Sunday, 20 November 2022

Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ

Jeremiah 23.1-6 I will raise up shepherds over them so they fear no longer.

Colossians 1.11-20 The Father has created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves

Luke 23.33-43 ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’

 

‘Thou art the King of Glory O Christ, the Eternal Son of the Father’

 

+

 

‘Thou art the King of Glory O Christ, the Eternal Son of the Father’.

 

These are the stirring words in the ‘Te Deum Laudamus’ an ancient hymn of the Church sung on great occasions, and traditionally at the end of the Office of Lauds, the first office of prayer of the day.

 

Te Deum Laudamus means ‘We praise thee, O God’, and today we praise God for the Kingship of his Son, Jesus Christ.

 

The Feast of Christ the King – or ‘The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe’ to give it its full title - is one of the newer solemnities of the Church.

 

‘Christ the King’ was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, and embraced by the Church of England over half a century later.

 

The date 1925 was not an accident, for that was the sixteen hundredth anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, the great Council, or meeting of the Church, which, in 325 AD, formally defined the consubstantiality of Christ with the Father; in other words, in the mystery of God, Father and Son are wholly one.

 

This mattered, and matters today, because it affirms that Jesus Christ is fully and truly divine, not created by God, but is of the very essence – the substance – of God.

 

As Jesus says in St John’s Gospel, ‘the Father and I are one’ (John 10.30).

 

Hence why we can say, ‘Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ, the Eternal Son of the Father’.

 

But having a feast of Christ the King is not without its detractors.

 

Not unreasonably, some have argued that we don’t need to celebrate Christ the King because the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord covers that base: for, when he ascends into heaven, Jesus Christ is proclaimed as universal king over all creation which is perfectly true.

 

Today helps us consider the bearing that the Kingship of Christ has on us as we live our Christian lives today.

 

There are three areas we can focus on today.

 

First, the cross is the throne of Christ the King: a throne of love and not of dominion.

 

His sacrificial death on the cross, laying down his life that we might live, has above it the twisted, ironic words of Pilate that for us are deeply true, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’ (Luke 23.38).

 

In the cross we see such love, love that surpasses expectation and comprehension; love he gives his all for his people.

 

That’s why St John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople in the fourth century, gazing at Christ on the cross declares, ‘I see him Crucified; I call him King’.

 

Second, it’s about politics and where our allegiance lies.

 

The political establishment of Jesus’ day was Roman.

 

The loyal Roman citizen would say ‘kaiser kurios’, ‘Caesar is the Lord’,

 

Political stability was found under Roman authority and Roman power, the so-called Pax Romana.

 

For the first Christians the death of Jesus on the Cross and his Resurrection from the dead meant that they would declare not ‘Kaiser kurios’ but ‘Jesus kurios’, ‘Jesus is Lord’.

 

The Ascended Lord Christ the divine universal King is Christ the King of all the earth.

 

His sovereignty is not removed; it is real and connected in our lives.

 

He is the one to whom final allegiance is due, and by whom our lives are properly ordered.

 

There are many things that seek to claim lordship in our lives: ideologies, disruptions, the ‘temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil’.

 

All the time the Christian holds onto the declaration ‘Jesus kurios’, ‘Jesus is Lord’.

 

What does it mean to you to say Jesus Christ is king of your life? What does the world look like when Jesus Christ is acknowledged as King over all creation? When saying yes to Christ, that he is Lord and King, what do you have to reject and turn away from?

 

Finally the Kingship of Christ has a bearing on our national life today.

 

Next year we will witness an event that has not be seen for 70 years and traces its from back to St Dunstan and the coronation of Edgar in 973 (13 years after Elfsie is the first recorded priest of Croydon).

 

The coronation of the British Sovereign draws on Biblical images of Kingship rooted supremely in the Kingship of Jesus Christ.

 

Perhaps the most sacred element of this sacred rite is the anointing; a rite straight out of the Old Testament and validated in the New: the word ‘Christ’, Χρήστος in Greek means the Anointed One.

 

Our King, who by virtue of baptism like you and me, shares in the life of the Anointed One, Jesus Christ, will be asked to hold before him the example of the Servant King, the forgiving King, the loving King.

 

By God’s grace, we pray, that the King will be a mirror and exemplar of service to our national and local political life, in our families and places of work and in all places we people come together.

