Scripture has been Fulfilled in your Hearing. Stained glass window from Canterbury Cathedral.

Homilies (Year A)

In 2020, James started Praying Eucharistically, a project exploring the ways of worshipping and Christian living in the Covid lockdown. For this project, he provides the appropriate liturgical texts for people celebrating at home and offers Gospel readings and homilies in video format for Sundays and the main festivities of the liturgical year. All videos can be found on YouTube. See also Year B homilies

26 November 2023 Homily for Solemnity of Christ the King Gospel reading: Matthew 25:31-46

19 November 2023 Homily for Sunday 33 in Ordinary Time Year A Gospel reading: Matthew 25:14-30

12 November 2023 Homily for Sunday 32 in Ordinary Time Year A Gospel reading: Matthew 25:1-13

There is no James’ homily recorded for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A (5 November 2023).

1 November 2023 Homily for Solemnity of All Saints Gospel reading: Matthew 5:1-12a

29 October 2023 Homily for Sunday 30 in Ordinary Time Year A Gospel reading: Matthew 22:34-40

22 October 2023 Homily for Sunday 29 in Ordinary Time Year A Gospel reading: Matthew 22:15-21

15 October 2023 Homily for Sunday 28 in Ordinary Time Year A Gospel reading: Matthew 22:1-14

8 October 2023 Homily for Sunday 27 in Ordinary Time Year A Gospel reading: Matthew 21:33-43

1 October 2023 Homily for Sunday 26 in Ordinary Time Year A Gospel reading: Matthew 21:28-32

24 September 2023 Homily for Sunday 25 in Ordinary Time Year A Gospel reading: Matthew 20:1-16

17 September 2023 Homily for Sunday 24 in Ordinary Time Year A Gospel reading: Matthew 18:21-35

10 September 2023 Homily for Sunday 23 in Ordinary Time Year A Gospel reading: Matthew 18:15-20

3 September 2023 Homily for Sunday 22 in Ordinary Time Year A Gospel reading: Matthew 16:21-27

27 August 2023 Homily for Sunday 21 in Ordinary Time Year A Gospel reading: Matthew 16:13-20

20 August 2023 Homily for Sunday 20 in Ordinary Time Year A

13 August 2023 Homily for Sunday 19 in Ordinary Time Year A

6 August 2023 The Transfiguration of the Lord (there is no recorded homily for this feast) Matthew 17:1-9

30 July 2023 Homily for Sunday 17 in Ordinary Time Year A Matthew 13:24-43

23 July 2023 Homily for Sunday 16 in Ordinary Time Year A Matthew 13:24-43

16 July 2023 Homily for Sunday 15 in Ordinary Time Year A Matthew 13:1-23

Homily for Sunday 14 in Ordinary Time Year A Matthew 11:25-30

Homily for Sunday 13 in Ordinary Time Year A Matthew 10:37-42

Homily for Sunday 12 in Ordinary Time Year A Matthew 6:7-15

Homily for Sunday 11 in Ordinary Time Year A Matthew 11:25-30

Homily for Corpus Christi Year A John 6:51-58

Unedited transcript:

Our Gospel, the Gospel in which Jesus talks in St John about how people are to eat him really has me puzzled. One of the people I model myself on as a preacher is someone who’s not a preacher at all. he’s actually my good friend, the very distinguished concert pianist Stephen Hough. And I know that Stephen practices hours per day so that each piece that he plays in public is ever more perfect. And that there’s a time when he’s ready to go to the recording studios. just recently he’s produced a wonderful complete recording of Beethoven’s cello concerti including my favourite of all cello concerto number four which I consider one of the touchstones of Western civilization. and to play that well is wow – that’s real artistry. it may seem bizarre for a preacher to compare him or herself to a concert pianist. 

the reason why I do so is because there are a certain number of elements in the repertoire of concert pianists, there’s actually a very huge repertoire, but a preacher who preaches regularly on Sundays is a little bit like that in that there is a repertoire of passages that we have to preach on. they’re a repertoire of the concerti, the different pieces that we take on. and some of them are relatively easy to preach on, so maybe we can preach two or three times in a church and then eventually allow ourselves to be recorded. And then there are pieces which like Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto are not easy to preach on. they are works that need so much more practice, so much more sinking into. and this, I just want to say, for me is one of those passages. 

I’m ashamed that I’m not going to be able to offer you more than some speculative hints as to what it’s about because this is so rich. And I’ve been caught if you like having to record before I’m ready. So with that, I hope you’ll ask me I hope that you will allow me to stumble through some of these elements of the passages in St John’s Gospel. 

One of the things I want to point out straight away is that I’ve altered the translation which I put before you on the Praying Eucharistically, because in Greek there are two words for eating: eating bread, eating my flesh. And the two words are obviously used. One of them is the normal word for eating and the other – trōgōn – is the word used for animals gnawing. It’s a very very earthy sort of eating, it’s not just ordinary eating and drinking.

So Jesus says, for instance, those who gnaw my flesh, who feed on it in the way the tahanah feeds, or carabao, or that a goat rips up roots and all a plant. this is trōgōn this is gnawing. this I think is what the actual priests in the temple had to do with the innards of the lamb, with the entrails of the lamb – that’s gnawing. this is not a pleasant word for eating. and it’s deliberate. and yet in most of our Gospel translations, it’s treated as if it was simply another word for eat. it’s not. something much stronger and earthier is going on here. he’s really trying to bring people’s attention down from celestial thinking to very earthy thinking. so having said that this is my speculative shot at playing a piano concerto for which I’m not ready. 

I think that Jesus’s whole discussion in John 6 about the bread from heaven which culminates in this passage here is part two of what he did with the first sign. if you remember, the first sign he performed was the marriage of Canna in Galilee,  when he produced wine in abundance. this is the first sign associated with the arrival of the great high priest Melchizedek. remember the great high priest Melchizedek was famous: he turns up in Genesis and offers bread and wine. Jesus fulfilling the prophecy turns up and he offers bread and wine. 

But he’s doing more than that. he wants to say something about the sort of bread and wine which he’s offering. and he’s really bringing it down to something very animalistic. he’s saying: actually, I’m going to be a sacrificial victim, a carcass, and you are going to gnaw on me. and that’s the way that the Melchizedek high priest is going to give you bread and wine. it’s going to be my flesh, my blood. and as you take part in that, you’ll actually be me. you will become me. 

Instead of bread given from heaven which simply feeds you, which is good for you, it feeds you, it lasts for a short time, what I’m going to do is I’m going to undo the whole of the sacrificial system that keeps you all apart from each other, it keeps you divided from each other, it keeps you incapable of being one with each other and therefore actually coming alive and being who you’re really called, and to be enabled to be. so my way of being Melchizedek is not just to turn up and give you bread or wine. it’s going to be much more than that. I’m going to give you bread and wine because I’m going to become the sacrificial victim on whom you’re going to feast. and as you do that, you will in fact be joining in, taking part in my life as the sacrificial victim. 

and guess what? That means you’re going to be able to live forever because you will be undoing the whole of the order of this world. you’ll be able to step out of fear and hatred and rivalry and violence. so you will actually start to live forever when you’re no longer run by all these wild sacrificial mechanisms. but the way you get into it, don’t run away from the fact that what you’re going to be like is hyenas on a cadaver, vultures around the body – that’s an image he uses, I think, in St Matthew’s Gospel. 

In any case, Jesus is using very earthly images: you’re going to eat me in exactly the same way that scavengers do, the beasts do. this is not a pretty thing. that is how you come to form part of my body. don’t run away from it. you’re going to be joining me in becoming the living sacrificial victim forever. that is how i’m going to give my life to you as a priest. and it’s as you join me in that and allow yourself to be taken into me in that that you’ll become one because you’ll no longer need to create unity at the expense of casting out a victim.

You’ll become one because you will be living from the victim, overcoming any victim sense, overcoming any sense of conspiracy theories, and needing to justify yourselves. – No, you will have occupied the place of shame of the cadaver of the beast. you will be eating that. and that is what will give you life. 

So very briefly, that’s what I wanted to share with you. Please excuse me that it’s so speculative. as I say, this piano concerto is not yet ready for, I hope, for recording. I just wanted to bring out some sense of the earthiness of the eating which Jesus is talking about. and how he’s trying to bring down celestial things to very very earthy things so as to understand how very basic our way of joining in with him is going to be. And how he’s going to nourish us. And we’re able to recognize quite what annoying animals we are. and quite how this is going to set us free to become really and fully alive.

Homily for Trinity Sunday Year A John 3:16-17

Unedited transcript:

Today’s Trinity Sunday. It’s the Sunday when after all the build-up of the whole of the Easter story, everything is then combined, if you like, into the doctrine of the Trinity: the understanding that God is Father, is Son and is the Holy Spirit. And all this is God. This is the proper combination of these two seasons. I’m a Trinity fan. And so I’m delighted with this. But I should also say the Trinity Sunday is the day when… well those of us who have tried to explain Christian doctrine over the Easter season normally … our faces and say: oh my God, it’s Trinity Sunday! this is a Sunday when we say quite reasonably that we know nothing about God, quite rightly. This is the … and say: I’m not worthy, I am not worthy. Аnd we aren’t. 

The trouble about that is that it leads to two things: people either talking much about a mystery, which means ultimately the way they talk about it something in comprehensible, which is not really worth talking about; or something so distant and mathematical and that it can be talked about as if one were discussing an extremely distant galaxies about which we know very little but from which we can make various deductions. I want to say: no, not going down that route. 

I love the doctrine of the Trinity because I think it’s true, I think it does us something about being on the inside of God. So that’s what I want to explore with you today: the doctrine of the Trinity, the joy if you like of the Trinity, being the fullness of the account of how we are inside us in God, God in whom we live and move… So nothing about intellectual construction up there. 

