We continue to work our way through the Sermon on the Mount this Sunday with some apparent teaching on non-violence. Jesus says quite categorically, ‘Offer the wicked man no resistance.’ And then later on he adds, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ This is looks like some very strong teaching indeed and certainly runs completely opposite to the way the world thinks about things.
There is some very difficult material in today’s Gospel. ‘If anyone kills he will answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: Anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court.’ ‘You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ ‘If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.’
We didn’t hear the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday Ordinary Time because instead we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation on that day. Ordinarily it would have been an account of the Beatitudes with which Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount and in which we find the very heart of the Gospel message.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord which fortunately this year falls on a Sunday. Forty days after the birth of Jesus his parents present him to the Lord going up to Jerusalem to do so. For many years this feast was called the Purification of Mary or sometimes Candlemas but these days we refer to it as the Presentation of the Lord. The account of these events comes in chapter two of Luke’s Gospel where the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus are combined.
In our Gospel reading today we hear about the call of the very first disciples right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—first Simon Peter and Andrew then James and John.
You might think that these very first disciples were a bit simple. While they are busy working at their everyday tasks as fishermen Jesus comes up and asks them to follow him. They immediately drop their nets and do just that, they follow him.
We begin the Sundays in Ordinary Time with this account from the Gospel of John of the occasion when John the Baptist points out Jesus and identifies him as the Lamb of God. The first thing we should realise is that according to the Law of Moses a lamb was sacrificed each morning and evening in the Temple in expiation for the sins of the people.
John the Baptist was a very fierce man. This might be what you would expect of someone who lived most of his life in the desert. He knew all about hardship and he had the marks of penance on his body. Much of his message was taken up in condemnation, condemnation of those living a life of luxury and giving no thought to the life of the Spirit. But if John was so fierce why did so many people come to him, people from all over Palestine? If I preached fierce condemnatory sermons each week you would soon get fed up, so why did the people flock to hear John.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany when we recall the visit of the wise men to the Child Jesus in Bethlehem. These mysterious personages from the East clearly represent the Gentiles, they are both foreigners and followers of a religion other than Judaism.
The first Sunday after Christmas is always dedicated to the Holy Family. It comes very soon after Christmas Day and so perhaps we see even more clearly the link between the two celebrations.
As the old film told us, ‘Christmas comes but once a year.’ But every year, when it comes around, we never tire of celebrating it. As each year goes by, we grow a little older and probably also a little wiser and our understanding and insight into Christmas hopefully grows ever deeper.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket