“Do you really want One?” –Easter 7a


John 17:1-11 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

As all of us on the web are, I too am an inveterate Googler.  No question needs ever be unanswered!  However this time I didn’t ask Google, I asked the other Behemoth of the Cyber-jungle, Amazon.  I wanted to know how many books and movies have “The One” in their title.  The answer surprised me.  Not because I wasn’t expecting thousands of results.  No I was surprised that it wasn’t just books and movies titled “The One”.  There are songs called “The One”  and there is even a Dolce & Gabana perfume with that name. All available with ONE click shopping from Amazon.com.

Why are we so enwrapped by this notion of the one?  Is it because we know at some primal level that our origins are from The One?  Creationists and Evolutionists, Mystics and Physicists all concur on probably only this ONE thing.  In the beginning there was one.  Call it God, all it the Singularity, we know in the very strands of our spiralling DNA, that there is a centre, a still point, a One. 

It also seems to be the curse and quest of human consciousness to forever be on pilgrimage to return to “The One”.  Some may look into the very limits of Hubble clarified space, others may race around like the electrons in the Large Hadron Collider.  In churches, caves, or cemeteries, or in a puff of Dolce & Cabana perfume, we are looking for the One.  The One inspires our lyrics, our longing, and according to Carl Jung is the  optimum balance point of opposites where our passion flows most creatively.

Small wonder then that this One-ness, Unity and Union, is the deepest prayer of Jesus for his disciples and by inference, his Church.

It was after all, the core experience of Jesus of Nazareth.  He knew that He and Abba parent were One.  His whole divine – human life, his reclusive – public life, his teaching – listening life; was predicated on there being a unity-union between himself and the very Source of Life.  His words and actions were motivated and empowered by returning all those he met to The One.  The gospels record the miracles that resulted from that re-UNION.  Fathers and Prodigal sons, Tax Collectors and Zealots, Rich Zacchaeus and poor Mary and Martha, Dead Lazarus and Lustful Peter, all found their place at the centre of this singular person.  Jesus, who broke bread and had his body broken and was able even in that shattering of his sacred centred life, to unify humanity with God.

If we think of the words that describe human suffering, we notice that they are words describing states moving from that One-ness. Disassociation, Depression, Division, Divorce, Ex-Communication, Alienation, Rejection, Apartheid.  Divisive, splitting words, describing what is worst about human suffering; the Edenic Alienation from the Garden of Unity.  Our exile from The One.

Conversely, when we speak of the good, the true and the beautiful aspects of the human condition and mission, we reach for words like, CommUNITY, CommUNION, Compassion, Integration, Reconciliation, Reunion, Wholeness.  Wondrous and healing words. Words that describe the entire life of Jesus, living as he did out of his singularity with God. The return to The One.

Small wonder it was Jesus’ deepest desire and prayer for us, his divided and conflicted followers, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Do you know your rights Miranda? Easter 6a

John 14:15-21

”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

I live very far away from the United States on the Southern Coast of Africa.  Yet despite the distance, thanks to the wonders of television and the excellence (most times) of the film and television industry, I am very familiar with many things American.  I still prefer cricket to baseball, even if you can play the game for five days and still not get a result! I also prefer Rugby to Gridiron, probably because you can see Rugger players bleed more profusely without all that padding and those helmets!

One of the aspects of American life that I have seen and heard often is the Miranda warning.  Often dramatised in movies at the point of arrest, the officer of the law has to say: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in the court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”  I have heard the Miranda warning so often that I could almost recite it verbatim, despite never having been arrested.

What I didn’t know and what Wikipedia informed me of, was the origins of the warning.  In 1966 the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Ernesto Arturo Miranda who was arrested for rape and kidnapping, had his rights violated in the way he was arrested and tried.  (He was subsequently retried and convicted).  The Miranda warning came to bear his name.

Reading the gospel for this Sunday I couldn’t help feeling that I was witnessing Jesus coaching his disciples with a Miranda like warning.

Before getting into that discussion it is worth noticing how Jesus turns the common understanding of commandment keeping on it’s head.  Most Christian teachers tend to imply that if we keep the commandments that will enable Jesus to love us.  That is not the truth.  We keep the commandments (the promises of our committed relationship to Jesus – loving God and our neighbour as we love ourselves) not to make Jesus love us but because we love Jesus. Jesus loves us into keeping the commandments.

