24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection
Jerusalem, the holy city of the prophets. I have visited many places around the world, but of all the cities in the world, Jerusalem has a unique smell; it is the smell of the desert, dry and musty, silent, akin to the antiquity of an Egyptian pharaohs’ tomb. But there is so much more, subtle as the most carefully crafted perfume; the smell of water kissing limestone, the smell of the oasis, camels and dates.
There is the smell of massed humanity mingling with the smell of the sacred, the smell of myrrh coloured with the smell of freshly baked bread, the smells of balsam, cassia-cinnamon, almonds, mint and spikenard. Its recall arouses an emotion of aching yearning, of desire, of remembrance, a clenching hunger of the soul.
Travelling east from Jerusalem into the dusty dunes of the Judaean desert, an encounter. I see something merrily glinting in the sun against the stark whiteness of the powdery desert. Walking over to it, I bend down and pick it up; a brass 76mm cartridge case! I look at the base of the cartridge case in disbelief; there is stamped the year of manufacture, the batch number, and my own company’s manufacturing logo. This is the industry of death, Lord, have mercy. The tangled emotions of a burning bush with the blindness on the road to Damascus and a broken heart; all the ingredients for leaving behind old days, and a new journey begins.
Back in Jerusalem, back in the Holy Sepulchre and to the celebration of Holy Mass, of Eucharist. With me at this holiest moment, a young couple from a faraway oceanic island. An earnest desire is expressed, the desire that springs from hunger, and unthinking, without judging, I extend an invitation, “come with me”. This now becomes a time and a place where all the yearning, the desire, and the remembrance come together in the entwining of hearts. There is no careful preparation, no notion of any worthiness or unworthiness, only the hunger and the hot tears of gratitude; this is true Thanksgiving; first comes Love!
Perhaps we have heard the story of the prodigal son so often that it has lost its impact. All that the prodigal son brings back to his father is that acknowledgement of not being worthy, and of course his great hunger. This hunger is at the heart of the son’s return to the Father. The scribes and Pharisees were scandalised at Jesus because he ate and drank with those who were unprepared according to the law, those who were unworthy. The older brother also was scandalised at the extravagance and the gifts bestowed by the father on his most unworthy prodigal brother.
How often do we, as leaders, as community, turn away from God’s feast those we consider unprepared, those whom we judge as unworthy? There is so much emptiness, spiritual hunger and so many broken hearts around us. Perhaps we also like the scribes and the Pharisees and the older son, have forgotten that all that is required is an acknowledgement of unworthiness, our emptiness and a pang of great hunger for this food at the feast of God? It is God who provides the feast, it is God who raises the fallen, the hungry, the broken-hearted, and it is God who gifts God’s self through the heart of Jesus to us in the Eucharist. This is gift love that comes first, love the changes everything.
Like the scribes and Pharisees, we have added so many heavy burdens, so many doctrines and dogmas, so much law, so much control, so many disputes, and so many exclusions. It is not from Jesus that we learn of any exclusions from the table of the Lord, but it all begins in Acts of the Apostles; “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond these essential requirements: You must abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.”
From these first beginnings, we have piled law upon law so that charity has become secondary, almost an afterthought. Have we become so wise in our own eyes that we have become gatekeepers to this wonderful gift of love? Perhaps we have forgotten that it is Jesus who satisfies our hungry soul. If we have lost our trust in love, we no longer trust Jesus to do what he has promised?
When last have I invited somebody to come with me to Jesus, to taste and see that the Lord is Good, to experience compassion, mercy and forgiveness? Lord as you will, Lord as you know, Have mercy, Have mercy.