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Go on, make a decision

October 31, 2014

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

Exodus 22:20-26       1 Thessalonians 1:5-10       Matthew 22:34-40

You may have seen the tremendous computer graphics they use nowadays to analyse the play during Match of the Day nowadays. They put a little circle round a particular player, and follow him around the pitch; they draw lines between groups of running players to highlight the tactical formations. This really shows the way individuals and the whole team all combine their talents and skills, how the team has practiced as they try to break though the opposition and score a goal.

But isn’t a lot of it is down to the sheer natural skill of the players to instinctively size up the opportunities? Aren’t the players themselves just enjoying the game without thinking too much about all the fancy slow motion replays and analysis? Well, it might look like that, but what we don’t see is the intense training and endless practicing that makes it look easy. They are fantastic players because they have practiced and thought about it, and then learnt from experience, until they just do it without thinking. And as long as they are young and fit enough for their bodies to do what the coach requires of them, they’ll keep their place in the first team.

Giving a homily in church is a bit like the Match of the Day commentary on a game of football. Think of me as the Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink of this mass. My job as is to try and explain what’s going on, looking at how the different players in the bible are working together, are learning together and then pointing out the success they can achieve. We can all learn from the examples they give us, the ways they show us how to be good Christians. We all want to be saints. It’s all open to us, if we try. Look at the lives of so many saints, our Christian heroes, and like football stars if you like, they didn’t get to the top, they didn’t get to heaven without a lot of practice in this life – they had to work hard and improve just like anyone else. Their example is that eventually, without too much analysis, we too, through developing good habits like the saints, can simply do what is right, what is good, what God wants. Once we’ve achieved that we too can become star players in the game of life. Ready to meet God face to face. To become a saint in heaven, our ultimate goal.

So imagine it’s half time. Let’s look at what has happened so far. There’s a definite theme emerging today: it’s all about how to please God and get to heaven. And these are today’s three steps to heaven: faith, hope and love.

And as both individuals and as a parish we all need to develop these three virtues.

FAITH

Have faith in God; trust in Him that He will look after you; God repeatedly reassures us that He will look after us if only we will trust in Him and not try to do everything on our own.

HOPE

Place your hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his promise to take us to heaven; and

LOVE

Love your God and your neighbour. In today’s gospel Jesus is deliberately asked a question by the Pharisees to test out what kind of Jew He is. They ask it because they heard that Jesus believed in resurrection after death[1] – something they believed too – but they wanted to check if He was conventional, that He respected the Law of Moses. Jesus satisfied them on that score with the answer He gave them – ‘The Great Commandment’: we must love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.

To our modern way of seeing the world, what does it mean, ‘heart and soul and mind’? What’s the difference between the three things?

HEART

At the time of Jesus people saw the heart as the organ of thinking and decision-making. So to ‘love God with all your heart’ (Greek: kardias) means that before anything else, each person has to make their own deliberate decision to love God. They must love God with all their heart. Most people today believe there is a God but decide to ignore Him unless there’s a crisis – they don’t love God with all their heart. That’s not a recommended strategy.

SOUL

Once someone has decided to love God, they need to act upon their decision. And our soul makes it possible to convert the decision to love God from being just a good intention into something real, something practical that actually makes an impact on the individual and the world around them. Our soul is the unique spiritual aspect of us human beings. Humans are spiritual beings with a body. Our soul, our spiritual nature, is completely integrated into our physical bodies – and the body and soul work together: our soul gives us intellect and free will and our bodies enable us to put into action what our intellect and free will lead us to want and achieve. So loving God with all our soul (Greek: psyche) means we can freely choose to obey God and then put into practice what God wants.

MIND

But how do we know what are the right things to do to please God? We love God with all our mind (Greek: dianoia), which means with all our wisdom and knowledge. We increase our knowledge about God, we develop a relationship with God and become wiser – and on our journey in life we put these things into practice, hopefully getting better at being more like what God wants us to choose to be. Being a Christian is a life-long journey and commitment to God.

So the Great Commandment is this: make a serious decision to love God and then put it into action by doing the right things.

And in the first reading we are actually given some practical tips on how the Great Commandment translates into action. One of the tactics suggested today to achieve victory, to achieve our goal of getting to heaven is that we must not take advantage of or persecute people who are weaker than us:

‘“You must not molest the stranger or oppress him, for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt.” Christians have a special duty of care towards strangers. Nowadays that often means desperately frightened foreigners arriving in our midst who have escaped from war and wicked persecution. We are told must not ‘molest’ them. That means we should not join the popular clamour to ‘send them all home’, to make them destitute, to make their lives a complete misery, so they’ll go away. ‘Ah’, you say, ‘but surely they are all here to fiddle the benefits system?’ How can you tell which are genuine? I’ll tell you two sure-fire ways of knowing. First, by meeting them face to face. That is what Birmingham Churches Together volunteers do every Wednesday and Friday in Saint Augustine’s Church Hall in Solihull. And second, by praying to the Holy Spirit for discernment, for the gift of Wisdom, to help us in make the right decisions in difficult circumstances; asking God what to do. As Christians we must have the faith, the trust in God that we’ll get an answer when we call for help. Indeed, the final line of the first reading tells us how God will listen to someone who cries for help.

So, now it’s time for the second half. We are going to proclaim our faith, make our prayers together to God and then invoke the Holy Spirit to miraculously make Jesus present in the Eucharist. This is the way that God feeds our souls on the Bread of Heaven – strengthening us in both body and spirit to go out and fight for the victory of good over evil. Fortunately, unlike football, there’s something unique about our fight: out team captain also happens to be our coach and the referee. As Saint Paul once said, “With God on our side, who can be against us?”[2] We can’t lose!

[1] Matthew 22: 22-33

[2] Romans 8: 31

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