12th week of Ordinary Time

The short and dramatic Gospel of Jesus getting into a boat with his disciples following only to be rocked around with windswept seas swamping the boat and Jesus being asleep is captured quite dramatically in a painting by the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn.

The painting is titled “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee”.

The painting’s very size is dramatic as it measures 5ft high by 4ft wide.

It is the only seascape painted by Rembrandt.

When one counts the figures on the boat there are fourteen! All the disciples, Jesus and who?

Look closely, there is the figure of a young man holding onto a piece of rope and looking directly at you – it is Rembrandt himself!

If you are familiar with the self-portraits of Rembrandt one recognises the distinct similarity between the two, (e.g. “Self-portrait in a cap, wide-eyed and open-mouth, 1630).

[This painting is completed only three years after the self-portrait.]

The painting, I suggest is a wonderful picture of discipleship and indeed, Church.

If you seriously want to follow Jesus, you need to get into the boat.

Firstly, we are all in the same boat; secondly, some are trying to put the boat right (to save it themselves! – notice the five “busy” figures in the top left of the painting!

Others are desperately trying to awaken Jesus – bottom right, so that he puts it right!

Then there is an individual too busy with vomiting over the side of the boat to be bothered with the sails or Jesus.

And, if you have located the young Rembrandt (he has a green covered pullover, hand knitted by his auntie of course), you will see one figure sitting, looking forward seemingly distant from the two areas of activity!

Some in our Church choose to sit without being involved!

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee was previously in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Early in the morning of March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as police officers robbed the museum of thirteen works worth some $500 million – the greatest known property theft in history.

Among the works was The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.

Today, when you visit the museum, you encounter an empty frame where once hung the painting.

11th Sunday Ordinary Time

“Once upon a time . . .” and you are caught!
The illustration is of a Seanchai, courtesy of Ballyneale National School, Co. Tipperary

Seanchaí (shan-a-key) were traditional Irish storytellers and the custodians of history for centuries in Ireland.

Notice the attention being given by the listeners – and the attention is to the story.

The gift of the storyteller is to not get in the way of the story!

Storytelling has always been at the heart of being human because it serves some of our most basic needs: passing along our traditions, confessing failings, healing wounds, engendering hope, and strengthening our sense of community.

Stories hold our truth, who we are as an individual, a family, a nation, a culture.

We are forever telling stories; stories to enlighten, stories to remember, stories to invigorate and renew, stories to humour us.

Stories are imaginative, of course, both in the telling and the hearing.

However, they also offer substance. The more we hear and the better we listen, the better sense we get of what life might be about, even why we are here.

To lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.

Our Gospels are stories.Jesus used storytelling as a major resource.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mk 4: 26 – 34) we have stories of seeds being scattered; seeds sprouting and growing; trees providing shelter.

It is all action, “Once upon a time seed was scattered . . .”

In the first centuries monks who could not read had a passage read to them multiple times, letting it saturate their imaginations, and they would return to their cells and pray with it, allowing it to unfold in their minds.

Might that be the role of the preacher, to saturate our imaginations?

Might the role of the preacher be a storyteller rather than a theologian (or, heaven help us, a dogmatist!)

10th Sunday of Ordinary Time

There is a natural instinct in parents to protect their children.

There are rare exceptions to this, and they need be noted.

Our television screens are filled with nightly news clips of Gaza women and men scurrying with the child/children to find shelter.

Or again trains filled with mothers and their children exiting the major cities of Ukraine.

Men and women in the highlands of Papua New Guinea dig with their bare hands.

Mary, and other members of the family thought Jesus had gone mad!

This Sunday’s Gospel has a rawness to it that the inclination is to ignore, or at least skip over the text.

St Mark in his very direct way, pulls up short:

The crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain Jesus, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” (Mk. 3: 20 -21)

Indeed, the consensus was Jesus was possessed by Beelzebul, the Prince of Demons. [An alternate spelling has Beelzebub which translates as ‘Lord of the Flies’ – note the novel by William Golding.

If we dare remove the verses 22 – 30 from our text, the passage now reads,
“The crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain Jesus, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” (Mk. 3: 20 -21)

“Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk 3: 31 – 34)

Why had his mother and his brothers arrived at the door?

Why were they asking for him?

They had come to restrain him! (v31)

Restrain, similar words from the dictionary include hold back, hinder, restrict.

His family considered he, Jesus, was out of his mind!

Today we commit such persons to psychiatric care and medication.

In a word they had come to take him to the safety of the home!

The struggle I had for many years was to allow Mary to be the woman and mother she was, rather than the woman and mother we have made her out to be.

Mary was a 1stC Jewish woman. She was not made from porcelain or ceramic.

She was not the wrinkle free ‘Virgin at Prayer’ of the artist, Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato and others like him.

Mary, and other members of the family thought Jesus had gone mad!

Body and Blood of Christ

Have you noticed how we use the word Amen like a liturgical full stop?

Many of our prayers, both liturgical and others, end with the word, “through Christ our Lord, AMEN”.

Quite frequently there is a physical shift and relocation – for example the community sits, and activity relocates to the ambo (that is a flash term for the lectern!)

We conclude our Prayers of the Faithful with a concluding AMEN and activity relocates to the Altar.

Frequently a liturgical doxology will conclude with the word, “Through Him, and with Him. AMEN”.

During the Rite of Communion persons approach the minister of Bread or Cup and the following interaction takes place:

“Body of Christ. AMEN”.

“Blood of Christ. AMEN”.

Technically the word AMEN has the meaning of “So be it”.

Beyoncé has a track on her album ‘Cowboy Carter’ with the title AMEN)
Amen has become a liturgical full stop.

I was once in ministry in a parish where for one old lady the full stop had been done away with – at least during the Rite of Communion.

This woman was a Māori kuia, that is an elderly woman of standing.

At the Rite of Communion this woman of age would approach the Minister of Communion and to the invocation “Body of Christ” the kuia would respond, “Nau mai”.

At the invocation, “Blood of Christ”, she would respond in a like manner, “Nau mai.”

Nau mai is a form of greeting and of welcome – as far distant from a full stop as you could possibly get!

Does the Body of Christ we know as Church resemble a full stop, or a welcome.

Body of Christ Nau mai.

Blood of Christ Nau mai.

The illustration is a painting (oil on velvet) with the title ‘Māori Elder’. The artist is Charles McPhee (1910 – 2002).