Saturday, September 28, 2013

St Michael & All Angels

So who is your guardian angel? The idea that everyone has a personal
angel first got started – not, as you might expect, with some mawkish
American telemovie but with the very serious and incidentally
spectacularly fat medieval theologian, St Thomas Aquinas. St Thomas
thought the job of looking after individual human beings would be
handled by the very lowest rank of angels who would function as
full-time personal intercessors for their allocated charge. I rather
like this idea – no matter what I get up to in the course of my day,
no matter how often I forget to say my prayers, there is one very
junior angel with absolutely nothing else to do all day but pray for
me. I can just imagine my angel with a worried look on his face! St
Thomas, of course, didn't have the Internet – that source of all
knowledge - one web site I discovered a while ago informed me that
guardian angels aren't just heavenly office-boys but the most
important angels of all – every one of us apparently has an archangel
looking after us, though it does seem we have to share. You can even
find out who yours is – my personal archangel according to this
website is Barachiel who I must admit I had never heard of before but
it turns out he is the go-to guy for blessings and divine protection.
In fact there are only three angels mentioned by name - Michael, the
warrior and commander-in-chief, Raphael the healer who appears in the
apocryphal book of Tobit and Gabriel the bearer of dubious good
tidings. Obscure apocryphal Jewish writings provide a couple of other
names, such as Uriel - and Barachiel of course comes to us courtesy of
the Internet.
As well as the idea of personal protection, Western popular
spirituality around the eighteenth century started to link angels with
the inconvenient and annoying whisper of conscience – the counterpart
of the personal demon who simultaneously tries to tempt us with
attractive but not very wise suggestions for getting ahead in life.
Islam came up with a very similar idea, though here the angel and
demon sitting on our shoulders just take notes of the good and bad
ideas we come up with for ourselves. I guess it's a way of suggesting
that human beings are little more than pawns in a power struggle being
played out by the invisible forces of good and evil. As they so often
do, the writers of The Simpsons show the idea at its whackiest with
Homer Simpson, tempted in one episode to run off with an attractive
co-worker, listening to the arguments of the little angel Homer and
the little devil Homer. He likes the arguments of devil Homer a whole
lot better, so he tries to swat the angel while the devil also has a
go at it with his miniature pitchfork. Homer's son Bart has his
personal angel under even better control – tempted to steal some
cookies, Bart's personal demon says to him "steal the cookies, man!",
while the angel says to him "Yeah, man, steal the cookies!".
So, here we are on the feast of St Michael and All Angels – the only
saint's day in the calendar which is not for an actual flesh and blood
human being however extravagant their actions or however exaggerated
their mythology – but a day for celebrating the unseen, angels of
whose existence the Bible unequivocally assures us in dozens and
dozens of places, in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament,
in psalms and poetic literature, in parables as well as in the
supposedly sober historical bits. And we, of course, because our
parish church is named after the host of angels, need to ask ourselves
fairly seriously what it's all about.
The idea of angels seems to point us toward a reality that's deeper
than the surface of our lives, a spiritual reality that we can't see
or touch but which affects our lives, a spiritual landscape
superimposed on the visible one. Actually, we already know this - we
know that creation is loaded with spiritual energy but in our
supposedly rational modern age most of us have become embarrassed by
the old-fashioned language of angels and demons. Many Christians
prefer to enlist the new-fashioned language of psychology to dispel
the religious superstition of an earlier age, to relegate it to the
metaphorical and the colourful images of medieval Christianity that we
no longer take literally but want to hold onto like a much-loved
childhood fairy-tale.
And yet we also know that the struggle between what gives life and
what takes it away is always going on, beneath the surface of our
lives as individuals, as well as right out there in the open within
and between groups and communities as well as nations. The spiritual
landscapes of our lives do involve a struggle between positive and
negative forces, and the stakes for individuals and for societies are
significant. We might think, for example, about the negative
spirituality of consumerism, that twists the lives of men and women
out of shape by orienting them towards the ownership of things as what
gives their lives direction and meaning, and that encourages them to
think even of human beings as commodities to be owned or manipulated.
And the language of angels has got something to say to this.
Maybe the first thing to notice is that what makes any spirit into an
angel is how it operates, whether it is a messenger or in Greek, an
aggelos that discloses something of God's purposes. So, however we
want to conceive of angels, they have certain characteristics. Writer
Megan McKenna in her book Angels Unawares suggests we can think about
angels without getting caught up in unhelpful literalism by focusing
