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March 13. Jesus and Zacchaeus VII: The Beloved Friend

 

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.

Yesterday, we began to ponder these remarkable words of Jesus. Today, we can continue to turn these words over in our minds – as Zacchaeus must have done late that night when everyone else had fallen asleep. How healing Jesus’ words are.

There is no hesitation on Jesus’ part in accepting Zacchaeus’s promise. No cynical words, such as, “Ha. We’ll see how long this lasts. You’ve been a liar and a thief most of your life and now you expect us to believe that you will keep these promises?” Not a word was spoken to that effect. Such remarks would have immediately condemned Zacchaeus to failure, imprisoned him in his past. But that is emphatically not the way Jesus treats anyone: certainly not Zacchaeus, and not us. Instead, Jesus reinforces Zacchaeus’s good resolution by believing in it and in him. How creative and life-giving Jesus’ belief in Zacchaeus is for him.

Jesus also regards Zacchaeus’s promise as sufficient. There is no lecture from Jesus along the lines of, “Right, my good man. Is that all you mean to do? Repaying those you ruined four times the amount you stole is not as generous as it sounds! Those people need at least that much in order to start all over again. And as for giving half your property to the poor, you will barely even feel the loss, you have so much property as it is.” Jesus does not say anything of the sort here, nor does he ever do so. Jesus is friendship, love and forgiveness. So great is his mercy and love that he immediately accepts our good resolutions wholeheartedly and envisions them not as unfulfilled promises but as actual achievements, meriting praise. Today salvation has come to this house, he says. It has already happened. This is what friendship with Jesus means.

Jesus’ friendship gives us the grace of a conversion that almost seems to reach back in time and not merely forward. Jesus can give us a new heart, and new inner desires for goodness, along with the determination to act on these desires – as we see in Zacchaeus’s resolutions. Jesus’ forgiveness is one with his friendship, which means we enter into a continuous inner relationship with him who is goodness. He can therefore fill our present with potential for good – because we are with him. This can enable us to fulfil our potential for goodness by drawing on an inner store of grace and wisdom, which have their source in Jesus.

Zacchaeus had been an unhappy, wounded, even tragic person. He had managed to surround himself with the comforts of wealth, but he did so to the detriment of his emotional life and his need for human relationships. Jesus, simply by being Jesus, swept away the tragedy like fallen leaves in the autumn; Jesus awakened Zacchaeus both to his own human longings and to his deepest human potential. In awakening these longings, Jesus also immediately offered himself as the fulfillment of Zacchaeus’s longings, and as the power behind all his potential. This shows us what we may hope for from Jesus, our beloved Friend.

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Perhaps we are tentatively groping toward something, and we do not know what it is. Maybe we are metaphorically on that tree branch, just watching, as Zacchaeus was. Maybe we see Jesus turning to us. Maybe we are very clear only about one thing: that we are lost. Zacchaeus’s story tells us that we can be confident that Jesus will befriend us, too, and offer us as much healing forgiveness, with as much joy as he gave to Zacchaeus. He will also ask something of us: to allow him, and his dearest companions, into our home. Today.

SJC

 

 

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11 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus V: Healing through Friendship

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When someone undergoes a sudden conversion, time seems to be derailed from its usual track of swift seconds and minutes, and to slow down. Every moment of the conversion experience has an overflowing content of grace. So much grace that it cannot all be absorbed at once. This is what happened when Zacchaeus hears Jesus call him by his name.

How powerful the use of our name can be. In one of the more subtle forms of bullying, the bully pronounces our name with an accent of mockery, making our very name sound contemptible. We feel the insult intensely. It is very hard to shake off the sense that the bully is right, that we are contemptible. In Zacchaeus’s case, he suddenly wakes up to the fact that he himself had been such a bully. But, no time to dwell on this now, for he hears the syllables of his own name ring out not in the tones of contempt, nor in the tones of formality and coldness that people used when speaking to the chief tax collector – if they spoke to him at all. Now, Zacchaeus’s name is called by the person of Love incarnate. Probably for the first time ever, Zacchaeus hears his own name resound in warm tones ringing with delight, friendliness and affection. It sounds as though Zacchaeus were dearer to Jesus than life; as though Jesus had now found the one he had been searching urgently for – for years.

Zacchaeus has rarely been at a loss for words in his adult life. He usually responds to whatever is said to him with a witty remark. In business affairs, his sarcasm was dismayingly prompt and devastating. But suddenly, he cannot think of what to say to this man whose very aura is compelling and whose face is radiantly welcoming. He stares at Jesus, feeling like a young child. He so wants what Jesus has, so wants to be part of who Jesus is.

