Trinity IV

Each and every one of us is in need of healing, be it physical, psychological or spiritual. Our bodies, minds, and souls need it. It is a truth of human existence that we are all broken, and while medicine can heal our bodies, we still long for life in all its fulness. The Kingdom of God, proclaimed and inaugurated by Jesus Christ is a place of healing, and through our relationship with Jesus we can find the wholeness for which we long. This is why the Gospels contain healing miracles. These miraculous accounts are signs of God’s restoration of creation through His Son, something which will culminate with His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. 

In the Gospel Jesus has sailed back across the Sea of Galilee to the Jewish side. On His arrival He is greeted by the leader of a local synagogue whose daughter is close to death. Jairus longs for his child to be healed, and asked Jesus to place His hands on her, so that she might be saved and live.

While Jesus is going to heal Jairus’ daughter, another miracle takes place. Lots of people are following Jesus, which is understandable since He is a charismatic preacher and teacher, who heals people. In the crowd is a woman with a gynaecological complaint. It would have made her life extremely difficult, and in Jewish ritual terms she would have been regarded as impure. She would not have been able to play her part in religious life. Also she would not have been able to bear children, and her husband, according to Jewish law, could have divorced her. She was an outcast, unclean, thrown on the metaphorical scrapheap of society. What money the woman had, she had been spent on doctors in trying to find a cure, but they only made things worse. Now she was penniless and desperate. But this pale, weak woman had an idea:

She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.’ (Mk 5:27-29)

Despite her physical infirmity, this woman has faith. She trusts Jesus, and believes that if she touches His clothing she will be healed. Such healing would restore her to community and allow her to take part in its religious life. She places her faith in God, realising that He can do for her what humanity could not. 

Jesus then notices that power has gone out from Him. He is aware of what has happened. Having asked who touched Him, Jesus’ disciples reply that it was accidental: they are surrounded by a crowd, anyone could have brushed against Him. Our Lord remains unconvinced:

And he looked round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”’ (Mk 5:32-34)

The woman comes ‘in fear and trembling’ not because she is afraid of Jesus, but because it is the proper way for humans to act in the presence of God. She is filled with awe at her experience of divine healing. Jesus’ reply is astounding for several reasons. Firstly, that He responds at all: talking to a woman who was not a member of your family was frowned upon, let alone a woman who is a ritually unclean outcast. Jesus is breaking a social taboo. He addresses her as ‘daughter’, a reminder that Jesus’ family are not those related to Him in earthly terms, but those who do God’s will. The woman is a daughter of God and her faith in God has healed her. She trusted God to do what the physicians could not. Faith is the route to salvation and healing, trusting God to be at work. She can go in peace because she has been restored to health. Peace is God’s gift to us, that we may experience wholeness. Finally, Jesus underlines that what has happened is not a temporary healing, but a permanent state of affairs.

While Jesus is still speaking to the woman, messengers come to give Jairus a message:

“Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” (Mk 5:35)

The situation is hopeless, and in their eyes there is nothing that Jesus can do. Thankfully, Our Lord has other ideas:

‘But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”’ (Mk 5:36)

This fear is not the awe shown by the woman who has been healed, but a lack of trust in God. We know from the Letter to the Hebrews that:

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)

Jairus has demonstrated his faith by prostrating himself before Jesus and asking for healing. Now, in the face of his daughter’s apparent demise, Jairus must trust God to be at work. 

‘Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi”, which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”’ (Mk 5:41)

Note the fact that Jesus takes the girl by the hand. To touch a dead body would make a person ritually impure. This is why the priest and Levite in the Parable of the good Samaritan pass by on the other side. Jesus disregards the taboo of uncleanness, and speaks to her. He speaks to her in Aramaic, her mother tongue, and says literally ‘little lamb, get up’. It is a term of endearment which also reminds us that Christ is the Good Shepherd who cares for His lambs, keeps them safe, and saves them from death. 

