Year C – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Five Simple Lessons

(Kgs.19:16,19-21; Gal.5:1,13-18; Lk.9:51-62)

In 2019, when I last visited the Holy Land, I happily discovered a sculpture called Homeless Jesus near St Peter’s Church in Capernaum.

Made of bronze, this life-sized sculpture shows Jesus covered in a thin blanket, and sleeping on a park bench. You know it’s Jesus by the wounds on his feet, and there’s just enough bench space left for someone to sit next to him.

The sculptor is a Canadian, Timothy Schmalz, and over 100 casts of this work have been installed around the world. [i] Schmalz says this piece was inspired by today’s Gospel, where Jesus says that ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

But why is Jesus homeless? It’s because he has just set out on his Great Journey to Jerusalem. Luke starts this narrative in today’s reading, from chapter 9 of his Gospel, and he ends it in chapter 19 when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We’ll be following this story over the next few weeks, and along the way Jesus will be teaching us how to follow him as his disciple.

In today’s reading, Jesus gives us five simple lessons to get us started in discipleship.

Firstly, we’re told that Jesus begins his own great journey by ‘resolutely taking the road for Jerusalem…’ This word ‘resolutely’ is important, for it tells us that Jesus is totally committed to it. There’s no turning back, despite the challenges, and Jesus wants us to be just as resolute in following him.

Secondly, Jesus makes it clear that he wants no angry thoughts from us; we must always be patient and loving. When Jesus enters that Samaritan village and finds he’s not welcome, his disciples James and John, the ‘Sons of Thunder’, propose revenge. But Jesus won’t have it. He’s a man of peace and forgiveness, and we must be the same.

Then we hear Jesus’ advice to each of the three people who want to follow him.

To the first, Jesus says ‘foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’. Here, Jesus warns that the journey ahead may be inconvenient and uncomfortable, but that’s OK. We must be prepared to make sacrifices if we want to earn eternal life.

Then, when the second person says, ‘let me go and bury my father first’, Jesus makes it clear that there’s nothing more important than being his disciple. This must be our first priority. So, he says, ‘let the dead bury the dead’.

Now, this sounds heartless, but it helps to understand the culture of the time. In ancient Palestine, burials involved a two-stage process. 

Firstly, the body was placed in a cave where it was left to decompose, leaving only the bones. These bones were then placed in an ossuary, which is a stone chest or a special room for the storage of bones.

But the family never personally touched anything. Only trained undertakers did such work. So, there’s no point in this man waiting for his father’s bones to be moved. It’s not his job. It’s better for him to start following Jesus right away.

And finally, to the third person Jesus says, ‘no one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God’.

If you’re a farmer and want to plough your field in neat, straight lines, it’s important to keep your eyes fixed firmly ahead. If you keep looking back, you’re going to make mistakes. This isn’t what Jesus wants. He wants us to keep looking forward – keeping our eyes on the prize.

Following Jesus is the very essence of the Christian life. Deep down, many of us know this, and we promise ourselves that we will follow Jesus one day. But too many of us put it off – perhaps we don’t know how or where to start.

That’s why Jesus offers us these five helpful tips today. Let’s summarise them:

Firstly, make a decision to follow Jesus, and commit to it. Be ‘resolute’, just like Jesus himself.

Secondly, stop being angry towards others. Jesus is a man of peace and forgiveness, and we must be the same. Our hearts must always be filled with love.

Thirdly, be prepared to embrace humility. You might never be homeless, but you could be uncomfortable. Discipleship isn’t always easy, but Jesus is there to help us.

Fourthly, be prepared to leave things behind. Jesus must always come first.

And finally, with courageous heart and firm faith, always look forward and never look back.

We’ll hear more from Jesus in the coming weeks as we follow him on his Great Journey to Jerusalem.

May this be our great journey, too.


Year C – The Body and Blood of Christ

The Power of a Good Meal

(Gen.14:18-20; 1Cor.11:23-26; Lk.9:11b-17)

What does food do for us?

Many people think that food simply fills us up, that it stops us feeling hungry. But it does so much more than that. Good food is nourishing; it helps us grow and be healthy. It can be healing, too, and it’s comforting in times of fear, uncertainty and sadness.

But food is also a wonderful way to express love, and it’s often used to seal business deals. 

Indeed, food brings people together. We create a family when we share our table, and we create a community when we have a street barbecue! 

In every culture, food is always meaningful. That’s because growing, preparing and serving food always involves both sacrifice and heart.

Jesus knows this. He knows how families and communities are formed, and that breaking bread brings people together. That’s why he so often eats with all sorts of people, including social outcasts.

Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners (Mt.9:10–11); with the Pharisees and lawyers (Lk.11:37-54), and with lepers (Mk.14:3). He receives a shady woman at a men’s dinner (Lk.7:36-39), and he invites himself to a meal at Zacchaeus’ place (Lk.19:1-10). 

Jesus is criticised for this (Lk.7:34). But he understands the power of food, and that’s why he gave us the Holy Eucharist.

St John Vianney (1786-1859) said that it’s not only our bodies that need food – our souls do, too. ‘But where is this food?’ he asked. 