However in the keeping of the commandments to love, in repaying the debt of love that St Paul speaks about in Romans 13:8, we sometimes miss the target (the core meaning of the word “sin” is an archery term “to miss the mark you were aiming for”)  At these moments of failure to love, the accuser, the oppositional energy, Satan will try to indict us.  At this point we need to know our rights.

Our right to remain silent

The gift of contemplative living is that it cultivates an awareness that silence is most often the best response to accusations.  Whether the accusations come from without or within, to be silent is to allow wisdom to slowly brew up within that silence.  I have found that if I can withstand the knee-jerk impulse to justify myself or argue my own defence, then most often a deeper and more skilful response is forthcoming which I am sure is my helper’s words and not mine.

Our right to an attorney

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever”

If ANOTHER helping attorney is coming it implies a prior one, who must be the speaker, Jesus.  The one who justifies us and who pleads our case is Jesus.  His Holy Spirit is an ongoing attorney who explains our rights and who silences the indictment of the accuser.

Our right as Children of God

If we stopped here I believe we would miss the point of this teaching of Jesus.  The paraclete, helping advocate, the Holy Spirit is not with us and in us only to argue our case against the accuser. 

The Holy Spirit makes our case for freedom on the basis that we are not orphaned, dislocated beings cast adrift and at the mercy of any and every accusation that may be thrown at us. The Holy Spirit is after all the attorney that affirms our divine status as children of God.

When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.

It would seem to me that this case is never coming to trial.  The evidence of our failures, so easily used to accuse and indict us, does not in any way threaten, dilute or invalidate our grace given status as God’s children.

So any accusation that may come is not directed against an orphan with no standing in the community; rather, it is an accusation against a child of God.  I wonder who would risk even trying that!  This is of course difficult for us to understand where the law in our day shows no favourites, but in biblical times familial affiliation was a factor in applying the law. For example in Leviticus 21 we read “No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his relatives,2except for his nearest kin: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother; 3likewise, for a virgin sister, close to him because she has had no husband, he may defile himself for her.

It would seem that our association with this Holy Spirit Advocate brings with it a winning argument against condemnation, as well as immunity from judgement by accusation.

Could the Christian’s Miranda Warning be something like this…?

You can keep silent as long as it takes to stop your fear from speaking.  When you do then choose to speak, tell everyone who accuses you of your failures to love that you are trying, by the life of God in you to get it right each time. However, when you do fail, it in no way invalidates your status as God’s child who can try as many times as you like without penalty to be more like Jesus your master.

Now that is Divine Justice.

If you lived here, you’d be home now! Easter 5a

John 14:1-14

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

What is it in our human nature that persistently wants to turn grace into law, inclusion to exclusion, plenitude into penury?  We are the great reductionists!

The Gospel this week speaks of consolation for the disciples who are troubled that Jesus, is speaking about leaving them.  They are not sure their hearts can bear it and that why he quiets their troubled spirits by speaking of a Father’s house where there is abundant accommodation. In contrast to the birth of Jesus, the Father’s inn will never be too full.  This is also far more than a guesthouse we are speaking of. The Father’s house is home.  It is the place the Prodigal son eventually headed for when he came to himself.  It is the place you and I long to return to when we are homeless and heartsore.

What is more, Jesus the shepherd, the gate from last week’s gospel, is going to make sure that everything is ready “back home” where the Father is, and when he has turned back the covers, and put the chocolate on the pillow, checked and refreshed the flowers on the nightstand and aired the room, he will come and take us to be there.

You also know where I am going”.  Is it possible that Jesus was implying,… “Because you are already there.  When we began this adventure I told you that the Divine Doman (Kingdom of the heavens) is at hand, close and even within you.  I am not speaking about travel I am talking about transformation. This is not about destinations it is about discovering you are already at home with God.” John Kabat Zinn titles his book, “Wherever you go. there you are

Incredulous, over-thinking Thomas, can’t get beyond the concrete and so asks for a map.  “Just give me the co-ordinates to that I can plug them into the old GPS and let the device take me there.”  Jesus says to Thomas, “ I am the GPS, the map, the truth and the life.  Nothing else is going to get you there if you don’t get me.  (If you don’t understand me)”   Surely if the resurrection appearances teach anything they demonstrate that in the Divine domain, geographic locations are irrelevant? Locked doors are of no consequence, Jesus appears and disappears at will.  He is in Jerusalem, Emmaus, Galilee; seemingly all at once.

