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About gregrowles

Born Sydney, live Sydney Australia. "People who are intimidated by you talk bad about you with hope that others won't find you appealing

TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

jm_200_NT2.pd-P20.tiffThe rich young man in today’s Gospel wants to know what we all want to know—how to live in this life so that we might live forever in the world to come. He seeks what today’s Psalm calls “wisdom of heart

The young man started off with a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he wanted Jesus to tell him how to secure the benefits of God’s most fundamental values – and to find the key to a meaningful, contented, and fulfilling life. He learns that the wisdom he seeks is not a program of works to be performed or behaviours to be avoided. As Jesus tells him, observing the commandments is essential to walking the path of salvation—but it can only get us so far. The Wisdom of God is not precepts, but a person—Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Wisdom whose Spirit was granted to Solomon in today’s First Reading.

As we consider our Lord’s encounter with the young man we can imagine Jesus’ insight into his heart and soul. He had followed the specific, outward regulations that were spelled out in the Bible – but Jesus perceived that something still blocked him from total obedience to God – his many possessions. Material belongings stood in the way of his following Christ, because, having heard Jesus’ opinion that he needed to give them up, he went away stunned and defeated. He could not meet the ultimate measure of obedience to God. His love of possessions blocked him from totally loving God and following Christ.

Many scholars remind us that the crisis for the man with many possessions was not how much he owned, but that the property owned him, blocking his way to unity with God.

Thinking about such views is a necessary beginning for each of us to examine in our own lives the relevance of today’s Gospel story. What does Jesus say to you and to me – about the one thing more that we lack? What do we need to give up, to rid ourselves of, to put behind us, that would allow us completely to follow Christ? What can blind us and deafen us from connecting with God? What is the radical reorientation of our lives that will lead us to follow Christ? What is it that stands in the way of our becoming what God intends us to be?

It is almost certainly selfishness of one sort or another – because putting ourselves first puts God second or third. What is it that we need to give up to gain what is much more valuable? Is it greed or prejudice – ignorance or pride – anger or the need to control others, the inability to acknowledge our sins of hurting others or the “things we have left undone” or something else?

All, of these are a love of possessions that stand in our way of connecting with the eternal life that we can find only in God. We live in a culture of materialism in which we measure too much in monetary terms. We are inundated day after day, hour after hour, by advertising that insists that if we buy one thing or another that we will be happier and better off. The push for more and more material possessions insinuates itself into our lives constantly.

Finally, it seems ironic that the man with many possessions asked about “inheriting” eternal life. The truth is, he had already inherited it – as a child of God. The God-within-him existed as a part of the created order – because he, like each of us, was created in the image and likeness of God. He had inherited God’s spirit already – he just didn’t know it. Jesus tried to open him to understanding that reality – to instruct him how to break through what blocked him from recognizing and utilizing the very spirit of God that he only had to put before all else in his life.

The gospel does not tell us where the young man’s life took him, but I have hope that eventually he came around to the recognition that it is not about the ability to live the commandments by one’s own effort but rather about receiving the love and friendship of God into one’s heart. I have hope because the gospel says that Jesus loved the young man and that love remained even as the young man went away sad in the moment. I have hope that the young man learned that for God “all things are possible”.

The same hope remains for us. Yes, we all too often, have divided hearts but Christ looks on us with love, Christ continually invites us into friendship and for God “all things are possible”.

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Posted by on October 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

2-8The verses from the second chapter of Genesis that we just heard, in the first reading and we just heard Jesus quote, say some basic things about our vision of the world and of human life.

Throughout the first chapter of Genesis, God has said one thing about His creation over and over: “God saw that it was good.” But now God looks at all he has made, everything, and says, “It is not good.” It is not good that the man should be alone.

Everything else is good, but this isn’t. Notice that Adam, the human being, was hardly alone in the garden. God was with Adam in the garden. That’s a lot all by itself. Then, all of creation, was with Adam in the garden. The whole world was there. The man was not alone.

But when God saw it, when God saw one person, God didn’t say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Instead, God said: “It is not good”. Creation wasn’t finished yet it was to complete creation, to make a whole human being, that the other person, Eve, is created.