 

So then, to say, ‘Thou art the King of Glory O Christ, the Eternal Son of the Father’, is to say that, Jesus Christ, who is one with the Father, reveals his Kingship on the Cross; that, for the Christian, Christ must be sovereign in our lives; that the Kingship of Christ shapes our common life in his ways, such that we say ‘Jesus kurios, Jesus Rex’: Jesus is Lord; Jesus is King.

 

Monday, 14 November 2022

Getting real with hope

Malachi 3.19-20 For you the sun of righteousness will shone out

2 Thessalonians 3.7-12 Do not let anyone have food if he refuses to work

Luke 21.5-19 The destruction of the Temple foretold

 

+

Today’s gospel can, on one level, sound gloomy and grim.

And that is a fair reading of the world today, as it was in Jesus’ own day.

Many challenges, fears and worries stalk the world and our lives.

But equally clear is that we must not allow that fear to be the last word or have us in its thrall: for as Christians, as believers in God – we are not like other people, ‘who’ in St Paul’s words ‘have no hope’

We cannot be like that because of our belief in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Thessalonians 4.13,14) and the enduring mercy of God.

This is all about how we face the fears of things that we cannot control ourselves.

It comes down to acting in the name of Jesus and having hope in the name of Jesus.

The world and contemporary culture will ridicule that, but he tells us, ‘by your endurance you will gain your souls’. (Luke 21.19).

This is all about being real with hope

*

In today’s gospel Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Indeed, in AD70 the Temple – which was the religious, political and spiritual beating heart of the life of the people of Israel - was torn down by the Romans.

The Temple mattered to the people of Israel; its destruction was a massive spiritual, psychological and emotional blow to the Jewish people.

The Temple was the sacrificial heart of the worship of Israel.

It was the meeting place on earth between the God of Israel, the Lord of Hosts, with his people.

The Temple mirrored the tabernacle sanctuary set up in the wilderness on divine proportions as the people journeyed to the Promised Land.

The Temple was an image of heaven on earth.

We can barely begin to imagine the significance of it to the Jews of the first century.

With the destruction of the Temple their world came crashing down.

To this day Jews lament the destruction of the Temple.

And for Christians the Temple is not without significance.

After all, Jesus was presented in the Temple, according to the Law of Moses, at 40 days old; he taught the Elders of the Law in the Temple whilst on pilgrimage there when only 12 years old; he cleansed the Temple of those who exploited Temple pilgrims and took away its sacred character as a house of prayer; he taught in the Temple precincts right up to his death.

In St John’s gospel, Jesus also equates his own body to the Temple.

In that he is saying that he is the meeting point of heaven and earth, of divinity and humanity; he is the place of prayer, of wisdom, of teaching and of sacrificial love.

His body, like the Temple, will be destroyed by his death on the cross; but will be raised again, unlike the Temple, in three days.

Through the anguish of destruction comes salvation and healing: this is what we call hope, and it is revealed in the Cross and Resurrection.

*

We see this pattern too in our first reading from the prophet Malachi who speaks of total destruction.

In some ways Malachi and the Biblical prophets sound something like the secular apocalyptists we hear a lot today.

A relentless stream of doom fills the airwaves: climate; cost of living; war, natural disaster, famine, plague, family breakdown, uncertainty of identity.

But a Biblical account of reality always involves hope, always involves promise.

Malachi gives us the perspective of God, the Lord of Hosts, that out of the dust of destruction: ‘for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings’. (Malachi 4.2a)

The Biblical imagination, which finds its fulfilment in Jesus Christ, does not offer a vision of the temple or of the world or of human lives and existence annihilated, but rather purged and transformed.

*

This is being real with hope.

Until recently the West lived with the secular liberal analysis that said ‘things can only get better’; that, somehow, Progress is inevitable.

That was utterly unrealistic and ahistorical, taking no account of our flawed humanity that needs amendment of life.

That has given way to another secular narrative of annihilation, despair and unremitting negativity where the young, especially, find the future hard to imagine.

Yet the Biblical witness insists that however desolate, barren and hopeless things seem we are in fact in the process of growth and purgation not destruction.

The Temple and the edifices we create will crumble, but God endures; hope endures.

The Christian account of the world is not frothy or naïve, but rooted in being real with hope.