Philip begins to understand that there is nowhere to go but still wants a sign. “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied”  Once again, may I speculate some unrecorded sub-text?  “No Philip you won’t be satisfied.  If you are still looking for God in signs and wonders and can’t see the Divine in this moment of resurrection encounter, then nothing will reveal God to you and nothing will satisfy you.  The divine domain, is here Phillip, in me. Can you not see the non-dual unity and union of everything in me. Philip there is no division in me.  I am one with “I am”, and so you can be.  Just look at what has happened the works of restoration and latterly of resurrection!”

This has to be one of the most beautiful non-dual, inclusive passages of teaching by Jesus.  All the divisions are healed in Jesus.  There is unity and accommodation for all.  There is no need to go anywhere, for Jesus has come to us.  There is no need to search any further for it right here.  Just lay down., you are home already.

How tragic then, that this passage has become the war-cry of exclusivist and triumphalist Christian dogma that uses the very words of the all including Jesus as a sword of separatist isolation from others.

As Jesus has pointed out in this passage if we don’t see the unity in all this, we really don’t get it.  “How can you say, show us the Father?

Perhaps the best rejoinder to those who use the words of Jesus in this passage to be judgemental and exclusive, comes from that master of the one-liner and the succinct, snappy answer, Richard Rohr.

When Richard has spoken inclusively, and people throw at him, “But Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life…NO ONE…” Richard replies in his lovely gentle manner, “When Jesus said ‘I am the way the truth and the life’, it means that you are NOT” A sobering reminder if you get it, that none of this is our business.  This is mystery of the highest order and our best response is awe and wonder, rather than bigotry and belligerence.

I wonder if this place has room service?

Jesus the Gate, and Paddy Plenty

John 10:1-10
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

I was looking for a catalyst for this week’s reflection and decided to use my trusty old research assistant (Google) to go out there are get me some ideas. The concept of having life abundantly that Jesus speaks of in the gospel had piqued my interest.  I knew though, that if I asked Google to get me references on “abundant life” I would only get a bunch of churchy sites like this one, so I first went looking for synonyms for “abundant”.  The synonym that seemed closest to the Greek “perissos” used in John 10:10, was “plentiful”.

So, plentiful, was the word I entrusted to Google on it’s errand.  The first page that Googs (we are on nickname terms) came back with, was a mixed bag.  Half the links were to financial advisory services, and given that I don’t have any finances to be advised on, I gave them a miss.  It was, however a link to the ezine, “Irish Abroad” that drew me in where I read a delightful article, entitled, “A Plentiful Life LivedRead the full article here.

Written by Cormac MacConnell, the article is a kind of obituary to a dear friend whose full names were “Patrick Anthony Pacelli Murphy ”. Pacelli was the name of a Pope whom his mother thought would add blessing to his life.

For most of his life though, Patrick Anthony Pacelli Murphy was known as “Paddy Plenty”.  It began at school when the class was asked by a visiting Bishop as to how many loaves and fishes it would have taken to feed the five thousand that Jesus fed in the miracle.  Paddy’s hand, flew up and his answer to the Bishop was, “Plenty!”.  Paddy Plenty, his name became, and it stuck like a gumboot in a bog.

MacConnell goes on in the article to describe how “Paddy Plenty” lived out the accuracy of his nickname. Never wealthy, he was always able to see abundance in the everyday blessings of life.  He writes, “ In real times of hardship, if neighbors passing along the road were complaining, he would point to his vegetable garden and say, “Plant plenty of spuds and turnips and cabbage and carrots and kill a fat pig and we’ll always have plenty anyway.

What a gift! To be able to see abundance when scarcity is screaming for attention. Surely that is the abundant life that Jesus is describing as his shepherd’s gift to his flock.

