It is once more good to be able to greet you as a weekend dawns, doing so with a copy of the Newsletter and Readings for Holy Mass. I sincerely hope that you remain well and positive in these trying and testing, not to mention sometimes wearying and confusing times. There is strength in just knowing that we are making this journey together and I take great delight in hearing of the increasing numbers within our community of Faith who are receiving the vaccine arming them with a light of hope for a better, brighter and healthier future.
In the sacristy at Cleckheaton there is an interesting artistic depiction of Christ. It is a pastel portrait of a broadly smiling Jesus. Whilst perhaps not to everyone’s taste (based on a few comments that I’ve heard from visiting clergy over the years!) it is one of those images that nearly always triggers a reaction from the first-time observer. Usually of the Marmite or cruising type: it is either beloved or disliked on initial encounter! Such division regarding the portrayal of Jesus dates from the very early days of the formalised Church. When the wonderful library that we know better as the Bible was being compiled from a much larger body of Sacred Scripture, the Gospel of Mark was almost left off the shelf. Many of those examining the writings of the evangelist found the image of Jesus contained in it to be heavily weighted on the fleshly, human side of the Word rather than the divine nature of the Son of God. Mark’s description of Jesus looking angrily around, being capable of offering a rebuke, and raising his voice, caused many putting shape and format within the covers of the now familiar Bible to feel uncomfortable and were concerned of the impact that such a portrayal would have on those that they were encouraging to live more godly lives. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit gifted those of that generation to generously include Mark’s account of the Good News about Jesus Christ, with its numerous references to his human attributes, into the Canon of Sacred Scripture. The three synoptic writers, each with their own artistic slant and talent, offer a differing image of the same person in their writings. For St. Matthew, Jesus is very much the fulfilment of the promises conveyed by the First Testament, of a Messiah sent by God. The Jesus of St. Luke’s gospel is one who uses the table as a place of teaching and learning, and with tongue in cheek could be thought of in the mind’s eye in terms of being slightly on the portly side physically bearing in mind all the meals he is invited to!
The honest, realistic, human, and rather spartan portrayal by St. Mark gives all of us hope. We can relate to a Jesus who gets frustrated, raises his voice, and finds it difficult to cope with the short comings of his fellow pilgrims on life’s journey. Sometimes the call to be more godly and divine eludes the grasp of many of us. The reality of the humanity of St. Mark’s Jesus reassures us that whilst we may not always find a smooth and straight pathway on which to journey, neither did the Word made flesh who dwelt amongst us. Our shared nature with the Word as conveyed by the historically first of the evangelists has an appeal to all of us who stumble and lose our balance on the pilgrimage of life. We can relate to Jesus’ shortness of patience with the evil spirit that mocks Him (Mark 1:24ff), his disappointment when he is misunderstood by his family (Mark 3:20ff) and those amongst whom he has grown up (Mark 6:5ff), the pain when even Peter, the Rock, doesn’t accept his vision of a future involving suffering leading to glory (Mark 8:31), and frustration when those who wanted to be a part of the unfolding story of Good News were held back by his followers (Mark 10:13ff). Conversely most can also unite with the desire of the Marcan Jesus to find a calm environment in which to pray (Mark 1:35ff), the delight when He encountered people of great faith (Mark 1:40ff, 2:5ff, 5:21ff), as a people-watcher equipping Him with the ability to learn and teach from the simplest of observations or actions (Mark 12:41ff), a gesture that allows a new beginning to be had and old ways left behind (Mark 2:13ff), and a heart moved with compassion for the lost, lonely, confused and hungry (Mark 6: 34ff).
An ability to relate to others is a primal element of our common bond as human beings. Our spiritual lives also call on us to be able to engage with Almighty God in a relational manner. The gift of His Son in human form reveals the extreme manner in which the Father, through the working of the Holy Spirit and the utter open willingness of Jesus, desires to relate to us. Behind the authorship of our now long established and revered four books of Good News, with their differing insights into this divine Gift, is an invitation, which, if accepted, can enable us to further cultivate our relationship with God. In this is an opportunity to re-engage with something at the heart and core of our spiritual nature.
Within all of us lies a hope perhaps even wrapped in a sense of apprehension too, that when, at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, a voice calls out to us to take our place in God’s Kingdom we will recognize it as coming from a friend rather than a stranger. If it is the latter we will do our best to run from it, hide ourselves away or attempt to ignore it. However, if we hear the voice of a friend calling, there will be a familiarity, a recognition, and generous openness to respond to it. Spiritually we are called upon to get to know the voice of God. This is done best through spending time together, we call it reflection, sharing in conversation, known as prayer, and listening, as relationships by definition involve more than just ourselves as a single entity ! As God’s people we are encouraged to get to know Him better. In our encounter with the One like us, in all things but sin, through the power of the Holy Spirit at work within Jesus of Nazareth we come to hear the voice of the Father, see His face and gain a small insight into the vastness of His mindfulness towards us.
A few weeks ago, Fr. Brian D’Arcy, pausing for thought, reflected on how good we are at shaping the Jesus of the Gospels for ourselves. He said:
The Italians are convinced that Jesus had to be Italian because He talked with His hands, made sure everyone got the best wine and he was constantly having meals with anyone, anywhere and at any time. But as with anything new the Californians have a strong claim that Jesus was from their part of the world. He looked like a Hippy, with long hair; He wore sandals all the time and he founded a new religion. Not to be outdone the Irish are convinced Jesus was from Ireland because He remained a bachelor all his life, lived with his mother until he was thirty, and He was sure his mother was a saint, and she was sure He was God !
But the most compelling claim of all comes from people who are convinced Jesus was a good mother because He was called upon to feed a multitude at a moment’s notice, even though there was no food available. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who hadn’t a clue, and even when He was dead he had to rise again because there was still more work to be done.
His words made me smile and when I next saw the picture of the smiling Christ whilst vesting for Mass I could not help but think that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit must also have been having a good chuckle amongst themselves, admiring amid the hilarity of the moment our audacious ability, as human beings, to attempt to create Them in our image and likeness, when in fact the reverse is true.
Whatever our perception of Almighty God, may it never be so limited or narrow that it becomes too small to be a dwelling place for the divine Image and Likeness in which we have been shaped and crafted so lovingly, carefully and uniquely. The world needs to see the face of God. It will only do so in our replication of it.
May we continue to remain faithful to each other in prayer and affection, united in bringing something of God’s nature into the lives of those we share our lives with.
As ever, Fr. Nicholas