What I want to say, I’d say, first of all that the notion of there being God at all rather than something about which we know refers to a certain sort of finding ourselves on the inside of something. It means that everything we know, everything we see, everything around us and for real, exists, and an outside to it. That’s what the word God means: basically, there’s an ouside to everything. The outside to everything that holds it all in being, is a symptom if you like it, off God. The image which I sometimes have is of a perfectly skilful sea lion with a ball balanced, perfectly balanced. The ball doesn’t know about the sea lion holding it in being, holding it up. So well we’re on the inside of that. But the doctrine of God means there’s an outside, we are not trapped. Everything that is is not some blind trap, some sort of plot against us, someone’s source of, I don’t know, bizarre cruelty. There’s an outside to everything that is. We say ‘God’. 

And our only access of course is as insiders: we have no direct knowledge what the outside; merely that there is one. That’s what belief in God means. It means: I’m on the inside of something that is held in being by something far bigger than I. In principle, I need not know anything about it. But I do because the same outside chose to come into our world as a human – to show us that there’s an outside to being human, that being human isn’t a trap, but being human isn’t simply a series of distempered fights, squabbles over who is stronger, putting of each other in places of shame so as to destroy each other and survival of the fittest. Being human isn’t that. Being human is something much more than that. And there’s an outside to our understanding of being human, therefore something about which we need not be afraid. 

Jesus is if you like the instantiation of the being outside to being human. That it is possible to live and to die as a human not run by death and its consequences, and not run by the need to protect yourself, to defend yourself, but able to give yourself. 

There an upside to being human. Even more than that: there’s an outside to all the passions and desires, the contagions, the rivalries which run us, everything which works in between us. There’s an outside to the desire. The outside to desires what we call a lowly spirit. It means that all our passions, all the ways we run each other in more or less cruel and awful ways as we’re seeing terrifyingly at the moment in many countries of the world. There’s an outside to that. That’s not actually reality. The reality is when we are able to go beyond that, to be taken into what’s real. So the outside of everything that is, the outside of what it is to be human, and the outside of every form of relationality and desire reaches us, is available to us from within. This is the extraordinary power of the Gospel. 

The power of the Gospel is: this is not an exercise in power as the world understands it. Which is why St. John’s Gospel wonderfully today tells us: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. All this is an exercise of love. God wants us to show how much he loves the human creation, how much he loves the way we can build each other up, how much he wants us to be set free from fear and condemnation, from the sentence everything is closing down, that we’re trapped in something, that anyone who believes in Him starts to be able to say “yes, there’s an outside”. 

Because there’s an outside, I can be free, I can feel free, needn’t be run by it. That is what it is to become a son or daughter of God filled with the Spirit: finding that God is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves, as St Augustin says. He is able to move us from within without displacing. Only the gentlest form of love can do that. 

So how do I bring this into a tiny little nutshell? God the creator of everything that is not in rivalry with anything that is. But that leads, that makes it very easy for us to use and abuse the notion of God, unless God has a criterion for who God is. Well, God has a criterion for who God is. That criterion is Jesus. Jesus is God’s criterion for who God is. It’s how God lets us know who God is, what it looks like to live and die as God loves, as God is. Because not hanging on, not hanging on to life, to possessions, riches, anything but being able to give yourself away in love for other people. So that’s God’s criterion for God and we know that God’s criterion for God ended up crucified.

So you might say that’s nice enough we’ve got go with what God’s … no as humans ever since we stumbled into symbolicity there are no such things as simple facts. Everything has to be interpreted. It’s possible to look at Christ’s crucifixion and see it, as some people do, as a price paid to satisfy the vengeance of God, rather than seeing it as a sign of God’s love giving himself for us in the midst of our rage and … so a fact like the crucifixion without an interpretation doesn’t help us at all. Anyone can make an interpretation however they like, whoever perverse. So the Holy Spirit is God’s interpretation of God’s criterion of God.

Please notice what we have: God, God’s criterion for God, and God’s interpretation of God’s criterion for God. – Each one of which is God. And the important thing is that each one of them: God, God’s criterion for God and God’s interpretation of God’s criterion – are love. This is the astonishing thing, this is the Gospel: that there is an astounding power of love shown for us just beyond, if you like, our graphs, but into which we are called; which makes us capable of being participants in creation, in the opening up of reality. This is why it seems to me that the doctrine of the Trinity is not an abstract statement. It’s what it looks like to live and move and have our being in the only God who is.

Homily for Pentecost Sunday Year A John 20:19-23

Unedited transcript:

[James starts this homily with the reflection on St Luke’s account of the Pentecost and later moved to St John’s one; the very beginning is missing] … share the disciples all of them. They’d gone and spent time together after the Ascension. And here they are: gathered in one place it says and suddenly from heaven that came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. Now each one of these images tells a story. The rush of a violent wind. Why a violent wind? Well, because in Isaiah 59, that is how the Lord promises that he will come. He will come as a violent wind. That’s after he has performed the act of atonement, he says, he’s so disturbed, the Lord says, he’s so disturbed by the lies and the violence that are going on that he himself is going to take on the garment of atonement and come down and perform the act of requital and then he will come to his children like the sound or like the rushing wind. 

So very very clearly that’s what’s happening here. This is the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah. But after the act of atonement the coming of the rushing wind. And it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Again, the word house. Of course there were house. Do you remember at ascension, as I told you ,about the vision of Jesus being lifted up. This was the vision of Isaiah 6 where Isaiah enters into the holy place and says: I saw the Lord high and lifted up. And his train filled the temple. And it says: the house was filled with smoke. Here we’re in the house. You see that Isaiah’s vision, it’s now three-dimensional, part of being, living in the Spirit is living within that Temple vision of Isaiah. This is happening: the people here are being taken up into that Temple vision, but no longer they need the Temple. Now they are the Temple, that’s actually shown again very beautifully: divided tongues as of fire appeared among them. 

Okay so one of the things that had gone from the first temple was the fire. And here you can tell that it’s the new temple is being set was the fire has appeared. But what is it that has appeared to give them the fire? Divided tongues. It’s very interesting: the word divided. Actually, it means more like apportioned out tongues. And it’s referring back to our old friend Zechariah who says: the spoil that was taken from you will be apportioned out to you – referring precisely to the crucifixion. So here, in this new temple, the lot that was taken from them – Jesus – is being apportioned. It is he himself. So Jesus himself, the one who was killed, is now being given them as portions. And they are becoming those portions. The time is resting on each of them. So whereas in a temple the priests after having sacrificed the sheep or lamb and they but hold aloft, and some of the meatier portions burning. So the flames of fire my well refer to that. And all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the ability. 

And here we have something interesting, this is the beginning of the undoing of Babel where all people had been scattered. Now all people are being brought together in unity. And this is how it’s described: that Jews from throughout the Diaspora, all of whom spoke other languages, for the Greek was probably the language they had in common, not Hebrew – they were in Jerusalem for the feasts and they’re suddenly hearing themselves spoken to it as if in their own language. And it says, the text says: but this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered. 

Again two wonderful giveaway words, because gathered is what, of course, happened when the people tried to gather themselves together at Babel, in the Tower of Babel, tried to make themselves one so that they will all be united. Then it says in the Book of Genesis that God scattered them and confused them. And that’s where the word Babel comes from, it means confusion. The Greek word here is: the crowd gathered and was confused. Our translations, you know, cover over the fact that what this means is that here Babel is coming together and is now being undone. They are going to begin to discover that they are going to speak all together, independently of the languages, all the things by which we define ourselves over against each other are no longer going to matter because, in fact, the voice of the one who speaks in us as Son is turning us into son and the new unity is being given. All this is happening before our eyes. okay, so that’s the Lucan picture. So many fulfilment, so much going on as what Jesus promised starts to make itself present. 

Now let’s jump back to St John’s Gospel, which of course is the text for today. And this for me is simply one of the most wonderful passages in the whole of Scripture. Remember where we are: in John’s Gospel, he doesn’t give us the fifty days between the Passover and the Pentecost which was the Jewish way of calculating the days he gives us that same evening, the evening of the resurrection. He gives us Jesus appearing. Not without some indication that there is a slight difference, that there is an Ascension that needed to be waited for. Remember he has that conversation with Mary Magdalene: don’t touch me, I have not yet ascended. But when he’s ascended, meaning seated at the right hand of God, the whole of the act that he had come for completed. He is then able to share that with the disciples. So let’s look at this passage. 

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews”. Again is this sense of apparently – apparently is the wrong word – undoing of the notion of the holy place in the temple, where of course Jews were frightened to go in, as well they should be. No one was allowed in except that high priest and the high priest only under extreme, with extreme precautions. But so here we have this inversion: in an ordinary house where the disciples are hiding. And guess what? – This house turns into the Holy place in the Temple. because “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 

In other words, the first thing to notice about them is: they’re frightened. They’re frightened, they’re ashamed, they are kind of failures, they’ve been following someone who turned out to have been killed, they don’t know what’s going on, they’re hiding. The very first sign of his presence is peace. “After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. ” So he has to identify himself. How does he identify himself? He had advised himself as the crucified and risen victim, as of the lamb standing as one slaughtered. 

“Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” That was what enabled to understand that there was a wholeness going on, that it was the same person as the one that they lived with. A second time he says: peace be with you. In other words, his whole appearance, this is the definitive theophany for the most high in the whole of the scriptures. And unlike all the others, it’s not frightening. This is if you like the great shock of the New Testament that when God finally does turn up, God it’s not frightening. 