This is saying that we human beings can only grow into who we are created to be with and through relationship and community. This growth happens in many ways, but it does not happen alone. God has given us certain structures and situations in which we can, begin to discover what it means not to be alone. God has given us schools of love, places to grow.

Marriage and families are first about this. They are schools of love. And while not everyone is called to the vocation of marriage, for those who are, helping one another grow into who we are created to be is one of the primary reasons God created marriage.

In much the same way, God has called us to be the Church, and he has called us into this church, because without something like this we cannot be very Christian.

One of the central insights of Christianity is that being a part of a real, human, part of the body of Christ is essential to any serious Christian growth. Like marriage and family, parish life, church life, is not really about agreement, success, having our needs met, or happiness. Instead it is a school of love. It is about growth into wholeness. That is why, in Church as in families, the real ties that bind are ties of love and circumstances.

Such growth is simply not possible without commitment to a lifetime of effort and intentionally seeking the grace and help of God. God’s intention that marriage be lifelong is not an arbitrary and difficult rule God gives us to make our lives even more difficult. Instead, such intention is a gracious and necessary (if minimal) requirement if a real marriage is even to be possible.

So are life vows in Religious life. These vows are lifelong in intention, because God knows we need at least that long to begin doing what we promise to do.

Sure, there are times when that does not happen. There are sometimes situations in which separation is the only option that contains hope and the possibility of healing. We see them as tragic exceptions to the way we know life should be, and the way we want our lives to be. Yet even during our failure, we continue to stand firmly for the truth of God’s vision of life. Our vows, our marriage vows and our baptismal vows, our ordination vows, these are not for just now, they are not for just when it feels good; they are for life. That is our standard and our goal. We may fall short, but we hold to that standard.

All of this is really to say that, at its heart, the Church is not a voluntary social convenience for like-minded people to share in an essentially private task.

They are sacred mysteries, built into creation and into human nature. They are gifts of a loving God. For it is not good to be alone; and the only way to goodness, to wholeness, is through commitment, relationship, community, and the grace of God. This Sunday’s readings do have a message for us. They tell us we are made for one another and made to reach for the ideals that God has set before us.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

2-9Today we continue to read from the Gospel of Mark. Last week we heard Jesus chastise his disciples for their argument about who among them was the greatest. Jesus taught them that the greatest among them will be those who serve the least ones. In today’s Gospel, the disciple John questions Jesus about an unknown exorcist who was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. John’s question might have been motivated by jealousy. John’s question is further evidence that the disciples have not yet grasped Jesus’ words to them. They continue to compare themselves to others who seem to have greater healing powers, and they do not want to share the power of Jesus’ name with others. Jesus made it clear that he and his disciples were not a little clique, fenced off from others.

What Jesus taught his disciples is equally a lesson for us. In this, our Lord gives us a model for a broader view. There is an issue of tolerance. We often fall into the all too common trap of thinking in terms of “us” and “them” – seeing life only from the perspective of our own groups.

Intolerance of the other is certainly an attitude that Jesus rejected in today’s gospel reading. Possibly, he realized that the disciples considered the man casting out demons as a threat to their inner-circle status. He was an outsider, so they tried to stop him. Jesus rejected this by making it clear that only in a narrower sense can one be an outsider.

What was true for the disciples has been true throughout history. The world and the church have fought for centuries in such a fence-building frenzy. The stories of the past schisms and divisions are legion. And living out the tendencies of the same human nature, we still act this way in our time, don’t we?

Standing against this, Jesus’ words remind us that Christianity is not the preserve of a privileged few. He reminds us that no one seeking to do the Lord’s work is an outsider. Repeatedly, Jesus’ words remind us to be including – not excluding. Repeatedly, Jesus’ words rebuke us when we turn against others because they are different

Jesus seems to be telling the disciples something like this: “Look for the commonality. Recognize that there are many among you who might work or think differently, but don’t jump to the conclusion that that makes them against you – or against me.”

