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

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Sermon at Parish Mass Trinity 16 2015


Wisdom of Solomon 1.16 - 2.1,12-22

James 3.13 - 4.3,7-8a

Mark 9.30-37

“Could a robot do your job?” That was a question asked by BBC last week. To help answer the question you could go online and type in your job, and you got a score giving the likelihood that you would be replaced by a computer within 20 years. Apparently the clergy rate at 2%. But for bus drivers it’s 61%.

That was, I hope, a little whimsical. And of course it’s true that automation and computers have changed the way we work, and doubtless will continue to do so. But that can affect us personally. Work gives value and meaning to our lives, so if we can just be replaced by a machine, what does that say about our value as people?

But do we have to think about people in that way? Suppose we borrowed one of the children from the Sunday School for a moment and asked them, “could a robot do your job?” Now of course that’s a crazy question to ask a child. Children don’t have jobs, so any measure of a person’s value based on their job just doesn’t apply to them.

So we need to beware. The scale of values we use can lead us astray.

In today’s gospel reading we see the disciples going astray because they are using the wrong scale of values. They are in rivalry with one another about who is the greatest. And that is after Jesus telling them a second time about his rejection, betrayal and death. The Messiah is going to be accounted as worthless by the world. But the disciples it seems are not prepared to be valued the same way.

When Jesus takes a child as an example, he is showing them a person of no value in the culture of the time. Children had no rights or position. The disciples have got it all wrong. They need a different scale of values. A scale in which those who seem to be worthless are in fact the most important in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus is teaching the disciples and us that we need to abandon our attempts to value ourselves by rivalry with one another, by our endless comparing of ourselves with other people, our desires for what other people have got.

Instead, like children, we need to receive our true worth as a gift, in all simplicity. What is our true worth? It is that we are God’s children. God has created us from nothing and gives us our being. In Jesus he forgives our sins, and calls us to share his life. This is totally gratuitous. We cannot earn it, or merit it, or steal it from someone else. It is simply God’s gift. And that gift will be entirely ours if we are able to receive it as a gift, rather than trying to grasp it as our own.

The victim, the outsider, the child, were accounted worthless by the world in Jesus’ day. But Jesus says these are the people who actually matter. These will be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. And if we understand that then we can leave behind all our rivalrous desires, our attempt to construct our own value at the expense of other people, which in the end only torments us.

When the disciples had their argument about which of them was the greatest, did that make them happy? No. It made them less contented than ever. Because they were putting a value on each other and wanting it for themselves. And as that value was all wrong anyway it was a desire that could never be satisfied.

How foolish it is to be craving for what we haven’t got, while refusing what we have got, our life and being as God’s gift. And in truth our rivalrous desires do nothing but draw us into a spiral of misery and destruction.

St James in his letter spells this out to the church he was writing to – and remember these are Christians he’s addressing! “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.”

We might think it’s a bit extreme to say that you commit murder because you want something and don’t have it. But in fact once you start comparing yourself with other people, wanting what they’ve got, and placing them on a scale of values, you are in danger of saying that there are some people who have no value at all. And how is murder possible, except by setting a person’s life at no value?

This is indeed just what happened to Jesus, as he tried to tell the disciples today. He was the victim, the outcast, the one who could be disposed of because he had no value. But, like the child, also a person of no account, he is the greatest in the kingdom of God. Jesus knew with absolute certainty that everything he was and possessed was the Father’s gift. He knew that could never be taken away. And so he could also tell the disciples that after being killed he would rise again. Jesus held onto nothing for himself and abandoned himself entirely to the Father’s generosity and love. He abandoned himself in complete trust that the resurrection would be the first fruits, the first return from the Father, for his total giving of himself.

This is what Jesus calls us to do today. To abandon our desires for what we don’t have, in order to receive what we truly are: God’s children, by his gift alone. This is the path of true joy and contentment.

The desires and allurements we are presented with all the time are empty promises: desires for lifestyle, career, power, money, glamour, desires for the latest model of this or that that we must have because someone else has it too. These are cravings that feed on themselves and just keep on growing without ever being satisfied. They cannot give us true life.

But God can, and does. He has created us in love and redeemed us in his mercy, showing us in Jesus the way to salvation, the gate to eternal life. Eternal life is not this life stretched out for ever. It is the life that God lives, the only life that is ultimately real. When we let go of all our attempts to create ourselves, when we abandon ourselves into the Father’s love and throw ourselves entirely on his generosity, then we will have the joy and bliss of finding our true selves in him.

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