Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Week 23 Tuesday (Year 2)

Readings: 1 Corinthians 6:1-11; Ps 149; Luke 6:12-19

'Jesus spent the night in prayer to God'. The words 'to God' seem unnecessary: who else could Jesus be in prayer with, or to? On looking at the phrase again, in the Greek New Testament, we see that it can actually be translated 'Jesus spent the night in (the) prayer of God'. 'In the prayer of God': that opens up a rich seam of thought, looking both 'upwards', towards God, and 'downwards', towards the implications for humanity.

Jesus spent the night in the prayer of God: that is, within those relationships of knowing and loving that we believe God to be, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is prayer, we might say, or at least prayer is a term that describes the experience of human creatures when they are brought to share in the life of God. Prayer means being in the presence of God and tasting something of the knowledge and love God is.

What is produced in this night Jesus spent in the prayer of God? The gospel reading goes on to tell us that the Church is produced out of this night of prayer. Jesus calls the apostles and comes down to a level place where he encounters more of the disciples and a large crowd, come from here, there and everywhere, to hear his teaching and to be touched by him, seeking healing, forgiveness and peace. This is the life of the Church, isn't it, the apostolic commission, the teaching and preaching, the sacraments that touch our lives at the key points, healing, reconciling, sustaining, and uniting. The power that comes from Jesus continues to be present in the world through the teaching and the sacramental life of the Church, the community of those who believe in Him and carry His Spirit in the world.

But there is sin in this fruit of prayer as well, or at least this is how it seems. Judas Iscariot is one of the apostles chosen after this night of prayer, and he was a traitor. Paul in the first reading reminds us (as if we needed reminding these days) that the Church is full of sin, full of sinners. As Jesus often taught: I have come not for the healthy but for the sick. The Church exists for those who are sick and disturbed, afflicted by unclean spirits and possessed by demons. The Church, the community of believers, is not a pure place over against a sinful world but is itself a community of sinners being healed, forgiven and reconciled. Wheat and tares grow together until the day of judgment.

Paul in that first reading seems to define people by their bad actions and we might want to question him about doing this. If we do define ourselves or others completely in terms of bad things we have done, or do, then we exclude ourselves from the life of the kingdom. But is it not wiser not to do that, not to define ourselves or other people completely in terms of some bad behaviour. There is always hope, there is always the possibility of forgiveness and healing, no matter what people have been involved in up to now. If there is no such hope, no such possibility, then the work of the Church is meaningless.

It is a great privilege to be called to prayer. We go as we are, ever more conscious of our weakness and our sin. Out of his night in the prayer of God Jesus continued to call sinners to himself, even to be members of His body, the Church. That does not mean we should be complaceent or indifferent to sin and its consequences. In the prayer of God, like Isaiah and Peter, we will see ourselves as sinful men and women, and see it ever more clearly and painfully. But in the prayer of God we see also, and ever more clearly, God's surprising wisdom and infinite compassion.

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