31st Sunday of Ordinary time

It happens with a frequency that can be annoying!

As friends we are kicking the football around in the backyard, and, with a kick a little higher than usual the ball ends up in the tree!

Each of us can see it clearly and attempts are made to free it from the clutches of the branch; other balls are thrown to dislodge the ball.

No luck!

Shoes are taken off and hurled at the ball.

No luck!

The tree is shaken; however, its wide and strong trunk moves little.

The decision is made – one of us will just have to climb the tree, move gingerly out onto the branch, and prise the ball free!

But who?

They need be strong enough to climb the trunk, yet slight enough to ease out onto the branch! And of course, dumb enough to accept the possibility of the branch snapping and being hurled to the ground as a very likely consequence!

In our English language we have a saying, “going out on a limb”.

The Collins English Dictionary describes going out on a limb: “If someone goes out on a limb, they do something they strongly believe in even though it is risky or extreme and is likely to fail or be criticized by other people.”

While acknowledging that my search was by no means exhaustive, I did find an early print reference with a figurative meaning from the Steubenville (Ohio) Daily Herald newspaper, 1895:

“We can carry the legislature like hanging out a washing. The heft of the fight will be in Hamilton country. If we get the 14 votes of Hamilton we’ve got ’em out on a limb. All we’ve got to do then is shake it or saw it off.”

Since the expression dates back to at least 1895, that means it is 120 years old at minimum.

However, this Sunday’s Gospel hints for us that the saying may predate the Steubenville Daily Herald by many, many, many years.

In Luke 19: 1 – 10, we are introduced to a tree climber, Zacchaeus, who, if we take the Collins Dictionary at value, we may well have discovered someone “going out on limb”!

They do something they strongly believe in

It is risky or extreme

If it fails, it is likely to be criticized by other people

And all because “he wanted to see Jesus!”

[Oh, and Zaccahaeeus while you are up the tree, would you mind fetching our ball . . . please!]

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

On many occasions unknowingly, and on other occasions quite knowingly, Christian prayer has become a contest.

    • Have I chosen the right place?
    • Am I in the right posture?
    • How often?
    • For how long?

Each becomes part of the criteria for prayer efficacy.

This Sunday’s Gospel (Lk. 18: 9 – 14), which in the Gospel I use most often has the heading, ‘The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector’ is a story remembered by many of us – one up the front, the other down the back!

The Pharisee begins his prayer as a contest, “God, I thank you I am not like. . . . .”, and immediately the Pharisee’s prayer is about himself.

Christian prayer is not something we do – an activity.

Rather it is a relationship with another, and for those in a relationship, you will be aware that what happens is a matter of initiative and response, first by one and then the other; and in those moments of exuberant joy, there is a syncopation that only lovers know.

If I am engaged in Christian prayer because I have to, in order to be good and acceptable, then I am not engaged in Christian prayer!

There is a story told about a Jewish farmer who did not get home before sunset one Sabbath and was forced to spend the night in the field, waiting for sunrise the next day before being able to return home.

Upon his return home, he was met by a rather perturbed rabbi who chided him for his carelessness.

“What did you do out there all night in the field?” the rabbi asked him.

“Did you at least pray?”

The farmer answered: “Rabbi, I am not a clever man. I do not know how to pray properly. What I did was to simply recite the alphabet all night and let God form the words for himself.”

When we come to celebrate, we bring the alphabet of our lives.

Our psyches go up and down.

Sometimes we feel like singing and dancing.

Sometimes there is a spring in our step.

However, we have other seasons too – cold seasons, bland seasons, seasons of tiredness, pain, illness, and boredom.

If prayer is lifting of heart and mind to God, then clearly, during these times, we ought to be lifting something other than song and dance.

If our hearts and minds are full of warmth, love, enthusiasm, song, and dance, then these are the letters we bring.

If our hearts and minds are full of tiredness, despair, blandness, pain, and boredom, then those are our letters we bring.

Offer them and allow your God to construct them into words!

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Many will have heard of, and quite possibly read, some of the work of British author Lewis Carroll (1832 – 1898).

His work “Alice in Wonderland” is on many schools’ library shelves.

Carroll also wrote a sequel to this book with the title “Through The Looking Glass”, in which Alice walks through a mirror (looking glass), and to her surprise, everything is back to front.

“I find this most confusing”, Alice keeps saying.

In the ‘through the looking glass’ world,

    • running keeps you stationary,
    • walking to where you want to go means you walk backwards and
    • chess pieces are alive, as a fairy tales.

I find this most confusing.

Today’s Gospel from St Luke (Lk. 18: 1 – 8) is the story of the persistent widow and the recalcitrant judge.

For most of my life I assumed the judge represents God, and the persistent widow represents me, and throughout the country, I can well imagine that preachers will be urging people to be faithful, persistent, and perhaps even aggravating in their prayer!

This Sunday, I invite you, like Alice, to step through the “Looking Glass” and take a journey where everything is back to front!

Stepping through the ‘looking glass’ we find everything ‘back to front’; the persistent widow represents God, and the recalcitrant judge ourselves!

Once reversed, the characters take on a whole new perspective.

The widow is seen as a God-like figure, and then the message of the parable becomes very much clearer.

Go on, have a go, reread the parable from ‘behind the looking glass,’ remembering, “to walk to where you wish to go, you have to walk backwards!”

Humour  aside: our English translation has the judge say to himself, “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”

The original Greek reads, “lest she give me a black eye by continually coming,” literally meaning to strike the face below the eye.

It comes to mean “brow beat,” but it also carries the connotation of shame, just as our expression does.

The judge will grant her justice lest he be shamed in the community.

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Thanks to the book Schindler’s Ark, by Australian author Thomas Keneally and the consequent film Schindler’s List, the name Oskar Schindler became known to millions of people around the world.

Schindler was a German industrialist.

During World War II, he saved over a thousand Polish Jews from concentration camps. As the war ended, the Germans pulled out of Poland, and the people awaited the arrival of the Russians.

Just before the Russians arrived, Schindler too decided to flee westwards.

When his Jewish workers, now free, heard he was leaving, they got together to see how they could express their gratitude to him.

All that was to hand to make a gift was base metal.

Then one of them suggested something better. He opened his mouth to show his gold bridgework and said for his fellow workers to take the bridgework.

At first, they refused the man’s offer, but he insisted.

So, he had his bridgework extracted by a prisoner who had once been a dentist in Cracow.

A jeweller among them melted the gold down and fashioned a ring out of it.

On the inner circle of the ring, they inscribed these words from the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, the Talmud: “The one who saves a single life, saves the entire world.”

It was a deeply moving gesture of gratitude.

That is one of the marvellous things about gratitude – it makes us want to give something back.

There is a French proverb, “La reconnaissance est la memoire du coeur” – ‘Gratitude is the memory of the heart’. But then someone might say that it was the least they could do since they owed their lives to Schindler.

The ten lepers in the Gospel also owed their lives to Jesus; yet only one of them came back to thank him!