‘But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men…Woe unto you… for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith: these ought ye have done, and not to leave other undone.’
This is in important passage in two senses. First, it shows how the superego of our culture (religious and secular alike) needs to be scrutinised, revised, and if necessary, even ‘pulverised’. The great lesson of human history is that it is only a matter of time that we get entangled in its thickness. This ‘shadow authority’ not only can distort Revelation and the freshness of God’s knowledge.
The second aspect of keeping this superego under control is about our individual freedom. The authority represented by the Pharisees, which is becoming more and more rigid if left unchecked - actually if ‘not prayed through’ -can suppress individual creativity, the freedom of the soul, the joy of having fresh insights into God’s love, and the acting out of this newly experienced Love.
Perhaps, living with an unchecked superego of our culture explains a lot of how ‘fake news’ start controlling our life and we are left deprived of the real conditions of the human heart.
God being grieved at his heart and Peter’s words as our sense of the ‘real’ (Genesis 6,5;Matthew 16,13-end) /BCP Tuesday after Septuagesima Sunday, Matins/
The state of the human family before the flood ‘grieved God at his heart’. We are part of this flood of sin. We should be deeply moved by God’s words and take responsibility for our actions. God’s redemptive presence is among us: we should feel that God – just as the defects and potentials of our life – is real. In this sense, the story of the flood is an important reflection on our task of ‘recovering the sense of the Real’. Taking responsibility for our history, and within it our personal story, awakens us from empty cyber-dreams (wasting the time of the human heart) into Reality.
Peter’s words can also be read in view of this task. Then, his words are a crucial resource in recovering reality, as the very ground of our faith. We need the sense of living in a real world, in a real time, in the matrix of real responsibilities, with the sense of being real and our neighbours are also being real (fully present) for us.
‘Jesus saith unto them: But whom say ye that I am? And Simeon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Actually, Peter’s words were the birth of ‘the real’. Through this confession the fragments of life are pieced together. Reality does not evaporate, but becomes one and undivided by these words. This is the sure foundation, always knowing that God’s redemption is real in Jesus, upon which our life is based. The life of individual Christians and that of the community is rooted in and nourished by this Root. ‘Thou art the Christ! The Son of the living God!’ We need to live from this Presence, the Reality of God.
Jesus’ words which follow upon this passage, speaks of his coming suffering. He reveals further what is at the heart of ‘the real’: God’s grace and compassionate life among us.
One of the major tasks for Christian spirituality is to regain ‘what is real’. Virtual reality is penetrating us. The artificial, the ‘digitalised’ and the ‘mediatized’ is evacuating the reality sensors of our hearts. For Biblical religions retaining the sense of time (history), communal links, and undivided attention when praying to God are vital grounds. Without them, religion breaks down. Without remaining faithful to the real, prayer, the breath-taking of spiritual life, becomes unreal. In Biblical terms, we shall be exiled into the fake or secondary realities of the cyber space.
Sharing Habakkuk’s experience of inner suffering and spiritual distress is an important part of regaining the reality of God. Listening to the pains of the soul which is deprived of God’s Presence, to he reality of our pain, is our awakening. ‘O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years…’ Crying to God in the years of our captivity, from behind the impenetrable walls of ‘the unreal’, is that bridge, through which what is evacuated from our life can return to us.
‘Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold… yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.’
This bridge (even though a painful cry) is a miraculous one. Through this thin golden thread, we can be lifted above our age: elevated to the realm of grace where we can regain our strength and orientation. A lot, perhaps everything, depends on if Christian communities (the local churches) undertake this slow and challenging journey - as the process of their being healed into the Real God.
‘Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, thou hat ordained them for judgement; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.’
We must cry (pray) to God in times of historical distress. It is His mothering nature that instinctively responds with liberating goodness. Crying to God when in need is the most fundamental language of the universe. The inanimate world, the vegetable world have been constantly crying to God for existence; and they are constantly kept in being. Why we humans don’t ask for God’s help and sustenance…even the whole world is collapsing around us?
‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.’ Promises have a healing effect on us. A promise opens us a possibility, a new beginning. Faith in the promise of God is the greatest offer for us humans. This leap into ‘the Promise’ heals and purifies human history. The belief in Jesus’ Father that the gospel requests of us disentangles us from our past lost ways and failures. Through the act of faith – we can transcend the impasses of history and individual life. Faith and genuine freedom, our liberation, are intimately connected.
The only real Arrival (Isaiah 65,17-end; Matthew 3,1-14,11)
‘For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.’
Isaiah’s speaks to us Christians with great relevance. We tend to read the story of God’s Covenant with the people of Israel somewhat from the ‘outside’. For whatever reason, we regard it as ‘a kind of past’… ‘which is kind of not ours’. The Covenant is somewhere ‘there’, outside us.
This is here where prophet Isaiah speaks to our heart. He is our prophet! He wants us to understand that God’s forming the historical Covenant is taking place right now. We should feel being part of this Covenant, this first gift! We are part of its creation: from Sinai to Jesus, it is one overarching, all embracing Love. We are part, right now of what happened to Israel, to their emergence as God’s people! This co-temporality, also from God’s perspective, is beautifully expressed in the words: ‘And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying… And they shall build houses and inhabit them.’
Reading the Covenant as our present birth, we Christians, are no longer dispersed in an undefinable, ungraspable drift, our present exile, the world of religious indifference. Instead, we see ourselves at the heart of the Covenant. We are no longer dispersed local communities ebbing away from each other… marked by an unstoppable religious decline. The Covenant is not a remote lifeless story. God’s voice is no longer distant, but is the Lord’s historical coming - through, and from within our story.
Listening to classical music (perhaps true to all music), for me, illustrates this (re)emergence of the Covenant. Listening to the unfolding movements of a piece is about the emergence of order out of the chaos of millions of disordered sounds. Music is always ‘a Covenant of order’. Out of chaos and despair, God summons ‘his people to be’, united in a chorus of singers who rejoice over being part of a genuine unity. Bela Bartok’s Three Hungarian Folk Songs from Csík, and his Fourteen Bagatelles played by Zoltán Kocsis are a musical confirmation of the above vision of the Covenant. We become one with God’s offer in history, right now. Both Jews and Christians: there are no late comers. Again, Isaiah is our prophet.
The scene of the temptation in Matthew’s Gospel helps us focus on saying yes to God’s offer, a Covenant with Him. Satan’s temptation, his offers to Jesus, exemplify the ‘waste’ of those energies which are needed for forging this covenant with God.
Even more, we can read this waste of concentration as a powerful parable of the ‘cyber space’. Sadly, this has become a space of permanent distraction, the space of missed opportunities. Unstable, flickering images take up place of the only real Arrival.
‘I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me.’ The first meaning of this line is that God is abandoned in his work for Salvation. People simply forgot about Him and live indifferently to his causes.
The second meaning can be a call to Christians. They have to reignite ‘the spark of discipleship’ within themselves. This ‘spark’ of being a Christian is a mark in all of those who have been baptised. Being children of a previously Christian culture, this mark, is almost trans-generational.
A further third meaning of these lines is that the ‘focus’ on our service to God, good deeds and prayers must be conscious. We need to focus on what we are doing, we have to be aware of that we are doing this or that for God, as his disciples. Without this intent, God ‘has trodden the winepress alone.’
Today’s gospel is a recollection of how the burial-clothes of Jesus were found in the tomb after his Resurrection. They are reminders of a painful death, his redeeming suffering. This makes us focus on what is real: Jesus’ suffering and the joy of his resurrected life. These clothes also recall the crib, the swaddling clothes of the baby Jesus. On Eastern icons, the two deliberately resemble: the crib points to the Cross.
This ‘frame’ is important. Whatever happens in our life, whatever exile we found ourselves in an overpowering cyber-reality, nevertheless, what is ‘real’, is more powerful than the compulsive hedonism with which this consumerist culture is devouring us.
