Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Wednesday After Epiphany
It’s About Heart

Readings: 1 John 4:11-18; Psalm 72:1-2, 10, 12-13; Matthew 6:45-52

Yesterday we compared the coming of Christ to the cracking of a joke. We know we get it only when we are moved by amazement to love as Jesus loves. But, as is always the case when we delve into the realm of mystery, there is something more to be said, isn’t there? While the experience of Christ’s coming might very well feel as pleasant as that of listening to a side-splitting story, it can also evoke other feelings that are not as welcome. Consider the experience of the various characters in the Christmas story. What was the Virgin Mary’s first reaction to the angel’s greeting? What was Joseph’s reaction to the news of Mary’s pregnancy? What was Herod’s reaction to the advent of the Magi?

Perhaps amazement was part of the mix of emotions these people experienced. But wasn’t there also a significant amount of fear and distress? And isn’t this reaction understandable given the significance of what was happening? Once the innocent little life was conceived, he would unsettle the lives of all those with whom he came into contact. The Virgin had to become a mother… The honorable carpenter, a father to a child not his own… The ruler, a subject of a greater King… As was the experience of the disciples in the gospel of today, Christ’s coming can often disturb as much as it can console.

Even so, don’t we feel some discomfort at hearing the names of Mary, Joseph and Herod mentioned in the same breath? For, although all three may have been distressed in the beginning, only the king chooses to remain a captive to his own fear. Like the disciples in the gospel, he fails or refuses to grasp the significance of what is happening. He chooses to rely on his own resources in dealing with the terrors of the night. He hardens his own heart and arranges for the slaughter of the innocents. In contrast, even in their distress, Mary and Joseph remain open to the promptings of God, who reassures them as Jesus does the disciples in the gospel. Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid! And because their hearts remain soft and vulnerable, they experience the truth of the words in the first reading: there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…

Indeed, Christ’s coming is not always a pleasant experience, at least not initially. Like that ghostly specter in today’s gospel, Christ can often choose to intrude into the calm of our daily existence in various unsettling ways. And a fearful reaction is probably as unavoidable for us as it was for the disciples. What is possible, and necessary, is that we keep the communication channels open. We need to keep bringing our concerns to the Lord, to keep listening to his words of reassurance, to allow his perfect love to cast out our fear. But for this to happen we need to let him replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.

What is our reaction to Christ’s coming today?


  1. The Gospel account of the birth of Jesus speaks of fear and distress. When Mary heard that she had been chosen to be the Mother of the Savior, Mary was distressed until the archangel Gabriel told her that the Child was to be the Messiah. The shepherds trembled in fear when the angels appeared to them announcing the Birth, only to have their fear overcome by the re-assurance of the angels that the Child is to be the Messiah. Openness to God in our distress enables us to accept un-settling events in our lives.

    Jesus said: "I have come to set the world on fire and how I wish it were burning already". Lord, purify our faith with your divine fire but never let us lose heart no matter how tough the going.

  2. Hi Chris!

    I hope you had a great break over Christmas, and that the New Year will be one which brings you an abundance of God's blessings and presence. Can I share something with you? It's from today's Mass. I am in praise of God working in you as you minister to so many through your blog. I don't have the courage to begin anything as ambitious as this. I hope that you continue to respond to God's invitation to be creative in reaching out to his people.

    Yours in Christ

    Friday after Epiphany

    Would you touch someone with Aids? I suppose, if you were well protected enough, and knew that you would not contract the disease, you might. And with lots of reservation too. In this gospel passage, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched this man who was ‘covered with leprosy’. That’s a strong image. I believe that adjectives are used in the Gospels with a purpose, and not just accidentally. To be “covered” with any sickness is to be fully immersed with it, until the person is so identified with the illness. That he or she no longer has a name, and the only identity is that he is a leper. Nothing else.

    And yet, Jesus reaches out, stretches out his hand to touch him. Was Jesus’ ability to do this because he could identify with the leper? Not that Jesus was a leper, but perhaps, in a way, Jesus too was covered. Not with leprosy, but with love. With compassion. In a way, he was so covered in love and compassion that he was identified as love. John tells us that God is love, and because Jesus is God, Jesus too, is love. His identity is so lost in his love. I’m just wondering if that was what allowed love to touch leper, and in so doing, it allowed Jesus to touch the man.

    Maybe some of us are like that leper. Not covered with leprosy, but maybe covered with other things that ostracise and expel us from community – things like anger, or hatred, or unforgiveness, or bitterness. Maybe even our fears. And we identify so much with these that they almost take away our own identity, causing others to see us as not as George, or Mary, or Leonard, but that angry one, that hateful person, or that bitter and revengeful woman. If this is so, and it’s a painful admission if we admit it, then we must dare to be like that leper and walk up to Jesus. Who knew what covered him, and dare to move out of that exiled place and say “if you want to, heal me”, and let Jesus stretch out that healing hand to touch you. But that is only if you want to be touched. Touched by the one and his hand that is covered with love, covered with compassion. To help us to uncover what lies hidden inside, discovering God’s great love for us, and recovering our original dignity as God’s beloved. And after that, like that leper, go back to the community a healed person.

  3. Thanks Fr. Luke for your sharing. You have so aptly described how the leper has lost his identity and even the Bible remembers him only as the leper.

    Thinking about it, it is quite prevalent in our society when sometimes our nicknames cloud our identity. People start to address us by our nicknames, in public when it is an endearing nickname, but in private when it is not.

    Good time to start at the beginning of the year to reflect on my baggages and whether they have clouded my identity. And then to seek to be healed by our Lord.

    Hmmmhhh.... maybe I should also check if I have any nicknames that I am not aware of.