26th Sunday of the Year

The difficult, and at times, harsh, readings today boil down to an ultimate choice – eternal life and the means to get there. The readings do give us a positive teaching that no generous life goes unrewarded, but also that no persistent selfish sinful way of life goes unpunished. We are given rather stark images of amputation and organ removal rather than to commit sins with them.

Any reasonable minded person can see that these drastic measures in Jesus’ teaching are not to be taken literally – yet the Gospel in its entirety contains passages like this one that do not sit easily with us.

 It would not be the complete Gospel without this passage which we find deeply troubling and disturbing – regarding potential resorting to amputation and the like to avoid sinning with our limbs and organs! So what are we to make of the difficulty? We might say to ourselves – this is terrible thinking, and ‘old school’.  But we cannot ‘pick and choose in Christ’ (St Paul).

Jesus was teaching for effect. Stark images and imagery make a deep impression on us. If we think of the best teachers at school who made a subject interesting and memorable it was their passion and their powers of persuasion. Their conviction was convincing. But they also used memorable stories and life lessons to hammer home their point.

There is a disturbing truth therefore in Jesus’ sayings today and that is the awfulness of sin and sin’s potential to exclude us from eternal happiness with God in heaven. Scandal and occasions of sin are to be ‘avoided like the plague’.

Firstly, ‘scandal’.

The term ‘scandal’ is used rather more generally today than its original meaning as a stumbling block (’skandalon’ in Greek). It was to perform a nasty piece of work to trip somebody up in their progress. It was an act of cruelty committed out of resentment and envy to take someone down a peg or two.

 Scandal is the deliberate intention to place a building block in someone’s way, to trip them up and to cause them to fall. It involves malicious intent. It is better not to have been born at all than to live a life where we lead others into sin and possible damnation. The heart that desires to perform scandal to cause others to sin is truly evil. We seem to have lost the sense that we can speak , act and even dress ‘scandalously’. It is worth thinking about.

Occasions of sin are where we must be careful and have to avoid the deliberate decision to place ourselves ‘in harm’s way’. It may be the work of others to trip us up but like a minefield we must be on our guard and aware of the potential dangers to ourselves and keep away from all dangers to fall into sin – with our eyes for example – lust and covetousness and evil desires – and with our limbs – such as thievery or violence. We know our capacity to sin, we know our weaknesses and our potential to make wrong choices in life, to compromise our principles, to rationalise and make excuses for ourselves with sayings like ’just this once’ or ‘one more drink won’t do me any harm’ or ‘this rule does not apply to me’. We deliberate and we fall down.

Repentance is needed. The remedy to such self-delusion and selfishness is implied in the line regarding generosity – receiving a prophet’s reward for the offer of a cup of cold water. We must therefore turn from selfishness and be generous with our resources – this does not go unnoticed by the Lord who is quite ready to reward us for our acts of kindness, especially to those who represent Him.

Therefore while the thrust of the readings is on the dangers on the moral and spiritual plane - even spiritual jealousy and resentment at others’ success and others getting ahead - we are called to greater generosity of spirit just as God is generous with His Spirit.

23rd Sunday of Year B

The Lord made the deaf hear, the blind see, the dumb speak, the lame walk freely

These miraculous signs foretold in Isaiah which are a graphic reality in the Gospel passage today - and the rendered cures are due to the presence of God’s healing love. He is not dispassionate or indifferent, or biding his time, playing with us. He is with us all the time – and He acts in HIS time, at an hour when we do not expect, and the longed-for miracle we seek comes. This should elicit faith, wonder, and above all grateful praise.

These physical signs or manifestations point to a deeper reality – the senses symbolize the spiritual within. Those who are truly blind are the proud and willfully stubborn, those who refuse admit the truth about themselves in the light of GOD or in the light of others’ helpful insights or advice. The stubborn refusal to change one’s ways where necessary is dangerous to one’s health and wellbeing, both physically and also for one’s salvation.

