Our OLD TESTAMENT READING [JEREMIAH 31: 31 - 34] provides us with a rich and quite splendid approach to this week which leads us to Palm Sunday and Holy Week....
It should be easy to recall that last week we emphasised the importance of what Mary understood so well. We read in that reflection –
all was begun by the God who acts powerfully in the development, and brings it to completion. A few sentences later the following was added – we achieve little, if anything, on our own. God-in-Christ is the beginning, development, continuation and the end of everything we undertake. So, TODAY’S PSALM [138 or 137] provides us with a short invocation which should become a part of our daily prayer: “Lord, discard not the work of your hands.“
It is easy, after years of discipleship or ministry, to make the mistake of starting to think that it is
MY ministry, I am the success, am indispensable and no one can do it nearly as well as I. I begin to think that there is no need, as our Psalm reminds us, to “bow down towards your holy temple” or, even worse, I have turned myself into the holy temple!
This is the mistake made by Shebna and described in
TODAY’S OLD TESTAMENT EXTRACT [ISAIAH 22: 19 – 23]. He had become too big for his boots and ends up with egg on his face. He had lost the plot!
There is one further point which finds application in the contemporary Church. Our Isaiah reading outlines the Church’s basic mission which is to open doors despite opposing forces which attempt to retreat behind what is imagined to be secure walls. The Church is only secure when it is outgoing and unafraid to experiment with fresh approaches. Thesemay not always or infallibly prove to be effective. However, the Church is not on earth to serve or protect itself behind locked doors – and should never be afraid of learning what works and what does not.
If the image of the Church as a boat has any meaning then we must maintain that its function is not to remain securely berthed in harbour and only those visitors with approved visas are allowed to come aboard. Let us take the famous old cruise liner the Queen Mary as an illustration. She plied the oceans, carried millions of passengers safely to their destinations – and did so in all sorts of varied weather, through calm and rough seas. She had to be navigated and be adapted to the prevailing circumstances. At one stage of her career she even adapted from a luxury liner to troopship during long years of war and danger. However, now she has become a museum and hotel – berthed permanently in a foreign port. She was really only what she was designed to be when out at sea.
TODAY’S GOSPEL [MATTHEW 16: 13 – 20]
provides the key to the challenge. Who presented the Church with the keys? None other than Jesus Christ – and he did this after asking the jackpot question: “who do YOU say I am?” As members of the Church we must ensure that the Church does not lose the plot. In a sermon for the Feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration, I said that “it is never a case of the Church on its own – and never the case of me all on my own. The Church is nothing if we divorce it from Jesus Christ who is God, Lord and Saviour.” In passing let us not overlook the fact that in our Gospel extract Jesus makes it clear that the authority given is not confined only to binding but includes with equal value and importance the need of loosening.
So we return to what was emphasised at the start of this reflection – all was begun by the God who acts powerfully in the development, and brings it to completion. It is God-in-Christ, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, who is the beginning, development, continuation and the end of everything we undertake. The Church is at the service of Christ … not the other way around!
We, as faithful disciples, must not always expect, or even demand, that the Church should always be binding. There are times when out at sea the Church must be willing to change from luxury cruise liner on calm blue waters to being a troopship on stormy and dangerous waters. Then we must be both prepared and willing to be the energy which carries the troops being transported. We must resist the temptation to always want and expect a cabin on a cruise liner – and travel in easy comfort.
It is interesting that OUR NEW TESTAMENT READING [ROMANS 11: 33 – 36] strongly expresses the need to accept the basic plot which is that neither we nor the Church ever has easy answers and solutions – “the wisdom and knowledge of God … how unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways … who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?” Knee-jerk reactions are not a good idea. We must become willing to spend more time in honest discernment.
I often wonder whether the Church should not become a permanent troopship – stopping only briefly in safe harbours in order to refuel and take on fresh provisions?