27 June 2010

Freedom and the iPhone 4

13th Sunday in the Season of the Year (C) - Setting our face toward the Lord.

In the first reading from I Kings, we meet Elijah at the end of his ministry, when his service begins to be more about Elijah than the Lord, so the Lord essentially tells him that his services are no longer required: go and anoint Elisha to succeed you as prophet. To his credit Elijah is faithful to the Lord, and finds Elisha ploughing - not by himself but behind 12 yoke of oxen (a sign of hid great wealth) and places his mantle over him. Immediately Elisha leaves behind the oxen and follows after Elijah - requesting only that he can kiss his parents goodbye. Although Elijah gives him leave to do so, it is not clear whether Elisha does - but what is clear is that he makes a decisive break with his current way of life when he kills the oxen and uses the yoke and the plough to prepare a meal for his men - and then follows Elijah.

This becomes for us a sign and example of freedom - what it means to live in liberty. To have the freedom that St Paul speaks about in Galatians 5:1 doesn't mean being hard pressed to make the right decision - it means being so focussed on what is true, good and beautiful that we know when and where to do the right thing. The Gospel provides a powerful example of this in the ministry of Jesus - when he 'sets his face resolutely towards Jerusalem.' (Luke 9:51) The remainder of Luke's gospel will now be about this journey - and we are reminded of this decision and movement towards Jerusalem again in Luke 13, 17, 18 and 19 (when Jesus finally arrives in triumph in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday).

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Recorded at Sacred Heart, Bomaderry, 9.30am (8'04")

20 June 2010

Jesus in 3D

Experiencing Jesus in 3D. Often we are content to stay with the images or ideas that we had about Jesus from our childhood. But there is so much more that we can experience about the historical and spiritual reality of Jesus of Nazareth, as he puts the same question to us that he put the disciples - 'who do you say I am?'

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Recorded at St Michael's, 9.30am (7'43")

13 June 2010

Hair and tears

11th Sunday in the Season of the Year. Also Immaculate Heart of Mary (Diocesan Feast) and Mission Sunday Appeal. Also the Sunday when my move to Fairy Meadow Parish was announced...
Like a great artistic masterpiece, Luke tells the story of the day that a Pharisee invited Jesus to a festive meal, and the party was crashed by a woman who only wanted to anoint Jesus in gratitude to the immense love that he had shown in the forgiveness that she received.

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Recorded at Sacred Heart, 9.30am (9'34" - The recording also includes the Gospel)

06 June 2010

A priest of El Elyon

The first reading from Genesis presents the intriguing character of Melchizedek, king of Salem, and priest of El Elyon (God Most High) who offers Abram a sacrifice of bread and wine. Why is this significant for the celebration of this feast of the Eucharist?

There are two significant points of distinction about the passage from Genesis 14:18-20. The central character, Melchizedek, is only mentioned in this one brief passage, and then again in Psalm 110 (the Responsorial Psalm today) across the whole Old Testament - and yet Melchizedek comes into the theology of the New Testament (through Hebrews 7) and the early Church as a symbol of the priesthood of Jesus and as a model for the ordained ministry.

The name Melchizedek comes from two Hebrew words - Melek meaning king, and sedeq meaning justice or righteousness. So already his name means the King of Righteousness (Heb 7:2). But additionally he is described as the King of Salem - a name that is connected both to the Hebrew word for peace (Shalom) and to the city of Yerushalem / Jerusalem. Genesis 14:17 says that this event takes place in the King's Valley which leads up to the site where Jerusalem was established. Finally, this king of righteousness, and prince of peace is a priest of God Most High (El Elyon) brings a sacrifice (that is what 'kohen' / priests do) of bread and wine. So it is no wonder that the early Church sees in Melchizedek a figure of Christ.

The second point is that when Melchizedek meets Abram (his name has not yet been changed to Abraham) he blesses (baruch) Abram in the name of 'El Elyon'. El is the most generic name for God or divinity in the Semitic languages, including Canaanite. Abram is returning after doing battle with the Canaanite kings to rescue his nephew Lot who had been captured by them. In the Canaanite pantheon, El is also the father of their main god, Ba'al. So perhaps you can understand the reticence of the Hebrews to refer to their God by the most generic name 'El'. Before the revelation of the sacred name of God to Moses, described in Exodus 3, YHWH - which becomes the most common way of calling upon the Lord, and is usually translated in English bibles as LORD - over 6000 occurrences - God was often referred to as Elohim (strictly the plural form of El) or using a descriptive word with El - such as El Elyon in the text here, or in forms like El Shaddai (meaning something like God of the mountains, but the exact meaning of the Hebrew is unclear; it is only when it is translated into Greek in the LXX text that the meaning 'God Almighty' is offered) or El Olam (Everlasting God). But this specific name for God - El Elyon, God Most High - is only used in this passage out of all the Old Testament. And we don't know why.

The descriptive Elyon is found regularly enough across the pages of the OT, but not connected to El as it is in this passage - until you arrive at the New Testament. There, (in Luke 1) when the angel appears to Mary, she is told that she will give birth to the son of the Most High God. Zechariah is told that his son will be a prophet of the Most High. And then right across the ministry of Jesus he clearly sees himself to be the fulfilment of the ministry of Melchizedek - the king of righteousness, the prince of peace, and priest of El Elyon. Paul understands these connections when he describes (20 years before any of the Gospel accounts) the Last Supper, using the language of covenant and sacrifice.

Jesus likewise in the Gospel today first welcomes the crowd and teaches them - as a king and priest was meant to do. Then he invites his disciples to feed the people - but they continue to be thick and miss the prophetic point; all they suggest is to send the people away. Jesus instead reminds them that a king is meant to gather into unity, so he takes what is available (the bread and fish) and says the baruch (blessing) over the gifts and then gives the abundant food to the disciples to distribute.

Although Jesus is the perfect fulfilment of the priest Melchizedek, he also shares this ministry with his disciples, and continues to invite us to be fed and nourished by no less than his very body and blood, so that we in turn can welcome others to share at this feast; as we are transformed by these most precious gifts, so also we are invited to transform all that we bring to the altar of El Elyon.

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Recorded at St Michael's, 9.30am (11'10")