Jesus causes us to see that truth is always bigger than any one person’s, or any one group’s grasp of it. Jesus cautions us against inflexibility of thought or deed. He helps us embrace tolerance of a variety of actions and viewpoints. He helps us re-learn what is so easy to forget: that diversity is not only good; it is essential for the health of the Body of Christ.

Today’s gospel reinforces a belief that what we need in the church is less “either/or” and more “both/and.”

It seems that Jesus is teaching us something today. Jesus is teaching us that God works in people and places we wouldn’t expect even those we think are on the outside. Jesus is teaching us about the surprising, expansive, welcoming grace of God. Jesus is teaching us that we dare not presume that God’s grace is only for us. We dare not presume that grace is withheld from outsiders.

Yes, Jesus is teaching us something today. He’s teaching us that, in the world God is creating, those we think are on the outside are the ones God welcomes in! That is what Jesus is teaching us. And then he asks us: Will we join me in welcoming outsiders in?

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

2-8Jesus and his disciples are preparing to journey through Galilee where Jesus has already encountered problems with the Pharisees. Perhaps therefore Mark indicates that Jesus was trying to journey in secret. In predicting his passion, Jesus is acknowledging the danger they will face and is trying to prepare his disciples for it. Yet Mark tells us that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying and were afraid to ask what he meant. Such hesitation on the part of the disciples is not characteristic behaviour. Peter had no fear about rebuking Jesus in last week’s Gospel. Perhaps this is an indication that the disciples were aware that a new situation was emerging.

Having arrived at Capernaum, Jesus and his disciples enter a house. In this private place, Jesus asks his disciples about the argument they had while they were journeying. Again, the disciples are uncharacteristically silent and afraid to answer. They have been found out. Jesus then summons the Twelve, whom Mark identified earlier in his Gospel as those chosen by Jesus to preach and to drive out demons. To this select group of disciples, Jesus teaches that those who would be first in God’s kingdom must be servants of all.

Jesus then calls forward a child and teaches the Twelve that to receive a child in Jesus’ name is to receive both Jesus and the One who sent him. We might easily fail to understand the significance of this action. In first-century Palestine, children were without status or power, possessing no legal rights. In this action, Jesus is teaching his disciples and us that when we serve the least ones among us, we serve Jesus himself.

This is who Jesus tells the disciples to welcome: the powerless, the vulnerable, the ones whose voices are ignored in the world. Jesus says that by welcoming people like that, the ones who can’t influence society and don’t strive to be in charge, they welcome Jesus. Not only do they welcome him, they welcome God who sent him. Welcoming the powerless is a far cry from arguing over who is the greatest!

That’s how these two excerpts of Mark fit together though, the snippet about walking through Galilee and the snippet about being in Capernaum in a house together. When they get to the destination, when the Church continues to come together to a place for understanding, Jesus helps them to see a little more of what he is about and what he’s not about. He’s not about being the greatest. He’s about being a servant of all. He’s not about winning friends and influencing people. He’s about welcoming the vulnerable to be among him and his followers.

Jesus tells his disciples that when they welcome the vulnerable, they welcome him. They’re looking for a leader on a war horse to overthrow the empire. They’re not looking for a vulnerable child. They haven’t been looking for that since he was born, fully God and fully human, as a child himself. Yet Jesus tells him that in welcoming the vulnerable, they welcome him. Jesus tells the Church that in being vulnerable, we are like him.

Being vulnerable, being a servant, being like a child, is what Jesus tells his disciples he’s come to do when he predicts his death and resurrection for a second time. He’s not coming to take over the empire. He’s come to do more than that, something so revolutionary the disciples can’t imagine it: defeat death itself. Death isn’t defeated with a sword, and his revolution is not with generals and battles. Death is defeated with a cross, with Jesus’ cross. And it was defeated in his rising again — just like he told the disciples it would be, even if they didn’t understand him.

Who are the people without power or status in our society that Jesus is calling us to serve? Do we do so willingly? Jesus teaches that God’s judgment of us will be based on this criterion alone.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

2-8The Pharisees made Jesus and his followers into their deadly enemies. They tried every means to trick him, to trip him up, to prove he was wrong, and to show that only they were right. If Jesus said it, it must be wrong. If they believed it, it must be right.

