Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
How often do you think of yourself in terms of a sister or brother of Jesus, or see our relationship with one another in terms of the family of God to which we belong through the gift of our baptism and confirmation? I am sure you do from time to time, but does it matter, is it important?
The second reading from the letter to the Romans hints at this in the phrase about Christ being the firstborn of many brothers and sisters, who have a purpose and mission in life, one which will lead them to be glorified, but in the process means bearing witness to Christ and his teaching.
All this can seem very far removed from ordinary, daily life with all its demands, but we are foolish if we think it does not mean anything for us. Today more than ever, the community that follows Christ is being called to a determined witness in an arena where our faith is being challenged on so many fronts, the old sign posts of truth, ethics, respect have shifted, Christianity itself is in danger of polarisation if we are not careful of what we say and do. Opposition to faith is strong in many areas of the world; the privileged influence of our faith in societal life is no longer as secure as once it was.
It is significant that in our first reading from the book of Kings, Solomon's response to God's appearance in his dream promising to fulfil anything he asks, is not for power, wealth, influence or even longevity, it is for something far more important: 'Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?' (I Kgs 3:9) This is exactly what we need to be praying for each and every day, a listening heart. Like Solomon we can respond to God by asking for the same gift because it is tied up with the ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom and the saving gift of Christ, we have aright as children of the One god, sisters and brothers of Jesus to ask in his name these much needed gifts of discernment and guidance. Around us evil and good are mixed together, sometimes evil masquerades as good and it takes great foresight to see through the disguises it adopts. It has always been axiomatic that sin comes in attractive packages but with no spiritual health warnings. It is our task to help guide people into choosing the constructive options for good, not destruction and hurt.
Look at the TV, read online or in journals and newspapers the 'sordid', disreputable and dishonourable activities done by people of power who are able to convince others that what they do is apparently for our good. It takes a strong person to swim against the tide of opinion and I am afraid we in the Church are as much to blame as anybody, there are some very odd ideas floating about, many of them need good strong theological critique to help bring our minds back to the presence of Christ, to hear the word of God and to commit ourselves to active ministry and mission for our poor battered Earth, a world that encompasses not only human life but all creatures and life on earth. We are being challenged to stand up and bear witness to the truth and joy of Christ's promise to us. That also is the hidden message of the parables of the Kingdom Jesus teaches, how good and bad alike are growing together, but it is at the end that the bad are separated out. An interesting thought about the need for our discernment and a listening heart! But, what do we say the Kingdom of heaven is like in our age, how would you describe it, how best can we discern it for ourselves and others?
'The Kingdom of God'.
Francis Thompson (1859 - 1907)
O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air-
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!-
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places-
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry-and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry-clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!
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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