He answered by saying that when God wanted to give us food for our souls, he looked everywhere and found nothing suitable. So, he decided to give himself.

And how does God give himself? Through the Holy Eucharist, which is God’s most precious gift to us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing the way for this gift. Over 5,000 people have followed him to a place called Tabgha, near the Sea of Galilee. They’re tired and hungry, but he doesn’t turn them away. Rather, he welcomes and teaches them, and cures the sick. Then he asks his disciples to feed them all. 

They’re resistant, however, for it’s getting late. But Jesus insists. 

He sits them all down and takes the meal of five loaves and two fish. He blesses and breaks the food, and then gives it to them. 

This is exactly what Jesus does at the Last Supper, when he institutes the Holy Eucharist (see also Lk.24:13-35). And for all 2,000 years since then, the Church has consistently repeated this action at every Mass. 

Our priests, acting ‘in persona Christi’, take the bread, they bless and break it, and then they give it to the faithful, repeating Jesus’ words: ‘This is my body. Take it and eat it … and remember that I’m with you, always.’

Why do we do this? It’s because Jesus told us to (Lk.22:19), and because we know that the Eucharist is not just a sign or a symbol (Jn.6:32). It’s actually Jesus himself. It’s Jesus’ own body and blood we consume, through the consecrated bread and wine. We know this because he said so (Jn.6:51-59). 

The Eucharist is God’s special meal, where he invites us all to join together as one Christian family around the table that we call the altar

Just as we have a dining table at home, so here in this house of Our Lord we have this special table, which at Mass is typically adorned with fine linen, candles and tableware, including a paten and chalice.

And just as we share stories at home when we settle down to eat and drink together, so here at Mass we hear stories about Jesus and our Father God, before sharing the one bread and the one cup. 

This eucharistic meal, this food for our souls, is powerful, because Jesus has promised that ‘whoever eats me will draw life from me (and) anyone who eats this bread will live forever’ (Jn.6:57-58).

And who serves this meal to us? It’s Jesus himself, through his ministers. Jesus is the one who waits on us (Lk.12:37, 20:28; 22:27). And he invites everyone to partake, just as he fed everyone in that crowd of over 5,000 at Tabgha, where ‘all ate and were satisfied’ (Lk.9:17; 14:15-24).

In offering this divine meal to us, Jesus is offering sinners forgiveness, acceptance and healing, for Jesus himself is food for our souls. 

The purpose of the Holy Eucharist is not simply to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. 

Its purpose is to change us, to reinvigorate us as the Body of Christ, so that we may then go out to nourish the lives of others.


Year C – Trinity Sunday

A Constant Flow of Love

(Prov.8:22-31; Rom.5:1-5; Jn.16:12-15)

Today puzzles many people. Why? It’s because this is Trinity Sunday. They can’t understand how three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – can possibly be one God.

We can know some things about God, however. St Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) said that ‘behaviour is determined by the nature of things,’ so we can tell something about God from the things he does.

God the Father, for example, is the Creator of all life. Our life is a gift from him, so we know he’s clever and generous. Jesus also calls his Father ‘Abba’, which means ‘Papa’, so we know he’s kind and gentle. And we know that he’s the loving and forgiving Father who waits patiently for his son, in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk.15:11–32).

We also know that Jesus, as the Son of God, gave up everything to live among us as an ordinary man. He reveals his loving heart by curing the sick, by helping the blind and downtrodden, and by sacrificing himself for us on the Cross. And by rising again, Jesus shows us that we can do the very same thing.

Then there’s God the Spirit, who is the love between the Father and the Son that constantly flows into our world. Wherever there’s love, there’s the Spirit. He makes us holy. He makes it possible for us to lives of faith, hope and love. He comforts, unites and strengthens us, and he leads us to the truth about God. And when God’s Spirit works in and through us, we are part of God’s life.

But many people still struggle with the Trinity, because they think that God must be a being, perhaps a grey-haired old man, controlling things from afar.

Richard Rohr says this idea of God as a being comes from the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC), who taught that there were ten different qualities to all things, including ‘substance’ and ‘relationship’. Substance, he said, was the highest quality, so people thought that God must surely have substance.

Then, in the fourth and fifth centuries, St Augustine (354–430) described the Trinity as God in three substances united as one. And by the sixth century, God was defined as one substance who had three relationships.

Later on, however, Thomas Aquinas argued that God is one substance, but these relationships constitute the very nature of that substance.

This thinking has helped us understand that God doesn’t need to have any physical substance at all, for he is Spirit and relationship itself.

Richard Rohr says that our salvation is simply our readiness and capacity to stay in that relationship. As long as we remain vulnerable to some degree, he says, the Spirit can keep working in us.

But when we’re self-sufficient, we effectively shut ourselves off from God. That’s why Jesus arrived as a naked and vulnerable baby, Rohr says. Jesus was completely dependent on relationships, for that’s the way God works.

Rohr says that the Way of Jesus is our invitation into a Trinitarian way of living, loving and relating. We’re all essentially just like the Trinity, living in absolute relatedness, and to choose to stand outside this Flow is the deepest and most obvious meaning of sin.