This acceptance and embracing of conflict clearly echo in our time. Doesn’t it ring true in almost every aspect of our culture, dividing us into competing camps? Driven by fears and insecurities and feelings of loss and absolute self-protection on every side, this view lures far too many of us into a radical and destructive mindset – one that focuses totally on winning, not seeking right solutions or what is best for all – but winning at all costs. Pope Francis when he visited Colombia, insisted that grudges be left behind, saying that, “All of us are necessary to create and form a society. This isn’t just done with the ‘pure-blooded’ ones, but rather with everyone. And here is where the greatness of the country lies, in that there is room for all and all are important.” Francis urges us to reject the view of Us against Them and instead adopt an Us and Them

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells those who would lay their trust in him: ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’

Giving substance to this cross of self-denial can propel us into a reality more likely to transform the Us against Them sickness of our time into something more God-like. Through the fundamental and essential nature of our faith, we can reveal in word and action a new Us/Them reality. What this can mean is taking up our crosses – in denial and love and giving – to reach a view of Us for Them.

Therefore, it falls on us to show the world the way to overcome the tribalism of Us against Them by showing we are for them and all others, regardless of whether they reciprocate or not.

We dare not forget how Jesus teaches us to take up the cross of self-denial, commanding us to love one another as we inevitably love ourselves. To turn love into more than a noun, making it a powerful verb of caring. To remember that Christian love is the transforming example of the Good Samaritan – love and care given without hope or desire of receiving anything in return, given without strings, given only because of the other’s need. Given – in the spirit of Us for Them.

Jesus identifies the Messiah with the suffering servant that Isaiah foretells in today’s First Reading. The words of Isaiah’s servant are Jesus’ words—as He gives Himself to be shamed and beaten, trusting that God will be His help. As Jesus tells us today, to believe that He is the Messiah is to follow His way of self-denial—losing our lives to save them, to rise with Him to new life. Our faith, we hear again in today’s Epistle, must express itself in works of love. “If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty’, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.”

If we can act with such a faith we can be a community of people – who at best are what we already are – the body of Christ, working together with committed allegiance to the same powers of creation that Jesus embodied – rejecting and opposing the harmful and divisive and negative ways of thinking characteristic of tribalism. Putting an end to the winner-take-all mentality that infects our cultural health. Maybe that’s who and what we can be.

Faith that leads us to lift our hearts in praise of God and faith that leads us to reach out to those in need are both required. Together they make up the cross we are to take up as followers of Christ.

There is no such thing as a cross-less Christianity. Christianity is not meant to revolve around us.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

2-8

Today we continue to hear the Gospel of Mark proclaimed. In today’s reading, Jesus heals a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. This is a story about Jesus’ healing power, and in it we find clues about how we understand a sacrament. Jesus uses physical means used to heal the man, the use of spittle and touch. The Church continues to celebrate the sacraments using physical means. In the Sacrament of Baptism, water and oil are used to show the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, we are anointed with holy oil on the forehead and the hands. In the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. We are a sacramental people who believe that God’s grace is given to us through these physical signs. We also notice how personal and physical the drama is in the Gospel. Our focus is drawn to a hand, a finger, ears, a tongue, spitting. In Jesus, Mark shows us, God has truly come in the flesh.

Mark shows that Jesus’ own mission affirms the early Church’s mission to the Gentiles. This was a significant issue to the early Christian community, which found that the good news of Jesus took root and spread quickly among the Gentiles. Mark also deliberately evokes Isaiah’s promise, which we hear in today’s First Reading, that God will make the deaf hear and the mute speak. He even uses a Greek word to describe the man’s condition (mogilalon, or “speech impediment”) that’s only found in one other place in the Bible—in the Greek translation of today’s Isaiah passage, where the prophet describes the “dumb” singing.

The crowd recognizes that Jesus is doing what the prophet had foretold. But Mark wants us to see something far greater—that, to use the words from today’s First Reading: “Here is your God.”

