16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I attended an excellent webinar on Covid 19 and Communion this week. It is part of a rolling programme the Society for Ecumenical Study are putting on, this one in partnership with The Tablet and Reform. It was stimulating and very thought provoking, but one of the various phrases that stuck in my mind, was about the need to create spaces in which we can be different. I feel this strongly, so it articulated something that has been swirling around my mind during this very strange period, namely that deprived of Eucharist, sacraments and liturgical assembly my faith hasn't collapsed, it has been challenged and pared down to almost essentials.
I couldn't zoom any Eucharist myself not only for theological reasons (Byzantine liturgical theology does not allow any private individual celebrations as liturgy is corporate) but also because the other Melkite Parish Priest did that for the community. I couldn't join in as he celebrated Zoom Liturgy in a family house, so not part of my self isolation, and it was almost entirely Arabic, so like many of you I shared in a deprivation locked down by myself. However I am not on the side of those who want churches open at all costs and Eucharist on demand. Instead a question I was asked many years ago by a wise older priest has been the silent echo in all I prayed and thought: 'If my brother or sister is starving or in great peril, how can I celebrate Eucharist unless they first are fed and cared for? Sharing in liturgical absence has been invaluable, and I am sure will allow me to now glimpse other and unused presences of the Christ available to us.
These two thoughts, creating a space for difference and the challenge of being the living body of Christ who must also feed and care for that body in its need as a priority, is a refrain I hear in the readings this Sunday.
Let me put it this way. Deprived of communion, my own faith has begun to see other forms of reception of Christ as nourishing, fulfilling, deepening. Yes, we must love God, but that other balance of 'neighbour as ourselves' completes the equation. My own understanding is that this period is both a challenge and a new direction for those who embrace the call of the Spirit. Today's Gospel is all about the Kingdom, not the Church, it is about active spiritual farming, the 'Son of Man' sows the seed but it is we ourselves who grow, nurture and harvest it. It is also describes as mustard seed that starts out tiny but grows into an enormous bush, which again we care for, then the powerful yeast in the three measures of wheat flour which leavened and the complete batch. All of this is about working with the sower, letting things develop but being wise enough not to step in and destroy anything, as that is left to the Most High and the angels at the end of days.
Before ending, could I share these images of `God in our first and second readings. In Wisdom the Holy One is called carer, just, mighty, perfect, who rebukes temerity, powerful yet lenient, kind, giver of hope and the One who permits of forgiveness. Would that we took these attributes of God to heart, and think before we attack or critique other people's understandings of faith. In Romans we are reminded that we are weak spiritual beings who don't really know the power of the Spirit until in weakness we allow ourselves to pray with the Spirit. I see myself very much in that image but these readings give me hope, a desire to read and listen to the Scriptures. They have been a deep source of nourishment for many of us during this continuing period of Covid. May you find that the Lord speaks through them if we have ears to hear!
"Sin is the refusal to accept our own nothingness - that in ourselves we are a mere want, a need, a desire. Our very existence is from another…To recognise this is truth and life. Then we begin to live in God and through God and for God".
Prayer of the empty one.
Carer of our lives, challenge us to find You by seeking first the Kingdom and its righteousness. Help us discover this not as an abstract desire but like the seed sown, the yeast leavening the dough, the mustard seed growing.
We muddle up Your Christ's presence in our journey, demanding the bread of life before we have reconciled with one another and ourselves.
We are good at misinterpreting the Gospel command to love one another and wash each others feet, excusing ourselves from that effort, when the real challenge demands we let go of our selfishness in order to discover the emptiness that then is filled with the Spirit at work in our hearts.
Help us become the pure of heart, the simple ones of faith. Amen
Robert Gibbons 18 07 MMXX
Gregory of Nazianzen Poem: The parables and puzzles according to Matthew
Come then, and view the puzzles of the darkened words:
the house built on unstable sand (7:24-27),
the seed, though cast the same upon the earth, unequal grows (13:1-8)
And the seed, to which, though good, bad seeds were mixed (13:24-30).
The shrub, a little seed of mustard (13:31-32).
Then the yeast hidden in dough (13:33).
A field purchased for the sake of its treasure (13:44).
And the pearl of great price, which the merchant bought for all he owned (13:45-46);
dragging the net from the sea with all kinds of fish (13:47-48).
Taking the lost sheep on his shoulders (18:10-14).
And the king who was harsh to his servant, petty about his debts (18:21-35).
The last who have pay equal to those who were first (20:1-16).
The sons, who were nothing alike, sent into the vineyard (21:28-32).
And those who threw the heir out to his death (21:33-43).15.
And the last-minute guests who filled the feast beloved by the groom (22:1-13)
And then the virgins making vigil with the torches (25:1-13).
And the master who gave his slaves unequal talents (25:14-30).
And the sheep and the goats set up opposite each other (25:31-46)
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. You can follow him on Twitter: @RobinGibbons2
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