27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

This Sunday we read from the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis.

We read of the creation of the first persons, Adam and Eve.

When we read from this book it is helpful to remember we are in the field of myth.

The encyclopedia Britannica defines myth as:  a symbolic narrative, usually of unknown origin and at least partly traditional, that ostensibly relates actual events and that is especially associated with religious belief.

With myth we are in the field of storytelling – storytelling which points us in the direction of truth.

Myth is a little like a signpost.

The signpost will have a name on it, Halfmoon Bay, or Nelson St.

The sign is not the street; however, it does point us in the right direction.

Our Christian theology teaches us that God is a relationship of three persons to the point of forming one being, which we have named the Trinity.

Our Christian theology also teaches that the human person is made in the image of God, “imago Dei”.

As a consequence, might I suggest that at the heart of God’s creative instinct is not a him, or a her, rather at the heart is relationship.

Our Biblical text has the man being the first born.

When we talk in sequence there need always be a first and a second and a third etc.

This sequence does not talk of better than, of superiority.

In our counting system one comes before two, however two is bigger because it is twice one!

When, in fact, we speak of first and second, of being superior, better than, we have lost the plot; the plot is being in relationship, in intimacy and connectedness, and when a person is in a relationship the ideas of first and second, the idea of better than, the idea of superiority begin to dissolve.

So, I would like to posit for consideration the myth/story of the creation of the first persons is a story about complimentary energies, one masculine, one feminine.

These two energies working together in relationship.

The Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev writes: [Man] is not only a sexual, but a bisexual being, combining the masculine and the feminine principle in himself in different proportions and often in fierce conflict.

A man in who the feminine principle was completely absent would be an abstract being, completely severed from the cosmic element.

A woman in whom the masculine principle was completely absent would not be a personality. (The Destiny of Man, NY Harper Torchbooks,  1960, p 61).

One of the most telling images of these complementary energies is in Rembrandt Von Rijn’s painting with the title The Return of the Prodigal Son.

It is an oil painting,  part of the collection of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

It is among the Dutch master’s final works, likely completed within two years of his death in 1669.

When I spend time with the painting and look at the hands of the father on the shoulders of the kneeling son, I notice there is a distinct difference in the structure of each hand.

The father’s left hand (right hand when viewing the image) touching the son’s shoulder is strong and muscular.

The fingers are spread out and cover a large part of the son’s shoulder and back. How different is the father’s right hand (left when viewing the image).

This hand does not hold or grasp.

Rather, it appears to be laid gently, almost a caress.

It is refined, soft, and very tender. It is a mother’s hand.

The caressing “feminine” hand of the father parallels the bare, wounded foot of the son, while the strong “masculine” hand parallels the foot dressed in a sandal.

Is it too much to think that the one hand protects the vulnerable side of the son, while the other reinforces the son’s strength and desire to get on with his life.

Has Rembrandt used his own experience of God in creating this masterpiece?

Has Rembrandt experienced the strong supportive presence of the “masculine” God, and also the gentle comforting caress of the “feminine” God?

Of course only Rembrandt can answer those questions when asked of him; however they may also be asked of you, and then, only you can answer!

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

One morning last week I witnessed quite an extraordinary spectacle.

I was sitting having a cuppa at about 10.30 am, gazing at the tree which sits in the middle of an area of lawn outside my lounge.

The tree is naked of leaves at the moment, so the branches are very obvious.

There alighted onto one of the branches a Tui.


Now for those who may not know the Tui is a boisterous medium-sized bird native to New Zealand. It is blue, green, and bronze coloured with a distinctive white throat tuft.

This white tuft has given rise to it being named ‘the parson bird’.

The Tui is also known for its distinctive song type.

As I watched the Tui and was listening to its song, two smaller birds alighted onto tree branches near to where the Tui was.

Suddenly the Tui melodious tones stopped, and the bird’s attention turned to the newly arrived birds.

Tui are very territorial and they can become aggressive. They vigorously chase other birds away with loud whirring wings and Tui was no exception and this is exactly what happened.

The Tui chased the birds away! “This is MY tree!”.

The melodious song had become a noisy warning,

“Stay away, go and find your own tree!”

Reflecting on this Sunday’s First Reading and Gospel, the “Tui incident” became a strong metaphor.

In the first reading (Numbers 11: 25 – 29) we see how Moses regarded the ‘opposition’, and in the gospel reading, we see Jesus.

In the Book of Numbers, we read “The young man ran to tell Moses: ‘Look,’ he said, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.'”

Moses’ response showed a wonderful generosity of spirit: “If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!”

The situation in the gospel reading is an exact parallel, and Jesus’ response is just like that of Moses.

In Mark’s Gospel we read, “John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

The response of Jesus, “Anyone who is not against us is for us.”

