The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headlines are chosen to keep my thinking realistic.
ANNIVERSARY OF ANNA POLITSKOVSKAYA’S MURDER
It was not till fourteen years had passed that I went up to Jerusalem again. I went with Barnabas and took Titus with me. I went there as the result of a revelation, and privately I laid before the leading men the Good News as I proclaim it among the pagans; I did so for fear the course I was adopting or had already adopted would not be allowed. On the contrary, they recognised that I had been commissioned to preach the Good News to the uncircumcised just as Peter had been commissioned to preach it to the circumcised. The same person whose action had made Peter the apostle of the circumcised had given me a similar mission to the pagans. So, James, Cephas and John, these leaders, these pillars, shook hands with Barnabas and me as a sign of partnership: we were to go to the pagans and they to the circumcised. The only thing they insisted on was that we should remember to help the poor, as indeed I was anxious to do.
When Cephas came to Antioch, however, I opposed him to his face, since he was manifestly in the wrong. His custom had been to eat with the pagans, but after certain friends of James arrived he stopped doing this and kept away from them altogether for fear of the group that insisted on circumcision. The other Jews joined him in this pretence, and even Barnabas felt himself obliged to copy their behaviour.
When I saw they were not respecting the true meaning of the Good News, I said to Cephas in front of everyone, ‘In spite of being a Jew, you live like the pagans and not like the Jews, so you have no right to make the pagans copy Jewish ways.’
This morning I heard an English woman say on the Radio that she was voting for the UK Independence Party because “they” were everywhere now, outnumbering “us”, and creating no-go areas for “us”. Gordon Brown was famously overheard calling a woman who had the same attitudes a “bigoted woman.” He suffered for this but he was right. There’s a kind of creeping racism, especially in England, but not absent from Scotland which blames the woes of society on “them”, people of immigrant origin, forgetting that most of our ancestors were once immigrants, many of them armed and invasive.
Even decent politicians are scared to confront it while vicious tabloid newspapers relish it.
Christian people should denounce it for the nonsense it is. It’s a mixture of misinformation, fear, and bullying, utterly opposed to gospel values.
Paul tells a story about his firmness in overcoming racism at the heart of Judaism, his own faith. He believes himself called to take the story of God’s love in Jesus Messiah to non-Jews, and to treat them as complete equals in the community of faith.They should not have to take on “Jewishness” (think of all the rubbish about immigrants showing “Britishness” and supporting the English cricket team), but should be accepted as God accepts them in Jesus Messiah, who loved them a and died for them.
His conviction not only led him to take the gospel to Gentile nations, but also to confront even the great apostle Cephas (Peter) who had behaved hypocritically when put under racist pressure. We should not doubt that Paul’s vision and courage prevented Christianity from remaining a Jewish sect. Equal courage is demanded of Christians now, in the face of all forms of racism-some of which are also held by members of minority ethnic groups- in our society today.
Once Jesus was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘Say this when you pray:
“Father, may your name be held holy,
your kingdom come;
give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.
And do not put us to the test.”’
Here is something better than a creed; a prayer which expresses the heart of Christian faith. Luke’s version of the prayer is shorter than Matthew’s who adds explanatory phrases toassist comprehension.
“Father”-rather than “our father” reminds the believer that he/she is praying through Jesus, who used this word in his own prayers. This is the prayer first of all of God’s Son and then of all who in the power of the Holy Spirit become God’s children. It expresses trust in the one, loving, source of all worlds.
In the Holy Spirit believers desire that God’s name (character) as Father should be hallowed, that is, reverenced in all circumstances of life. Those who reverence the holy name, for example in work, or suffering, or sin, hallow it: they extend the reach of God’s holy love.
In the Holy Spirit, which is the rule of God in their own lives, believers pray for this rule of justice and peace to be complete in their lives and the life of the world. (The kingdom of God is a presence rather than a place)
In the Spirit, believers ask for the ordinary means of life- food, shelter, community, freedom justice. The word translated “daily” is unknown except in this prayer, but it may contain a reference to the story of the manna which couldn’t be stored but had to be gathered daily. Greedy people who hoarded it found that it rotted. Believers pray for “our daily bread” the baisc means of life for humanity and commit themselves to sharing God’s gifts.
In the Spirit believers have learned to forgive each other, knowing that genuine community requires forgiveness, They hold God to the same standard! Through his Son the Father has taught them to forgive, so surely he will forgive their sins. The word for sin is paralleled by the word for debts. This points to a generosity of spirit which includes more of life than just wrongdoing. The believers look to God for a similar generosity. This loving mutuality between God and his children and amongst the children themselves, is almost a definition of the Holy Spirit.
Finally the prayer asks the Father to remember that the believers are human children, who live on earth in the weakness of their flesh. Perhaps the Father will not put them to the test? The test is what Jesus went through. So the prayer shows that the believer knows he/she may be put to the test by the powers of evil and may not have the strength to face it, just as Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to be taken away. The trust in God in not made explicit here, as it is in Matthew’s version, “but deliver us from the Evil One.” Rather the believers’ unity with the suffering Jesus is emphasised.
This is the prayer of the Son of God, to the Father, in the power of the Spirit; here is Christian faith. It is a modest, sober thing which reflects the life of Jesus and the first communities of faith rather than that of the popes, basilicas and General Assemblies of later eras.