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In other words, you are now going to become part of the continuation of my work of opening up creation. “When he had said this, he breathed into them.” And I changed the translation. Translation said “breathed on them” but is the same verb as was used in Genesis when our Lord breathes into Adam’s nostrils to give him life, exactly the same verb. So it seems to me better that it be translated breathed into here because that’s what he’s doing: he’s creating the new Adam. And says to them: receive the Holy Spirit. Which means, strangely: now be inside us in the life of God. 

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And of course, I’ve asked because we tend to be moralists and so on and so forth. This very easily becomes a matter of priests forgetting sins of people etc. and so on and so forth. It means so much more than that. This is a new creation we’re talking about. What it means is that we are being invited to be insiders in God’s opening up of creation, making it a much much bigger, healthier space. And he’s giving the power for this to happen to us. In other words, this is going to be a human endeavour. Now it says: you know, as far as you open it up, as far as you let go of the things that bind down and open it up, in other words – forgive sins and they’ll be forgiven; those you don’t, they won’t. In other words, there’s no extra outside, you know, deus ex machina figure coming to swap things up… no. It’s up to you. I have done the whole of this so to make you insiders in the creative act of God as humans. With your intelligences, with your … with your failures. It is you who are gonna be able to do this. 

This is one of the most astounding things that anybody could possibly have heard: that God would turn up and say: now be participators in the inside of my life, and you are going to be if you like, its bearers. I want you to take charge of opening up creation. Please understand that this is not creation in some, let’s say, historical sense of something that happened a long time ago. He is saying: no, that which is real, that which is of God, that which is truthful, it’s actually a reality we’re talking about. You are opening up reality. You’re going to be conscious participants on the inside of opening up reality. And this is going to be a human-centered exercise. That’s what I find astounding about this. 

We think of the Holy Spirit, we listen to the imagery from Luke, we read the passage here and the sense that we are being with something incredibly gentle to breathe into us. Of course, you’re welcome to the the more pictorial imagery of Luke, but ultimately it’s the same thing: this incredible gentle breath within us which turns us into insiders, into the life of God. And means that at this very very intimate personal level, we are being invited as an act of extreme gentleness, intimate gentleness to be co-discoverers of the real, of the truth, of the trust. What actually the life of God is really like. 

Life of God and a reality, everything that is real, it is the Creator Spirit who is making us as part of reality, open up part of reality. So much going on here. I just wanted to leave you with this sense of this act of intimately trust that we’ve been invited to take part in. And as we sit with this to discover what it is to be living inside this new in-between, this life in which we are being made together, intimate participants, sharers, builders-up of each other, openers-up of life for each other. What is it look like? That I hope and praise what we are going to discover in the weeks ahead.

Homily for Seventh Sunday of Easter Year A John 17:1-11

Unedited transcript:

This is a special, almost intimate Sunday – a time of waiting between the Ascension, its solemnity was celebrated on Thursday, and Pentecost next Sunday. It’s a time when the Apostles along with Mary the Mother of God are in the upper room praying and waiting. And the Gospel which were different today, which, of course, comes from Jesus’s so-called high priestly prayer before his Passion, it’s given us today, I think, because it talks about an intimate kind of sharing. 

Now, as is often the case with texts in St John, the language at first seems mystical, mystifying, difficult to understand. And in particular the word ‘glory’ bears a lot of weight. It’s repeated throughout today’s Gospel. My take on St John’s Gospel is that John’s Gospel is much more straightforward, clear, it’s almost blindingly clear and obvious in what it wants to say than we can imagine. And that we have to do an awful lot of cleaning of the mud from our lenses to grasp it’s obviousness. And I think that’s particularly true with the word ‘glory’. 

So before I actually read the text with you just let’s take a little time to deal with this word ‘glory’ and its oddness and what’s really going on there. When we hear the word ‘glory’, we think of oh – I don’t know -military parades, heavenly angels, all sorts of exuberant, slightly over-the-top things. But ‘glory’, the Greek word, is the same word for reputation, for opinion, it’s what someone thinks of someone else. St Augustine understood this very clearly. His definition of heaven, what it’s going to be like for us to be in heaven, is – he says this in Latin: clara cum laude letitia (to be noticed with clear praise). That’s what we want. We want people to look at us and say: yes, that’s who you are; yeah, that’s my boy, that’s my girl. 

To be held in glory that’s what glory is, being able to rejoice in being known and loved and appreciated. That’s glory. Please notice, friends of mine who understand that I’m a student of the thought of René Girard, will understand it perfectly clearly: the glory is a completely mimetic thing, it’s how we get a sense of something from what other people think of us. Reputation is always a social thing. And I think that that’s vital if we’re to understand what Jesus is talking about here. It’s actually terribly simple. It’s as if he’s having a family, an intimate family conversation with his apostles, and by extension – with us. 

So let’s have a look at the phrases. Just think a little bit about this talk about glory. So Jesus looks up to heaven and says: “Father, the hour has come; – it is before the Passion here – glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you”. In other words, give me the reputation which is really mine, who I’m really known to be by you, so that when I go to my death I will, in fact, be showing who you really are. In other words, who you really are in heaven, that’s something which I know. I’ve been trying to show people who you are. I’ve even taught to pray “Hallowed be thy name”. May your name who really are become ever more evident in heaven, so on earth as it is in heaven. And I’m here to make it evident. I want to allow your real reputation and who you really actually are to be known. So please show all these here who I am, so that they will understand who you are. And that what I’m doing shows who you are. Obviously, that’s a level of intimacy with people whose very being is given to each other by the love, and the fame, and the appreciation. 

Jesus now goes on: “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.” In other words, the Father wants who he is to be known. He’s made it possible at a human level who he really is to be known. And he’s inviting people into this knowing who he really is in such way that it can be shared by us intimately, because as we know this we start participating in it. He says: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” In other words, once we appreciate who God really is with all the glory that he has always had, but also quite how gentle and intimate he is in wanting to come and be amongst us as a friend and share who he is with us, going and giving himself up to death for us, so that we no longer need to be frightened by death, but start to be able to know who he is and so live towards him – all of that has been done at this tremendously intimate, domestic, family level. 

He continued: “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” In other words, all these signs that I’ve been doing, by all of them I have been pointing people to who you really are. I was making who you really are known to them. And I’ll be finishing that work so that who you really are can be completed. I’m just about to finish it by going to my death so that you’ll be able to show who you really are to everyone. 

“So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” So he’s saying: make our absolute inter involvement become absolutely visible to everybody, so that people can know that where I am, who I am – as I go into my death – is exactly the glorious One who was exactly that long before I came into the world. The image which I always have: the lamb slain before the foundation world. Allow it to be known that this is what I had been doing, and I’ve been doing to show who you are. Let’s bring this whole revealing in love of who we are to a conclusion so that all are able to be involved in it. 

And he says: I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the beginning. Again, there’s an intimacy about this. He understands that the people he is with are the people who he was given. This is what for us life in the Church is like: discovering with joy the people who … “They were yours, and you gave them to me”. These disciples are a gift. “And they have kept your word.” They’ve actually followed on with some difficulty as I try to take them to the place where they can see that you are in me and I am in you, that I am opening up what is completely true about you in exactly in the degree to which you are opening up exactly what is true about me. 

“Now they know that everything you have given me is from you” They realize in fact that I’m not an ambassador from you, I’m not someone with a special message from you. I am you. Everything you have given me is from you. There’s simply no distinction between what comes from me and what comes 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.” In other words, they’re beginning to get the sense that your glory and who I am showing you to be are not incidental. It’s not that I am a particularly good signpost; but that what you are showing and what I am showing are the same thing. Because we are the same thing. 

“I’m asking on their behalf and not asking on behalf of the…” Here is a mistranslation, world is not so useful. cosmo in Greek refers to the failed order of creation. We are not talking about creation in a sense of something good; the failed order, the running down, the futile world. “But on behalf of those who whom you gave me”. That’s what i’m asking for. 

“Because they are yours.” Again, what i want to bring out is this wonderful tabletop intimacy between Jesus talking to his Father in the presence of the disciples, and sharing how they are all in this together. “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.” This is an amazing thing: Jesus is prepared to allow himself to be glorified in us, meaning: we are going to become bearers of his glory, witnesses to what God is really all about, witnesses to what the real order of creation pending to heaven is. Witnesses, of course, from the moment that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and the power of the realigned creation flows into us.  

“And now, he says, now I no longer in the world but they are in world.” In other words, Im no longer inside the – how would we say this – the fallible, the futile, the vanity-stricken cosmos. I am now beyond that. I am sitting above the heavens where I was in the first place. But you, my friends, my disciples – you are still in there. And you are going to be the living through that towards the new creation, towards the realignment or heaven on earth, because Holy Father is being asked to protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. 

So he is praying that the Holy Spirit come down upon us all, so as we may be kept together in this project of being amazing, even what fallible, screwed-up people we are. Amazing that we are being given the power and strength actually to become part of what the life of God really is, as shown by Jesus, which we find ourselves invited into. So much to think about. So much intimacy to begin to prepare for as we wait for the Spirit to come upon us at Pentecost.

Homily for Sixth Sunday of Easter Year A John 14:15-21

Unedited transcript:

In today’s Gospel which is a direct continuation from last Sunday’s, we start to get into mysterious territory. Jesus seems to talk about an advocate who is the Spirit of Truth. And this is slightly muddled for us by the fact that he refers to another advocate as though he’d referred to a previous advocate, which as far as I can see, in the Greek version of St John’s Gospel he hasn’t. 

