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Chris (email link at the bottom of each page)

The Scandal of Grace

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Isaiah 55:6–9 • Psalm 144(145):2–3, 8–9, 17–18 • Philippians 1:20–24, 27 • Matthew 20:1–16

 

Sunrise over grain crops, “the last will be first . . ."

Can you imagine the furore at any modern workplace if someone who had worked a full day were paid the same as someone who had worked for only the last hour of the day?  With the modern raft of employment legislation and unions, there would probably be a major protest, even a riot. The boss wouldn’t be able to say, as the landowner said to his protesting workers, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?” (v. 13 NIV ). Don’t worry, Jesus told the parable to elicit this very response – indignation, protest and complaint! Sometimes life just isn’t fair, and neither is the gospel message – but that’s the point . . .

The gospel message is shocking and scandalous.  How? Because in the gospel we encounter the lavish, generous and wanton giving of God’s grace to all men and women.  If we haven’t touched something of the “scandal of grace”, we haven’t understood the “gospel of grace”.

Jesus caused quite a stir through his association with so-called public sinners, including tax  collectors, prostitutes and others on the margins of society. The Pharisees were indignant and horrified because they reasoned that God loves the righteous and despises the unrighteous.  

But Jesus revealed that God’s love shines on the righteous and the unrighteous, the good, the bad and everyone in between. Jesus was sent by the Father to save the sinner, the poor, the outcast – those far from God, those who would never set foot in a synagogue or indeed a church!  Where sin, darkness, evil and death abound, guess what? God’s love and mercy super-abound!

This holier-than-thou attitude was particularly devastating in its effect in Ireland in the last century when unmarried women who fell pregnant were treated abysmally by their families and church authorities.  Considered fallen women and unfit mothers, they were sent to institutions run by religious sisters, where many of them were treated brutally and harshly.  Many were separated from their children and never saw them again.  What priests and religious sisters failed to understand is that we are all ‘fallen’ – we are all beggars before God’s mercy.  

Jesus heralded a revolution of love and grace, and we are freedom fighters, activists and soldiers of this revolution.

Father I rejoice in the gospel of your scandalous and shocking grace, and give you thanks and praise for the gift of salvation, the light of your mercy and your healing love.

Chris

 
Graphic from https://thenalc.org/reading/nalc-devotions-november-30-2017/
 
 
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Heavenly Forgiveness

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Ecclesiasticus 27:30–28:7 • Psalm 102(103):1–4, 9–12 • Romans 14:7–9 • Matthew 18:21–35

Forgive from the HeartC.S. Lewis was right on the button when he said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”   We pray at every Mass: ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Yet, when sinned against by a brother or sister, husband or wife, friend or foe, how ready are we to forgive? And how do we forgive? Reluctantly and resentfully, or readily, from the heart?

When Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive, proposing the generous offer of ‘as many as seven times’, he was really trying to set a limit – to see how few times he could forgive and get away with it!  Jesus responded with a number which was not really a number! “Seventy-seven times” (or “seventy times seven”) signified a countless number.  Again we turn to CS. Lewis, who explained: “We forgive, we mortify our resentment; a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offence and we discover the old resentment blazing away as if nothing had been done about it at all. We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for one offence.”

As often as the sense of grievance rises hot and strong within us, Jesus challenges us to forgive.  And this forgiving is not so much about forgetting as about remembering without bitterness or acrimony in our hearts.  Jesus speaks in the context of relationships within the church family.  The closer a relationship, the more frequently and more heavily we tend to tread on one another’s toes. Our deepest hurts are not usually inflicted by our worst enemy, but by our nearest and dearest, those close to us — our friends / relatives / work colleagues.

The servant in Jesus’s parable owed 10,000 talents – this figure combines the largest Greek numeral with the largest unit of currency.  Here is not merely a daunting debt, but one that could never be repaid.  God offers us unlimited grace and inexhaustible forgiveness beyond measure, beyond our wildest dreams.  But hands clenched in unforgiving anger can neither appropriate nor appreciate this gift.  Forgiveness extended to a brother or sister is inextricably linked with the forgiveness received from our Heavenly Father.  Jesus modelled unconditional and unlimited forgiveness as he hung on the cross, not only forgiving, but also pleading for the Father’s forgiveness for those who put him there.

Heavenly Father, show me that to err is only too human, but to forgive is truly to imitate the divine.

Chris

 
Graphic from https://www.stpeterstettler.ca/looking-ahead-scripture-readings-for-sept-13-2020/
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Speak the truth in love

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Matthew 18:15–20
 
We do not have to learn how to sin and to hurt other people.  For most of us, the ability comes all too naturally.  The number of ways that we can sin against others and they can sin against us is so great that a web of suffering is created.  Yet we are called to live in the world relating to one another as brothers and sisters. There is plenty of opportunity for disharmony.  Jesus knew this and gave practical advice on how to resolve conflict and maintain discipline in the church.

