Welcome to St Austin's Catholic Parish, Stafford
Listen to this Sunday's Gospel reading by visiting the website www.sundaygospel.co.uk.
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus does not mince his words with James and John. In Mark’s Gospel for this 29th Sunday (10: 35-45) Jesus speaks plainly: "You do not know what you are asking.” He was responding to the brothers’ request for preferential seating. Who, amongst the Baptised, hasn’t resorted, at times, to praying for preferential treatment?
Each human being is born with an innate preference for God. As God is our Creator, we bear his hallmark in our inbred preference for Him, ‘The Good’, who is God. As we grow, we develop natural inclinations drawing us towards music, science, sport, religious life, politics etc. These often occur as a result of influences received in early life. Our preference for God is something else, it is the result of God’s prior preference for us.
His preference for us rules out his drawing us to a position of false privilege, an apparent but vacuous superiority. Jesus calls us to copy what he did for us namely, to kneel down and wash our feet. That is Jesus’ definition of preference and it is a world apart from the secular privileges towards which the Evil One tempts us with persistent regularity.
When Pope Francis washes the feet of women and men serving time in prison or rehabilitation, when he embraces a seriously disfigured person at the end of a Wednesday general audience, he is not performing some liturgical rite. He is being Jesus Christ for each of those individuals at that moment and the recipients of his action recognise the truth of it to some extent. To the media it may be a photo opportunity but those recipients know something of the truth of the man who represents Jesus the Christ. In a less profound way, our eye-contact, open smile and ‘thank you’ to the person on the check-out, to the person who didn’t hold open the door for us, to the surly receptionist is, for us and each Baptised person, their moment to make Christ present. Jesus gladly receives the offering you and I make of ourselves in his name. An offering known only to Him and us individually.
Likewise, you may be the person disfigured, the person disabled in mind or body by a degenerative disease. So often such people are seen only as the recipients of others’ benefactions. They, themselves, are all too rarely recognised as benefactors. Many years ago, as an over- busy person rushing from engagement to engagement, I arrived at a L’Arche house for a meeting. (L’Arche an international community of family residences for those known then as ‘Handicapped’ – a term no longer appropriate, thank God). One resident, a man in his thirties, with a misshapen face, stunted growth, unable to speak coherently and given to dribbling, met me in the hall and grabbed my hand as I attempted to rush by. I had to stop. Not to have done so would have been highly discourteous.
I imagined that Brian was just wanting to say ‘Hello’ in the only way he could, by holding my hand. I expected him to release my hand when I said I was late for a meeting and needed to go. But no! He continued to quite firmly hold my hand. Franticly, I looked around for someone to come to my rescue. There was no appropriate person in the immediate vicinity. I could have forced Brian to release my hand but that would have violated everything that L’Arche stood for. In the ensuing minutes, having exhausted the possibilities for releasing my hand, I just accepted that I was rooted to the spot until Brian chose to release me. I remember calming down, slowly. Eventually, my frantic haste subsided as we stood there in silence. I became peaceful. A moment or so later, Brian released my hand and, with a smile, went on his way and I on mine.
I got in late to the meeting. There was no major fuss. Nobody asked why I was late and if they had, how could I explain what had happened? I was only just coming to understand it myself. Later, I went looking for Brian. He was just sitting quietly in the community room. I sat opposite him and offered him my hand which he accepted. I cannot remember my exact words but I thanked him for making me stop my frenetic behaviour and for showing me the falseness of it. I thanked him for teaching me an important lesson. Forty something years later I remember that teaching and Brian (now gone to God) so well. That evening, Brian said nothing as I took my leave, but his eyes told me he understood and was happy for me.
Maybe, this reflection has wandered away from the brothers, James and John. Maybe not! For each of us knows disfigurement and disablement. Sometimes it manifests itself in frenetic behaviour and addictions that having nothing to do with amphetamines. We give our innate likeness to God a deal of punishment over the years. God, for his part, continues to exercise his preferment of us even when we are too busy, too self-absorbed, to notice. If we are blessed, there will be a ‘Brian’ or three along our road of life. Whether we appreciate their presence, whether we learn from them … well that’s another matter.
Decades after my Brian moment, I had to retire after brain surgery. Now, in my greatly reduced pace of life and spending time coaxing my injured brain to function usefully, I am grateful to be able to remember Brian and do so with gratitude.
As for James and John. When they asked Jesus for seats at his right and left hand they clearly had no premonition that, for Jesus, his first throne was his Cross on Calvary and the ‘seats’ were the crosses either side of his. The Gospel tells of their occupants. Neither James nor John nor the other bickering Ten Apostles had really taken in Jesus’ teaching that precedes today’s Gospel – Mark 10: 32-34.
People, now more than ever, need to learn again how to reach out to The Good God whose likeness we all bear. To do this, we need to stop and silence the chattering devices that we allow to continually bombard our senses. In our stillness and interior silence, the Lord reveals himself in his love for us and invites us to show that same love to others, as Brian did to me.