In fact, there is a more logical explanation for that, where it says: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate”. That’s probably a Greek mistranslation of a Hebrewism for: And I will ask the Father and He will give you afterwards an advocate to be with you forever – since apparently the Hebrew words for ‘another’ and ‘afterwards’ are slightly different. It’s a very very easy for a scribe mistake to make. In any case, here’s Jesus before he goes his death, explaining to his disciples what’s going to happen. He’s just told them, as he’s told them last time, that because he’s going to the Father – meaning: because he’s going up to his death, they will be able to do greater things than he. 

So this is part of his unpacking of that: what is that enable them to do greater things than he. And here again, we’re mislead I think by our moralistic tendency to imagine that Jesus’s use of the words ‘if’ means the moral consequence of “if you love me you will keep my Commandments”. It’s much more straightforward than that: ‘if’ in the sense of the natural consequence of you loving me is keeping my Commandments. ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you afterwards an advocate, a defence counsellor to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth’. Strangely, the defence counselor is the Spirit of truth. Because Jesus has gone to his death, because he has occupied the place of death, of shame, of accusation, of lies – the one who is cast out falsely, what he’s going to be able to provide to his disciples which were enabled to keep his Commandments, and enabled them to love him will be the Spirit of truth, which will appear as a defence counsellor. In other words, its job will be to ward off the lies. It will be establishing the truth, meaning that Jesus’s followers will start to be able to live as sons and daughters straightforwardly, becoming themselves in the midst of this very corrupt and violent world. 

And let us step back a little to the reading from the Acts of the Apostles with which we started. In it you get Philip going and preaching to a group of the Samaritans. And as a result of his preaching, lots of evil spirits leaving. In other words, there was something about his words and his presence that already caused those parasites of a fallen world to flee. But those present had not yet received the Holy Spirit. When they received the Holy Spirit, they became themselves capable of becoming upstanding parts of the new creation. It’s a different thing. I think that that’s one of the things that both Luke and John want to bring out in different ways. Jesus going to his death is one thing. Us receiving the Holy Spirit, even if that Holy Spirit was breathed out by Jesus, is another thing. It’s part of us taking part of being involved on the inside of something, which is exactly what Jesus is preparing his disciples for here. 

“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him.” And, dear Lord, we’ve seen enough of this recently with a series of political leaders – no names mentioned – who are manifestly incapable of the truth, for whom the truth is only an obstacle and a stumbling block. And it seems to me that one of the really interesting things that is part of our rediscovery of social life together and Christian life as to what it is to be Church, is going to be the rediscovery of what it means to live truthfully. The rediscovery of truth as a basic part of Christianity, seems to me, to be absolutely on the agenda now and part of what by being given in this time. “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him.” Yeah, dead right. 

“You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” He will dwell in you. In other words, this spirit, this angelic presence is going to be inside us, turning us into Jesus. That’s what’s being promised. And this is going to happen in the same way that it transforms us into people who hold his commandments and are loved by him. Being loved by him, receiving the spirit and becoming people who hold his commandments and therefore become witnesses to him – part of the same project. 

“I will not leave you orphaned.” – Strange, isn’t it? Because normally it’s parents who are involved whether someone is orphaned or not. And Jesus has never talked to himself before as a father to us, but here saying: I won’t leave you orphaned, I’m coming to you. But strangely the way in which he is going to un-orphan us is not by becoming a father for us but by turning us into sons of his Father. This is one of the richest things that’s going on here. “In a little while the world will no longer see me – he’s about to be crucified – but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” In other words, he’s not saying: you’re gonna be living afterwards and I’ll make some hot appearances; he’s saying: no, because I live – I, the Living One; I, the one who is just about to be seen seated at the right hand of the Most High; I who Am – because I live, you also will. In other words, it’s because I’m going to be in you that you are going to be able to share my life and see that I live. This is an entirely participatory understanding of God and of how we become God’s daughters and sons. 

“On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” In other words, this is not a series of moralistic things: if you do this and this and this… no – all this is being given to 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.” emphanisō – I will reveal myself in them or into them, I will in-reveal myself to them, rather suggesting that this spilling out of the Lord’s affection and love is not only going to be a series of apparitions, which happened after the resurrection, but much more of the way in which he’s going to show himself in us, so that we are able to become the manifestations, the hints of the spilling over of the love of God that makes us not orphans or servants, but friends, sons and daughters, heirs, insiders; those who are working through with the Spirit, the defence of truth that enables creation to open up in the midst of the vanity-stricken and futility-run world.

Homily for Fifth Sunday of Easter Year A John 14:1-12

Unedited transcript:

In this Gospel, we get some sense of the hugeness of Jesus’ mind. At the beginning of the series when we were in Palm Sunday, I told you how important it was I think that we understand that what Jesus was doing, he was doing deliberately. He knew what he was doing. That’s why he set up the trip into Jerusalem on the donkey so that he was enacting the Davidic prophecies. 

But here in today’s Gospel, we get something of the sort of mind that is capable of imagining doing such a project. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe[a] 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?” 

In other words, this is very similar to the passage in Hebrews where it says for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, he despised the shame and seated at the right hand of God. for the joy that was set before him. In other words, what did he try to consider in understanding that what he was opening up was going to be so much for so many that it was worth it – death for him was not a defining parameter as it is for us. Of course, it’s completely baffling for the first disciples in this passage which’s told before the passion, which we read in Easter weeks, Easter season. So after the passion, after the resurrection, so we begin to get a sense of Jesus having fulfilled what he promised. 

“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.” This is before Jesus’s passion so good-old-straightforward-common-sense Thomas says to him: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Yeah, kind of: be straightforward. 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.” In other words, Thomas was wanting a straightforward answer and instead, he got a mystical discourse. Except that, it’s not that mystical. He’s saying, the way which is what he’s about to do is going to be the root to his self giving up to death. That is going to show what the truth is, where the presence of God is to be found in this world – the presence of God as he found in the One who offers himself into the place of the seditious blasphemer, thereby exploding all notions of power by civil authority and by religious goodness, by legal or priestly authority. He, the king of the universe, is going to occupy the space of apparent criminality and sedition, blasphemy. And those who perceive this, they’re the ones who will know the truth… our passage from St Peter today; we get St Peter preaching literally exactly straightforward this. 

For some, he was rejected; for others, he’s honourably prized. As I put it, just translate; in the translations it was precious; precious tends to mean ‘eh’, it’s not very helpful, but ‘honourably priced’… What appeared to be seditious…, wasn’t; it was the real presence of God himself, who is worth more than anything. Not the one who was condemned, rejected, and crossed aside. So the way had to endure, the truth, what God actually looks like, and the life. Now that Jesus has done that enabling us to live as if death were not. No longer run by scandal, stumbling over having to create new scapegoats in order to survive, which is very much what St Peter talks about it in the epistle… He talks he was carrying on doing the same old thing just stumbling round destined to fail. That’s the world of fatality. We see it now. We all know the difference between people who are stuck in a stumbling block mould because what do they do if they look for someone to blame? In case of doubt, find someone to blame. 

Whereas the extraordinary thing about the scientific understanding of truth is: I wonder what’s going on here? I wonder what biases of mine I need to remove in order to be able to work out what is actually going on here so that then we can work out how to live with, deal with, cope with – whatever, we’re learning about. Who to blame? For close down world fatality. What’s going on? How do we work out what it is, how do we work out without being frightened to death how to live in the midst of this? We see a good deal of both of those attitudes going on in our response to the current [Covid] virus. 

Phillip the Greek says to him: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” The more mystical; the Greek-cultured disciple: Show us the Father! And Jesus again brings him straight down to earth in a very straightforward way: “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’?” In other words, Philip is talking as the Father is someone else, someone outside, that there is a big God out there who is somehow independent from Jesus. 

Jesus says no: no longer will be God out there. The only access to the Father is through me. In other words, as you learn to give yourselves into the midst of death, giving ourselves away for others – “do what I do” – as you are able to stand up for the truth in the midst of all the turbulence of life and not be run by it, not be frightened by it; as you’re able to become aware that you are receiving life already in the midst of all this, in that degree you’ve known the Father already. It is me. The only access you have to the Father is me. There is no other extra out there. If there were, we would be what is called a bitheistic religion, duo-theistic religion instead of a monotheistic one. 

The wholeness of the Father is revealed in Jesus. There’s no extra. And Jesus is pointing this out: don’t get distracted, it’s all at this level, it’s by allowing ourselves to be turned into a new brotherhood, siblinghood of equals that you’re going to discover what it is to share the Father. In other words, it is by becoming me that you’re going to discover the Father. 

Only after Jesus’s death that he then refers to ‘your Father and my Father’. Jesus is into something really very striking. Just in case we haven’t understood the full depth of the apparent shocking thing that he said: no outside God; the only God the Father you will ever ever discover you will discover by becoming sister and brother with 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.” In other words, the Father is already working through me. I’m the actual physical manifestation of the Father that is here. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” – I am who is talking, a human being. 

“But if you do not, then believe me because of the works.” – And he’s referring to the various signs which he had done, all in which tended to open up creation. No demigod can open up creation. The only one who can open up creation is the Creator. What Jesus is saying is the Creator that’s me is the Father is within me is doing these things. Believe the works. If it’s awful difficult to understand that what I’m doing is the work of creation, finishing up and opening up the creation and that you can all participate in something much much bigger than we’ve all been trapped in so far. Look at the works themselves. Who could possibly do this if it were not the creator of all things? 

“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.” And I think this is one of the most wonderful things. It shows that Jesus is doing exactly what he is saying: yes I’m going to occupy that space of death to detoxify, to remove its shame, to make it possible no longer for you to be run by fear of it. And because I am going to do that, it will become possible for you to do greater and more extraordinary, more wonderful things than I. I have opened up the space, and you’ll be occupying it. And because you are occupying it, you’ll be able to run with it and make new things, open up new ways that will be far greater than what I have actually done. In other words, Jesus knows perfectly well this is not talking about him, this is about him losing himself so as to become us. And in doing so opening up the possibility for us to become something so much more than we could imagine. 