Firstly, he tells us to deal with problems individually if possible.  This course of action could be described as ‘speaking the truth in love’.  But there are pitfalls even at this stage.  Resentments that we harbour against others may be due more to our pride, jealousy and sensitivity than to the faults of others.  Sometimes we can find ourselves being irritated easily.  It is said that we should make a list of things about other people that irritate us and then study that list, because it contains all the features in our own character that we most despise about ourselves.  Still, other people do sometimes hurt us, and the remedy that Jesus prescribes is not a display of intimidating anger or an attempt to manipulate or retaliate, but simply to speak the truth.

Next, Jesus describes situations where the offender is unrepentant.  Once again it is the truth, supported by witnesses, that underpins the course of action to be taken.  If the offender is ultimately recalcitrant, he or she is to be shunned as if a ‘tax collector’.

Finally, Jesus makes promises that speak of his closeness to his disciples through the ages.  Any group of people meeting together in his name have the assurance that God will listen to and grant their requests.  And Jesus himself will be present among them.  It is a truth that we should remember when we struggle, as we may so often, with distractions in prayer and feel that our prayers go unheard by a God who seems to be far away from us.  The Lord is always with us.  He is always listening.

Lord, you call as to love one another.  Help me to be more aware of my own faults than those of others.  But give me the courage and the love to speak the truth to others when I need to do so.

Chris
 

 

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The Holy Spirit opens our hearts

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Matthew 12:38-42
 
Jonah and the Whale
 
Despite Jesus’ many miracles the Pharisees wanted to see more. But Jesus was having none of it and promised that the only other sign that would be given to them would be the sign of Jonah. The prophet Jonah was called by God to preach a message of repentance to the Gentiles of Nineveh (located in modern-day northern Iraq). 

In the bright constellation of Old Testament prophets Jonah shines (or not) as the most reluctant prophet. He disobediently ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish by boat. The Lord then sent a severe storm that caused the crew of the ship to fear for their lives. Jonah was soon thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish, in whose belly he remained for ‘three days and three nights’ (Jon. 1:15-17).  After the three-day period, the Lord caused the great fish to vomit Jonah out onto dry land on. 2‘10). 

Chastened and humbled, Jonah delivered his message of repentance and conversion, and the Nineties responded favourably. In similar vein the Gentile Queen of Sheba went to great lengths (and miles) to hear the wisdom of Solomon and was very impressed (1 Kgs. 10-1—13).

Jesus pointed to these examples to highlight how the Spirit had opened the hearts of Gentiles to God’s message, but now, when one greater than Jonah or Moses — greater because they pointed to him — was among them, the religious authorities had hardened their hearts. 

The message of repentance and conversion is foundational to our faith. The Spirit always leads us towards the grace of repentance because it brings us into a human-divine reality: God is holy and we are sinners. We tend to think of this admission or confession as a sign of weakness but it is the very opposite: when we confess our sins, admit our fault and throw ourselves on God’s mercy, we receive every spiritual grace and blessing.

Lord have mercy upon me a sinner; wash away my iniquity and cleanse me of my sin.

Chris
 
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Have Mercy on me, O God

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Snow-capped mountains and green fields with sheep and Psalm 51 v12
 
 
 
PSALMS 51 (NIVUK)
 
1  Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
 
2  Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
 
3  For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
 
4  Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
 
5  Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
 
6  Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
 
7  Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
 
8  Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
 
9  Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
 
10  Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
 
11  Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
 
12  Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
 
13  Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
 
14  Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Saviour,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
 
15  Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
 
16  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
 
17  My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
 
18  May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
 
19  Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
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Only God can Forgive Sins

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Matthew 9:1–8
 
The teachers of the law got at least one thing right: by claiming to forgive sins, Jesus was claiming to be God.  And of course we know that he is God, and he does forgive sins, repeatedly.
 
Fr Ronald Rolheiser:

“. . .if the Catholicism that I was raised in had a fault, and it did, it was precisely that it did not allow for mistkes. If you made a mistake, you lived with it and, like the rich young man, were doomed to be sad, at least for the rest of your life. A serious mistake was a permanent stigmatization. We need a theolgy of brokenness. We need a theology which teaches us that even though we can’t unscramble an egg, God’s grace lets us live happily and with renewed innocence beyond any egg we may have scrambled. Every time we close a door, He opens another one for us . . .

"We need a theology that teaches us that God does not just give us one chance, but that every time we close a door, God opens another one for us. We need a theology that challenges us not to make mistakes, that takes sin seriously, but which tells us that when we do sin, when we do make mistakes, we are given the chance to take our place among the broken, among those whose lives are not perfect, the loved sinners, those for whom Christ came. We need a theology which tells us that a second, third, fourth, and fifth chance are just as valid as the first one. We need a theology that tells us that mistakes are not forever, that they are not even for a lifetime, that time and grace wash clean, that nothing is irrevocable. Finally, we need a theology which teaches us that God loves us as sinners and that the task of Christianity is not to teach us how to live, but to teach us how to live again, and again, and again."

