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Chris (email link at the bottom of each page)

Mercy

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Matthew 18:21 – 19:1
 
Our world is crying out for mercy, but it does not realise it.
 
In today’s parable, Jesus invites us to consider how the two qualities of forgiveness and mercy work int he human heart.  The servant is a classic example of one who, despite being the recipient of great mercy, fails to change his heart.  His behaviour towards the servant in debt to him is reprehensible.  The parable is intended to invoke our sense of moral indignation.  “How shocking and scandalous!” we cry.  And this is how we are supposed to react.
 
Then the penny drops – as the light of the Holy Spirit shines – and we realise that we are just like this servant.
 
We have been forgiven the huge debt of our now sin, but we easily hold on to grudges, nurse resentments and find it hard to forgive.  The formula we must understand and live out daily is that since we have received mercy, we should show that same mercy to others.
 
By God’s grace we can be ambassadors of God’s mercy.  We can live it, we can witness to it and we can pray for it.  The world needs men and women who will witness to God’s mercy because it is God’s mercy which melts hearts, converts sinners and reveals his love for every human person.
 
”Our sins are nothing but a grain of sand alongside the the mountain of the mercy of God.”  (St John Vianney)
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Forgive me, O Lord

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Matthew 9:1–8
 
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Shunned and rejected, but not by Jesus

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Hebrews 3:7–14 • Psalm 94(95):6–11 • Mark 1:40-45

In the ancient world lepers were outcasts. Feared and loathed in equal measure, despised and dreaded too, they scraped out a meagre existence by beggıng and pleading for mercy. The Levitical law was clear, unambiguous and harsh: The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry: "Unclean, unclean."... [H]e shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp' (Lev. 13:45 – 46). Leprosy was clearly a terrible curse, a truly dreadful disease. In Jesus' day the sufferer was declared ritually unclean, and the condition was perceived as a punishment for sin. Lepers did not receive the compassion and care evoked by other diseases but were ostracized, feared and judged as sinners. It is hard for us to conceive of the suffering and anguish of the poor leper in today's Gospel account, although in the early days of the outbreak of AIDS/HIV sufferers said that they felt like lepers. Had he been forced to leave a wife and family? Did his former friends shun him? Where did he find food and shelter? What hope did the years ahead hold for him? How he must have wept and lamented his awful fate! Mark records that Jesus was profoundly moved with compassion for him, which led him to stretch out his hand to touch and heal him.

There are, of course, many in our society who are shunned and rejected, modern lepers if you will. It doesn't take much imagination to identify them: the poverty-stricken, refugees, migrants, those afflicted with AIDS, child-busers, prisoners, sex workers, drug addicts. If Jesus were alive today, these are the people he would love to associate with. But Jesus is alive today living by his Spirit and through the witness of believers who understand that we are all of us in fact lepers. We are all afficted and wounded by sin and darkness, and like the leper we too have received the pity, compassion, love and mercy of God, revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord. Having ourselves received God's amazing mercy, we reach out to others with his pity, compassion, love and mercy.

Lord, you have cleansed us from sin and restored to us the dignity of being your sons and daughters. Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with joy in our salvation so that we might long to share that joy with others, especialy those who have been rejected.

Chris

from Bible Alive

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Faith and Forgiveness

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Isaiah 35:1-10  Psalm 84(85):9–14  Luke 5:17–26


The paralysed man is healed, not because of his own faith, but through the faith of his friends. This fascinating incident highlights that a sure knowledge and experience of forgiveness is a fundamental human need which strikes at the very core of who we are. And who are we? We are persons created in the image and likeness of God, but fallen and wounded and in need of the bitter grace of sorrow and repentance, which leads to the sweet blessing of forgiveness.


The Pharisees have to be given credit for getting to the heart of the matter very quickly indeed. They figured that no mere human being could forgive sins and that this power and grace belonged to God alone (v. 21). Many centuries later William Blake captured this idea in the way that only a great man of letters can: “There is not one moral virtue that Jesus inculcated but Plato and Cicero did inculcate before him. What then did Christ inculcate? Forgiveness of sins. This alone is the Gospel, and this is the life and immortality brought to life by Jesus.”


There is a very real way in which forgiveness is our greatest need, and when we receive God’s forgiveness our greatest response is in turn to forgive those who sin against us. At the heart of receiving God’s forgiveness is taking hold of how great is God’s mercy towards us. God delights to forgive sins and rejoices when we turn to him in sorrow and repentance. Perhaps it is because in receiving God’s forgiveness we grasp reality and come in contact with the truth that it was because of our sin, our rebellion and our waywardness that God sent his only Son.

The cost of the grace of our forgiveness and reconciliation was brought about by nothing less than the cross of Jesus. Without the cross there would be no forgiveness. In forgiving us God sets us free, and we are invited to forgive others as we have been forgiven. This is why the cross is truly a sign of forgiveness and freedom. “When Christ’s hands were naıled to the cross, he also nailed your sins to the cross” (St Bernard of Clairvaux).