I was recently in conversation with a friend who began his Christ following in mid-life.  As a successful businessman, he chose to attend the flashiest and seemingly, most successful church in town.  All was well whilst he parked the Mercedes with the other upscale cars in the lot on Sunday.  This seemed to be just the right community of affirming and encouraging folk that would help him to follow Jesus.  Some months into this adventure, my friend went through an economic crisis which saw him lose everything, including the Merc.

Now walking to church, and wearing the same clothes week after week, he began to stand out from the congregating crowd.  It wasn’t long before he was approached by two of the church elders, who asked to come and see him at home.  During that visit in his home, (now emptied by the Sherriff and the debt collectors), he was asked please to find another church community, as his circumstances “no longer witnessed to the abundant life” that members of that church were called to live!

What a curse! To be unable to see abundance other than in material terms. Surely that is what Jesus meant when he said “All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.

It would seem to me that the “gate” that is Jesus, channels my thinking, my values and my directions in life.

When I allow Jesus to shepherd my life, I feast in Paddy Plenty’s fields. Seemingly sparse and simple, they are abundantly plenteous with all I need.

When I don’t, I don’t; and find myself gated from gratitude by greed and acquisitiveness.

A Risen Jesus? It’s a no brainer! Easter 3a

Luke 24:13-49

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

I am told by the psychologists that people can be grouped as to whether they are thinkers or feelers. According to this typology, developed by Carl Jung and popularised by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator , thinkers process data and make decisions based on rational thought and are therefore called “head” people. Feelers or “heart” people on the other hand, process information and make decisions based on the congruity of the information with their feelings.  So a thinker will walk out of the cinema saying, “That was a great movie, the plot was so clever and cohesive”.  The feeler will walk out of a movie and say, “That was such a great movie, I cried and laughed all that way through

Another school of thought suggests that the dominance of brain hemisphere will determine how we respond to the world. Left brain dominant people will favour logic and reason, whilst people whose right brain hemispheres are dominant will come at things from less structured and more intuitive, creative orientations.

It would seem that the two disciples dragging themselves home to Emmaus after the trauma of Jesus’ death were trying to think the problem through with their left brains.  Granted, they were exhausted with grief.  The name of their home town, Emmaus means “warm springs” and I would like to speculate that after the day they had just had all they wanted was a warm soak and a good night’s rest.  I sense their tired irritation in the way they respond to the unrecognised stranger who engages with them on the walk home. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?

The left brained reader will be pleased to know that a walk of seven miles would take about an hour and forty five minutes. Enough time to get into quite a testy discussion with someone who seemed to be obtuse.  Jesus, the unrecognised companion, who always begins where we are; responds to their thinking, left brain questions and explains, from the scriptures, all the reasons why the death of Jesus was necessary. After the one hundred and five minute journey is finished, the two travellers invite the stranger home in the way middle-eastern hospitality would demand.

It is as they sit down for the evening meal, doing their duty instead of opting for the more selfish soak in the warm springs, that the stranger breaks the bread and is recognised as Jesus himself.  The fellow traveller is indeed the companion! (Latin: com panis = bread sharer)

In the moment of recognition he also vanishes! Am I the only one who hears the echoes of “Don’t touch me Mary” and “He is not here, he is risen,.. he has gone ahead of them into Galilee”?  It seems that one cannot really grasp nor hold onto this risen Lord.  One can only glimpse with insight as these warm-spring Emmaus wonderers, bow with reverence like Thomas, “My Lord and my God” , and follow him with the other disciples to the places where he is going ahead of us, like Galilee.

The shift in the Emmaus disciples is immediate.  From left brain thinking dominance, their feeling function and right brain intuition takes over.  These irritable grieving men feel a warm spring rising in their hearts at the recognition of the risen Christ.  It is a warmth that with a Pentecostal wind, could become a blaze!

You see, we don’t have to open our hearts only on Mother’s day, as significant and important as that day may be. Each encounter with nurturing selfless, bread sharing warmth from another human being, first modelled by our Mothers, can be for the honest pilgrim a moment of resurrection encounter. 

It may happen anywhere at any time. All it needs is an open heart, an open mind and an open eye.  Oh by the way, some grief, irritability and exhaustion could also help!