Chris

from Ron Rolheiser

 

 

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Repentance to Bring Blessing

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Hosea 14: 2-10

 

"The Lord says this: Israel, come back to the Lord your God; your iniquity was the cause of your downfall.  Provide yourself with words and come back to the Lord.  Say to him, ‘Take all iniquity away so that we may have happiness again and offer you our words of praise. 

"Assyria cannot save us, we will not ride horses any more, or say, “Our God!” to what our own hands have made, for you are the one in whom orphans find compassion’ – I will heal their disloyalty, I will love them with all my heart, for my anger has turned from them. 

"I will fall like dew on Israel.  He shall bloom like the lily, and thrust out roots like the poplar, his shoots will spread far; he will have the beauty of the olive and the fragrance of Lebanon. 

"They will come back to live in my shade; they will grow corn that flourishes, they will cultivate vines as renowned as the wine of Helbon.  What has Ephraim to do with idols any more when it is I who hear his prayer and care for him? 

"I am like a cypress ever green; all your fruitfulness comes from me.  Let the wise man understand these words.  Let the intelligent man grasp their meaning. 

"For the ways of the Lord are straight, and virtuous men walk in them, but sinners stumble."

 

When our will is weak, when our thinking is confused, and when our conscience is burdened with a load of guilt, we must remember that God cares for us continually; His compassion never fails.

When our shortcomings and our awareness of our sins overcome us, God’s compassion never fails.

Chris

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The Prodigal Son

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Luke 15:1–3, 11–32
 
The parable of the Prodigal Son is unique to St Luke’s Gospel.  The parable could equally be called the parable of the Father’s Heart, or of The Elder Brother.
 
Most people perhaps identify with the younger son – his destitution, his failure, his sinfulness, his wastrel nature . . .  Perhaps also we fully understand why his father’s heart went out to him.
 
But most likely we are more like the elder brother, indignant, self-righteous, looking down on such a sinner.  Note also that the father does not rebuke him harshly, but rather affirms his love for him as well.
 
Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and there are none so lost as those who do not understand that they are lost and walking in darkness.
 
We are all lost in some way, morally weak and confused; but God is a God of grace, mercy and forgiveness.  Every human being is love by God – no matter who they are, what they have done and how far beyond redemption they may seem.
 
Lord, preserve and protect me from having a heart like the elder brother.  Teach me to recognise profoundly that I am the worst of sinners, that I was once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.
 
Chris
 
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God's Love

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1 John 4:11-18 and Mark 6:45-52
 
God is our Father and he loves us perfectly.  
 
His love is unchanging.  It does not depend on external circumstances but is constand and sure.  We can trust completely because God is faithful and his love endures forever.
 
God wants to replace fear with a secure trust in his care for us.  He will set us free from fear as we draw closer to Jesus.  We can trust Jesus with everything: our past, our worries, our pain, our joys and our deepest longings.
 
We can hand over to Jesus every fear and oppression.  When we do this, something wonderful happens.  Through the Holy Spirit we enter into the inheritance that we received at baptism — we are born again.
 
As adults we may have taken the step of making our own the promises given us by our parents at baptism, and may have known the grace flowing from such great commitment. But we are weak and sinful.  How easily we can lose our first love for Jesus!  How quickly our vision of living life in the Spirit can grow dim!
 
From time to time we need to stop and take stock so that we can reaffirm our decision to take seriously the call of Jesus to follow him.  We need to come daily into God’s presence in prayer, repenting of the ways in which we have failed as his disciples.
 
God’s love is so great that he is quicker to grant forgiveness that we are to ask for it, and he will give us the power of the Holy Spirit to live a transformed life.
 
Father God, as your sons and daughters we ask you to release us from every fear.  Draw us deeply into the life of the Trinity each day and reveal how much you love us.
 
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Forgiveness, the Scandal of Mercy

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Luke 19:1-10
 
This encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus the tax collector illustrates perfectly the ‘scandal of grace’.  It brings to the fore this very important biblical teaching that where sin abounds, grace super-abounds.
 
God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.
 
Through his encounter with Jesus Zacchaeus had an experience of God’s mercy and compassion which touched him and led him to repentance and conversion.  No one is beyond God’s grace and mercy.
 
We are to be a living expression, a sign, a sacrament of this same mercy, kindness and forgiveness.  Learning to forgive others, to hold out the hand of friendship and brotherhood/sisterhood to those we find difficult is not easy.
 
In fact, without God’s grace it’s impossible, but with God’s grace all things are possible.
 
Lord, you treated everyone you met with great dignity and compassion; as persons created in your image and likeness.  May I now go and do likewise.
 
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