The people who are there: Jairus and his wife, Peter, James and John are all amazed. They are filled with awe, the holy fear of witnessing the mighty works of God. It reminds us that as humans we relate to God primarily through worship. Finally, Jesus tells her parents to give her something to eat, which shows us the reality of her resurrection. This also points towards the feast of the Kingdom, which we hope to enjoy in Heaven, and which is prefigured in the Eucharist. Through physical and spiritual communion Christ gives Himself to feed us, and heal our bodies and our souls, and assures us of eternal life.

Like Jairus and the haemorrhaging woman, may we have faith, and come to Jesus for healing. So that we may come to the Feast of the Lamb and may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

James Tissot The woman with the Issue of Blood
James Tissot The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter

Trinity III

Over the last eighteen months or so we have had far too much experience of fear. It has been everywhere: in the media, in the announcements of politicians and scientists. Fear has been defining our daily lives. Such a situation is neither good nor healthy. At its heart Christianity is a faith which seeks to liberate people from fear, allowing us to live in love. That is all fine in theory, but in practice it is both difficult and complicated. We struggle to overcome our fears, such is the human condition. Alone and unsupported we may be tempted to just give in to fear. But we have a Lord and Father who is our advocate and comforter. 

The Book of Job explores what has become known as the Problem of Evil: why bad things happen to good people. The text explores the redemptive quality of suffering. Rather than being something we should avoid, it is something we can embrace, and grow through. Above all, God is someone we can trust, whether things are good or bad. God loves us. 

Our first reading speaks of God’s power over nature in general, and the sea in particular:

Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb,Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’ (Job 38:8, 11)

The power that God has over nature also lies behind the miracle in our Gospel passage. Jesus and His disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee when a violent storm blows up. The disciples are terrified, despite many of them being fishermen. They are afraid that they are about to drown. This passage throws up a number of questions. Why are Jesus and His disciples crossing from the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee to the non-Jewish side?  Why are they sailing at night, rather than waiting until the next morning? We are not told why. This incident acts as a bridge between the section in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus has been teaching, to one where He will perform miracles, and put that teaching into practice. 

As the boat begins to fill with water the disciples are getting desperate:

And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.’ (Mk 4:38-39)

Jesus’ followers are afraid. There are thirteen of them packed into a boat twenty six feet long, eight feet wide, and four feet deep. Jesus can command the storm to cease because He is God. The ability to control the sea and its storms is a sign of divine power: God is the one who brings peace.  Jesus has come to bring peace to troubled hearts. Having performed a miracle, He questions His disciples:

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”’ (Mk 4:39-41)

The answer to the disciples question is that Jesus is God, no-one else could do what He does. Jesus then questions why His disciples feel fear and lack faith. To put it simply, the disciples have not yet understood either who Jesus is, or what He is doing. Once they have experienced Christ’s Passion and Resurrection and seen Him triumph over death, they will come to understand what is going on here. 

Jesus calms storms both real and metaphorical: on the Sea of Galilee, and in our own lives. By dealing with sin once and for all on the Cross, He has brought us a peace which passes all understanding. Being at peace allows the Christian community to

no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.’ (2Cor 5:15)

Our life is not our own, because the love of Christ controls us, as St Paul writes in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (2Cor 5:14). Christ’s Death and Resurrection provides an answer to the questions asked by Job, and all humanity. By entering into the mystery of apparently meaningless suffering, we can discover the source of all meaning, namely the love of God. 

This is why we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. Jesus told us to do this, so that we might experience that love in a tangible form, and encounter the grace which can transform our lives. St John tells us that ‘Perfect love casts out fear’ (1John 4:18). What we encounter in communion, whether spiritual or physical, is the greatest example of God’s love for humanity. Our faith is a matter of trust. Christians believe in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for all people. We put our trust in Him, safe in the knowledge that He alone can still the storms of our life, and that His perfect love can drive out our fear. We cling to the Cross as our source of Hope, knowing that whatever happens we are loved, and that this love has the power to transform us. This love has the power to free us from fear.

