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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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Parable of the Workers – The Unmerited Grace of God

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Ezekiel 34:1–11 • Psalm 22(23) • Matthew 20:1–16

We do not earn salvation by our good deeds; rather we are saved by reliance on God’s grace.

In the Old Testament the Hebrew words hen and hesed are used to describe this generosity of God. Hen is the quality of benevolence of one who is highly placed turning to help one in need; hesed is steadfast love and spontaneous, faithful goodness in a relationship.  These words were later translated as ‘grace’.

God revealed himself to Moses as ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love...’ (Exod. 34:6).  The Jews gradually came to understand and rely on this gracious love of God: his goodness in choosing them from all other people to be his own, his gift of the land of Canaan – their whole history was proof to them. The prophets came to realise that the deepest demonstration of God’s grace was his promise of interior renewal, the gift of a new heart and the forgiveness of sins that he would accomplish by the Messiah.

Paul constantly preached the truth that we are saved not by our own righteousness but through faith in Jesus. ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, . . . even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith . . . not because of works, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:4–5, 8–9).

This attitude of rejoicing in the unmerited grace of God is in contrast with the jealousy and resentment of the workers in Jesus’s parable who have laboured throughout the day: though they have earned a just wage, they demand a share in the generosity of their employer (God) as a right. They forget the initial gratitude they had in finding employment.

Jesus is warning us not to fall into this self—righteous trap, thinking our own moral efforts are more important than God’s grace. As we remind ourselves of how much God has done for us, our hearts will begin to fill with gratitude. Then we shall not care so much who is last or first, or how long we have been working, because we shall know the Father’s faithful love for us.

‘Every day I will bless thee, and praise thy name for ever.’  (P5. 145:2)

Chris
 
 
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(Feast) St Mary Magdalene

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John 20:1-2, 11-18
 
https://www1.cbn.com/why-jesus-chose-mary-magdalene-to-proclaim-his-resurrection

Mary Magdalene kneeling at the open tomb with the gardener

Today we celebrate the feast-day of one of the greatest women in the whole of the Bible. Clearly, Mary, Mother of God, has pride of place because she is our mother in faith. Mary Magdalene, however, can be seen as our sister in faith.

Of course, Mary Magdalene is often identified as being a woman of ill-repute, a prostitute no less, but there is no record of this in the Scriptures. We are simply told that seven demons were cast out of her (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9). Quite why the reputation of this magnificent woman and example of the Christian life should have been imputed with this slur is hard to figure out. Was it hearsay? What we do know for sure is that the Lord delivered her from whatever bound her. Some suggest that it could have been a complex illness of some kind or maybe even some mental suffering or anguish. From  that time on she dedicated her life to following Christ.

The Evangelists are especially sensitive to Mary’s closeness to the Lord during his last days on earth. She remained with him at the foot of the cross, staying when all the disciples except John had fled.

She was at his burial and, most striking and significant of all, she was a witness of the Risen Lord. God confounded the wisdom of an age in which women were regarded as second-class citizens and were not considered to be reliable witnesses in court. Ancient societies were misogynist and patriarchal, but God showed that this way of thinking to be a nonsense in the kingdom of God. Consider that God chose Mary to be the first person to witness the greatest event in human history — the resurrection — before Peter and the other disciples. We venerate her for this.

Mary can be seen to represent all women since the beginning of time who have witnessed Christ’s resurrection in their lives. In a way, in the kingdom of God, whether we are male or female is not an issue: we are equal before God, but we have different roles, different charisms and different strengths. Mary’s role was to support the Lord — it was a role of love and service, and this is the legacy she has left us. Today we cherish her memory, celebrate her life and strive to emulate her courageous witness.

Lord God, help as to follow the example of Mary Magdalene and live a life of humble service, sincere repentance and courageous witness for Christ.

 
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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Anger, righteous or not

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Matthew 5:17–37
 
 
Jesus teaches with extraordinary clarity that 'everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, "you fool” shall be liable to the hell of fire’ (v.22).
 
Jesus’s radical teaching on anger sees it as the root of murder.  Angry feelings, if they are nursed and not dealt with, become hatred.  The fruit of hatred can sometimes be actual murder.
 
Jesus does not say that we must not feel anger, express anger or even act on it, but he does say that we do not have the right to hang on to it, nurse it and vent it.
 
We must let anger go so that we can imitate Jesus more closely.  
 
Jesus’s anger never led him to sin.  He was betrayed, insulted, ridiculed tortured and crucified, but he let go any feelings of anger and forgave his oppressors, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34).
 
Jesus shows us a new way of living.  As his disciples we must emulate him.  Whenever we are angry we must acknowledge our anger but let it go by calling on the Lord’s grace.
 
Christ’s Spirit will give us the power to fulfil his commandment to live as he did.
 
’Be angry but do not sin.’  (Ephesians 4:24)
 
 
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In the Beginning was the Word

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John 1:1-18
 
The key to the mystery of life and death is found in the revelation that in the beginning was the Word.  The Word was God, and through the Word everything was created and has its being.
 
The beating heart of life has its source in the Word.
 
The wonder, beauty and glory of Christian revelation is that the Word broke into human history as a human being.  The eternal entered time.  The First-born clothed himself with our humanity.  The meaning, purpose and goal of our existence was revealed.  God became man in order that we might enjoy his divine life.
 
The truth of the incarnation liberates us from despair and hopelessness.  its light illuminates the darkness.  Our lasting inheritance is that through and in Christ we have become children of God.
 
In this truth we stand with dignity, joy, confidence and hope.  As we contemplate the beauty and the wonder of the incarnation, our faith is strengthened and our hope renewed.
 
On the eve of a new year it is good both to look back and to look forward.  We can look back in thanks and look forward in hope.  We can rejoice in Good’s goodness and grace to us and thank him for all that unfolded in 2019.
 
The new year ahead of us we dedicate to the loving care and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Lord the Giver of Life; through his power we shall plumb new depths of God’s grace and wisdom.
 
Heavenly Father, your wonderful plan of salvation, the mystery hidden in ages past, has now been revealed in all its splendour and truth.  Your Son, the Word, the Light and Life, entered human history and rescued us from the grip of sin, Satan and death.  On the threshold of 2020 I dedicate my life to your Holy Spirit and ask that you renew the face of the earth.
 
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The grace of Jesus

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Luke 19:1-10
 
Jesus came to seek and save the lost, for sure, but he also came to flip everything on its head.  
 
If we could but grasp that none of us is righteous.  The only way that anyone can be reconciled with God is through the saving death and resurrection of Jesus.
 
We share a common humanity with every person on Earth: the drug addicts, the prisoners, the cheats, the adulterers and those our media highlight as beyond redemption.  
 
No one is beyond redemption because Jesus died to save us all.
 
Lord Jesus, you came to seek and save the lost.  Grant me a compassionate heart, especially towards those despised and rejected by society; teach me that there for your grace go I.
 
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