This is asserted beautifully in the prophecy of Jeremiah, ‘For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)

The very act of stretching out your hands tonight to receive Christ in the sacrament is to reach out for the hope that comes from his name.

The future he is rests in our hands, so that we can go out and be signs of real hope in a yearning world.

Monday, 7 November 2022

To God they are all alive

Job 19.23-27a I know that my redeemer lives

2 Thessalonians 2.1-5, 13-end May the Lord strengthen you in everything good that you do or say

Luke 20.27-38 He is God, not of the dead, but of the living

 

‘Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’

 

+

 

Well, this morning’s Gospel reading puts a big question in front of us.

 

I suppose you could put it like this: if our Easter faith, in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is true, then what happens to us when we die?

 

This is the question underlying the passage we have heard read.

 

The Sadducees frame the question in a totally theoretical, and almost comical, way.

 

It is a hypothetical scenario of a woman marrying seven brothers in turn, as each one dies.

 

The Sadducees who come to Jesus are developing a scenario from the Law of Moses, known as Levirate marriage.

 

Now the first thing to be aware of is that the Sadducees were a Jewish sect at the time of Jesus who rejected any notion that there is a resurrection.

 

They were out to disprove and ridicule the notion of resurrection.

 

In that sense they were very different from the Pharisees, despite being lumped together as opponents of Jesus’ ministry and mission.

 

The Pharisees did accept the promise of resurrection, albeit they did not see it as embodied in Jesus Christ.

 

It’s like that today.

 

There are people who, like the Sadducees, think that life after death is not a thing.

 

Our existence on this earth is all there is, they say, there is no hope of heaven and so we live our lives ethically and well, but that’s about it.

 

Now that is a standpoint or worldview that can itself be challenged. But we don’t have time for that just now.

 

Similarly, like the Pharisees, there are people today who have a belief that ‘there must be something more’ and a vague notion of an afterlife, but that belief is rather undefined.

 

That is close to, but not the same as, the Christian hope of resurrection.

 

The Christian hope of resurrection is not a generalised hope that after I die something will happen or that, somehow, I’ll meet up with deceased relatives and friends, but it is a hope embodied in the person and resurrected body of Jesus Christ.

 

When Job says, in our first reading, ‘I know that my redeemer lives’ he is instinctively identifying what Christian theology holds, that if we are raised from the dead then there is a redeemer who makes that happen.

 

It’s much like salvation needing a Saviour: resurrection and salvation are not unspecific, generalised concepts, they are real, embodied experiences and utterly dependent on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

St Paul, himself brought up and trained as a Pharisee, so hitherto comfortable with a generalised resurrection, came to see this because of his faith in the actual bodily resurrection of Christ, who he encountered on the road to Damascus, and mused: ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’. (1 Corinthians 15.17).

 

The passage that quote comes from, chapter fifteen of St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, is like an extended meditation on this morning’s gospel reading.

 

It really addresses the Big Question about what happens to us when we die.

 

It’s interesting the Sadducees chose marriage as the scenario to test out Jesus’ teaching on resurrection.

 

Marriage in the Bible is not just about husband and wife, a man and a woman, though it is profoundly about a man and a woman too.

 

Marriage is also an emblem, a sign, of God’s relationship with his people and the fidelity of that relationship: we see that explored in the book of the prophet Hosea.

 

Marriage and consummation, is also a sign of the union of Christ, the bridegroom, with his bride, the Church: that is powerfully explored in the book of Revelation which speaks of the marriage banquet of the Lamb.

 

It is inclusive, in the sense that in the life of husband and wife, marriage aspires to reflect and echo to everyone, married or not, the fidelity of God to Israel and Christ to the Church.

 

Marriage is a Biblical image because all the while God remains faithful even when we err and stray.

 

So here’s the absurd, syllogistic, scenario again: a woman marries seven brothers in turn because one after another dies.

 

The next step of the scenario assumes that marriage endures in the resurrection.

 

Hence the question: when they have all died who will she be married to?

 

The Sadducees were taking the mickey really by asking this question.

 

Jesus responds clearly.

 

Marriage is something that exists on earth as a sign of fidelity and the fruitful coming together of two different, but complimentary, persons.

 

In the resurrection, when the redeemed are raised from the dead, then marriage is not the primary relationship or purpose they have, and nor is biological relationship or friendship.

