A crowded Sunday this weekend with four services. The gospel is a hard one to engage. So many have gone through divorce somewhere in the family if not personally; the agony of dysfunctional relationships, the guilt and shame; the grief of a love gone awry ... the list just goes on ... and as we remember St Francis ... this is very much a work in progress
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
4 October 2015
Readings: Job: 1:1; 2:1-10; Mark 10:2-16;
Those of us of a certain generation will, I think warmly, remember the Beatles’ song ‘All you need is love’. In retrospect we also will probably say that while we agree with the sentiment, love was never that simple and there may be points in our lives where, remembering, we might even say something like ‘Where did we go wrong’?
The past week or so we have heard of the report on Child Youth and Family and the desperate situations some of our most vulnerable people face.
Before we reflect on the gospel it is also useful to remember that we are remembering St Francis of Assisi today and of course this afternoon we have the blessing of the animals.
St Francistide is about more than how we treat the earth and all living things, it is most deeply about the power of love to shape and change us. In his day St Francis made popular a very distinctive style of spirituality. At a time when the religious life was associated with great austerity and asceticism, Francis talked about the power of love and how that was more effective in keeping us in a fruitful and productive way of life.
In the collection of writings known as The Little Flowers of St Francis there is the story associated with Friar Giles when another Friar asks how it is possible to keep the vow of chastity the monks have made.
A friar asked Friar Giles, saying: "Father, is not the virtue of charity greater and more excellent than that of chastity?" And Friar Giles said: "Tell me, brother, what thing in this world is there to be found more chaste than holy charity?"
So the Franciscan answer to the difficulties of life, whether religious or secular, is love; and learning to love is the work of a lifetime. Love is always about getting past the compulsions and twists of the self, of ego and libido. Love is always about relinquishing power over others; always about seeing the other as a person and not an object.
Think of this then as the stepping stone into the gospel this morning. Our lord is talking about our very human failure to truly see others as persons. Always this a failure of love – and that is why he speaks of ‘hardness of heart’. There is a sexual ethic here but it is an ethic founded in love and our all too frequent failure to love.
Our failure to love is most powerfully expressed amongst all who are vulnerable. One way of reading this gospel is in terms of power and powerlessness, and Jesus is speaking up for the powerless.
You will see in the gospel two groups of vulnerable people: women and children. They are matched by two groups with power – all men – the Pharisees and the disciples.
The Pharisees want to test Jesus by asking him about divorce and they cite the law of Moses – but Jesus does not beat about the bush – and instead says that the provision for divorce was made because of our hardness of heart. Mosaic law made it too easy to get rid of a wife. He was speaking in a period when women and children needed the institutional protection of family and marriage to survive.
Love is the issue here. Jesus is addressing the attitude or mind-set where someone who has the power uses it to keep people in submission or to get rid of them. It is an ancient problem but it has a very contemporary edge to it: today – in the Family Court or Child Youth and Family, we hear of women and children who have lived with fear and violence and who have endured the most horrible abuse – inflicted by abusers who have no moral imagination or compassion. But in his time Jesus is talking of women being thrown out of the protection and security the extended family gave – and the phrase he uses ‘hardness of heart’ is synonymous with love and the absence of love demonstrated all who feed their egos and have no moral imagination or compassion.
The passage about the children is deeply realistic – where the disciples push the children away - Jesus rebukes them and blesses the children; he treats the children as having dignity and worth. There is a contemporary feel to this, especially in the wake of the recent CYFs (Child Youth and Family) Report released by the Government this past week. We hear in our own day of children suffering exclusion, demeaning behaviour, abuse, violation, enslavement, and killing. Again children suffer from grown-ups hardness of heart, the adult’s lack of moral imagination and compassion.
Every child needs love: we know that; the tragedy is that the failure to love blights innumerable lives.
Jesus and Francis remind us of the challenge of love and that is what our calling as Christians is all about – to follow Christ is to learn to love.