So I ask you to share this joy – the joy of the discovery of the risen Lord in the Easter season coming back to us, and just reminding us what he has been opening up for us, and how much freedom we have to move forward in new and interesting ways, now that we’re longing to stumble through repetitive scapegoating, sacrificing, blaming, etc etc.

Homily for Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A John 10:1-10

Unedited transcript:

The Gospel today is about the gate, the Sheep gate. And it’s actually one of my favourite passages, puzzles from John’s Gospel because I think it’s one of the places, one of the very few places, where Jesus is actually using the architecture of the place that he’s speaking from as part of his parable. 

Let me explain. 

We’re told that this chapter, chapter 10, takes place in the Portico of Solomon. And if you’ve ever been to the Portico of Solomon, it’s at the very top of the tall steps that lead up to the platform on which the Temple was built. It was the place where people could walk and talk on the platform. The normal way for ordinary people up to the Temple was  up those steep stairs to the top. But there was, in fact, another way in, which you can still see to this day, to the Temple Mount from the side; and that was the entrance that the priests and Levites would come – a stage entrance if you like for the Temple Mount, rather than the theatre entrance. And you can clearly see the other entrance from the Portico of Solomon. 

So Jesus starts by saying something which I think we’re wrong to think is very mysterious. I think that he’s saying something dead simple: “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.” Here he’s talking to people who understood their agriculture, who knew what it was like for shepherds to look after sheep, understood how all that worked and he said something very obvious. In any ordinary sheepfold, the boss comes in and out through the door. And the one who comes in and out through any other way than the door is probably not got good intentions. This is pretty straightforward agricultural stuff. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. This is so far pretty straightforward. 

“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” Let’s suppose that there’s someone in charge of that thing, the gatekeeper recognizes who that shepherd is, and opens for him as he hears his voice. The shepherd, supposing that there are lots of different sheep being kept there, calls the ones by his name and leads them out. In other words, there is a complicity between sheep and shepherd that is easily done by all of them.

“When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” You’ve probably seen this in real life yourselves, this is in fact something that happens. There usually at least in the documentaries that I’ve seen and in my memories of having seen this in the countryside in my youth: there are dogs around as well to help. We don’t get mentioned of the dogs in the Gospel. “They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 

I just want to say so far so good and so obvious. The whole point of this is: this is not supposed to be something immensely deep and complicated and pious or any other thing. It’s supposed to be: you all know how this works with shepherds and sheep.

Then it says: “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” I suggest to you that it means that they understood perfectly well what he was saying to them as it dealt with sheep, shepherds, and ordinary agricultural practice. They haven’t the faintest idea of why he was talking to them about this matter now. Why stand on the Temple’s Solomon’s Portico and give them a little treatise on agricultural behaviour.

“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.” He’s standing at the entrance of the Temple, he’s able to point to the people who come in by another way who he refers to here as thieves and bandits. Furthermore, he says: I am the gate. 

He actually says two different phrases: I’m the gate for the sheep and I am the gate. I want to suggest to you that he’s bringing together two quite specific physical gates: the first – the gate of the sheep – was a known function in the city of Jerusalem. There was a gate known as the Sheep gate through which the sheep were driven into the Temple compound. 

Please notice that unlike what Jesus our Lord says here, this was not a two-way gate. This was a one-way gate. It was no more two-way than the train tickets to Auschwitz.  The sheep who came into the Sheep gate and into the Temple compound were not going out again to pasture. This was their run to the death. 

And then at the Temple itself amongst a variety of gates which were apparently brilliantly ornate and decorated, several which opened, and one which didn’t, which was the gate through which the great Shepherd, the Davidic promised heir, was to come at a certain point of time. And this was get closed. Now what I’d like to suggest to you is that Jesus is using the Temple geography to say something about what he is doing. 

He’s saying he’s the Sheep gate. That’s to say the one that sheep would go in on their way to being slaughtered. And that he is the gate – referring to the one through which the Most High would come to enter into the Holy of Holies and bring together all God’s people. But he’s  making this in a very critical way. It says: “Whoever enters by me will be saved”. It says saved but I think probably the original meaning was simply safe. He’s talking about people being safe. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Yes, he’s apparently talking about religious leaders who run the show for themselves, make money off it, for whom keeping sacrifice going is very much in their own interests. And yet who becomes scandalized whenever there’s any matter of fear, and run away. Because they were actually not with the sheep. They don’t really think of themselves as part of the same thing at all. He says: I’m not going to be like that, I am the gate, they will come through me. And by pointing out at the Sheep gate, the one-way gate, if you like, the gate to slaughter, and bring them together, he’s bringing out something about his freedom which he then talks about. I could lay down my life and I will take it up again. And because of that, we should not be afraid. 

How it is that we are kept safe in the midst of a world in which religious leaders of all sorts – it’s not only Catholic or any Protestant or Islamic religious leaders who do any of these things but all religious leaders, in fact, all leaders – are inclined to be in it for themselves and not indeed for those who are the sheep. And the real difference precisely consists in here is the one who is going to show both that he is the Davidic Promised One entering through that Sheep gate, but also he’s going to enter through the gate of the sheep laying down his life in such a way that thereafter we – you, me – need no longer be frightened of being slaughtered and killed, harassed and victimized, treated as disposable by religious and political leaders who are in for themselves and … a lot of that recently. That we can walk with safety because the one who was given his life and risen again is greater than death, its scandal, the sacrificing manoeuvrings of wicked leaders of whatever sort. 

And that he calls us by name. In his calling us we discover who we are and we can walk freely and without fear. This I think is part of the continuation of the message we’ve been getting over these Easter weeks – of the oddness of the voice of the One who speaks to us, the oddness of the one who spoke to Mary Magdalene, who spoke to Thomas, who spoke to the disciples at Emmaus. And now rather than speaking to us from a position of great haughtiness or great apparent leadership, he’s speaking to us as one who has been through death, is not frightened by it, is not scandalized by it, and knows that as we are able to relax into hearing his voice, so we will be able to live abundantly.

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter Year A Luke 24:13-35

Unedited transcript:

Here we have this wonderfully familiar Gospel – the road to Emmaus. And I’d like to follow on from our two previous Sundays, showing how Jesus’s drawing close to people doesn’t follow things they understand is not obvious. They don’t know what’s going on. Аnd yet he wants to make himself present. There is a giving of himself to them. That is to take them beyond themselves. We saw that with Mary Magdalene, we saw that with Thomas, and now we’re going to see it with Cleopas and friend as they head to Emmaus. 

So there they are, walking out of town, heading nowhere in particular, outside the village that no one has been able to identify. And there they’ve heard about the visit of Mary Magdalene and other women to the tomb. They know that something is very strange and they can’t make sense of it. So while they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. So a third person appears, but he’s not a third person whom they recognized. Again, the risen Jesus is never obvious. “But their eyes were kept from recognizing them and he said what’s this conversation that you’re having with each other as you walk?” 

They stood still looking sad. A downcast mean, the same downcast mean that Pharaoh’s butler and baker had in prison when Joseph came upon them and asked, why are you standing still looking sad. And then Joseph offered to interpret them all the things that bring their dreams. So here Jesus is about to do exactly the Joseph role, which Luke very cleverly hints at us with that little phrase: They stood still looking sad. It’s a direct quote from Genesis.

One of them, “and Cleopas answered him: Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Okay, here’s the thing. So the crucified and risen Lord is walking alongside these two and their first presumption is that he’s not from there. He’s a visitor, … someone who’s coming through, a resident alien, but someone who doesn’t get it. They picked up on his accent. Something about him gives away the fact that he couldn’t really understand it. I think that’s hugely important. The voice of the Risen one is going to come to us from a strange place. It’s always going to be experienced by us as a strange turnaround. 

So Cleopas says: the only one who doesn’t understand these things. Jesus says: what things? Not anything silly to play with them, but because it’s only in the degree to which they start trying to tell their story that they’ll come to an end of the story. They’ll screw up and realize that their story as they tell it doesn’t make sense. And it’s only then that he will be able to intervene and start to give them a unified account of what’s really been going on. But he’d only be able to do it if they’re not just being solidly silent and saying: no, we wouldn’t get it. It’s as they start to try and explain to him … condescending and in a muddled way what’s going on that he’s going to be able to get into their story and turn it around. And that’s what happens. 

“They said concerning Jesus of Nazareth: a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

So they’ve got a variety of different lines in their story: he was a man, he was a prophet, he was strong before God but our chief priests and rulers who theoretically should have been in favour of someone like him, handed it over to the Romans to be crucified him. We had hoped that he was the one to restore Israel because there was a prophecy. There is a prophecy concerning the one who was going to come and restore Israel, bring back the new Temple, perform the ultimate sacrifice, and bring to an end the Temple. This was all part of our expectations. And now it’s the third day since these things have happened. Some women from our group, however, have amazed us. Because women’s capacity to give witnesses is second-rate witnesses in the law. So we had to go and see whether what they said was true. And yes, it was, just what the women had said, but although they said they had seen him and a vision of angels, we didn’t see. In other words, they’ve at last got it out. They’ve made themselves vulnerable if you like in their attempt to tell a story and not really be able to make sense of it.

“Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 

In other words, what he’s saying is there’s always been a single unitary story going on here. Something has been happening that was always going to happen, and in light of this everything will become perfectly clear. All the prophets have been telling about it. And now I’m going to explain it to you, explain the full unitary sense of what’s been going on.  And what’s been going on?

“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.”

