Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Week 12 Tuesday (Year 2)

Readings: 2 Kings 19:9b-11,14-21,31-35a,36; Psalm 48; Matthew 7:6,12-14

The problem about giving what is holy to dogs, or casting pearls before swine, is that they will think it is food you are giving them. It is the first preoccupation of animals. They will be indifferent to the holiness of what you offer them and they will be disappointed if they try to eat pearls.

What about ourselves? Well we are animals too, are we not, and our first preoccupations are often at that level of our existence – food, shelter, sex, security. All kinds of problems follow when people forget that we are animals just as all kinds of problems follow when people forget that we are more than animals.

The challenge is in the communication of good things to us from God. Are we equipped to receive these good things and to value them for what they really are? Or are we more likely to translate them into terms more comprehensible to ourselves, to take them as meant to satisfy our needs and desires, to measure them by those needs and desires. It could mean we will be indifferent to some important aspects of God’s gifts and it could mean that we will be disappointed if we try to use on our terms gifts whose meaning is quite other than what we immediately think.

So there is a narrow path to be negotiated, there is a new language to be learned. It is never easy to learn a new language and the older one becomes the more difficult it is to learn a new language. This applies also to our life of faith and prayer. We settle into patterns of belief and practice from which it can be very  difficult to move us. We settle into patterns of sinning and indifference from which it can be very difficult to move us.

Being offered what is holy, being given pearls of great price: are we equipped to understand the gifts on offer, to appreciate the pearls held out to us? Jesus answers this question by referring us to one fundamental principle: always treat others as you would like them to treat you. This is not just a pragmatic recommendation, a kind of etiquette or strategy for getting on well in society. Jesus says it is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.

This is a big claim, a bit surprising: the meaning of the Law and the Prophets is to be found in the principle always treat others as you would like them to treat you. The Law and the Prophets reveal to us how the Lord, the God of Israel, wants to be treated by His people. And so He treats them in that way.

This is the key that will open the narrow gate for us. If we want to understand the gifts God wants to share with us then we look not to our needs and desires because that would be to reduce God’s gifts to the measure of our concerns. We look to how God has treated His people across the centuries and we learn from that. It means learning the language of God’s grace and mercy. It means learning the language of God’s justice and persistence. It means learning the language of God’s friendship and love revealed first in the Law and the Prophets and brought to a climax in the work of Jesus Christ.

The holy things offered to us, the pearls set before us: we need to be taught how to appreciate this communication from God. We need to learn how to live in this new world of the divine friendship. It is the road that leads to life and we learn how to travel on that road by imitating God. We are to be perfect as the Father is perfect, merciful as the Father is merciful. We can only enter into such a way of living by looking beyond our immediate needs and desires. We do it by looking at God and by learning how to receive God’s communication of these holy things to us. That means looking at Jesus, the Son of the Eternal Father, drawing life from Him, learning the language He has come to teach us, living the communion He has established for us in the Father and the Spirit.

We share much of our DNA with dogs and pigs. The wonder of our faith is that such creatures as we are, animals full of basic needs and desires, are called to live on a new level, to live a life of mutual knowledge and love in friendship with God, the Creator and Lord of all things. How do we understand the holiness of that? How do we receive such a pearl, of such great price?

You can listen to his homily being preached here.

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