There is room on the tree for more than one bird! To frighten away I need to stop singing!

In the document Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council stated: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these [non-Christian] religions.

“She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people.”

This is not a sell-out, as some have claimed; it is in the spirit of Christ, who praised the “faith” even of a pagan Roman centurion (Matthew 8:10).

Only a truth that is very unsure of itself feels always compelled to make an enemy of the other.

There is room on the tree for more than one bird. To frighten away I need to stop singing!

I have a choice, I can be like the aggressive, territorial Tui, vigorously chasing everyone else away; or I can add my voice to the others gifted with the spirit of proclamation, and the song we make is the song of our world awakening to the absolute beautiful sound of our world awakening together and singing praise to God.

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

Imagine four persons in a room: The first is a powerful dictator who rules a country.

His word commands armies and his shifting moods intimidate subordinates.

He wields a brutal power.

Next to him sits a gifted athlete at the peak of her physical prowess, a woman whose quickness and strength have few equals.

Her skills are a graceful power for which she is much admired and envied.

The third person is a rock star whose music and charisma can electrify an audience and fill a room with soulful energy.

Her face is on billboards and she is a household name.

That’s still another kind of power.

Finally, we have too in the room a newborn, a baby, lying in its bassinet/crib, seemingly without any power or strength whatsoever, unable to even ask for what it needs.

Which of these is ultimately the most powerful?

The irony is that the baby ultimately wields the greatest power.

The athlete could crush it, the dictator could kill it, and the rock star could out-glow it in sheer dynamism, but the baby has a different kind of power.

We have a new language we only use around babies (usually unintelligible to anyone!), the radio and TV volume are dependent on the sleep pattern of the newborn, as is the time to start up the motor mower.

The baby can touch hearts in a way that a dictator, an athlete, or a rock star cannot.

Its innocent, wordless presence, without physical strength, can transform a room and a heart in a way that guns, muscle, and charisma are unable to.

We watch our language and actions around a baby, less so around athletes and rock stars. The powerlessness of a baby touches us in a deeper moral place.

And this is the way we find and experience God’s power here on earth, sometimes to our great frustration, and this is the way that Jesus was deemed powerful during his lifetime.

Jesus, standing wordless before Pilate might be the most power-filled moment in the entire Gospel story.

The entire Gospels make this clear, from beginning to end.

Jesus was born as a baby, powerless, and he died hanging helplessly on a cross with bystanders mocking his powerlessness.

Yet both his birth and his death manifest the kind of power upon which we can ultimately build our lives.

They are two moments that are still celebrated the world over.

The world stops at Christmas and Good Friday.

Most shops are shut, public transport changes it schedules, usually meaning fewer services, and, maybe ironically, our Churches are most full!

When the Gospels speak of Jesus as “having great power” they use the Greek word, exousia, which might be best rendered as vulnerability.

Jesus’ real power was rooted in a certain vulnerability, like the powerlessness of a child.

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

Jesus asks of his disciples “Who do you say that I am?”

What I find immediately intriguing is that the Gospel writer, Mark, only records the answer that Peter gave!

The assumption is that Peter was answering for all of them.

But, was he?

Who gave him permission to do so?

Surely as grown men, able to answer for themselves!

That may well be the crux of the whole story – namely, have I been using the answers of another or others and very subtly avoiding answering the question myself.

“Who do you say I am?” is addressed to me personally; only I can answer for myself.

Or, need I answer at all?

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke has a fascinating little book titled, Letters to a Young Poet.

At the heart of the book is an aspiring young poet’s request to Rilke to let him know whether he (the young poet) ought to be a poet or not.

The young poet is insistent. At one point Rilke writes

“ . . . .  I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within yourself the possibility of shaping and forming as a particularly happy and pure way of living; train yourself to it – but take whatever comes with great trust, and if only it comes out of your own will, out of some need of your inmost being, take it upon yourself and hate nothing.”

Perhaps Rilke’s advice is advantageous for us, given the question in today’s Gospel  ‘try to love the question’ – who do you say I am; ‘Live the question’ – who do you say I am?; and live along some distant day into the answer.

Rilke’s final words of advice to the young man, perhaps had been written for us “and after all I do want to advise you to keep growing quietly and seriously throughout your whole development; you cannot disturb it more rudely than by looking outward and expecting from outside replies to questions that only your innermost feeling in your most hushed hour can perhaps answer.”

This weeks image is an oil on canvas from the artist Claude Monet, titled “Path In The Forest”, painted in 1868 and held in a private collection.

What I find of interest and worth reflection is the title itself.

The title does not say, a path ‘through’ the forest, as if it is an access route in and out. Rather the title says a path ‘in’ the forest  – a path to take while ‘living’ and ‘loving’ the question!