not on what they look like, but on what they do: "Angels", she tells
us, "are the processes by which human beings apprehend the presence,
the knowledge and the will of God...Angels are the way the world
around us provides evidence that God is taking notice of us."
In our reading this morning from Revelation we are reminded of the
reality of the struggle within and around us, in which what is at
stake is what it means to be human, what it means for us to have been
created in God's image. And in this struggle the malignant must be
confronted by the good. The great archangel Michael appears – the one
whose name Pope Gregory the Great reminds us means "Who is like God?"
and who according to Jewish tradition is also the archangel who stands
guard in the Book of Genesis with a flaming sword at the gate of Eden
– so that at both ends of the Bible Michael stands as the archetypal
reality check. The presence of this warrior angel, like his name,
reminds us that there is no God except God, that the contest between
good and evil defines the boundaries and the limits of human
existence, the integrity and purpose of what it means to be human,
placed by God within the web of creation to nurture and protect – that
human stewardship of creation involves the struggle to overcome our
own greed, that to have dominion over creation means to understand our
own lives within its context not as insatiable consumers but as
self-limiting agents of life and flourishing. Not a bad reminder, in
the week in which the latest IPCC report into the slowly unfolding
disaster of human-induced global warming has been released. St
Michael silently challenges us to reflect on what it means, and what
responsibilities it implies, for us to be human.
Mythologically, the great war in heaven starts at the exact same
moment God breathes life into human beings and endows us with the
choice to seek either for our own good, or for the good of God's
creation. The angels also are given a choice, to serve either God's
creation or their own power. Both angels and humans make bad choices,
the angels cast out from heaven set out to subvert God's desire for
creation by leading human beings into the same traps of seeking power
over others. Both angels and humans end up expelled, alienated from
God and from one another. It's an allegory, a true image of the state
of alienation as well as the state of yearning and potentiality for
wholeness that characterises what it means to be human. If all this
sounds a bit grandiose we need to remember that self-aggrandisement is
what human dreams of power are all about. Just think of the demonic
dreams of Nazi Germany, Pol Pot or Kim Jong Il.
Another writer, Walter Wink, suggests we look at the beginning of the
Book of Revelation to think about angels as a mythological way of
understanding our own spirituality. In the first three chapters of
Revelation he points out the letters addressed to the seven churches
of Asia Minor, each one addressed to the "angel of the church".
Scholars have argued long and hard about this, one suggestion being
that aggelos or messenger of a church is no more than the job
description of the local pastor. But Wink reminds us that every human
institution has a 'within' as well as a 'without', an underlying
spirituality that represents the history and the collective world-view
and experience of its members. So every human institution has its own
angel. Perhaps the angel of Australia is the archetypal ideal of the
jolly swagman, with its unresolved tension between individualism and
the fair go. Maybe the angel of the modern Church is its struggle to
balance the desire for relevance or even just survival against the
need to take responsibility and seek forgiveness from the victims of
child sexual abuse. The angel of an institution shapes its culture
and gives actual substance to its corporate identity. The angel of an
institution is its health or dysfunction projected outwards,
reflecting what it is, and determining what it can become. On that
level, the angel of the parish of Canning would be the message we
ourselves send out, either intentionally or unintentionally, by the
quality of our own response to the good news of God's unconditional
love for all people. Are we brimming over with it? Or are we
half-hearted?
In Revelation, John of Patmos takes the seven churches to task in no
uncertain terms. I've heard it said that the seven churches are a
mirror in which we can see ourselves free of self-distortion. Have we
in fact fallen out of love? Are we paralysed by the fear of
opposition? Do we practice double standards? Did we start well but
somewhere along the way lapse into comfortable self-approval? Are we
just going through the motions? Are we just lukewarm? In different
ways and at different times, might we be all of the above? Does our
underlying spirituality, the aggelos of the Parish of Canning, excuse
us or accuse us? What would it take for us to become like the Church
of Philadelphia, in Revelation chapter 3, the little church that
punches above its weight, remaining fearless and faithful despite
being small and powerless?
Our Patronal festival is a good day to ask the question, what is our
angel? What do we stand for, what does our activity and our shared
life reveal about what we really believe? What is our angel? How
well are we attending to it? Can it still fly, or is it limping?
What is it whispering in our ear? How is our Angel reflecting to us
what we are, and how is it whispering to us of what God wants us to
be?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