At this stage, please remember, he’s an outsider. He’s a third person. A third person, not an obvious teacher, because not the kind of person who they would expect to take very seriously. And yet he is offering them a unified account of all the things in their scriptures, which had been fulfilled over the last few days. Which is basically ever. It must have been an extraordinary exercise in having their world turned upside down as they discovered all the things that had in fact just over the last few days, mean: echoed, foretold in Isaiah, in Zechariah, and all the prophets. And it’s difficult for us to do it now, but it’s amazing how much richness of interpretation of things that are being fulfilled can be found. 

So there he was, doing this, giving them a completely new take on the story which they already knew, the take that was not obvious and that would not have come from somebody who they would have taken seriously. So this is the strangeness of this thing that we have someone outside themselves. From a not a very respectable position is giving them the whole thing. They’ve been drawn out to the village where they’re going and now they are inviting him into their home. This is very important for us as we find ourselves celebrating these Eucharists in our homes.

The voice has come from outside. We have to learn to hear the unexpected, the strange, not very reputable voice, challenging us to turn our sense of what’s really happening upside down. And then with them in the home, he is their guest and yet he performs a gesture which is the gesture of a host breaking the bread, blessing it and giving it to them. 

In other words, suddenly they find that the one who they thought they were hosting is the one who has been hosting them. And immediately they perceive that all that he had been telling them as if about a third person was in fact, I Am. He had been telling them in the first person about what he had been doing and what he was including them in. And of course, immediately they grasped that he was actually not a third person speaking to them, but the first person narrative. 

They realized that this is a theophany, this is the presence of the Most High. And immediately he’s gone. And all theophanies who glimpses of the Most High. He’s gone in the gimps. And that is the case here. So now they’ve heard the story from the one who was telling it. So their version is no longer muddled. They’re now able to speak with confidence about what had really been going on. They go back and they tell those who are gathered in Jerusalem, who replied: the Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon. In other words, they share the same story.

And it’s one of the reasons why I like what we are given in the first reading today, is that our first reading for the day is actually Simon Peter essentially giving the straightened-down version of the story that the disciples in Emmaus were giving the muddled version of. In other words, now that the risen Lord has been amongst them and shown that he was in fact the protagonist, that it was deliberate, this was something that he was doing. 

They are now able to tell the story straightforwardly from his perspective. And that is exactly what happens in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Peter is able to basically tell the story that the disciples on the road to Emmaus were not able to tell.

So as we celebrate our Eucharists at home, let’s remember that the word coming from outside, from this preacher, from many other much better preachers, but also from strange voices that you may hear talking about completely different things which nevertheless turn out to have an expertise that completely throw you and surprise you (we’re not talking about strange recommendations for this infection [Covid] here). Our world is being turned upside down and us being given a new perspective. Oh my God, I am actually being invited here rather than running the show. And the One who is giving himself to me is giving himself to me as my host even as I thought I had hosted him. 

What I often pray for you all with this your first is that we are able to follow the paradigm that was opened up for us on the road to Emmaus and share in the presence of the Most High who gives himself to us and reveals himself in the breaking of the bread.

Homily for Second Sunday of Easter Year A John 20:19-31

Unedited transcript

Just a first little note on the first reading. I don’t usually comment on. You probably have noticed from the Acts of the Apostles that it said: the whole community devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching and fellowship to the breaking of bread and the prayers. This is all we believed were together and had all things in common. They would sell their possessions day by day as they spent much time together in the Temple. They broke bread at home. I’d like to bring that out that rather than the breaking bread being what they were doing in the Temple and then the sharing the word being at home, it’s the other way around. In other words, it is what we’re doing now. The word comes from outside, the breaking of the bread… We are hosting Jesus and discovering that he is, in fact, hosting us is a transformation in the midst of our domesticity. So that is something that we are genuinely living through this time [of the lockdown of 2020] and we can’t go out to the temple. But we can undergo the arrival of our Host in the breaking of the bread. I got that out of the way. 

Let’s look at some John’s Gospel. Again this wonderful passage which we get crammed together. We get these two appearances of Jesus, each one week apart. It is very clear why we have this reading on the second Sunday of Easter, because the first appearance was last Sunday evening – the initial appearance of Jesus in the upper room that was closed through fear of the Jews – and then a week later we have Jesus appearing in answer to Thomas. I just like to bring something out of what’s going on here. I want to put the first appearance, the last Sunday evening appearance, in the background a second, bring out what’s going on with Thomas. Thomas, if you like, is the other side of the diptych with Mary Magdalene. 

Do you remember last week her first reaction was: they have taken him away and we don’t know where they have placed him. First, she says that to the other disciples who of course haven’t got the faintest idea, then she says it to the two angels, and then finally she says it to the gardener. The gardener of course is Jesus, is the first Adam, and turns around and says to her: Mary. And she recognizes who she is in his voice, and so she says: Rabbuni! He says: don’t touch me, don’t grasp onto me. I’m going to my father and your father, I haven’t yet ascended to heaven. So what’s very interesting is that her longing is being answered, her longing to know what they have done with him, where have they placed him, is being answered. 

But it’s being answered in a way that’s actually a slight deviation from a straightforward answer. He’s saying: yeah, I’m gonna show myself to you but in a way you can’t grasp. Don’t grasp me yet because I’m going to be so much more for you than what you could imagine if you would have grasped me. I think that’s very very important first move on this part. Who is the crucified risen Lord? What does it look like for him to appear to us? Well the first thing is it’s going to shake up all our stories of that which we can grasp. It’s a new story that we’re beginning to discover ourselves on the inside of and we don’t know where it’s going. 

Flash ahead a week and we get Thomas who last week had turned up after the party and refused to believe. He said: I want evidence. He wants something firmer. And please notice that this second time Jesus is doing to Thomas exactly what he did to Mary Magdalene, saying: yeah, I get what your notion of what you want is. You want something that you could recognize that you can deal with. That’s fine okay, I’m gonna give you the chance. But actually, it’s not going to be what you think. So he shows him the marks of his hand and the marks of his side, and he invites Thomas to come up and put his fingers in the marks, and his hand on the side. 

And I hope you will excuse me if I indulge in one of my favourite pieces of scriptural allusions here: the Ark of the Covenant was carried by staves that were stuck through rings that were called fingerholds. And one of the things that this was done was to prevent people from touching its side which is where the Covenant was supposed to be because that would be sacred and would kill them. 

So here Jesus is actually inviting Thomas to come up to him to stand in front of him and be a mirror image if you like, which is why I think probably the word twin became the nickname. Be my mirror, stand in front of me, touch my hands, touch my side. You are now going to be me. And you are going to be the bearer of the Ark of the Covenant. Actually, it’s easier for those who haven’t seen me because the those who haven’t seen me I’m not an object that’s in the way of them becoming me. 

In other words, Jesus is doing the same to Thomas as he’s doing to Mary. Yeah, I really want to help you move on… I recognize, I affirm your longing for something that makes sense to you, but even the thing that apparently makes sense to you is actually going to take you off on an adventure of becoming yourself, that which you think I am. That’s why I gave myself to you. I ran the risk of you making of me what you are going to make of me. You are going to bear the Covenant, you are going to be the one. So those two wonderful moments, if you like, of personal generosity, those appearances to help us get out of fixed stories and into unending adventure. 

And then in the midst of the absolute central part which was what happened last Sunday evening which we didn’t get in our readings. Jesus on Monday evening appears in the room that was locked “for fear of the Jews”… and that’s clearly an ironic way of referring to the Holy of Holies of the old temple which any reasonable Jewish person would be frightened to go into, only the high priest could do that, but this has become a secular thing now. Reality has escaped the cultic world. And here is Jesus in our midst showing them his hands and sides, breathing peace on. It’s no longer a terrifying figure, there is no longer a mysterious and tremendous sacred. Having breathed, having given peace to them, they start to rejoice. They recognize him. 

Then he breathes into them. Our translation says ‘breathed on’ but the Greek is ‘breated in’ because it’s the same verb, as the one in Genesis, where the Lord breathes into the nostrils of Adam to make him a new creation. So here in fact Jesus’s breathing into their nostrils, and making them the creation. This is the account of creation in the New Testament. 

Then he is also saying to them that any sins you forgive are forgiven, and what you hold back are held back. And of course, our first temptation is to think about that in a moralistic way: we are super pastors to forgive sins. No, something vastly more important than that: he’s opening up creation. He’s saying: listen, now because I have gone to where I’ve gone, you are going to open up the of creation. It’s going to be your responsibility as far as you allow yourselves to be forgiven and forgive other people. You’re going to open things up, you’re gonna take us to new places, and you’ll get to discover who are you I’m ways that you never knew before. That’s gonna be the whole dimension of creation from now on. Not a frightened holding onto a collapsing order but a daring move into a quite new story of who you’re becoming, how you’re learning to love, how you’re learning to become a new ‘we’ with other people. 

And it’s gonna be entirely up to you as far as you did. As far as you don’t do it, it won’t happen. But you are now the ministers, the heirs, the firstborn of creation. Please, where I you going to take it? For me, what’s so exciting about these Easter stories, they are not happy ending, if you like. They’re really a very weird and tantalizing beginning. Where are you gonna take this, it’s gonna be up to you. It’s not gonna fit into all stories, it’s going to become something entirely different. Please take me with you.

Homily for Easter Sunday Year A

Unedited transcript

Happy Easter to you all! 

I’m gonna comment on the Gospel for the day, St John’s Gospel 20, 1 to 9. Some are frustrated that they only give us 1 to 9. It’s only the first half of the diptych in which Mary Magdalene asks a question, and in the second half she gets our question answered. But this is what the Church asks us to look at today, so I’m going to go through with you step by step. It is the beginning of, I think, the most wonderful page of literature that we’ve ever had. It’s the account of creation; for the Christian account of creation is not in Genesis, the Christian account of creation is in John 20. Genesis is the background necessary to understand what’s really going on. 

