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Luke 23:35-43

And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’


Owning up to something we did or didn’t do, without pressure, without being found out first, is relatively simple. It might take a little courage, but it’s simple enough to do. We know we did it. Fair cop. I’m guilty. I deserve what I get.

Owning up to who we are can be a little more difficult, because often we can’t distinguish between the real ‘me’ and the one we’ve created for certain circumstances. Home angel, street devil. Or vice versa. The happy, considerate, helpful neighbour who is a terror to live with. The manipulative, vindictive colleague who is a much-respected President of the Parent/Teacher Association. The cheery, outgoing shop assistant who, after 5 o’clock is miserable and lonely, with no one to talk to.

With the onset of emigration came the great reinvention. We could go somewhere no-one knew us and as long as we steered clear of our compatriots we could be whomever we liked. No one would be any the wiser. We could fashion a whole new person with new likes and dislikes, new ideas and outlooks, new ways of doing things. The jokes and stories that others had wearied of at home were imbued with new energy.

The downside of this though was that we had, effectively, no shared history. Without someone to keep us in check, someone with whom we had shared our past, stories would often grow in the telling. A detail here and there changed to suit our audience so that pretty soon it bore little resemblance to what actually had happened but we’d told it so often that it had become the truth – we had, in effect, rewritten history.

Revisionism is a great trick – one very popular with those of us in denial. We have rewritten ourselves so often that we have lost touch with who we really are; with what we really stand for; with what we really believe in. Being able to admit the truth to ourselves is a first step…

With thanks and with hope, until next week, take care

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Luke 21: 5-19

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’  ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’

 He replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’

Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.  You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.

I read recently of a young student who, back in the 1970s, set himself on fire protesting against Soviet rule in Lithuania.  I can still remember the hunger striker Bobby Sands in Ireland in the 1980s. We have almost daily newspaper and TV reports of suicide bombings. And I’ve has asked myself on more than one occasion recently, if there is anyone or anything that I would willingly give up my life for? Had I been around during the Second World War, would I have fought with the resistance? Would I have hidden Jews and helped them to safety? If I’d been around during American Civil War, would I have spoken out against slavery? Or worked with the Underground Railroad? These are difficult questions – and while I’d very much like to think I would have done my part instead of sitting it out, unaffected, I don’t know the answers.

While the rest of the world might seem out of kilter, very often our little corner is just fine, thank you very much. And this lulls us into a false and often selfish sense of security. I can’t help being reminded of the quotation attributed to a German pastor speaking out against the inactivity of intellectuals during the Nazi rise to power.  ‘They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.’ Is this what will happen if we don’t stand firm?

With thanks and with hope, until next week, take care

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Luke 20:27-38

There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.’

And Jesus said to them, ‘The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.’

I’ve had quite a number of conversations lately about marriage and what it entails. I’m pretty sure its original intention was to create a family unit into which children were born. I don’t think anyone doubts that. In a sense, as one friend put it recently, it’s a little like starting a company – in both the eyes of the church and the eyes of the state, your union gets the stamp of approval and is legitimised. There’s also the notion of two becoming one – two lives merging. And of making a commitment to another person in the eyes of God: a life-long commitment.

That’s the way it used to be. In this twenty-first-century world of ours, marriage, like everything else, has become disposable – a convenience; something to try on for size to see if you like it; something to wear for a while to see if it suits. And if it doesn’t, you can get out of it. But what of those who are past ‘child-bearing age’ or, more antisocial still, have no interest in having children? Why then would they get married?

While I know people who have been married two, three, or even four times, I’ve never ventured up the aisle myself. It”s always been on my list of things to do, though, and as recently as yesterday, I was convinced it was high on my list of things to do. But standing back and taking stock of my life, where I’m living and what I’m doing, getting married is the last thing that’s likely to happen to me. So how much do I really want it? I need to think some more about that.

I’m one of the lucky ones, not because I’m single, but because I’ve been having these conversations. When we meet people who hold up a mirror to our soul; who make us examine what we think and believe; who ask the awkward questions that force us down a road of self-discovery; who call us on things we’ve heretofore trot out by rote, when we meet these people we should pay attention. We should listen to what they have to say. We should engage with them in conversation. As Socrates said: the unexamined life is not worth living.