18th Sunday after Pentecost (22 Sept)

A few years ago there was an ad on TV for a car yard where, the claim
was, you could get a really really good deal. It involved physical
pain, so if you were squeamish about brutalising pimply-faced young
car salesmen then this method wouldn't be for you. The customer had
the unfortunate salesman in a half Nelson and was bending him over the
bonnet of the car. "I want bucket seats for no extra!", he demanded.
"Done", said the salesman in obvious discomfort. "And leather
upholstery" – "Done!" "A spoiler" "Done" "Air conditioning?"
"Done!" "Oh, and I want 10% off" "Done" "and a minimum $5000
trade-in?" "Of course"

So, what was the point? Obviously they didn't really want you to
assault the staff, and most of us were probably astute enough to
realise that we couldn't just demand anything we wanted. I guess it
was a way of saying, here the customer really is right. We really
really want your business, so you have the upper hand. In fact we all
know that they were selling their cars for exactly the amount they had
worked out would give them a comfortable profit margin – you simply
don't run a business giving stuff away. If your junior staff were
taking it on themselves to give over the top discounts just because
they were getting their arms twisted, they'd soon be out of a job.

So, what's going on in today's Gospel story, and what's Jesus' point?
On what possible level can he be recommending that we act like – well,
like anybody in this fairly unsavoury little tale? So the business
manager has been caught out – in what? Incompetence? Dishonesty? We
don't know, but clearly he has been playing fast and loose with the
boss's money. So he is given notice – but before he clears out his
desk he goes out and rips the boss off some more, this time by extreme
discounting. "Here, you owe my boss a hundred barrels of oil? Just
change that IOU, cross out 100 and make it fifty. No problem, good
doing business with you." Now he really is costing the boss some
money. But here's the first twist in the story because when the
business owner finds out he commends this behaviour! "Good for you!"
– maybe he even gets to keep his job. So what exactly is going on?
In fact, what is this fellow even doing? Well here's the first
problem, because we don't really know, there simply isn't enough
detail in the story and Bible commentators have argued over this story
for centuries.

But it's clear enough what the soon to be ex-manager gets out of the
transaction. Maybe it's just out-and-out fraud, or else maybe it's
the manager's own commission he is discounting or maybe he has been
artificially jacking up the prices all along and pocketing the extra,
so this is his way of putting things back to rights. Maybe this is
his way of covering his tracks, before the boss finds out the true
extent of how much he has been ripping him off. One commentator,
determined to find something commendable in the manager's approach,
suggested he was actually making more money for his boss by getting
some stagnant bad debts at least partially paid. But in any case what
he gets out of the deal, when he cuts the bill in half, is extreme
customer satisfaction. This is one strategic fellow – what he is
doing is networking, creating some obligations that will give him some
fresh opportunities down the track.

And the business owner commends him – why? - well, it's still not
especially clear, maybe just for his cleverness in ensuring that when
he goes he'll be able to take some customers with him. But then
here's the second, even more surprising twist in the story, because
then Jesus also commends the dishonest manager: "be a bit like him",
Jesus tells us. "Splash it around! Use your shady assets to make
some friends so when it's all gone at least you'll be welcome
somewhere" - but where??. The place where Jesus says we will be
welcome after we have finished ingratiating ourselves with our
ill-gotten gains is "in the eternal homes". The Greek original
actually is in the "eternal tents" – a phrase that sounds like a bit
of a clue. But then just to turn the whole thing around again and
confuse us utterly, Jesus goes on to say, "of course, if you can't be
trusted in little things you are going to untrustworthy in big things"
– which rather undercuts his first comment that the children of light
should be a bit more worldly and act like the dishonest manager.