This is a wonderful consolation: the Word of God makes us real! Capable of going against the stream and herald a real awakening!
The martyrdom of Saint Stephen is always a sudden break of the idyllic emotions of Christmas day. We awoke to the harsh reality that witness to Truth is a sacrifice.
I would like to read the scene of his martyrdom as the ‘sacrifice’ which we Christians all of us have to make in order to attain ‘spirituality’ or spiritual life. Spirituality can be defined that ‘extra-life’ on top of our routinely religious sentiments and deeds. We need to have an extra focus, an extra intent to ‘feel’ our deeds and payers. Without this, Christian life is just an ordinary life. Without the conscious effort to have ‘spirituality’, the church is without that extra life which God intended for us, our Lord’s disciples.
Stephen’s sufferings and death, his murder for his faith in Jesus as Saviour, highlights the value and the task, that Christians must go an extra mile. The Wisdom of the Tanya (written by the religious genius, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi /1745-1812/) prompts a healthy dialogue with us, Christians. In Chapter 38, he emphasises that the specific religious intent of a deed or religious act makes it alive. Through this conscious focus, we want to ‘feel’ and experience the good deed and our prayer. This experience of focus or feeling, by way of analogy, can be compared to the soul of the human being. Without this ‘extra’ of an intended spiritual life, the deeds are ‘dead’, they have no life. Routinely life and prayers are not enough. We need the conscious effort of discipleship; that of being disciples of Torah, or, in our case, Christians, of Jesus.
The Christmas crib, with its gentle devotions, and gentle lights, speak about the spirituality which we need to develop. The beauty of the Crib, with the new born Jesus, the Holy Family, and the surrounding visitors - Shepherds, animals, the three Kings - express the beauty of spiritual life. The scenes of our lives around the Crib come alive!
26 December 2017
Pope Benedict XVI sums up the message of Christmas Eve for us. The birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve is the interpretation of our own origin! He, the one, through whom all light and life entered the cosmos… He is the source of all created beings. Whether we know it or not, we are his children! The children of the light.
This is a beautiful night. A night when our Saviour was born. This eve at the Crib, is about our roots. The joy of Christmas is our deepest root. The lights of this beautiful night convey for us an interesting and important thought.
A human being who exercises free will and has free choice, is able to move around. The baby Jesus, our Saviour King, will grow end embark on a journey where he takes us with him. This life journey is a reminder that the human person is not rooted to one place. And very often a human being - because of our inquisitive and restless mind, our power of enquiry and actions - that human being feels a little lost; sometimes alienated. Because we got far from our roots, we can feel isolated.
As a human family, the searching beyond ourselves, our journeys often cost very dearly. Humankind, smaller communities, and as individuals, we feel this ‘loss’ when we start to move away from our Roots, from our sources.
In the light of this most beautiful night, we can be honest with ourselves. Sometimes we feel that we are away from our source and we don’t know where we are going! The crib with the Christmas tree are the most powerful symbols! The Christmas tree, has a biblical origin. The Bible tells us: the human person is compared to the tree of the field. This night reveals the secret: we belong to the Tree of Life through which Jesus brought about our redemption.
The crib and the Christmas tree remind us: just as the tree always knows its roots - it is rooted to its source - so also are Christians essentially rooted to their source. To this very Crib. And to this very Tree of Life and Light. This night reveals that we are rooted to the source of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. To this new life. To this Family.
However far we may wander, however distant we may move, we know within ourselves that we have these personal roots. And those roots will keep us, guide us, sustain us and lead us to our Salvation.
Today, as a community, we celebrate that the human family has a Saviour. Thanks be to God, we know this! However, as individuals we celebrate the fact that however distant as individuals we have moved from our potentials to love and be happy - Jesus, and the love of Mary and Joseph, as our roots, has marked us for good! Through the love of this community, through the love of our friends, and those who pray for us, we can always return to this Redeeming Love. Which Love, from this eve, mysteriously, will grow with us, will rely on us, just as we rely on Him, for the rest of our life. Amen.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..