After a moment, Jesus continues in the same glad and hearty tones, Come down! Years later, Zacchaeus will tell how he knew even at that moment that those words meant more than simply “Come down from that tree.” They meant, re-evaluate your whole way of being. Come down from this pseudo-tough, rich-man persona you have created and think you need. You don’t need it. You don’t even want it any more. Come down to where I am.

But at this particular moment in the encounter, Zacchaeus continues to stand on his tree-branch like a statue. He is shocked. He doesn’t stir. So Jesus urges him, Hurry! This word is also a resonating word for Zacchaeus. Slaves hurried. Zaccheus was a wealthy man and didn’t need to hurry. It wasn’t fitting. He was too important. But he longs to hurry now. He still doesn’t budge. He is too confused, too startled. Too happy. He desperately wants to jump down from his branch, but he is momentarily stuck.

But here now, Zacchaeus, Jesus is speaking to you without ceremony, and with urgency, as a man speaks to a close friend: he is smiling and telling you to get moving. He has something to ask of you. Here it is: Because today I must stay at your house!

Jesus is also offering something to you. He is offering himself. He is offering you his greatest gift: his healing friendship. He’s saying, “I, Jesus, am your friend, and I invite myself and my followers to your house for dinner. Only friends make so bold. Only friends are fearless enough with each other to admit that they need each other. I need you now! I am tired and so are my companions. And we are all hungry. You have a big house and a lot of servants. But it’s not merely your house and your food we need. We need you to be uniquely you. You have a sad history, it is true, but you are more than your history. You have human capacities that will grow and blossom when planted in the soil of friendship. Well? Will you be you? Will you offer yourself in friendship to us? I offer you a place among my friends. Isn’t this exactly what you long for?”

At last Zacchaeus seems to come out of his trance. He looks dazed, but he suddenly comprehends something of what it all means. Jumping from his branch like a boy, he hurries down and welcomes Jesus joyfully. He is not the same man who had swung into that tree a short while before. Everything is different now. He knows that this is not simply about dinner. Zacchaeus is getting ready to shed years of pain – emotional pain he had lived with for so long that he had ceased to regard it as pain at all. He had thought that what he felt inside was simply the price of existence itself – if he thought about it at all. But now he sees that there is a different way to exist. He was barely able to articulate this difference just yet, but as he strode ahead, excitedly pointing out the way to his house, and talking now with a ready flow of words, he was inwardly planning how he would be the friend of Jesus; how he would be the new person he felt he had suddenly become, and not merely today, but for the rest of his life.

SJC

 

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30 December: The Holy Family

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Before Amsterdam had numbers for houses, people used plaques on their walls to identify their home or business premises. Perhaps this one belonged to one of the many exiles living in what was then a small city on a marshy riverside. Here is Joseph taking a watchful Mary and Baby away to Egypt; He has his tools with him, including one very long saw. Perhaps he cut his own planks from the tree, or maybe it pleased the artist’s eye to show it at the pinnacle of the picture. Joseph may have given up his business but he was not giving up work.

Exile was a serious business, true enough, but Joseph was able to start work in Cairo and support his family. (The Franciscan church there that bears his name is said to be near the Holy Family’s home.)

Here is a prayer from USPG.

O God, who made your home among us in Jesus of Nazareth, we pray for those who have been forced from their homes and now live as migrants and refugees. Bless them and all who work to bring them relief, comfort and a new home.

Amen.

We could pray, too, that refugees may be allowed to find work and education in their exile, that they may be better equipped to help restore their homeland when they are able to return.

 

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November 13. Remembrance and beyond

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During the Second World War in Britain, while men were fighting and the war effort seemed to be paramount in people’s minds, in the background other politicians and civil servants were drawing up plans for important areas such as housing, health and education. This time it would be a ‘land fit for heroes’. In the event, prefabricated houses and schools were erected with a speed and in numbers never again seen and the National Health Service came into being.

A better housed, better educated and generally healthier population was the result. But planning can only go so far, as the Times Literary Supplement columnist Charles Morgan pointed out.