When Jesus summarises the Law in Mark 12:3-31, He commands us to love God and love our neighbour. To live lives of love which look to Christ’s self-giving love on the Cross, is the way in which we enter the mystery of God’s love and allow it to cast out fear from our lives. Then we can be truly alive and share that love with others, so that all humanity may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

Jesus stills the Tempest – James Tissot

Trinity II

Many of us enjoy gardening, and I imagine that quite a few of us have been doing some during the good weather this weekend. There is something wonderful about taking seeds or cuttings, placing them in compost and watching them grow. It never ceases to give me a thrill. Once plants have grown you end up with something that you can eat, smell, look at, or even sell. This process brings joy, as well as nourishment for the body, and the soul. This image is used by the prophet Ezekiel to look forward to a future where God’s people are safe and protected. It looks to the establishment of God’s kingdom, by means of  the twig planted on the lofty mountain of Calvary. The Cross is our source of hope, it is the Tree of Life. Through the Cross we have life in all its fullness, and live secure in its shade. Ezekiel’s image of the cedar tree is used by Jesus in HIs parable of the Mustard Seed. This parable shows how prophecy is being brought about in and through Jesus, the Messiah. This is the promised Kingdom of God, becoming a reality in and through Christ. 

The parable starts by telling us that the one who scatters the seed does not know how things grow. For all their sleeping and rising they cannot influence matters, they just have to sit back and let something mysterious and wonderful happen. That is how God works. Humanity has a role to play, but God is in charge. It isn’t just up to us!

The church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ, and entrusted to His Apostles, began as a small affair: just a few people in a backwater of the Roman Empire. To begin with the early Christians were written off as deluded followers of just another charismatic prophet. It may not have been an auspicious start; it certainly is not what a management consultant would recommend. However, a small group of people had their lives turned around by God, and told people about it. They risked everything, including their personal safety, to spread the Good News. Two thousand years later, the Church has now grown to point where there are several billion Christians on earth. Here in the West Christianity may be becoming marginalised, but the global picture is far more encouraging. Throughout the world, people are coming to know Christ, to love and worship Him. Even if we have been going through some ‘bad harvests’ in our own land, it is important to keep scattering the seed, and allow it to grow in a way which can defy our expectations.

Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. This is a tiny thing, only two millimetres in diameter, and yet in the Mediterranean climate it could grow into a bush twice the height of a human being. This plant may have a small beginning, but there is the possibility of remarkable growth.The image of birds nesting in its shade signals divine blessings, as in the passage from Ezekiel. Jesus takes the imagery of the prophecy and shows how it will be brought to fulfilment in and through the Church. Such is the generous nature of God, that He gives us a place where we can be safe, and where we can grow in faith. By hearing God’s word, praying together, and sharing in the Eucharist we are nourished and strengthened to live the Christian life.

Like the Apostle Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, we can always be confident and put our trust in God, as we know that we cannot be disappointed. On the Cross, Christ’s victory is complete, so we please God by following His commandments: to love Him and also love our neighbour. We are motivated by our love of Jesus, to follow His example. We know that He suffered and died to heal and restore us, to bear the burden of our sins. As it says a little further along in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: 

‘He died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and was raised for them.’ (2Cor 5:15) 

And so in the Church, our family, and community, we live for Christ. Our thoughts, words, and actions proclaim the saving truth of God’s love for humanity. If we seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others — and at the same time are forgiving ourselves — then we can be built up in love. If we are devout in prayer, fortified by the word of God, and by the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we are strengthened in love, and our souls are nourished, allowing us to grow into the full stature of Christ. Just like the cedar tree and the mustard seed. So let us come and be fed, healed, and restored by the Lord, living in love and encouraging others, for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom.

