Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Sermon at Parish Mass Trinity 5 2015

Ezekiel 2.1-5
2 Corinthians 12.2-10
Mark 6.1-13

As often happens in the gospels, Jesus proves to be a divisive figure. Whenever he appears, he disturbs the status quo. Some believe and accept him, others reject him. So he provokes a strong reaction, for or against. He is a scandalous figure. Scandals both attract and repel, but you can’t remain neutral to them. A scandal is something that we can’t leave alone. And scandal runs through the gospels, from the birth of Jesus among outsiders at Bethlehem to his death on a Roman Cross. Scandal is there today, though concealed by the translation: “And they took offence at him”. Really, its says they were scandalised in him.

The crowd in his home town reject Jesus, but not because they don’t see his wisdom or deeds of power. Then they would just have ignored him, he would have made no impact on them. No, they do see what he is doing, “Where did this man get all this”, they ask, whence come this wisdom and these deeds of power? They see, but they reject what they see, because it does not fit in with their preconceptions, their idea of what the Messiah must be like. They know him, they think. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” This is just an ordinary unremarkable man. This sort of man cannot be one who does such deeds, who has such wisdom, so they are scandalised by the contradiction and reject him.

To accept Jesus needs faith. Faith is needed to see that this scandalous figure, the outsider, the reject, is in truth the Son of God, the Messiah. Faith alone enables us to move beyond scandal to acceptance. And it is faith that opens the way to a living relationship with Jesus Christ, in which we find ourselves entering the Kingdom of God.

So we see in this passage a contrast between the people of Nazareth, who do not have faith and reject Jesus, and the disciples, the “twelve”, who do have faith and follow him.

The mission of Jesus is risky. There is no guaranteed outcome. He does not force people’s belief or acceptance. Faith is a gift from God, not something human beings construct, and certainly not something we can enforce. And what is true of the mission of Jesus is true of his disciples, too.

The twelve have seen his rejection by the people of Nazareth, and his amazement at their lack of faith. They know that this preaching of the Kingdom is a precarious business, with no certain outcome. And, once they know that, Jesus sends them out to take the same risk, to face the same possibility of rejection and unbelief.

So the disciples go out in pairs, to support each other. But they must take nothing with them and be totally dependent for the necessities of life on how they are received. No gimmicks, no dependence on human strength or ingenuity, no guarantee of success. Like St Paul in today’s second reading they are sent out in weakness.

But they are sent out in weakness precisely so that the Divine power may be revealed in them. It is because of their poverty before the world that they are able to proclaim repentance, cast out demons, and heal the sick. It is because they associate themselves with the scandal of Jesus, because they take on his risk of rejection, that their ministry bears fruit and faith in Jesus spreads.

The disciples have made themselves poor and weak in their ministry, so that when faith does appear it is clearly seen to be a gift from God, and not something that they have produced by being impressive. When they are small enough to leave room for God to act, then faith can appear.

The Church continues the mission of Jesus and must reflect him. The Church, if it is to be true to the mission it has received, must stand before the world exposed to the risk of crisis, scandal and rejection. In poverty and littleness the Church leaves room for God to act and faith to grow.

But how much we resist that! How much we want to avoid rejection, and devise all sorts of human schemes to impress and get people on side, to avoid scandalising them! But a church that depends on itself withers away. It preaches itself instead of Jesus. St Paul tells us, the gospels tell us, again and again, that human strength is weakness for the Gospel. When we try to make ourselves big, when the Church makes itself the message, when we try to manage the risks and avoid the scandal, then we leave no room for God. If it becomes all about us, then the world will just see us and not Jesus.

It is in our human weakness, in littleness and risk, that God’s power is revealed. In early times the Church was known as the “mystery of the moon”, the mysterium lunae. Just as the moon has no light of its own but shines only by reflecting the sun, so the Church shines only by reflecting Jesus. A church that is obsessed with itself and its own image obscures and traps the gospel, and fails to show Jesus to the world.

Pope Francis, just before his election, had this to say about the present crisis in the Church, as he saw it, and much of what he said about his own church can apply to the Church of England, too. In the book of Revelation Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”. We usually read that as Jesus trying to get in to our own closed hearts, and that is not wrong. But there is also the closed door of the self-obsessed church, on which Jesus is knocking trying to get out to the world that needs him.

Let us therefore not be afraid of risk and weakness. The Church is so anxious at the moment about so many things, wanting to be big and impressive, in denial of the risk of rejection, eaten up by the fear of scandal. But Jesus still speaks to us and calls us to stop obsessing about ourselves, to follow him in his way and reflect his light.

If we are to reflect Jesus, and not ourselves, then we must be attentive to him. God gives us the assurance of faith that by our baptism we are adopted in Christ as children of God. This sets us free to focus on Jesus and not on ourselves. We will reflect Jesus if we listen to his voice speaking in the scriptures, and walk with him in the gospels. We will shine with his light in the world if we draw close to him and are fed by him frequently in the Blessed Sacrament.

As disciples of Jesus we must reflect him and not ourselves, and not be worried about ourselves. The path of risk and weakness and littleness is the path of the gospel. The path of identifying with Jesus the scandal is the path of the gospel. Only that, and no substitute that we can devise, will make Jesus visible, open people’s hearts to faith, and draw them into God’s kingdom.

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