Wednesday 2nd February 10.00am The presentation of the Lord.
Thursday 3rd February 10.00am Feria Mass
Sunday 6th February 9.30am Parish Mass
Take place every Tuesday from 10.00am in the Narthex, all are welcome to drop in for a cuppa and a natter.
Sermon 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
We are used to the word “Marmite” being used to describe something that divides people into those who love it and those who hate it. There doesn’t seem to be an in-between.
Perhaps in a way, Jesus may seem like Marmite in the gospels. I say “in the gospels”, because the idea our society can have about Jesus is that he is nice man – someone who was kind to people, who always said the right thing, who taught some good stuff. This is a man who you may admire and yet feel no compulsion to follow him or belong to his Church.
When we read the gospels, things seem very different to that. People seemed to divide up fairly quickly into those who followed him and hung on his every word and those who turned away or reacted with outright hostility. It surprises us, because our culture has made Jesus into someone very unlike Marmite – a man who doesn’t tend to provoke such strong reactions.
The gospel passage today picks up where last week’s ended. Jesus, after reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, says: “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.” The effect was electrifying. Jesus is the one who would bring good news to the poor and sight to the blind. He would enable the lame to walk and would heal those disfigured by leprosy. It should have been good news indeed. So why hustle Jesus out of the town and try to push him off a cliff?
People were astonished by his words, but questioned his authority to speak that way. He was a local boy and they knew his family. Why did he think he could make these claims and what proof could he give? Jesus knew that they were wanting him to prove himself and to convince them with miracles. He saw their hardness of heart and their lack of faith and told them that he could not work among them in the way he had worked among people elsewhere whose minds were more open. He drew the comparison with Elijah, who found faith only among people who lived away from his home country and with Elisha who healed a Syrian rather than people in Israel. In the same way, it was hardness of heart and closed minds that prevented God from working among his chosen people.
Sometimes, in the same way, we can close our eyes, our ears and our minds rather than hear what we do not want to hear. Perhaps we want God to make his presence more obvious by granting us what we expect and telling us what we want to hear. We prefer to be told that we are fine as we are. Often we do need that reassurance and God has a way of bringing peace to our hearts and stilling our anxious minds. At the same time, God’s message is something challenging and not always cosy. Sometimes we need to hear uncomfortable truths, sometimes we need to change and to grow into the people God is calling us to be. But as with Marmite, we can either find joy in this or we can turn away and close our minds.
We are God’s chosen people and his good news is meant for us, but not for us alone. Those beyond the boundary of Israel were to hear that same gospel and to be invited in. In the same way, the message of life and of healing and hope is also for people beyond the walls of the Church. Not all will listen and not all will respond. Some may even be hostile, but like the prophet Jeremiah we are God’s instruments for showing his truth and his love to the world around us.
Jesus is not a soft touch. As his disciples discovered and as anyone who follows him today will find, the gospel is not always comfortable. In its message we find an uncompromising truth, but also discover the true nature of love. St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians paints a beautiful picture of this love of God that we see so clearly in Jesus. Love is not just about our own feelings or about romance. It is about patience and kindness, about lack of envy and refusal to delight in the misfortunes of others, even the people we don’t like. Love is not an easy path to walk, but it is the way that leads to God. Our Lord accompanies us along that path and gives us the strength to live as he has shown us.
So Jesus lives by the truth and he shows us the true nature of love. We find in the gospel that this is a bit like Marmite, because for much of the time it is so much easier to live by the values of this world. When we choose love then we see with the eyes of Jesus and are citizens of God’s kingdom. Let us pray:
Father, may your Holy Spirit inspire and strengthen us to listen to your Son and to follow in his ways. As we walk his path of love, may we be brought to its fulfilment in heaven. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
I am a rather old Saint.