On this his feast-day, we leave the last word to the wise pastor St Ambrose: 


As often as the Lord’s blood is shed it is poured out for the forgiveness of sins; so I ought to receive it always, that my sins may always be forgiven.

Chris


from Bible Alive

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The Scandal of Grace

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Isaiah 55:6–9 • Psalm 144(145):2–3, 8–9, 17–18 • Philippians 1:20–24, 27 • Matthew 20:1–16

 

Sunrise over grain crops, “the last will be first . . ."

Can you imagine the furore at any modern workplace if someone who had worked a full day were paid the same as someone who had worked for only the last hour of the day?  With the modern raft of employment legislation and unions, there would probably be a major protest, even a riot. The boss wouldn’t be able to say, as the landowner said to his protesting workers, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?” (v. 13 NIV ). Don’t worry, Jesus told the parable to elicit this very response – indignation, protest and complaint! Sometimes life just isn’t fair, and neither is the gospel message – but that’s the point . . .

The gospel message is shocking and scandalous.  How? Because in the gospel we encounter the lavish, generous and wanton giving of God’s grace to all men and women.  If we haven’t touched something of the “scandal of grace”, we haven’t understood the “gospel of grace”.

Jesus caused quite a stir through his association with so-called public sinners, including tax  collectors, prostitutes and others on the margins of society. The Pharisees were indignant and horrified because they reasoned that God loves the righteous and despises the unrighteous.  

But Jesus revealed that God’s love shines on the righteous and the unrighteous, the good, the bad and everyone in between. Jesus was sent by the Father to save the sinner, the poor, the outcast – those far from God, those who would never set foot in a synagogue or indeed a church!  Where sin, darkness, evil and death abound, guess what? God’s love and mercy super-abound!

This holier-than-thou attitude was particularly devastating in its effect in Ireland in the last century when unmarried women who fell pregnant were treated abysmally by their families and church authorities.  Considered fallen women and unfit mothers, they were sent to institutions run by religious sisters, where many of them were treated brutally and harshly.  Many were separated from their children and never saw them again.  What priests and religious sisters failed to understand is that we are all ‘fallen’ – we are all beggars before God’s mercy.  

Jesus heralded a revolution of love and grace, and we are freedom fighters, activists and soldiers of this revolution.

Father I rejoice in the gospel of your scandalous and shocking grace, and give you thanks and praise for the gift of salvation, the light of your mercy and your healing love.

Chris

 
Graphic from https://thenalc.org/reading/nalc-devotions-november-30-2017/
 
 
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Heavenly Forgiveness

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Ecclesiasticus 27:30–28:7 • Psalm 102(103):1–4, 9–12 • Romans 14:7–9 • Matthew 18:21–35

Forgive from the HeartC.S. Lewis was right on the button when he said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”   We pray at every Mass: ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Yet, when sinned against by a brother or sister, husband or wife, friend or foe, how ready are we to forgive? And how do we forgive? Reluctantly and resentfully, or readily, from the heart?

When Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive, proposing the generous offer of ‘as many as seven times’, he was really trying to set a limit – to see how few times he could forgive and get away with it!  Jesus responded with a number which was not really a number! “Seventy-seven times” (or “seventy times seven”) signified a countless number.  Again we turn to CS. Lewis, who explained: “We forgive, we mortify our resentment; a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offence and we discover the old resentment blazing away as if nothing had been done about it at all. We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for one offence.”

As often as the sense of grievance rises hot and strong within us, Jesus challenges us to forgive.  And this forgiving is not so much about forgetting as about remembering without bitterness or acrimony in our hearts.  Jesus speaks in the context of relationships within the church family.  The closer a relationship, the more frequently and more heavily we tend to tread on one another’s toes. Our deepest hurts are not usually inflicted by our worst enemy, but by our nearest and dearest, those close to us — our friends / relatives / work colleagues.

The servant in Jesus’s parable owed 10,000 talents – this figure combines the largest Greek numeral with the largest unit of currency.  Here is not merely a daunting debt, but one that could never be repaid.  God offers us unlimited grace and inexhaustible forgiveness beyond measure, beyond our wildest dreams.  But hands clenched in unforgiving anger can neither appropriate nor appreciate this gift.  Forgiveness extended to a brother or sister is inextricably linked with the forgiveness received from our Heavenly Father.  Jesus modelled unconditional and unlimited forgiveness as he hung on the cross, not only forgiving, but also pleading for the Father’s forgiveness for those who put him there.

Heavenly Father, show me that to err is only too human, but to forgive is truly to imitate the divine.

Chris

 
Graphic from https://www.stpeterstettler.ca/looking-ahead-scripture-readings-for-sept-13-2020/
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Speak the truth in love

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Matthew 18:15–20
 
We do not have to learn how to sin and to hurt other people.  For most of us, the ability comes all too naturally.  The number of ways that we can sin against others and they can sin against us is so great that a web of suffering is created.  Yet we are called to live in the world relating to one another as brothers and sisters. There is plenty of opportunity for disharmony.  Jesus knew this and gave practical advice on how to resolve conflict and maintain discipline in the church.

