SMC – 17th February 2019
I have an unhealthy relationship with my phone and so it was a right pain a year or more ago when it wasn’t charging properly over night. I’d plug it in and the charging sign would come up, and then somehow during the night it would stop charging. Argh! So I created an elaborate complexity of books and things to try and keep the cable connected to the phone but I needed to seek expert advice, yes I needed to go to the iPhone shop on Regent Street, which I always think is a wonderful place. Anyway I went and the assistant helped wonderfully efficiently - all that was needed was for the hole where the charger goes to be cleaned out, with some special I-vacuum, no doubt, and a poking device. And voila! It has worked perfectly ever since. It wouldn’t charge because the cable and the phone couldn’t get close enough, it needed cleaning out.
Our readings today talk about the need to be close to God so as to reap benefits and for us to become the people God wants us to be. We heard our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah: “A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord ... He is like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream.” From there the tree will find sure nourishment, refreshing water. The Psalmist rejoices that such a person will be a like a tree “whose leaves shall never fade.”
We don’t know what form it will take, nor when this fruit will come. When preaching recently at the funeral of a member of our congregation, I noted how in the midst of her dementia came through a bright light of coherence, when she uttered once again the prayers and passages of the Bible that she’d recited and the words from Mass: these words were still with her and there will have been great spiritual grace in that. The fruit we bear will be visible at a time we do not know. There will be an immediate grace we receive here at Mass, but there will be fruit we bear at a time to come and all because you’re here attending to God today.
But this fruit will be the fruit you are meant to produce and this is a great reassurance. The temptation in the great journey of our spiritual life is that we look at others and think how wonderful it must be to be like them. Doesn’t that person’s life look easier than mine? Isn’t that person better at saying their prayers than I am? Look how much support that person has. The grass can look much greener on the other side of the fence. But often such judgements we make are based on a pretty shoddy foundation. And besides, God doesn’t call us to be pray like someone else or to do the things other people do, He calls us to be the faithful servant He formed in the womb. As Jesus asks, “Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15). The answer, of course, is no. We’re to bear the fruit God has called us to bear and nothing more, nothing less.
So, back to the image of the problem with my phone, which I started with: we need to ask ourselves what prevents us from being close to God? In our Gospel today St Luke records the Beatitudes; they’re largely different to those St Matthew records (see Matthew 5) and that could be for a variety of reasons, maybe they were given at different times. But I just want to look at each one in turn as we consider what might get in the way of us being refreshed by God.
“Alas for you who are rich.” Society tells us we must want money, we must want to be rich, we must want more than we have now. But, no, woe to those who are rich. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven,” (Mark 10:25) Jesus says. And this is good for us to bear in mind when we consider how many hours we work because we need the money, whether we accept a promotion or not, what we spend our money on. The trouble is that, people who have lots of money have no sense of their poverty. In reality, we are all clay jars to use an image Paul uses in his second letter to the Corinthians. Clay jars aren’t very exciting, they’re a bit plain, they’re a bit cheap, there would have been loads of them knocking about the place. It’s like saying, we’re all a carrier bag. But Paul uses this image of the clay jar in the context of saying how wonderful it is what God has given us: He, “who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We have this treasure in clay jars,” he goes on, “so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (II Corinthians 4:6-7). It’s harder to know we’re a clay jar with a great treasure given us by God inside of us, if we’re used to thinking we’re pretty snazzy because of what we wear or who we’re photographed with or the car we drive. “Alas for you who are rich.”
“Alas for you who have your fill now.” One of the hardest and overlooked teachings of Jesus is His warning to the disciples: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48). The most precious thing that anyone can be given is the gift of faith. My brothers and sisters, we have that gift and therefore certain things are expected of us by God, namely following His commandments. Others out there who have no faith and who do not receive the grace we receive at Mass, less will be expected of them, but we’re given the Holy Body and the Most Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ here. Wow! No wonder a lot is expected of us! “Alas or you who have your fill now.”
“Alas for you who laugh now.” Laughing in Scripture is seen as a joy that comes from a knowledge of God’s purposes being fulfilled. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, mother of Ishmael and Isaac, is told by God that in her old age that she will conceive and bear a son. We’re told, “Sarah laughed to herself” because she couldn’t really believe it was going to happen (Genesis 18:12). She’s reprimanded by God because it’s a laughter not ground in an active faith (Genesis 18:13). There are folk who think life is one big joke and who mock God and laugh at the thought that people might actually take their faith seriously and put it into practice. This is not to say we are to be miserable, for Jesus promises laughter earlier in our Gospel to those who weep now. But that will be a laughter fully aware of the fragility of human existence, a laughter that knows the value of human beings, a laughter that recognises God’s purposes as supreme and that He is to be worshipped. Don’t mock it.
So, we gather, my friends, to be close to God. Use this time of worship sensibly to be close to Him! So many of us don’t have or don’t make time to be in God’s house for the rest of the week so let’s be serious about the time we have here. That we may be close to God, like Mary our Mother, tenderly holding the Saviour of the world in her arms. We will bear some glorious fruit if we do this. We will have the kingdom of God, we will be satisfied, we shall laugh.