With thanks, and with hope, until next week, take care

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Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

 

Not long ago, I was having coffee with a mate of mine. We discovered we had a mutual acquaintance. Both of us had completely different opinions of the person in question – my friend thought she was the next best thing to sliced bread, the life of the party and the sweetest person to be around; I thought she was really indiscreet, was way too sweet for my liking and extremely annoying to boot. I have a lot of time for this particular friend, and respect his opinion. And I think it’s mutual. So this difference of opinion gave us both pause for thought. We usually like the same people… pretty much anyway. So which one of us was right? Was either us right? Did either of us really know this person or were we looking at her through our own filters – from our individual perspective shaped by years of experience.

Zacchaeus was someone’s son; maybe someone’s brother; someone’s father; someone’s husband; someone’s friend. Yet the crowd in the gospel seemed to be pretty much in agreement that Zacchaeus, as a tax collector, was a sinner. He was universally damned. Our opinions of people are very personal – they’re ours. We have to own them, particularly if we share them. To our credit, neither of us tried to bring the other around to our way of thinking. We each stated our case and left it at that. We agreed to differ. We could respect each other’s opinion without having to agree with it.

Some interesting questionscame up: If everyone is speaking badly of someone and you like them, do you stand your ground and speak up for them? Or what if everyone is speaking well of someone you neither like nor trust, do you stay silent?  Something to think about this week…

 With thanks and with hope, until next week, take care

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Luke 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but the one who humbles himself shall be exalted.’

There’s a very fine line between having a sure and certain sense of our own worth as human beings and, as we say in Ireland, being full of ourselves. I have friends who are constantly berating themselves for not being smart enough; not working hard enough; not having done much with their lives. They give themselves very little credit for anything; their rhetoric is punctuated by self-recriminations. They simply don’t have a true perspective of themselves.

I have acquaintances that are full of their own importance. They never lose an opportunity to point out what they’re doing; to list their good deeds; their lives seem to be one long session of ‘show and tell’. They’re not bad people – their perspective is just a little skewed.

I know some people who are at the opposite end of the spectrum – martyrs to the cause. They play the humility card to its limit and seem to spend their lives feeling sorry for themselves.

At various times in our lives, perhaps we could identify with one or two or even all three of these ‘types’. The key is to be honest with ourselves and to recognise which hand we’re playing. When was the last time you listened to what you were saying? When was the last time you consciously registered your vocabulary? If you’re constantly prefacing things with ‘I must’ or ‘I have to’, perhaps there’s a little more martyr in you than is healthy. If you admonish yourself for being ‘stupid’ or ‘ridiculous’ then maybe you need to look at how you’re behaving towards yourself. If most of your sentences begin with ‘I’, then maybe it’s time to reign in that hubris. As I’ve said before – there’s no right or wrong – what’s important is that we’re aware.

With thanks and with hope, until next week, take care

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Luke 18:1-8

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ And the Lord said, Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

When I was growing up, I only had to ask my parents for something once. And if the answer was no then, it would remain so. I had to be well prepared because I only got one shot at whatever it was I wanted. I learned to ask them to consider my request before answering straight away. But the kids these days, they’ve got it sussed. They keep on and on and on and on… that constant litany of ‘mammy please… please mammy’ would wear down all but the sturdiest of souls. And eventually, most will give in. And they will say yes, despite their sound reasons for saying no in the first place. Has this become the norm?

When we ask a question and don’t get the answer we’d hoped for, why then do we keep pushing, keep nagging, keep going on about it until we get what we want? When did this relentlessness become our driver? When did our ‘no’ stop meaning no? Did we make a conscious decision not to stand by our decisions but rather waiver at the first sign of onslaught? And in turn, do we now delay making decisions until we’ve been asked a million times? And do we say one thing, knowing full well that we will be harangued into staying another?

This week, pay attention to what’s going on around you. See how many times you can spot this verbal beating into submission – and see how many times you change your mind yourself…

With thanks and with hope, until next week, take care

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Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’. When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’

I remember being made to sit down and write thank you cards after my birthday and after Christmas. It will drilled into me: when someone gives you something or does something for you, say thanks. I read somewhere lately that in the UK only 1 in 10 children under the age of 14 has ever written a thank you note. I see it in restaurants, in pubs, where customers demand and rarely say thank you. I see it on the street, on public transport where people step out in front of each other with so much as an ‘excuse me’ and elbow their way to a vacant seat as it if getting there were a matter of life or death. It seems as if society has forgotten its manners; has forgotten how to say please and thank you.

How hard is it to remember? How difficult is it to teach our children to be polite? Could it be that they are simply mirroring our own behaviour? Do we lead by example – bad example? This week, remind yourself to be thankful, to be polite. And see how infectious it is…

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