You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
Just a short blog this week inspired by a favourite children’s meal; pieces of spaghetti formed as letters of the alphabet in a tomato sauce. It is a theme to which I hope to return in the near future but for now, read on:
In a world where there is so much:
Abuse of power
Breach of trust
Jealousy Do I need to go on?
Then today please join me in this prayer:
‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born
To eternal life.’
Many of you will know this prayer as one attributed to St Francis of Assisi whom God told in a dream to rebuild His church. Something which he did; indeed his legacy lasts to this day.
What is stopping you from being ‘an instrument of your peace’?
I have always been amazed that despite the extensive healing ministry Jesus carried out in his life time on this earth He was rejected by His own people. I read the other day “Jesus rejection on earth mirrors our rejection of Him”. I want to draw your attention to a situation where Jesus is still rejected in His own land before asking to think about your own life and actions.
Its Mission Statement states: ‘St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group operates an ophthalmic hospital in Jerusalem and is the only charitable provider of expert eye care in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, treating patients regardless of ethnicity, religion or ability to pay.’ The key words are: ‘regardless of ethnicity, religion or ability to pay.’
The need for high quality eye care is as essential today in the Middle East as it was in Jesus time. However many of the Palestinians treated are unable to meet the costs involved for treatment themselves and so rely on support from the Palestinian Authority and the UNRWA. It is sad then that in January this year the US stated that it will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m of the $125m instalment due as well as threatening to withdraw or cut funding to the Palestinian Authority altogether. Since the Hospital gets $600,000 annually from UNRWA to cover patient’s costs with a further $2,721,900 coming from USAID to the Palestinian Authority the effect of those cuts real or threatened is not hard to see. Equally some patients need to access the main hospital in Jerusalem, but the number of patients or their companions being delayed or denied their permit to travel out of Gaza for medical treatment rose to 51% in 2017(from 33% in 2016) The number of operations in Gaza therefore, increased by 64%. Of course, there are two sides to every story. The Israelis are concerned to protect themselves from attack by the Palestinians, for example. Yet it does appear that Jesus is rejected in His own land once again.
Now, it is easy to point the finger at others, indeed, Jesus had a few words to say about that! 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5 KJV
Please have a look at the Eye Hospital website https://www.stjohneyehospital.org/ and help in any way you can. But look closer to home and ask yourself honestly when, where and how have I rejected Jesus? More importantly what am I going to do about it?
In Sunday’s Gospel reading Jesus tells of the Pharisee and the sinner praying in the Temple. (Luke 18:9-14). The sinner was honest with God humbly confessing his sins and asking for God’s forgiveness. The Pharisee, on the other hand, prayed with himself telling God, or more likely himself, all the good things he had done. Yes, he did offer thanksgiving when he said: I thank God I am not as this man but essentially he prayed to a mirror image of himself as Father Michael put it.
No doubt we all have mirrors in our houses somewhere. What image do they reflect? I often look into the bathroom mirror and wonder who the white haired old man I see there is and ask myself why he has come to live with us.
Thinking of the Pharisee praying to his own mirror image let me ask, are we honest in our prayers? Take, for instance, the prayer Jesus taught us. Thy kingdom come, we pray, but do we really mean it? “That’s too much for me to handle, someone else will have to deal with that.” Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. “If you think I am going to forgive her you are quite mistaken! She started it I did nothing wrong! It’s she who should come to me to say sorry!” Give us this day our daily bread. “Well, I need it I deserve it. I pay my taxes.” I want, I need, I demand, I have done nothing wrong. Doesn’t this all sound rather similar to the way the Pharisee prayed?
One element that is missing here is the humility shown by the sinner in Jesus’ parable. But also missing is the grace of charity, a love for our neighbour. After all, even a simple smile or word of encouragement would help God’s kingdom to come and how hard is that? Or, what prevents you from taking the first step to reconcile the argument? Again, haven’t you enough bread already? Why not share what you have with those who have not?
Yet by adopting these apparently simple ways we will be the mirror in which people will see a reflection of God.
There is a picket fence running along the border of our property. Not that you would notice it as there are shrubs growing alongside, and over it, on either side. Sadly our previous neighbours have rather neglected the shrubs on their side. We have tidied ours to a reasonable height and width but the fence was, until recently, utterly covered. Our new neighbours have cleared their shrubs away to be composted. They intend to put in bedding plants, which will no doubt look very nice.
Perhaps the garden border reminds you of your life? Do the bushes, rampant on one side eager to gain an advantage over everyone else, to have the latest whatever it is, to reach the sun first, represent you? Maybe no problem if, like the bushes on our side, they are controlled but otherwise...? Anyway those material things will not last; they will decay and end up in landfill sites just as the shrubs went to the compost heap. Our lives need regular attention, a good clear out of the unnecessary clutter and a refresh and renewal of what remains. And what does remain? Within the tangle of bushes is the little picket fence that is now on full view. It is looking a bit tired now and needs refreshing as it will have to withstand the heat of the sun and the rain unprotected by the shrubs. A fresh coat of preservative paint is needed. I suggest it represents our spirit, our soul; what Thomas Merton called our True Self. Remember it is part of our life, not separate from it. We need to preserve and protect our souls and bodies from what St Paul calls the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:11(KJV). To do so he urges us to: ‘Put on the whole armour of God’ (Ephesians 6:11 KJV). And what a suit of armour that is! Just listen: ‘the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet girded with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, wherewith you may quench the fiery darts of the wicked, the helmet of salvation and lastly the sword of the spirit which is the word of God’. With such a strong defence nothing can harm us. St Paul ends by saying: And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Ephesians 6:18 NIV. Just as the fence needs a good coat of preservative paint, our security comes from our conversations with God, our prayers for ourselves and for all people.
Painting the fence took most of Wednesday but it does look a lot better and will last for a few more years yet. Putting on the whole armour of God will preserve our souls for eternity.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years