Anyhow, “it was early on the first day of the week”. Actually, it was early on day one, that’s what it says: day one, the beginning of creation. And it was still dark. In other words, it was before God had made light. When Mary of Magdala came to the tomb, she probably didn’t come alone because when she goes to see the disciples she says ‘we’. And the other Gospels all refer to her and two other women who went to the tomb. But it seems as though John probably reconstructed this from the witness of Mary Magdalene, Mary of Magdala. And that she is the person who is described here, her vision and her understanding of what’s going on.

She arrived and she saw that the stone had been removed. It doesn’t say, she looked in. Our first reaction is to assume skullduggery because she goes running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved; and she says: they’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him. Where they have put him? She asks this question, she explains this longing with anxiety first to Peter and the Beloved Disciple talking about ‘they’ – perhaps implying that it was some soldiers or some tricksters who did this. Later, but not in today’s Gospel ours, she’ll say the same thing to two angels. And then very shortly after she’ll actually say the same thing to Jesus, but she says not ‘where they have taken him away’ – ‘you have taken him’. In other words, she is going through a process of understanding what’s gone on which is going to culminate in the empty tomb turning into the Holy of Holies that is now open forever. But let’s get back to our text.

So “Simon Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together but the other disciple running faster reached the tomb first”. Okay, a younger man. “He bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground but did not go in”. 

Okay, good move. Why? He could see that something had happened but he was a priestly family. You’ll remember that he joined at the suggestion of John the Baptist. John suggested to Jesus; John the Baptist who was a priestly family. And he was himself clearly in with high priestly circles since while Jesus was being tried he was able to go in to the sanctuary, while Peter had to stay outside. So we’re talking about quite an interesting reversal here. So he is a member of a priestly family and should not enter into a tomb where there had been corruption because that would have prevented him from exercising any priestly function. It would have been seriously wrong for him as a priestly person to go into a place where there had been corruption – the corruption of death. So he doesn’t go in, he waits. 

Peter who was following now came up. And here we have another while rather beautiful piece of Johannine irony: Peter trundled along later; presumably a slightly more middle-aged man, and he went right into the tomb. Okay so quite typical Peter but just by temperament we know that he is quite inclined to dash ahead, but also actually he has just been ordained High Priest and understood it – the new high priesthood. But also he wasn’t part of the old high priesthood so it didn’t matter for him the question of corruption. Dare he goes in and he saw the linen cloths on the ground and also the cloth that had been over his head, which John the Beloved Disciple hadn’t seen. This was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 

Okay here we’re into something really quite interesting. The linen cloths on the ground is the first sign that we are not dealing with a thief. Why? Well, you remember that immediately before Jesus is buried, a very large number of spices are produced: myrrh and aloe, and Jesus’s body is rubbed down with these, and then wrapped in the linen. Now these spices formed quite a thick resin or gum. In other words, it wouldn’t have been at all easy just to remove linen cloths. They would have been sticky and weighed down, it wouldn’t be an easy thing for a robber to do. And, in fact, why would a robber bother to take off the cloth especially if they were sticky. So the first sign that something odd is going on are cloths left on the ground. It suggests that the stickiness wasn’t part of a funeral rite, that in fact those spices might have been part of the rite of how the Holy One came forth from that Holy of Holies because the same spices were used for the high priest emerging from the Holy Ones who had become an angel. So here we have these apparently resin-less cloths on the floor. And then Peter notices the napkin laid to one side. In other words, it’s been placed deliberately, roll up, and no longer necessary. 

This is an extraordinary thing. The Holy One has been in the place. He is born within himself, he’s taking his blood into the Holy of Holies. And he’s normal. He has left behind the earthly garments, he has rolled up because there’s no further use for the head covering.

It’s that that allows the other disciple to enter. He also went in, he saw and he believed. Well, what did he believe? In the first instance, he must have realized that there was no corruption in the place. He must have realized what it says in Psalm 16 [9-10] – I’ll quote: “therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body also dwells secure; for thou didst not give me up to Hades nor let thy godly one thy Holy One see corruption”. In other words, he could see that this had been a place with no corruption. What did he believe? He believed that God had not let his Holy One know corruption. That Jesus had returned to heaven. 

“Till this moment they had felt understand the teaching of scripture that he must rise from the dead”. Well again that’s very odd. What does it mean? Here it seems they did understand something. They understand that Jesus who always said he’d come from heaven and now went back to heaven without knowing corruption. But the extension of the cross to the tomb was giving himself up to death in the holy place. And that he was no longer visible. I suspect that their assumption was: okay, that’s happened. I think that they would have been astounded to think that in fact, he was going to rise and appear as a human to them, for quite a long time after this explaining what he’d been about. It other words, from John’s and Peter’s point of view, already the promise had been fulfilled. 

And what they were not expecting was the dramatic illustrations of what had really been going on, which would start to come alive over the next few hours, actually – along with Mary Magdalene and then later that evening with the disciples all gathered in the upper room. Because the longing of the Lord to be with his disciples, those he loved, and to show them himself, and to manifest himself was so great that he kept on doing, just trying to convince them, to teach them, to allow them to see what happened. If you like, it is this extra spillover which is so wonderful – the utter aliveness of God made visible to us. And it’s these appearances which we’re going to be following over the next few weeks as we live through the Easter season.

Meditation on Sacrifice Year A

Unedited transcript

The word sacrifice keeps on popping up in our Eucharistic praying. And some of you have let me know that you find those words difficult. And I want to say, for very good reason. Let me discuss with you a little bit about what is meant, and what is not meant by the word ‘sacrifice’. 

So let us see if I can allow you to find yourselves into a more comfortable way of praying eucharistically. There’s a perfectly simple sense of the word ‘sacrifice’ which is not what is being meant here. And that is the way in which, for instance, I, a priest, offer a sacrifice to some divinity who presumably needs it for whatever reason. Or that someone demands of me a sacrifice for someone else, like some of the people, were saying: well, all these old folk we were alright allowed them to die for the sake of the economy. That’s a sacrificial model of priesthood. That is it specifically and exactly not what is being asked for here. If that’s what you think you’re doing when you say the word sacrifice, then please don’t say these prayers. That’s the wrong thing to be doing. 

I’m going to use the example which my mentor, my guru, René Girard, always used when explaining the double meaning, perhaps – two possible sets of meanings behind the word ‘sacrifice’. He always used the story of king Solomon’s judgment of the two prostitutes. You remember the story: two prostitutes, both of them had daughters at the same time, they both lived together. During the night the daughters of one of them died so the mum quickly swapped babies with the other one; and the other woman when she woke up found her baby dead but it wasn’t her baby. So they took the matter to the king for judgement. And the king said: bring me a sword, I will now cut it in half the babies that you can each have half. Whereupon one of the two women said: that’s splendid, quite right, then we’re both in the same position. And the other one said: no, I would let the other woman have the baby, I would prefer that the baby lives than that I win. 

Of these two you could use the word ‘sacrifice’ perfectly easily: one woman was prepared to sacrifice the baby to be equal with the other woman, and one woman was prepared to sacrifice her right to the baby to allow the child to live. We used the word ‘sacrifice’ for both. But they’re obviously completely incommensurable in meaning, they’re not the same thing at all. One is involving killing something, the other involves letting go of something, giving something away for the sake of life. 

Now, it’s only conceivably in the second meaning that we can possibly refer to Jesus’s going up to death as a sacrifice. I should say that it was language with which he was familiar and he was perfectly happy to use. So we shouldn’t be too shy about it. He was happy to use it precisely because he was bringing it to its fulfilment and actually exploding it from within, because rather than this being the account of us sacrificing someone to God or – in some particularly terrible notions – God demanding that we sacrifice someone to God as though God needed bloodlust satisfying, something like. That it’s exactly the reverse: God gave himself up to us, and we are the angry divinity if you like in the picture. And God is giving himself up into our midst, into the midst of our silent and sinful humans precisely so that we can be utterly amazed by the generosity, by the power, by the forgiveness in that act. And so we realize we never need to perform any kind of sacrificial logic ever again. That’s self-giving up into the midst of us to enable us to live free from the world of sacrifice. That’s what’s called the one true sacrifice. 

And please notice that means that all other sacrifices are not true sacrifices, they’re fakes, they’re nine-dollar bills, if you like. They’re either not the real thing at all or they’re a cover-up, but the self-giving of God up to us, sinful humans, so that we may be amazed, forgiven, loved, reached at our most violent, and enabled to understand how much we are being let off. That’s the sense, if you like, of the word sacrifice – the same sense as the good mother in the Wisdom of Solomon. The good mother was opening up the possibility for the baby to live. Well, Jesus is opening up the possibility for us to live. 

Now, one might say: well, that’s just what Jesus was doing, what about what we’re doing? Well, our way of sharing in what Jesus was doing is by giving thanks, that’s what the Eucharist is. We started to give thanks and we find ourselves able to share inside that self-giving. Someone who is giving himself to us and enabling us to turn into givers of ourselves away to others, which is why I used the word ‘sacrifice’ very happily when I pray. I’m thinking not of anything that I’m doing; I am thinking of what is being done for me and with what joy I am going to be turned into someone capable of doing that for others. 