 

That may be a source of sorrow for some to contemplate, and perhaps a source of relief to others.

 

So back to the Big Question and Jesus’ answer.

 

In the resurrection, the defining relationship is with the Living God, just as was the case with the Biblical patriarchs: God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

 

So, Message One to take away from this Gospel: those who have died are not dead to God.

 

You are not, and never will be, dead to God, for in baptism you have died with Christ and been raised to life in him.

 

Jesus points out that the Sadducees have made a category error: they’re talking and thinking in earthbound ways and not the ways of the resurrection.

 

Belief in the Resurrection means we cannot look at ourselves, human destiny or the world in the same way again.

 

Let us, of course, nurture and cherish now all the relationships we have in this life; siblings, spouses, friends knowing that the relating of heaven is very much more.

 

Message Two to take away today is that life in the resurrection is a total transformation of life as we know it or can conceive of it; it is life lived in all its abundance and fullness, without the inhibitors of human neediness, wilfulness, infidelity or sin. For Christ will be everything and in everything.

 

‘[For] he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’

Monday, 31 October 2022

Salvation's Coming Home

The name of Christ will be glorified in you, and you in him 2 Thessalonians 1.11-2.2

Salvation comes to the house of Zacchaeus Luke 19.1-10

 

 

‘Today salvation has come to this house’. (Luke 19.9)

 

The story of Zacchaeus is a very familiar one.

 

But it’s familiarity should not breed contempt, or the comfortable assumption that we know what is going on here.

 

Unlike our reading over the last few Sundays, this is not a parable.

 

This is a real, historical meeting, in a real actual place, still there today, the city of Jericho.

 

But we shouldn’t read this as remote and in the past – it has direct spiritual application today!

 

It sticks in the mind with the image of the diminutive, celebrity seeking Zacchaeus climbing a tree to get a good view of Jesus.

 

There is the vivid scene of Jesus’ seeing Zacchaeus and calling him down and saying that he wants to come to Zacchaeus’ house to eat with him.

 

Then there’s Zacchaeus, in an act of reparation, pledging to pay back four times the amount of what he had cheated from other people.

 

It is a compelling encounter.

 

It bespeaks the encounter we are all called into with Jesus Christ, and one the Michaela is particularly called into today as she comes to be baptised.

 

It also reminds us that, as baptised people, as those who seek Christ today, our life can never be the same: encountering Jesus, being baptised, means an about turn in our lives: metanoia (μετάνοια) in Greek: literally ‘meta’, meaning ‘beyond’ ‘noia’ meaning thought.

 

Jesus took Zacchaeus, and takes us, beyond our own thinking with our limited horizons, into the expansive vision of sharing his life in the Kingdom of God.

 

Zacchaeus was seeking something.

 

He appears not to know what.

 

He’d heard Jesus was in town and was clearly intrigued to see him.

 

He couldn’t possibly have imagined what his seeking would lead him to.

 

The seeker is the one who is found.

 

Jesus called Zacchaeus out from being a viewer, to being the one who is seen; from being a spectator to becoming a companion as he sat down to eat.

 

Following Jesus is not a spectator sport, it is an act of participation.

 

This involves us in discerning the call of Christ in our lives.

 

It involves us listening carefully to him, hearing his word; a word that transforms our lives.

 

It involves welcoming Jesus literally into our homes and spiritually making space for him in our lives: as the great Advent hymn puts it ‘let ev'ry heart prepare a throne | and ev'ry voice a song’ (‘Hark! The glad sound’ – Philip Doddridge).

 

It involves, like Zacchaeus, sitting down and spending time with Jesus Christ.

 

We do that in prayer; that is the grounding for a deep encounter with the Living God.

 

Likewise Jesus sat down to eat with Zacchaeus: that’s where bells start ringing for us – Jesus meets us in a meal, and that meal is the Sacred Banquet of the Eucharist.

 

And at that meal and from that meal, flows reconciliation.

 

This is reconciliation with God; for Christ is the peace who makes us one with God.

 

This is reconciliation with one another; Zacchaeus makes an act of reparation in paying back what he had once cheated from people.

 

And this is what the encounter of Jesus and Zacchaeus is driving towards: ’Today salvation has come to this house…’

 

Salvation means being saved.