So, what is it all about? For a start, is this passage even about
money at all? And I think the answer is, "yes and no". On one level
the whole chapter is about money – this story ends up with Jesus
telling us bluntly – "you can't serve both God and money". You have
to make up your mind which is most important to you and where you are
going to find your true security. But they can't both rule your life.
And of course the chapter ends up with the story of the rich man and
Lazarus, the beggar, with Jesus very clearly telling us that how we
use the wealth of this world and the choices we make between our own
comfort and the needs of others are fundamental if we want to be God's
people. So, yes, it is about money.

And on this level, the phrase that I puzzle over is the 'eternal
tents'. The steward wanted security, of course. With the prospect of
losing his job he sets about splashing around the master's money to
create some security for himself in the future. "I know", he says in
verse four. "Here's a plan so when I am dismissed at least I will be
welcome in people's houses". 'Houses' – the Greek word is oikos –
which if you have been listening to me over the last few weeks you
will already know is going to be part of the key to the riddle. It
means being part of a network of mutual obligation and care, security
based on the sharing of material resources – and whenever you see the
word, oikos, in the New Testament the background meaning has always
something to do with the oikos – the household or the economy – of
God. And then Jesus, in commending his divestment of his master's
wealth, actually undercuts the manager's fundamental self-serving
motive. The English translation we read this morning doesn't show
that, because the phrase 'eternal homes' doesn't show the contrast.
The literal translation is a bit more revealing – 'eternal tents' – so
when you have given away the wealth of this world what you are left
with is the tent of a nomad. This is the prophet after all who eats
and drinks with sinners and ne-er-do-wells, and who tells us that we
need take no thought for what happens tomorrow because – hey, just
look at the wildflowers, have you ever seen anything so gorgeous?
They rejoice and bloom in the beauty and the insecurity of the moment
and God loves them, just as God's love surrounds you every moment of
your life. This is a prophet of the open road, who preaches the
wisdom of holy insecurity – because true security is to be found not
in the things of this world but by enacting the compassion and
forgiveness of God. More than once, Jesus tells us: "Just give it
away". Of course, it is hard for settled urban dwellers such as us,
with our jobs and superannuation and houses – or even pensions – to
hear that and be convinced. But deep down we know that Jesus is
serious, and we know that deeper security is to be found in hanging on
a little less tightly to the things of this world.

But I did say, "yes and no". It's about money, of course, and how we
put it in its place – but it's about more than money because it's
about Jesus himself, and Jesus' ministry which is another coin
altogether. And on this level the manager – whether dishonest or
shrewd depends on your point of view – is Jesus himself. [1] Because
like the manager, Jesus has been splashing it around and his old
sparring partners, the Pharisees, have noticed and aren't very happy
about it. "You can't just go around forgiving debts willy-nilly, they
complain. They aren't yours to forgive, in the first place". And you
know, now, that we are no longer talking about money.

There are clues. Debt is used as a more than once by Jesus as a
metaphor for sins and forgiving debts as a metaphor for forgiving
sins. For example in the Lord's Prayer. And the whole point of the
story is the fact that the rogue manager had no authorisation to go
around cancelling or cutting people's debts. He has been squandering
his master's money, and when he is caught out he does it some more.
Clearly, it is outrageous behaviour. But Luke has been telling us
that Jesus' behaviour was also considered outrageous. His opponents
were saying he had no right to go about welcoming sinners and
declaring God's forgiveness to them. We find a good example in
chapter seven, the story of the sinful woman who washes Jesus' feet
with her tears. "She has been forgiven much, and that is why she
loves much", Jesus reminds the Pharisee whose dinner guest he is.
There is a deeper logic to the practise of wasteful forgiveness and
love, than that of counting indebtedness. And Jesus, in this story of
the profligate manager, is affirming that divine grace is a wild card,
and that the wasteful squandering of forgiveness and other blessings
is an advance payment on God's reign. And not only that, he is
linking forgiveness – our practice of forgiveness, as well as God's –
with basic material generosity because each of these is how the people
of God build a community of grace, how we get to participate in the
oikos of God.

Of course the world of debts and debtors wasn't a fantasy to Jesus
first hearers in the fishing villages and the back lanes of rural
Galilee. This is a world where an unpaid debt can mean the difference
between eating and going hungry. His hearers know the grinding
desperation of a hand-to-mouth economy, and they know the relationship
between the real world economy of money and labour, and God's economy
of generosity and compassion. In our own more comfortable world the
linkage is more easily forgotten and we forget the connection between
our own compassion and God's. But what does it all mean for us as
21st century Christians?

