Jan Richardson

Reflection on 5th Sunday in Lent: 3rd April 2022

Allow ourselves to be loved and “gazed upon” by God.

As with last week’s reading, today we once again reflect on God as being loving and merciful. ‘The gospel story begins with a deathly accusation but ends with divine mercy. Where the community’s condemnation would have led the adulterous woman to death, Jesus’ mercy leads her to new life. A story that begins with exposing the sin of an individual ends with exposing the sinfulness of all. Where the people begin with awareness of the woman’s sinfulness, they are transformed, through encountering Jesus, into awareness of their own sinfulness. A story that begins with human testing of the divine ends with a divine invitation to repent, to a change of heart. Jesus reveals a new order in which all are called to repentance and to the experience of divine mercy, to the experience of being God’s beloved.’1

‘We can’t seem to know the good news that we are God’s beloved on our own. It has to be mirrored to us. Another has to tell us we are beloved. Jesus looked at the woman and said, “I don’t condemn you.” Before this gaze of Love, we gradually disrobe and allow ourselves to be seen, to be known in every nook and cranny, nothing hidden, nothing denied, nothing disguised. The wonderful thing is, after a while, we feel so safe that we know we don’t have to pretend or disguise any more. We don’t have to put on any kind of costume.’2 However ‘we can’t love and live on our own terms.’3 ‘We want to give ourselves to this love but we discover that we can’t get to where we want to go and stay in the comfort zone of where we are.’4 “Go, and sin no more.”

‘Letting our naked self be known by God is always to recognise our need for mercy and our own utter inadequacy and littleness. Knowing our need for mercy opens us to receiving mercy. We all stand under an immense waterfall of loving mercy, compassion and forgiveness.

‘God doesn’t love us because we are good. God loves us because God is good!’2

Adapted: [1] Living Liturgy [2] Richard Rohr [3]Thomas Merton [4] James Finley

Gospel: John 8:1-11

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak he appeared in the temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their questions, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.’ Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? ‘No one, sir,’ she replied. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go away, and don’t sin any more.”

Reflection on 4th Sunday of Lent: 27th March 2022

What about the Bath?

Episcopalian priest Michael Marsh speaks about an experience he had when teaching the story of the prodigal son. ‘Bob, a gentleman who was probably in his 70s, had been quiet and attentive throughout the evening. When I finished speaking Bob was the first one out of his chair. I could tell that he was upset. “What about the bath,” he demanded. “You didn’t say anything about the bath.” I had no idea what he was talking about and told him that I did not understand his comment. He became more agitated the longer he talked. “You know where he had been! The son was dirty and smelly. The father would never hug him, kiss him, or put a robe on him until the son first had a bath. Why didn’t you talk about the bath?” I explained that a bath was not part of the story, that we can never ‘get clean enough’ to go home. The father receives the son as he is. The son is immersed in his father’s love. Bob just could not believe that, so together we read the story again. When we got to the end his eyes filled with tears and he said, “All my life I thought this story said the son had to take a bath before he could go home.” I said to him, “And all your life you have been trying to get clean enough to go home.” He simply nodded in silence, tears running down his face.

Each of us can probably name parts of our life and being that we have judged unacceptable and unclean. They are the parts of ourselves that we dislike, condemn, and sometimes even hate. We allow them to declare that we are not enough to be God’s child, never have been, and never will be, so we exile those aspects of ourselves to the distant country. We then live as fragmented, broken, persons trying to get clean enough to come home. Over and over the voice of the Prodigal Son echoes in our ears, “Father, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” The unclean parts of our lives are real, but they are not our final reality. Instead of keeping us from going home, they become the way home. They become places of healing, new life, wholeness and forgiveness.’

We, too, will then feel immersed in love. ‘You will experience the presence of God within you, which some theologians name uncreated grace. You can’t manufacture this by any right conduct. God isn’t going to love you any more than God loves you right now. We can’t diminish God’s love for us. What we can do, however, is to learn how to believe it, receive it, trust it, allow it and celebrate it.’               

Richard Rohr

Gospel Luke 15:1-3.11-32

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said, ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them’. So he spoke this parable to them:

“A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery. ‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating, but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father I have sinner against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feats, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it is only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”‘