I can be so blind to my own faults, and stubbornly want complete control of my destiny and future where diet and exercise is concerned that I feel I can unaided and unsupervised lose weight and change in my own good time and effortlessly. How many people also, for example, refuse to heed the warning signs on cigarette packets, oblivious or taking their chances that they can avoid the statistics – or be on the right side of them? How many people turn a blind eye to the obvious effects of alcohol abuse, or long term effects of compulsions and addictions or other harmful habits? How come so many people seem to think they can escape unharmed?

Deafness to advice, criticism meant in the right spirit, to the truth about myself and condition seen objectively by a dentist, doctor, counselor, therapist, confessor or true friend?

Being mute – in a spiritual way – means being deliberately silent when speech (and action) is necessary in the face of injustice and lies. This is called ‘guilty silence’. How often have I perhaps failed to stand up for the weak, vulnerable and innocent and have hidden somehow anonymously in the mob – form bullying at school to cyber-bullying, or in domestic life or the workplace? Have I hidden, or hidden from the truth?

Being paralysed – in a spiritual way – means failure to act, for any number of reasons: laziness, fear to overcome my faults and take the necessary steps (at last) and no longer procrastinating.

Where is healing and by implication, change, needed in my life? What am I afraid to change? What is preventing me from being ‘the best version of myself’ – the version God wants, the version that is often highest benefit to others?

The stark use of Jesus’ fingers and spittle point to perhaps the indispensable directness and radicalness of change – the pointed and probing analysis that we find uncomfortable with any physician, but all the more necessary and remedial (as in remedy) that Christ the Divine Healer wants for my wellbeing and completeness and ultimately my happiness in this life and the next. We must allow ourselves to be touched by Christ in this way. We must be open – in order to ‘be opened’. May it happen soon!

22nd Sunday


I was once told you could tell the quality of a restaurant or a hotel by the state of the public gents’ and ladies toilets. It is indeed a comfort now to see lists on notice boards in a prominent place in bathrooms/restrooms detailing the regular checking of the state of the toilets by staff, usually on the hour.

Similarly it is and gratifying to see that even hotel restaurant staffs are reminded of the importance of washing their hands. We see deli staff put on fresh gloves as they serve us. We are all aware of the 10 vectors of infection – the 10 fingers. We now know the reason for the importance of such cleanliness because of our advanced knowledge of bacteria and the manner in which food and utensils and work-tops can become contaminated as sources of infection and food poisoning. An occasional outbreak of Salmonella in the news puts us all on our guard. Hygiene is economically important for a solid business reputation and customer base. Liquid gels in hospitals and commercially available hand gels are recent welcome additions to increased awareness of public hygiene.

Washing – personal hygiene, brushing teeth, nail scrubbing, how often we do it, the order in which we do it, the time spent in the bathroom bathing and showering and so on - we are all creatures of ingrained habit in how we wash.

For the Pharisees in the Gospel today washing was about much more than hygiene – it was a complicated system of the elders of ritual cleanness and uncleanness - and therefore was a publicly accountable measure of one’s worthiness before God. This external 'cleanness’ was mistaken for virtue.

But as Jesus counters from the Scriptures: ‘this people honours me with their lips, their hearts are far from me.’

Jesus wants therefore to set us free – in the 21st century - from undue nit-picking, legalism and seeing the wood for the trees and micro-managing ourselves. The law doesn’t save. The following of God from the heart is what matters. The scrupulous following of the 613 laws and rules, and many more besides – became a burden and beyond all reason for the Jews and the Pharisees.

Jesus wants us to keep things simple – and in fact he mentions 12 things that may stem from the heart.  

Jesus wants to set us free form worry about external things like pots and pans and surface things – it is the heart is what matters.

But we must avoid complacency on the other hand and realise that we must be vigilant – to be, in the words of the Second Reading from St James this Sunday, - ‘uncontaminated by the world.’ This means that to be a Christian we must be mindful of matters of  the heart – but not in the romantic sense. When we look at the list of sins that emerge form the heart we realise that often the external world does in fact become the battleground fpr the senses and the wayward heart. We must be discerning.
We must be Chrsitians from the inside out, but mindful of the outside influences aswell.