 

Zacchaeus was saved from a self-absorbed, locked in life paying no regard to Go or other people; Zacchaeus was saved from himself.

 

Salvation, though, needs a Saviour.

 

Contrary to all the instincts of contemporary culture salvation - being saved, being healed, being delivered - is not a self-help exercise.

 

The Holy Name, ‘Jesus’, is from the Hebrew name Yeshua (ישוע) and it means: God saves.

 

Salvation, Jesus, has come to Zacchaeus’ house, to your life, my life, Michaela’s life to save and lead us into life in him.

 

And why?

 

The answer is in the Gospel reading today: ‘… because [Zacchaeus] too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

 

Today salvation – Jesus Christ – comes to this house.

Going home justified

 Luke 18.9-14 The tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home justified

 

‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

+

There is an apocryphal story of the Sunday School teacher teaching a class about today’s parable of the Pharisee and tax collector.

The Sunday School teacher retells the story of the ‘two men who went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector’. Of how the Pharisee stood praying by thanking God that he was so good and generous, not like other people, and not like the tax collector who stood a way off, not even looking up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

The Sunday School teacher concludes: ‘so children, thank God that we’re not harsh and judgemental like other people and just like that Pharisee…’

It’s easy to fall into…

***

So, Jesus told this parable ‘to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt’.

I wonder if your initial reaction is like mine? ‘I don’t regard others with contempt’, this must be about someone else!

The first thing then the parable exposes is the typically human round of finger pointing, of noting the flaws and shortcomings of other people and disregarding our own.

Have I never regarded another person with contempt?

Have I never pointed the finger?

Have I never allowed the crowd to determine my views of other people?

Never?

I suspect, human as we are, that each of us have viewed others with some degree of contempt at some time.

Have you never murmured: ‘“God, I thank you that I am not like other people: bankers, estate agents, journalists, or even like…” insert the name of your preferred politician.

But it might equally be our colleague, neighbour, family member who we regard with contempt.

That is not worthy of us as Christians, and something, aided by God’s grace, that we need to conquer.

That project begins in prayer because this is a spiritual condition that needs addressing.

The parable helps us go deeper in pondering what prayer is, and what prayer is not.

Prayer is not about self-justification: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector’.

Prayer is not about seeking acknowledgment for achievements, spiritual or otherwise: ‘I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income’.

Trying to position yourself in God’s sight – even, or especially, through trying to assure God that you’re hugely devout and observant - is doomed to failure, for he searches the depths of the human heart.

Prayer is not an occasion for weighing our own merits and pardoning our own offences.

That is spiritually corrosive.

So let’s flip to the positive, to that which makes us whole and healed, that is about our salvation and justification.

First and foremost prayer is about giving time and attention to God.

It is about setting our relationship with God on a proper footing.

God ‘searches me out and knows me, he knows my sitting down and standing up, he discerns my thoughts from afar’ (Psalm 139).

That’s how Psalm 139 puts it.

There is no hiding place from God, yet, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we try to cover ourselves with fig leaves to hide our vulnerability and shame of who we truly are.

We try to deflect God’s gaze by pointing at the shortcomings of others.

So how do we address this human disposition to blame others and present an unreal self?

The parable’s answer is: humility.

Mind you even humility itself can be twisted.

Humility becomes a martyr complex when we habitually seek to put ourselves down as a way to feel “good” about ourselves.

That’s not humility.

That’s not what the tax-collector is doing.

Proper humility is when the fig leaf of smug self-justification, spiritual pride or contempt for others is put aside.

So the words of the tax collector are the words that can, and should, be on our lips.

‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Those words bubble up from the heart and shape the movement of the heart.

‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

That’s not negativity; that is reality; even though it goes against what our contemporary culture tells us.

We fall short, fellow sinners, you and me.

To say ‘I am a sinner’ means that God has somewhere to begin in my life; I acknowledge that I am in need of healing and saving

After all, Christ came to heal the sick; to bring sinners to repentance.

‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’: that is a prayer in itself.

The Eastern Orthodox Christian prayer is known as the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner’.

It is known as Prayer of the Heart, and is gently repeated, mantra like.

In so doing we stop gazing on our own image and the mask we wear and we turn our gaze to God.

