Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: October 2014

25 October 2014: 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 22:34-40
The new horizon of love

The Gospel readings for these last few weeks have seen Jesus constantly harassed by Pharisees and Sadducees and Herodians, all of which seem to be trying to trip him up and catch him out, to get him to say something that they could arrest or at least vilify him for. There was obviously something about Jesus that challenged these people, all representatives of the established structures of the society in which Jesus lived.
What is encouraging here is that Jesus does not engage at all in the internal squabbles of the established religious groupings. Instead he quickly identifies the commandments which summarise the entirety of the Law and the Prophets and in doing so lays out a great challenge for one and all.
The command to love, both God and neighbour, is a tough one firstly because I don’t necessarily see God and my neighbour can be the most annoying person on earth and secondly, because it seems impossible to be totally selfless all the time.
What I think is interesting here is that in loving God there is a whole new horizon opened up which supersedes the rule based mentality that the Pharisee’s exhibited, and which we so easily find ourselves falling into. For Jesus the most important commandments are not those which dictate moral norms or liturgical practices (though these are incredibly important). The most important thing is love: love of God, and love of neighbour.

Questioning Words
What would it look like if I was to let a love for God and neighbour really animate my daily life?
What are some of the practical ways that I can show love for those who are close to me?
What are some ways that I can show love to those who I find it difficult to be around?

20 October 2014: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 22:15-21
Render Unto Caesar

Entering into this story doesn’t seem to be all that difficult. Jesus is likely with his disciples and others who are interested, imparting his teaching upon them when a group of Pharisee approach him with a question. He is used to this it seems, as they’re always trying to catch him off guard.
The question this time however gives him an even greater opportunity to explicate his teaching. The Pharisees come at him with a moral concern – the taxes they would pay to Caesar would no doubt be used, at least in part, to fund the ongoing oppression of their people. On the other hand, they come to him with a band of Herodians, those loyal to the King who had been imposed on them by Roman Empirical decree. It seems that Jesus is stuck between a rock and a hard place – there is seemingly nowhere for him to go. If he declares it immoral for the tax to be paid the Herodians will arrest him and have him turned over for persecution.
Jesus’ response however takes them well and truly off-guard. His response is to bring the issue back to a more fundamental principle. While he acknowledges that there are in fact temporal or earthly responsibilities that we as citizens must responsibly participate in, he encourages us not to get too caught up in that. Our primary responsibility as a citizen of the heavenly kingdom is to render to God what is His due.
For the image of Caesar is imprinted on the coin and thus in a certain sense, it belongs to him. But the image of God is imprinted on each and every one of us [Gen 1:26] and thus it is our duty to surrender ourselves, whole and entire – body, soul and will – to Him.
The final line of this story, not included in the reading for this Sunday reads: “When they heard it, they marvelled; and they left him and went away.” The words of Jesus here are marvellous indeed. Instead of allowing himself to be dragged into a muddy debate where he most certainly could not emerge cleanly, Jesus reframes the question encouraging both civic responsibility and religious devotion.

Questioning Words
Am I taking care to ensure that I meet all my civic responsibilities?
Have I considered what it is that I owe to God? Am I prepared to give that to Him?
What would it look like to live a life of abandonment to God?
Is there anything holding me back?

12 October 2014: 28 Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 22:1-14
All are invited to the Wedding Feast
The parable that Jesus tells in this week’s Gospel uses the familiar imagery of the wedding feast, one which is quite common throughout the whole of biblical literature.
Here Christ compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast, one to which everyone is invited. Those that scorn and refuse the invitation are certainly not forced to attend against their will.
After the refusal of the original guests the invitation went out to one and all, the bad and the good alike, and the wedding hall we are told was filled with guests. We can imagine the joy and frivolity that would have accompanied such a large crowd celebrating the marriage of the son of a king! No expense would be spared with good food, music and dancing. What a wonderful vision of heaven!
One curious detail is included in this story however, and it is that of the guest who took no care to prepare himself for the wedding celebration. The king deals with this guest rather harshly it seems and after an initial inquiry to which the man is non-responsive, the king instructs his servants to bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the dark. What could this possibly mean?
It seems that while all are welcome to attend the joyous wedding celebration of the marriage of the king’s son, there is a requirement that some effort is gone to on the part of the guests before arriving. One can imagine arriving at a wedding celebration after just rolling out of bed, or after a days work in the garden – it would hardly be honouring of the host, indeed it would likely be considered an insult.
In this parable we see a glimpse of the unfathomable mercy of God, but we also get a sense of his justice – all are invited to the wedding feast but there is an expectation that we make some effort to prepare ourselves for this joyous occasion.
The putting off of our old garments and the wearing of a wedding garment has traditionally been understood as the putting off of our old, selfish and sinful ways, and the putting on of the life of grace, which God gives us in His mercy. The invitation is open, and God will give us the grace to aid us in preparing ourselves if we but only ask Him.

Truth Nugget
God loves us the way we are, but too much to let us stay that way

5 October 2014 – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 21:33-43
No Cheap Grace
This week’s Gospel has Jesus presenting a parable which really throws us off. We are somewhat shocked at the behaviour of the tenants of the vineyard, who seem utterly consumed in their greed, willing to stop at nothing, not even murder, to satisfy their lust for riches and produce which in fact was not theirs to keep.
The owner of the vineyard is tireless in his attempts to reason with these tenants, and omits nothing from his attempts to bring salvation to these wicked tenants, not even sparing his son. As their wickedness increased so too did the mercy of the land owner.
The allegory here is obvious, the landowner is an image of God the Father, and the tenants are in a certain sense representatives of each and every one of us who at times neglect to do justice towards God, not giving him his due.
What is important to note here is that God is showing the unfathomable depths of His mercy, to the point of sending his Son into the fray, knowing that he will be in danger – risking his very life.
We are constantly in need of reminders of God’s mercy – we need reminders that God is not simply on the lookout for things to punish us for but instead is looking for opportunities to save us from our own selfish and sinful desires.
In all this too, we must remember at what cost His mercy comes – the blood of His Son. It is in remembering this that we do not take God’s mercy for granted. Mercy is no cheap grace, and while it cannot be earned, it must be received freely, as a gift freely given. God will not force it upon us.

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