What it means is that Jesus is reminding us that his way is subversive
– we are not called to part of the status quo but on the edge, and the
way we live is supposed to call the status quo into question. That's
what it always means, when Jesus uses edgy metaphors for what God's
reign is all about. Shrewdness is an advantage, he tells us – be on
the lookout for where God's priorities are breaking in and make sure
that's the side of the equation you are on. He calls us to travel
light – to remember that the blessing of material goods and money
aren't ours to hoard, in the long run – and even more importantly not
to count the debts of others but to forgive generously and love
wastefully.




________________________________

[1] I am indebted to my New Testament lecturer, Professor Bill Loader,
for this interpretation.

16th Sunday after Pentecost (8 Sept)

A few weeks ago Alison and I watched an episode of Midsommer Murders –
of course it was a repeat that we had seen a couple of times already –
but that is part of the uniquely relaxing character of Midsommer
Murders, I find. Anyway in this episode the drama is set in the local
priory, and the victim is an elderly nun. There are only four nuns to
begin with, so this is quite a rate of attrition, as you can imagine.
Of the three survivors, two are elderly and the third is a young woman
with rather a refreshing blend of contemporary realism and traditional
piety. Of course she is a suspect, especially when some background
checks turn up the fact that her family stands to inherit the priory
if all the nuns kick the bucket – Sergeant Jones is frankly gobsmacked
that a young, intelligent woman would want to do such a silly thing as
spend the rest of her life rattling around in a half-empty priory with
a group of crotchety though blessedly often silent nuns, and I must
say his opinion did receive some support amongst this particular
household of viewers. In one scene the young woman receives a
difficult visit from her mum and dad who leave, sadly bewildered that
their daughter seems to be lost to them. For the record, she turns
out to be very well-adjusted, doing something she believes in and
thankfully, not the baddie.

But it begs the question, especially in our hyper-individualistic,
me-first society: why would you do it? Is this the sort of thing
Jesus has in mind when he tells us, in today's reading – you can't be
my disciple unless you hate your family and even your own life? And
he tells us quite explicitly – following me is going to cost you
everything – don't come along for the ride unless you are prepared to
give up everything you have. It makes discipleship seem a fairly grim
prospect, quite honestly – and especially so when we remember what
lies ahead for Jesus at this point. And he tells us quite bluntly –
you can't be my disciple unless you take up your own cross as well.

So what does it all mean? For a start, is there a different option –
like one stream for super-Christians who want to be disciples and
another stream for the rest of us who really just want to come to
Church on Sunday and live a good life as followers of Jesus without
being out-and-out zealots? Can you be a Christian without being a
disciple? Is Jesus just telling the official 12 disciples what they
have to measure up to but we twenty one centuries later on can take it
a bit easier?

Well, no. We've already heard a bit earlier in chapter 14, a couple
of weeks ago in church – Jesus telling us that you are either for him
or you are against him – I didn't come to bring peace, he says, but
division. From now on, even families will be divided because of me.
And through chapter 14, as we have been reading it through, the
language gets more and more hard-edged. Last week we heard the
criticism aimed at armchair Christians – don't just hob-nob with the
polite set – take your place down amongst the riff-raff and the
ne'er-do-wells and show solidarity with the poor. And then in the bit
we missed between last week and this – the story of the great banquet
at which the official guests prove to be unworthy and so the host goes
out and drags in the marginalised and the misfits. All through this
chapter we are being told that if you want to be God's people your
priorities have to match God's priorities, and if they don't then
God's kingdom will pass us by. If you say you want to follow Jesus
then you have to be prepared to act in a way that is consistent with
what you believe and in today's section we hear, unequivocally – don't
come on board unless you're prepared for what it's going to cost.

Well, but how do we hear this challenge with its slightly disturbing
whiff of fanaticism? If we do want to follow the Way of Jesus
whole-heartedly and with integrity – which is to say, if we do choose
discipleship, than how do we do that and what would authentic
discipleship look like in our day and age? Three times, Jesus tells
us we can't be his disciples without definite decision and without
understanding that discipleship implies definite choices.