In all the plans that are made for the life we are to lead, how seldom is there evidence of any wish that life shall be enjoyed: that it shall be safe – yes; that it shall be instructed, equalised, rubbed smooth, supplied with dustless corners and chromium-plated taps; but that there shall be grace or charm or quiet or gaiety or sweetness or light in it, there is among the sterner planners neither hope nor desire. Utility and sameness are their guiding stars … Their ideal is to make of the art of life what a timetable is to a poem.1

He wrote, of course, from a position of privilege, and exaggerates in his last two sentences to make a polemical point. Certainly I have visited prefabs that have lasted nearly three times their planned lifespan, are light and airy, and well loved by those who have made their homes therein. And G.K. Chesterton considered timetables poetic; especially when they work! And what joy, post-war, when such things could be more or less relied on again!

MMB

Portsmouth, largely rebuilt after World War II

1Charles Morgan, Reflections in a Mirror, London, MacMillan, 1944, p.93.

 

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23 August: Jesus in the Attic, 1.

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That title sounds quite wrong: why would you consign Jesus to the attic when he should be at the heart of our lives?

I remember, many years ago, when I was with a party of people with learning disabilities on holiday in Suffolk. We went to see Tim and Marion Hollis, friends of  Jean and Thérèse Vanier, and of L’Arche Kent. Tim took us on the Broads in his motor boat, encouraging each of us to steer up the channel – even John, who normally said nothing and never looked up from the floor, still set himself to make for the mark Tim pointed out to him. Never underestimate anyone’s capabilities!

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Before we went on the river, Tim showed us his ‘Jesus in the attic’: up in the roof he had replaced a terracotta pantile with a glass one, which let in enough light for a little shrine in one corner. A quiet place, a blessed place. The memory has stuck.

Next month we’ll visit the much grander ‘Jesus in the Attic’ which gave me this title, and speaks of a challenging situation, like that facing John Kemble, but which toleration and accommodation defused without bloodshed and martyrdom.

MMB

 


We heard in the last few days that Marion Hollis has died with Tim at her side. She was a good friend to L’Arche who especially helped the London Community to grow in the early days. May she rest in peace.

 

 

 

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26 July: Mio Nido.

Alfred Noble, inventor of dynamite, hoped his high explosives would make an end of war sooner than international peace congresses. Mutually Assured Destruction as a deterrent has turned out to be MAD indeed. Nobel himself died, a lonely man, in his Italian Villa, ‘Mio Nido’, My Nest. But he left his prizes.

In 1955 the United Nations High Commission for Refugees was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for what is a practical work of peace. Here are a few excerpts from the acceptance speech of the High Commissioner, Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart.

“Der Mensch braucht ein Plätzchen

Und wär’s noch so klein

Von dem er kann sagen

Sieh’ hier dast ist mein

Hier lebe ich hier liebe ich

Hier ruhe ich aus

Hier ist meine Heimat

Hier bin ich zu Haus”.

(A man needs a little place, small as it may be, of which he can say:This is mine. Here I live, here I love, here I find my rest. This is my fatherland, this is my home!”)

The essence of the refugee problem is very, very simple. It is: to find ‘ein Plätzchen,’ to find a ‘Mio Nido’ for people who for reasons of persecution have been obliged to leave their native country and who have therefore become ‘uprooted’ and homeless.”

The refugee problem has nothing to do with charity. It is not the problem of people to be pitied but far more the problem of people to be admired. It is the problem of people who somewhere, somehow, sometime had the courage to give up the feeling of belonging, which they possessed, rather than abandon the human freedom which they valued more highly … And the refugee can solve his problem only by striking new roots.

Many years ago I participated in a discussion on the problem of international education. After many experts had presented their complicated theories, an old headmaster of a certain school got up and quietly said: “There is only one system of education, through love and one’s own example.” He was right. What is true for education is true also for the refugee problem of today. With love and our own example – example in the sense of sacrifice – it can be solved. And if in the cynical times in which we live someone might be inclined to laugh at “love” and “examples” as factors in politics, he would do well to be reminded of Nansen’s hardhitting, direct and courageous words, based on a life full of sacrifice and devotion: “Love of man is practical policy”.

Find the full text here. 

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25 July: A French Village opens its heart to refugees.

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A small community in Alsace has been welcoming African refugees as they go through the processes of finding a safe home in France. The Franciscan sisters’ convent is the hub for this neighbourly work.

This link takes you to the UNHCR story about the people of Thal-Marmoutier and their guests: French village opens its heart  to refugees.

Meet some of the ordinary people doing ordinary things to help the refugees find their feet in what volunteer Nicolas Ndoole (above) describes as another planet compared to Africa.

 

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June 2, Feast of the Uganda Martyrs: Too few priests?