This Flow is called love. We were made for love, and outside of it we die very quickly. [i]

He adds that infinite love is planted in all of creation, including ourselves. Everything is attracted to everything: life is attracted to life; love is attracted to love; God in you is attracted to God in everyone and everything else.

That’s what it means when the Bible says we’ve all been created in the image and likeness of God (Gen.1:26-27). God placed this alluring attraction of life toward life in everything he created.

The Trinity, then, is the heart and soul of all creation.

But what image should we use to represent the Trinity? Richard Rohr suggests the ‘fidget spinner’ toy. When it’s still, a fidget spinner has three different lobes. However, when it spins (which is its essential function), we can’t see the distinct wings; only an unbroken movement or flow, which is how God works.

This movement and flow between the three members of the Trinity is more significant than the qualities of each individual. That’s because God is a verb more than a noun; a flow more than a substance, an experience more than a deity sitting on a throne.

And we live naturally inside that constant flow of love – if we don’t resist it. [ii]

Our challenge, then, is to always go with the Flow.

To always allow God’s love to flow in and through us.

[i] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, God is Relationship, Thursday, May 9, 2019

[ii] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, Aliveness, Friday, May 10, 2019

Year C – Pentecost Sunday

Camino Moments

[Acts 2:1-11; Gal.5:16-25; Jn.15:26-27; 16:12-15]

Ten years ago this week, I completed the Camino Frances with five members of my family. This is the famous 800 km pilgrimage from southern France to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.

Pilgrims often talk about the ‘Camino Moments’ they experience on this walk. These are the times when a problem they face is suddenly and mysteriously resolved. They might be lost, or thirsty, or needing something, and then suddenly a solution will appear.

This often happened to me. One day, for instance, it was hot and I had no sunscreen. Without any prompting, a lady approached me, offering me some.

Joyce Rupp talks about this in her book Walk in a Relaxed Manner. She tells the story of when she was lost in the city of Ponferrada, and all of a sudden, a bearded man in a red cape appeared and guided her safely through the streets.

On her Camino, she writes, ‘many unannounced angels came into our lives at just the right time to help us with their considerate care…’ [i]

‘Since my return from the Camino,’ she adds, ‘others have told me about strangers offering them solace in a hospital emergency room, unknown people stopping to help change a flat tyre, and unnamed persons reaching out to extend help or give information at precisely the time of greatest need.’ [ii]

What they all witnessed was the Holy Spirit unexpectedly helping them through strangers.

Today, on Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit’s graces. Jesus had promised to send his Spirit to help them, and he did, as they all huddled in fear in the Upper Room.

A great noise like a mighty wind rushed through the house, tongues of fire appeared above the disciples, and they were all filled with God’s Holy Spirit.

This is the same Spirit that helped Mary conceive Jesus in her womb (Lk.1:35); the same Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan (Lk.3:22); and the same powerful Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (1Pet.3:18).

The disciples’ lives changed instantly. No longer fearful, they bravely ventured out into the streets of Jerusalem, telling everyone about Jesus.

Now, the Holy Spirit’s work didn’t stop with Jesus and his Apostles. Today the Spirit continues to work throughout the world in many different ways, supporting, transforming and energising countless lives (1Cor.12:4-11).

For each of us, our own personal Pentecost occurred at our Baptism, when we were filled with the gifts of faith, hope and charity.

And at our Confirmation, these gifts were strengthened by the gifts of wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence and fear of the Lord (or ‘wonder and awe’).

Through these sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the Holy Spirit gives us the same special graces he gave Jesus and his Apostles. These spiritual strengths were exactly what they needed to get going, and they’re also just what we need today if we are to live our lives to the full (Jn.10:10).

We cannot see the Holy Spirit, and sadly, most people don’t even notice him working in their lives. They take him for granted. But we can sense his presence when we take the time to be quiet and reflective – like when we’re walking the Camino.

Walking the Camino can take many weeks, and you take with you only the most basic of necessities. Life becomes simpler and quieter, your mind becomes clearer, and you start to notice things that you’d normally miss in your busy life.

As you reflect on the Holy Spirit, you start to realise all he does for us. He leads us to Jesus, and helps us get to know him (Jn.15:26; 16:14). He guides us to where we need to go (Jn.16:13). He shows us what we’re meant to do (Acts 13:2; 16:6-7). And he helps us do God’s work (1Cor.12:11; Acts 1:8).

Something the Camino teaches us is that life itself is a pilgrimage, a journey from one day to another towards our heavenly home. And along the way, we’re all invited to see and experience, to learn and understand.

In our pilgrimage through life, the Holy Spirit is constantly trying to lead and inspire us, to help us become like Jesus.

And he’s always giving us help and encouragement. But do we notice? And are we truly open to him?

Today, let’s give thanks for the Holy Spirit’s loving presence in our lives.

And let’s be alert to our next Camino moment.

[i] Joyce Rupp, Walk in a Relaxed Manner. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY. 2007:154.

[ii] Op cit, p.159.