As the Psalm puts it,

Hearken unto my voice, O Lord, when I cry unto thee : have mercy upon me, and hear me.

My heart hath talked of thee, Seek ye my face : Thy face, Lord, will I seek. (Psalm 27.8,9)

So let us fix our gaze always on Christ.

As you look at a crucifix, seek to gaze on the mystery of the depths of his love.

As you look at a statue of Mary cradling her Son, seek to gaze on the mystery that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

At the moment you hear Jesus’ words, ‘This is my body; this is my blood’, seek to gaze on Christ in bread and wine as they are elevated, lifted up for you to behold.

In prayer we turn our gaze to our heavenly Father and away from an introspective gaze at ourselves.

In prayer we don’t exalt ourselves but exalt him in our lives.

In prayer we stand, as sinners, asking his healing, salvation and peace.

‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Then we can go home justified.

 

 

Monday, 17 October 2022

The heart of persistence

Genesis 32.22–31 Jacob Wrestles at Peniel

2 Timothy 3.14-4.5 The man who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work

Luke 18.1-8 The parable of the unjust judge

 

+

 

Today’s gospel reading features a parable that challenges and stretches and, perhaps, even baffles us.

 

And that’s what parables are there to do.

 

They don’t give ready answers but as we explore them meaning is generated and their point and purpose sinks in.

 

The purpose of this parable, Jesus tells us, is ‘[our] need to pray always and not to lose heart’ (Luke 18.1).

 

The parable takes us to the first century equivalent of the Small Claims Court.

 

It focuses on the persistent woman who stands ringing the doorbell of a judge who just can’t be bothered to deal with what he clearly regards as an insignificant case brought by an insignificant bothersome person: a woman; a widow.

 

Her persistence is rewarded when the judge relents and acts justly

 

It’s usually assumed when this parable is heard that it is us, you and me, who are being likened to the persistent widow.

 

Surely her persistence exemplifies the need to pray always and not lose heart.

 

We readily assume that the unjust judge in the parable is how God is; not really that interested in hearing what we have to say.

 

But what if our assumptions are all wrong?

 

What if we need to flip it around?

 

After all, we humans are the ones who more often deign to sit in judgement on God: why does he allow this; why did he permit that?

 

Some philosophers and many in our culture today even have had the audacity to declare God to be dead.

 

St Paul warned about this in our second reading:

 

3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. (2 Timothy 4.3-4)

 

We are the ones who ‘neither fear God nor have respect for people’ (Luke 18.2).

 

We are the ones more likely to be caught up with our own preoccupations, thinking about what we want first before we ponder the mysteries of God or consider the needs of others.

 

We are the ones who are more likely to deny the claims of justice, if those claims impinge on what we want.

 

Like Jacob, in our first reading, we wrestle with an image of God that we want to control.

 

When we try to shake God off in our lives we will end up limping along, like Jacob.

 

The judge is deaf to the woman’s claims; so often we are deaf to the just claims of God.

 

It is God who is the persistent one.

 

Through history his prophets have proclaimed God’s message of fidelity to the covenant, God’s justice and righteousness, and through history even God’s people wander and stray.

 

He then sent his own Son. Who, as St Paul says:

 

6 …though he was in the form of God,

   did not regard equality with God

   as something to be exploited,

7 but emptied himself,

   taking the form of a slave,

   being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

8   he humbled himself

   and became obedient to the point of death—

   even death on a cross. (Philippians 2.6-8)

 

That is persistence: God’s passionate, persistent, pursuit of us.

 

Yet still we fail to embrace him wholeheartedly, still our prayer is not persistent, and we lose heart and faith in him.

 

On reflection, then, fellow sinners, it is more characteristic of we fallen human beings to be the ones who turn a deaf ear to the persistent Lord who loves us and calls us, gently and yet insistently.

 

A saint is one whose life is shaped by prayer, that radical openness to the mysteries of God, knowing that like the unjust judge the human heart can be softened, and when we have a heart of flesh, not a heart of stone, then great things begin to happen.

 

Like Blessed Mary we say ‘yes’ to God, we say ‘be it unto me according to thy word’.

 

Mary heard the call of the Saviour.

 

Listen.

 

Open the ears of your heart.

 

The Lord calls you; knocks at the door of your heart; he calls you go step forward and move deeper into his life, for there you will find life in all its abundance. .