Firstly, he tells us to deal with problems individually if possible.  This course of action could be described as ‘speaking the truth in love’.  But there are pitfalls even at this stage.  Resentments that we harbour against others may be due more to our pride, jealousy and sensitivity than to the faults of others.  Sometimes we can find ourselves being irritated easily.  It is said that we should make a list of things about other people that irritate us and then study that list, because it contains all the features in our own character that we most despise about ourselves.  Still, other people do sometimes hurt us, and the remedy that Jesus prescribes is not a display of intimidating anger or an attempt to manipulate or retaliate, but simply to speak the truth.

Next, Jesus describes situations where the offender is unrepentant.  Once again it is the truth, supported by witnesses, that underpins the course of action to be taken.  If the offender is ultimately recalcitrant, he or she is to be shunned as if a ‘tax collector’.

Finally, Jesus makes promises that speak of his closeness to his disciples through the ages.  Any group of people meeting together in his name have the assurance that God will listen to and grant their requests.  And Jesus himself will be present among them.  It is a truth that we should remember when we struggle, as we may so often, with distractions in prayer and feel that our prayers go unheard by a God who seems to be far away from us.  The Lord is always with us.  He is always listening.

Lord, you call as to love one another.  Help me to be more aware of my own faults than those of others.  But give me the courage and the love to speak the truth to others when I need to do so.

Chris
 

 

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The Holy Spirit opens our hearts

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Matthew 12:38-42
 
Jonah and the Whale
 
Despite Jesus’ many miracles the Pharisees wanted to see more. But Jesus was having none of it and promised that the only other sign that would be given to them would be the sign of Jonah. The prophet Jonah was called by God to preach a message of repentance to the Gentiles of Nineveh (located in modern-day northern Iraq). 

In the bright constellation of Old Testament prophets Jonah shines (or not) as the most reluctant prophet. He disobediently ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish by boat. The Lord then sent a severe storm that caused the crew of the ship to fear for their lives. Jonah was soon thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish, in whose belly he remained for ‘three days and three nights’ (Jon. 1:15-17).  After the three-day period, the Lord caused the great fish to vomit Jonah out onto dry land on. 2‘10). 

Chastened and humbled, Jonah delivered his message of repentance and conversion, and the Nineties responded favourably. In similar vein the Gentile Queen of Sheba went to great lengths (and miles) to hear the wisdom of Solomon and was very impressed (1 Kgs. 10-1—13).

Jesus pointed to these examples to highlight how the Spirit had opened the hearts of Gentiles to God’s message, but now, when one greater than Jonah or Moses — greater because they pointed to him — was among them, the religious authorities had hardened their hearts. 

The message of repentance and conversion is foundational to our faith. The Spirit always leads us towards the grace of repentance because it brings us into a human-divine reality: God is holy and we are sinners. We tend to think of this admission or confession as a sign of weakness but it is the very opposite: when we confess our sins, admit our fault and throw ourselves on God’s mercy, we receive every spiritual grace and blessing.

Lord have mercy upon me a sinner; wash away my iniquity and cleanse me of my sin.

Chris
 
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Have Mercy on me, O God

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Snow-capped mountains and green fields with sheep and Psalm 51 v12
 
 
 
PSALMS 51 (NIVUK)
 
1  Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
 
2  Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
 
3  For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
 
4  Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
 
5  Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
 
6  Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
 
7  Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
 
8  Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
 
9  Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
 
10  Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
 
11  Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
 
12  Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
 
13  Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
 
14  Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Saviour,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
 
15  Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
 
16  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
 
17  My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
 
18  May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
 
19  Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
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Only God can Forgive Sins

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Matthew 9:1–8
 
The teachers of the law got at least one thing right: by claiming to forgive sins, Jesus was claiming to be God.  And of course we know that he is God, and he does forgive sins, repeatedly.
 
Fr Ronald Rolheiser:

“. . .if the Catholicism that I was raised in had a fault, and it did, it was precisely that it did not allow for mistkes. If you made a mistake, you lived with it and, like the rich young man, were doomed to be sad, at least for the rest of your life. A serious mistake was a permanent stigmatization. We need a theolgy of brokenness. We need a theology which teaches us that even though we can’t unscramble an egg, God’s grace lets us live happily and with renewed innocence beyond any egg we may have scrambled. Every time we close a door, He opens another one for us . . .

"We need a theology that teaches us that God does not just give us one chance, but that every time we close a door, God opens another one for us. We need a theology that challenges us not to make mistakes, that takes sin seriously, but which tells us that when we do sin, when we do make mistakes, we are given the chance to take our place among the broken, among those whose lives are not perfect, the loved sinners, those for whom Christ came. We need a theology which tells us that a second, third, fourth, and fifth chance are just as valid as the first one. We need a theology that tells us that mistakes are not forever, that they are not even for a lifetime, that time and grace wash clean, that nothing is irrevocable. Finally, we need a theology which teaches us that God loves us as sinners and that the task of Christianity is not to teach us how to live, but to teach us how to live again, and again, and again."

Chris

from Ron Rolheiser

 

 

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