12th Sunday A
Sunday 25th June 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
After describing the persecution that his disciples would face, Jesus continued, ‘Do not fear them! For there is nothing that has not been covered up that will not be revealed and nothing hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the darkness proclaim in the light and what you hear whispered in the ear proclaim from the housetops.
And don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body yet cannot kill the soul. Rather fear the one who can kill body and soul in hell.
Are not two sparrows sold for a cent yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father knowing it. In very truth, the hairs on your head are all counted. So do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.
Whoever avows me before people, I will avow that person before my Father in heaven. But whoever disavows me in the presence of people I will disavow in the presence of my Father in heaven.
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 68:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35
For your sake I suffer reproach,
shame covering my face.
I am an alien to my brothers,
treated as a foreigner by my family.
Passion for your house has consumed me
and taunts and abuse fall on me.
This is my prayer to you, O Lord
in your abundant love, accept it.
Hear me O God in your tender kindness,
in the fullness of your compassion, answer me.
The humble shall rejoice when they see this,
God seekers will exult with life.
For God hears the poor
and does not despise the captive.
Let heaven and earth exult in praise of God,
every living creature on earth and in the sea.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, you know how easily fear can seep into my heart and mind and distort my life. Send me your wise Spirit to trust in Jesus’ power to save. May I truly believe that his Resurrection grace can turn all things to good. I ask this in his name confident that you will hear me.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This Sunday’s Gospel contains some of the most endearing and tender images given by Jesus: him whispering in the disciple’s ear, caring over each and every sparrow, knowing the number of hairs on the head of each person. And yet the reality he is presenting to the disciples is not all sweetness and light. Immediately before this passage, Jesus describes persecution in various forms: in the synagogue, from civil authorities and, perhaps most painfully, in betrayal by family members. Immediately after this passage, Jesus again describes the distress that can to his disciples within their families. This persecution has come about not because they have done anything wrong but rather because they have identified with Jesus, their Master. What happens to him will be their lot as well. It is in that context that Jesus tells them: ‘Therefore, do not be afraid!’ Their lack of fear is not to come from being courageous but rather because they know themselves to be identified with their Master.
The images Jesus uses to convey his care for them convey a sense of fragility – sparrows which are so cheap and numerous and which fall while no-one cares, the hairs on one’s head to no thought is given. These Jesus knows intimately – but still they fall. Being in the care and love of Jesus is not protection from trouble and distress in the short term. Rather, the overcoming of persecution and suffering has to be understood in terms of the fullness of reality, which is only known in the presence of the Father in heaven. We are to be courageous not because we are strong but rather because Jesus has identified with us and all will be resolved before the face of God.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
The extraordinary novel The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell tells the story of the world’s first mission to another planet with intelligent life. It is led by a group of Jesuits and it goes terribly wrong – not because they are Jesuits. Indeed they are portrayed as being most sensitive to the new peoples they encounter. Towards the end of the novel, when the main character is being debriefed, as it were, one of the priests present tries to shield his heart from the horror by a quote from this Sunday’s Gospel, ‘Not sparrow falls without your Father in heaven knowing it,’ to which another priest replies, ‘but the sparrow still falls.’
And that, I think, is the central scandal of our Christian faith. Bad things, horrifying things, unjust things happen to good people through no fault of their own. Recently in Egypt, in the attack on a group of Christians travelling to a monastery, children were asked to deny Jesus Christ. They refused and were shot in the head for it. We are horrified and scandalised by the brutality of the perpetrators but such events should also challenge our understanding of our God. God did not protect them…in the way we understand protection…and God could have. God’s ‘protection’ was the knowledge that in dying this way, these children and their parents and friends were aligning themselves with their Master. They were one with him who had become one with us, both in his living and his dying.
Having such a faith, transforms a Christian’s response to the tragedy. While not widely presented in the media, there are stories of the Christians in Egypt appreciating the martyrdom of their people and they have allowed the grace that has flowed from it to offer forgiveness to their persecutors. Terrorism is being disarmed by love. That the terrorists recognise this is not yet relevant. It is seen by God and recognised by people of good will. The sparrow, the hair has fallen. The seed has been sown and will yield a thousand fold.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
Timidity! This is the fear we are more likely to experience in our ordinary life. It is unlikely that we will be confronted by terrorists asking us to proclaim our allegiance to Jesus Christ but within our family and friends, our community and workplace, we can find ourselves being diminished by the expectations of others. By overt and covert ways, we can feel constrained from living the fullness of life that is the privilege of the Gospel. This fullness of life is not just for us, but also for the weak and marginalised in our society and often we are called to be their voice.
But we are afraid. Try as we might, we can no more pull courage out of our hearts than we can lift ourselves by our bootstraps. A brash or angry person will often be softened by the vicissitudes of life but for those of us who suffer from timidity, building up in ourselves an attitude of serenity and courage is a far more difficult thing to achieve as the events of life more often play on our fears and compound them. Affirmations and self-help exercises can only go so far. What is needed is a revolution of heart. To have courage we need to base our identity not on ourselves but upon the person of Jesus Christ. With him, we can face the challenges of life.
This sense of identity with Jesus is often experienced as something delicate and tender, heard in the innermost heart, as whispering in the ear. I rarely encounter Christians who feel that their faith is a strong and fearless thing. Rather the good, ‘strong’ Christians I know are so conscious of being earthenware vessels, and often cracked ones at that. But they know their strength lies is what they have received and are receiving from Jesus, their Master.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
- Jesus in the Wilderness, the Hen by Stanley Spencer.
- Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests by Walter Rane.
- Jesus and sparrows by Greg Olsen.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you go through this week, mull on your own fragility. When and how do you experience it? When do you feel vulnerable? How do you use this weakness and vulnerability to experience the love and strength of Jesus Christ in your life?
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
Consider the birds that live in the area where you live. How much thought do you give to him? Then consider the thought that God gives to their lives. You are worth far more than them. Take some time to rest in your preciousness before God.