If we are faithful, if we keep scattering seed in our thoughts, our words, and our actions, then wonderful things will happen. We have to trust God to be at work in people’s lives, and be there for them when they do respond to this call. If we can be as welcoming as the mustard tree in the parable, then we will have ensured that people have a place where they can come to know Jesus, and grow in love and faith. Despite all the current trials and tribulations, we must not lose heart, but trust in the God who loves us, who gave His Son for love of us. If we are confident of who Christ is, and what He has done for us, then as people filled with the love of God, we will carry on the Christian mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Through us, others will come to know and trust in that love which changes everything. They too will give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen

Trinity I

It is a truth of human existence that we like to find someone to blame, preferably someone other than ourselves. Our reading from Genesis is all about finding someone else to blame. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent. Both have eaten from a tree that God commanded them not to eat. No-one wants to put their hand up and say, ‘Yes, it’s my fault!’. It is not something that is easy or comfortable to do, but each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we begin by doing exactly this. We acknowledge our own shortcomings and ask God for forgiveness and healing. There is a spiritual maturity here, recognising that we fall short, and that we are sorry for having done so. Because we show humility God can be at work in our lives and we can know something of the healing and reconciliation God offers to humanity. The Church is a place of healing where despite our past mistakes, we know that we are loved and saved by God. 

Mark’s Gospel begins with the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom and Jesus’ charismatic ministry of preaching and healing. The people of Galilee are in great need, so great in fact that Christ and His disciples are not even able to get something to eat. Jesus’ own relatives are concerned at the frenetic pace of His ministry and mistake compassion for madness. But Jesus longs to help and heal people because God loves us. The Kingdom of God which Christ inaugurates is a place of healing and reconciliation, where humanity can truly know life in all its fulness. Jesus’ relatives are not able to grasp this. They cannot understand who He really is or what He is doing: they can only see practical concerns and fail to notice the importance of what is going on in His public ministry

Members of the religious élite then arrive and start to make serious accusations:

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (Mk 3:22)

They see a charismatic teacher and healer from Galilee and want to rubbish Him immediately. This man is not doing God’s work, he’s in league with the Devil! It’s a political strategy designed to stop Jesus from developing a following. If they write Him off as a heretic and a troublemaker, things will all calm down. Jesus, however, points out the clear logical inconsistency of the scribes’ position:

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.” (Mk 3:23-26)

If Jesus is possessed by the Devil, how can He cast the Devil out? His accusers have failed to see the spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, at work in Him. Their refusal to see God at work is a sign of their pride and hardness of heart — they cannot discern the works of God, and write off as evil a wondrous demonstration of God’s love for humanity. Such is the Sin against the Holy Spirit, a wilful rejection of God. The religious authorities have failed to discern what is actually going on and have taken the easy step of finding someone to blame, someone to rubbish, someone to write off. God’s healing love has been dismissed as the work of the Devil. This is a serious matter, as Jesus explains:

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mk 3:28-30)

The scribes have condemned themselves, and whereas they have accused Jesus of blasphemy, they are the real blasphemers. Note that Jesus does not condemn them, but rather offers to humanity the possibility of the forgiveness of sins. This is another demonstration of God’s love being poured out on the world.

Then Jesus’ family return and a confrontation takes place:

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk 3:31-35)

What really matters is not who our parents or relatives are, but our relationship with Jesus. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we know the reality of God’s saving love in our lives. If we are obedient to God, if we come to Him in Humility we can know true love and friendship. 

It is through Jesus — who He is and what He does — that humanity can go from disobedience and punishment to the possibility of healing and wholeness, restored to a relationship with a loving God. This is the hope which inspires St Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. Our hope is in Heaven, to be with God forever. We have the same hope as Paul because of all that Christ has done for us. This is Grace, the unmerited kindness of God, which we desire, but do not deserve. Grace is not something we can earn, it is the generous gift of a loving God. St Paul looks to a heavenly future where the trials of this life are past, where we live for ever in the presence of God, and are filled with His glory. This is our hope as Christians, through what Christ has done for us, to fill us with His life and His love. 

This is why Jesus becomes human, proclaims God’s Kingdom, heals the sick, dies on the Cross and rises at Easter: to give us this hope. This is Good News! Our relationship with Jesus is the most important thing that there is. Nothing else matters. This is a radical message, exactly the sort of thing that the Jewish Religious Authorities wanted to put a stop to immediately. It is dangerous. It could change the world. And it has, and continues to do so. 

Come Lord Jesus, come and heal us, and fill us with your life and love, so that we may share it with others, that they too may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

Michelangelo: The Downfall of Adam and Eve and their Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Sistine Chapel