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Bishop Henri Streicher

 

 

Tomorrow we celebrate Corpus Christi, the second feast of the Eucharist after Maundy Thursday. The feast of the Uganda Martyrs gets displaced, but we’ll go to Uganda anyway.

Bishop Henri Streicher was a pioneer bishop in Uganda in the early 20th Century. If we think we are short of priests in the West today, he and his missionaries were hard-stretched to serve the numbers of converts flocking to the Church, even when the load was shared with African sisters and priests who would eventually take charge.

There was no way that missionaries could organise the details of church life! I read recently that:

Mgr Streicher was a greater promoter of pious associations and devotions among the laity. Some of these were: 1st Friday of the month, Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in homes, Holy Hour, Fraternity of Mount Carmel (Cf. wearing of scapulars), Uganda Martyrs, frequent receiving of the Holy Communion, Communion of children, Adoration of 40 hours, Morning and Evening prayers, Rosary and attending daily Mass. Being an active member of these associations and regular practices of these devotions is the best means to fight and “conquer evil with good” which was the episcopal motto of Mgr. Streicher.

Many of these devotions could be organised day to day by parents in the home or by catechists at village level when the priests could not be present. Entrusting this ministry to the catechist was an effective way of building up the Christian community. Even though the catechists had barely the equivalent of a modern primary education, Bishop Streicher trusted them, and the people of the villages, to build up the Church.

It is my belief that when lay people in the west are allowed, encouraged, enabled and entrusted to be responsible for the life of their communities, the next step towards providing the Eucharist for God’s people will become clear.

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(The Uganda Martyrs canonised by the Catholic Church died in the late 19th Century. There have been many more of them since. Among their number are many Anglicans, both then and in modern times, including in 1977 Archbishop Janani Luwum, murdered by order of President Idi Amin. There have been Moslem martyrs too, over the years.)

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24 May: On the move.

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I was waiting at the seaside bus stop when a handsome young lad arrived, a smile on his face. He was dancing on the spot, though his headphones were off his ears and indeed switched off. He looked crazily happy, but not crazy!
One of his mates got on a couple of stops later, and so we heard just why the firstcomer was so happy. He’d just got accepted at university. ‘I can’t wait to get out of here, man, and get to university. This place is dead, there’s nothing to do.’
I got off at our local university, to walk home in the Spring sunshine across the green of the campus. Two students alighted in front of me; quite a few prefer to live in the peaceful resort rather than the city.
No doubt there will be young people coming to Canterbury from the town where my fellow-traveller is going, glad to get away from somewhere that has grown too small for them. Many come from London, glad to get off  their patch and out from under their parents’ eye.
Perhaps that feeling was part of the initial attraction for the Disciples, determined to follow Jesus wherever he went. Not that James and John escaped from their mother!
And after Easter and Pentecost – James stayed in Jerusalem, but John ended up in Greece, Peter in Rome, Mark in Alexandria, Thomas in India, Joseph of Arimathea, so they say, in Somerset. Fired up they were – with a Pentecostal fire that was life-long.
I trust and pray the fire that made the seasider dance will burn within him all the days of his life.
WT

 

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17 May: Little Flowers XXIII: How Saint Francis tamed the wild turtle-doves

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I T befell on a day that a certain young man caught many turtle-doves : and as he was carrying them for sale, Saint Francis, who had ever a tender pity for gentle creatures, met him, and looking on those turtle-doves with pitying eyes, said to the youth: “I pray thee give them me, that birds so gentle, unto which the Scripture likeneth chaste and humble and faithful souls, may not fall into the hands of cruel men that would kill them.” Forthwith, inspired of God, he gave them all to Saint Francis ; and he receiving them into his bosom, began to speak tenderly unto them:

“O my sisters, simple-minded turtle-doves, innocent and chaste, why have ye let yourselves be caught ? Now would I fain deliver you from death and make you nests, that ye may be fruitful and multiply, according to the commandments of your Creator.” And Saint Francis went and made nests for them all: and they abiding therein, began to lay their eggs and hatch them before the eyes of the brothers: and so tame were they, they dwelt with Saint Francis and all the other brothers as though they had been fowls that had always fed from their hands, and never did they go away until Saint Francis with his blessing gave them leave to go.

And to the young man who had given them to him, Saint Francis said: “My little son, thou wilt yet be a brother in this Order and do precious service unto Jesu Christ. And so it came to pass; for the said youth became a brother and lived in the Order in great sanctity,

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