Look around you – no go on look! — all these things you are gazing at now – the time will come when not a single one will be left – all will be destroyed. … Just take another look – what do you see? walls and floors and furniture, people, friends, strangers – precious or not to you but precious to some… Faces, flesh, living, loving, breathing … precious.
All going, all passing, all fragile. We already know that I guess. We know but we don’t feel. We daren’t. Nothing lasts. And we live our lives balanced between denial and zeal.
Denial of time. Denial of death. Denial of the economy of letting go to let live. All around outside the world is letting go—the trees, the grass, even this day is letting go to let life live. Inside here, in warmth and light, you’d never imagine we had a debt to pay to time at all.
The denial’s all too obvious but how could there ever be zeal? How could you ever be eager for ending? Hungry for handing over? Maybe that’s why we find the apocalypse so hard to take. All that sickle sharpening, all that fire and reaping. But the other side of the sickle’s sharpness is the grape, juicy in its vintage, dripping on the vine. The cereal heavy in the field, bowing down with grain. Isn’t there a time for harvest, the rope moment for yielding fruit, for producing the goods? Isn’t there the faintest echo of something zealous when you hear the ‘harvest of the whole vintage of the earth is placed in the huge winepress of God’s anger’?
Isn’t there anything coming to ripeness in you right now? Isn’t there anything ready for the picking? Is there nothing that another week, another day, another hour will take past its best and render rotten, overripe and beyond all use?
And isn’t this the time of year to ask those questions? Before the passing year dies; while the possibility of the next lies still unborn.
What’s ready? What’s ripe? What must be used now … or never used at all?
November 26th, 2002
There’s a rather cynical theological adage that goes, “Jesus preached the kingdom of God but what we got was the Church”. There’s a touch of that when you compare the two readings today.
Paul wants unity above all else and paid for in the currency of humility and self-effacement. He has a community to look after—a community he wants to last—I guess he’s seen the fragmentation that hostility brings even when the hostility grows out a concern for truth.
But Jesus seems unconcerned with oiling the wheels of community. His domestic directions come as a jolt: forget the bonds of friendship, of family, forget the familiar give and take of social life. Instead, eat with the poor, feast with the broken, make merry with the poverty-stricken.
It’s not that Paul and Jesus are contradictory precisely—I’m sure we could reconcile them if we tried hard enough—but the concern behind the words seem to come from different worlds. And they are both legitimate concerns. Keep the unity of the body, says Paul, by a self-effacement that imitates Christ’s own … but Jesus’ own self-emptying has a radical edge to it that is more than a little challenging.
So how do we handle this divergence? Do we take our pick from the spiritual supermarket—Jesus or Paul? Or do we follow our mood of the moment? Do we denounce Paul for giving into the compromising demands of maintenance? Do we set aside Jesus as short-sighted and unrealistic?
How do we live in the world as a Christian community? Where is our focus? Outward or inward? When I put it that way I can see the question has to be a false one. Somehow we have to be both.
Our church could do with a healthy dose of both Paul and Jesus. It could do with a mammoth dollop of humility—though that would upset the Catholic Herald—and an overdose of radical, challenging, upside-down-ness.
I guess the same applies to the Jesuits or Loreto or Loyola Hall. I guess the same applies to me and to you.
November 4th, 2002