What He has done is to make all things new, a new creation. As Isaiah promised, He has made the living waters of Baptism flow in the desert of the world. He has set captives free from their sins, as we sing in today’s Psalm. He has come that rich and poor might dine together in the Eucharistic feast, as James tells us in today’s Epistle.
The Jewish people use the word mitzvah, which is often translated good deed. But rabbis will tell you that it means more—it comes from the root word “tzavta”, which means connection or commandment. Connection is a lovely translation. Whenever we share with the poor, speak out against injustice (especially when the injustice is right in front of our eyes), or respond with love to another, we are establishing a connection. That connection is not only between us and another person, but also between ourselves and God.

“The Lord is the maker of us all…” We dare not forget this but isn’t it a much better mitzvah for us all to look on each other with the same love with which God looks on each one of us!

He has done for each of us what He did for that deaf mute. He has opened our ears to hear the Word of God and loosed our tongues that we might sing praises to Him.

Let us then, in the Eucharist, again give thanks to our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Let us say with Isaiah, here is our God, He comes to save us. Let us be rich in faith, that we might inherit the kingdom promised to those who love Him.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

2-8This Sunday, our lectionary returns to Mark’s Gospel after several Sundays in which we heard the Bread of Life teaching from the Gospel of John.

In this Gospel, Mark addresses the question of which Jewish practices would also be observed in the newly emerging Christian community. This was a significant question for the early Christian Church, especially in communities that included both Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity. In Gospel passages such as the one today, we see the evangelists finding justification for a Christian practice distinct from Judaism in the remembrances of Jesus’ teaching and the practice of his first disciples.

he best way I know to get at what Jesus was talking about is by way of an old Zen story. Once upon a time, the great Zen master Sasha was standing with a friend at the top of a tall tower. His friend looked down the road and saw a line of saffron-robed monks walking toward them. “Look,” his friend said to Sasha, “Holy men.”

“Those aren’t holy men,” Sasha said, “and I can prove it to you.” So, they waited in silence until the monks were walking directly below the tower. Then Sasha leaned over the tower’s rail and called down, “Hey, holy men.” The monks all looked up—and Sasha turned to his friend and said, “See?”

Those monks were exactly what Jesus meant when he talked about hypocrites. So were the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus does not attack the Pharisees and scribes for pretending to be good. Instead, Jesus castigates them because their self-righteous convictions about their own goodness had built a smug wall around them, isolated them from the rest of the community, and made them deaf to any further word from God.

The Pharisees kept the law and keeping the law—the moral law and the religious law—is a good thing. We should do that. But to believe and act like your own righteousness comes to you because you keep the law—this is deadly, and it is the heart of what Jesus means by hypocrisy.

To cultivate within yourself moral virtues and behaviour which not everyone around you cultivates is, again, a good thing. Indeed, it’s a distinctive mark of the Christian life. But to believe and act like your own righteousness in the sight of God comes to you because you are more virtuous than most people you know—or more virtuous than some other group, or some specific other person—this is what Jesus insisted was far more evil than the of any individual sinner.

There is only one place to look if we want to find out how good we are, or how righteous we are—only one place. That place is God—God’s absolute goodness, God’s absolute justice, God’s absolute demands, and, finally, God’s absolute love and mercy.

To be sure, it’s a good and important thing to obey the law and to live the life we are called to live. None of this talk of hypocrisy excuses moral or religious failing. The way we behave matters a lot. Deuteronomy today talks about how God’s people are to live in such a way that the world around them can look at them and be drawn to God. And Paul talks about how every speck of virtue we can nurture is essential if we are to live our calling.

At the same time, when Jesus condemns the hypocrites, he is not talking about evil people who pretend. He is talking about well-behaved people who trust in themselves, who consider themselves finished products, and so cannot see or hear either themselves or God very well. Remember Sasha in the tower and those monks. And remember that our trust, and our hope, and our confidence, can be found in only one place—it is never in ourselves—it is always in the love and the mercy of God.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2018 in Uncategorized