A final consideration: good people can’t share in Jesus’s sacrifice. Only bad people can. That’s one of the really weird things about all this. If you are a good person, you’re probably shocked by the word ‘sacrifice’. If you’re a bad person, you understand how sacrificial you usually are: how full of grift and cheating, treason, injustice, gossip, all awful things which are the day-to-day of our lives. In other words, you understand that you are a fully-fledged sacrificer in your day-to-day life. And then, into your midst comes someone who uses that language, that mechanism which we know only too well; turns it on its head, lets you free from all our involvement in all that stuff, and says: now let me take you somewhere else and make you a player of a different game. That’s why I think it’s so important we remember that to be able to pray on the inside of our Lord’s sacrifice is something which only sinners can do. So want you to remember that. This is there is something quite… [ends abruptly]

Homily for Maundy Thursday Year A

Unedited transcript

We’re going to look now at the Gospel of the washing of the feet. St John gives us this Gospel instead of the institution of the Eucharist, which shows quite how important he thought it was. He deals with the institution of the Eucharist in quite other ways. But here, at this key moment, he has Jesus performing a particular sign. So I’d like to look with you at two elements of this. 

The first is that Jesus once again is doing something absolutely deliberate. We could even tell that St John gives us all sorts of word clues about this. But one is that he uses the same verbs here, as he uses when he’s talking about laying down his life and picking it up again in the Good Shepherd discourse. So here it says: he lays down his upper garment; and later it says: he takes it up again. Many of our translations obscure that. But it seems to me to be key: Jesus is in acting before them what he has been talking about and what he’s going to do. So, definitely doing something absolutely deliberate. 

But the second point is that at the end he then turns around immediately to his disciples and said: have you understood what I’m doing? Do you realize what I have done to you? This is actually rather different from his usual relationship to his disciples after the signs. Normally he performs the signs and they don’t get it. They begin to get some hints of it, and little by little they begin to pick it up. And only much later do they really get what’s been going on. And that’s part of the nature of the kind of signs he’s doing. They shake the universe of meaning. Okay but here immediately he’s asking them: do you know what I had done? And that seems the question for us to ask ourselves: do we know what he has done? Have we understood what he has done? 

So here’s my attempt to meditate a little longer. So the first thing he’s done he’s done what would normally be done by a servant in a household where there was going to be a banquet, the host would prepare servants to wash the feet of the guests who were on their way in, and the washing of the feet would be a gesture of courtesy, it would be a pleasant relief after you’d walked along sweating away, where you would have dust over your sandalled feet – a gesture of courtesy welcoming somebody in. It would not be something that the host did. 

So here one of the first things he’s doing is the host actually being the servant who welcomes you into his own feast in which he himself is going to give himself away. So that just shows you that that’s just one of the elements of what he’s doing: he’s being a servant welcoming you in to his own feast. 

The second element is that there was actually someone for whom it was appropriate for the host to wash their feet. And that would have been the host’s wife. It would have been appropriate for a husband to kneel down before his wife and wash her feet. It was a gesture of humility, intimacy and equality in a world where neither of those – neither the humility nor the equality – was necessary to be lived out in the relationship between spouses. So yes, there is something marital about this act. Something suggesting a marital intimacy of service. And yes, it doesn’t seem inappropriate to see Jesus as engaging in a spousal act of humility and intimacy with those whom he is turning into his spouse – the church. 

The third element – if you’ve performed this act yourself on Maundy Thursday as I have you’ll know what I mean – you’re actually putting yourself under people’s feet when you wash them. You’re putting yourself in a position of vulnerability. It’s really quite easy for them to kick on you or to stomp on you. It’s not for nothing that the Psalms which talk about Kings being victorious in ancient Israel talk about putting their enemies beneath their feet. It was a place of objection: you’re putting yourself, you’re running the risk of being treated as an abject enemy, as being humiliated. And I think it’s not for nothing that Jesus is calling to mind Psalm 41 (allow me to read it very quickly to you; just this verse): Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread has lifted his heel against me. Now, to lift the heel against someone is a way of referring to… we would say: stab me in the back. But the way of talking there is lifting his heel against someone shows how someone to whom you trusted, before whom you were prepared to be humble has in fact stomped on you. And of course, Jesus is doing that straightforward in the banquet where he knows that he’s putting himself in danger of being stabbed in the back, or stomped on, by someone who has lifted his heel against him. In other words, not all the people your feet are washing are they’re accepting your act of humility. Some of them are going to be trying to use it against you. I think that Jesus is saying: actually, part of my service is to agree to go into the dangerous place of serving in the midst of people who won’t have your back, who can’t be trusted; and yet the loving service is to continue doing that. 

Fourthly, he appears to be doing something which was done to the Levites and the high priest, which was the rite of ordination, which involved washing. And he’s doing it in such a way as to bring them in to performing the high-priestly function with him. Actually, we can tell this a little bit because of the strange exchange he has with Peter. He washes Peter’s feet, Peter gets huffy saying: no no no, you should never do that to me. You know, the boss shouldn’t wash the servants’ feet. And Jesus says to him quite straightforwardly: Unless I wash you, you have no share with me. In other words, he’s clearly thinks of this washing as being in some way configuring the person washed into what he himself, Jesus, is doing. This is some sort of ordination rite. 

And Peter, of course, immediately gets it because he then says: in such case, wash the whole of me! In other words, let me be like the great high priest completely washed from head to foot, as was the custom for that ordination rite. But Jesus said: come come come, this is all right, you don’t need that, you’re basically okay. It’s you as a person who’s basically clean who is going to be performing this rite. Not all of you clean, and he knows that one person is a traitor, and one person has bitterness and resentment in his heart, but you are basically all clean. This is the gesture I am performing now on all of you – washing your feet – to show that you are now going to be living out the great high priest, you’re going to be able to share with me, your portion will be with me – the portion of the priesthood. So it’s an ordination rite as well.

I just want to suggest that we spend a little time thinking of what it actually means that Jesus really wants us to understand that he’s doing something for us. And this is what he’s doing. So that every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we not only remember the words, the sacrificial language and all of that, but actually the deeply human gesture of someone who was laying down his life, serving us maritally, dangerously, and in a priestly fashion so that we could come to share in his life forever by making this gesture in our lives continuous and contagious.

Homily for Palm Sunday Year A Matthew 21:1-11 Listen to the Gospel

Unedited transcript

Here I am – on the roof of my hotel in Mexico – to preach on the Gospel of Jesus’s coming into Jerusalem.

You’ll notice something rather important about discussed, which is that Jesus is doing something very deliberate. “when they come here to Jerusalem and reached Bethphage on the Mount of Olives – the place from whicl mh the prophet Zechariah had said that the Messiah would come – Jesus sends two disciples, saying to them: go to the village, you will find a donkey. Actually, the Matthew Gospel says “donkey and a colt”; but it’s probably a single donkey like in Mark and Luke. Anyway, here we have two of them.

If anyone says anything to you, just say: The Lord needs them and will send them back immediately.” This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet: “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Look, your king is coming to you! He is humble and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt of a donkey.’” In other words, Jesus is doing something quite deliberate. He is enacting a Davidic prophesy, a prophecy concerning the promised son and heir of David, who would also be the Messiah-king, who also would be a Messiah-priest, a Melchizedek figure who would come into Jerusalem at the beginning of the tenth jubilee – that’s the tenth period of forty-nine years since the establishment of the Temple. Who would come in to perform the definitive sacrifice. In other words, Jesus is doing something very deliberate: he’s enacting a series of prophecies.

“So the disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put their coats on them, and he sat upon them. Many people in the crowd spread their own coats on the road, while others began cutting down branches from the trees and spreading them on the road. Both the crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed him kept shouting, “Hosanna[d] to the Son of David! How blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” – That is to say, they were chanting psalms announcing the arrival of the Davidic Messiah. This would be appropriate on the feast of Tabernacles, but it wasn’t the Feast of Tabernacles at the time. Or was it?

In fact, there were two calendars: the old First Temple calendar, in which this week would have been the run-up to the feast of Atonement. And the second, the new Second Temple calendar, in Tabernacles would be at another time of the year completely, so this was the wrong time of the year for Tabernacles. This was the week leading to the feast of the Passover. Very curious: Jesus is doing something very deliberate. He actually brings together two feasts: the feast of Atonement and the Passover which normally would not be on the same day. Only very very occasionally the old day of the feast of Atonement and the new day of the feast of Passover would be on the same day. And this isn’t the Passover that Jesus is coming to Jerusalem for as St John’s Gospel makes it much more clearer.

So, these people are entering into a genuine excitement concerning the arrival of the promised Davidic King. So “when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil”. Again, not surprising: this is a city whose income was organized around tourism, all those pilgrimages. They knew exactly on what dates things happen, what and why so that they would be ready for the appropriate pilgrimages. They were naturally a little bit … by someone who got the wrong calendar. So they say: “Who is this?” The crowds kept saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, the man from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The reason I have chosen to preach to you today on this text rather than the whole of the Passion is because it brings about something that I will ask you to bear in mind as we go through the next few days: Jesus is doing something deliberately. He knows what he is doing, he is coming for a particular purpose: he is enacting the prophecies concerning the offering of the definitive sacrifice of Davidic priestly, kingly figure, the Messiah.

Over the next few days, if you read the Gospels that follow, you will see that he spends time in the Temple trying to enable Temple authorities to understand who he is and what he is doing. They are asking, they are authorities, and they are doing these things. It’s not much of them trying to catch him out as they wanted to be absolutely sure that he is what he says he is. He is trying to make them understand who is from within their own frame of reference, so they don’t have to stone him for blasphemy if they understand for themselves.

But as we know, they are not going to. They are going to be frightened. And Jesus will go to his death. As we go through this week meditating on the Passion, following… try to think of the heart of the man that accompanied this intention. He was doing something for people for a particular purpose. And it’s that purpose which has opened up for us, about which we are going to learn this week.