So first, he tells us to hate our families. Then he says to take up
our cross. And then to give up all our possessions. What does all
this mean for us? Can his advice even be helpful for us in our
everyday lives? Is there a way of taking it seriously without taking
it literally? Surprisingly, since we generally think of him as a dour
old curmudgeon, the sixteenth century French Protestant reformer John
Calvin helps us to do just that. Calvin used this very passage for
instructing his pastors in Christian living, and he says there are
four requirements the come from Jesus' teaching – self-denial, bearing
your cross, living with the understanding of eternal life, and
properly using God's gifts in daily life.

For Calvin, self-denial didn't mean being a killjoy or a wowser, or
living in a way that denies human flourishing or happiness. What
Calvin writes that self-denial is Jesus' way of setting us free from
selfishness and from the argumentativeness and competitiveness that
comes from self-obsession. The person who fails to deny themselves is
the person who can't see beyond their own self-interest and so is
unable to love either God or their neighbour – self-denial is the
putting of our own needs into their true perspective and context of
loving relationships. Remember the 'rules of the house' – oikonomia
that I spoke about last week? It's the same basic point. Self-denial
means putting your own needs and desires into the context of the needs
of others - remembering that if you take more than you need then you
are failing to love others, including the Earth itself.

To take up your cross, Calvin taught, is the aspect of self-denial
that helps us to understand the truth of God's love within and through
our own suffering. This is deeper though than the oft-heard adage
that 'there's always someone worse off than you' – for Calvin the
cross of Christ is healing medicine for all the hurts and
disappointments of life, as well as repentance and forgiveness for our
failings and the times we turn aside. The Franciscan St Bonaventure
would say that the cross is where all the contradictions and opposites
of life intersect – human suffering is transformed by being brought
together with divine love.

Living from the perspective of eternal life means to have a true
perspective on the here and now, and paradoxically, perhaps, it is
this that enables us to fully appreciate the wonder and beauty of the
present moment. To live in the awareness of eternity is perhaps the
most counter-cultural of all in our death-denying culture, because it
means recognising that our own physical death is not to be feared or
avoided because without it our lives are like a journey that never
reaches its destination. To live from the perspective of eternal life
calls into question our day-by-day decisions and priorities – it means
that we are resurrection people – people who live from day-to-day
informed by where our lives are headed – and that makes all the
difference to what we think is important along the way.

For Calvin the twin foundations of self-denial and bearing a cross, as
well as the perspective of eternity, lead to a reflection on the
proper use of earthly things. It seems we have a basic choice in our
lives – we can use things and love people, or we can use people and
love things! Calvin taught his pastors to live lives of simplicity so
as to love better – but this means taking the middle road! Being free
from the tyranny of materialism means avoiding both over-indulgence
and ostentatious abstinence. Above all, Calvin advises, remember that
the goods as well as the circumstances of our lives are a gift of God,
and that in the way we use earthly things we should remember that they
are blessings to be shared, not assets to be hoarded.

Well we all have our faults. Calvin, perhaps, was just a bit too fond
of burning his opponents at the stake. Interestingly the one
commandment that he neglected to contextualise was the bit about
hating those nearest and usually dearest to us. Jesus, in Mark's
Gospel, has a run-in with his mother and siblings when they come to
bring him home because they think he has gone mad. Family, who should
know us best, sometimes get it wrong! In a loving family, children
are safe to learn and grow – those who love us best can offer the
encouragement and love that we need as adults to live with courage and
integrity in the world – but perhaps Jesus is taking aim at the
temptation to use our families and our family responsibilities as a
proxy or a substitute for the engagement we need to have in the world
and the love we need to have for the marginalised and the excluded.
Loving and wise families are secure enough to encourage one another to
love all who Jesus tells us should be our sisters and brothers.
Calvin, of course, fell at the hurdle of sectarianism – Jesus however
tells us not to define the circle of those we love so narrowly.
Perhaps we need to generalise it a bit – we can't be Jesus' disciples
unless we are prepared to move beyond the cosy nest of parish or
denomination or national identity.

So how relevant today is Calvin's gloss on the teaching of Jesus on
the costs of discipleship? Because the world is beset – perhaps more
than ever before – by inequality that leads to material comfort for
some and poverty, disease and hunger for many. By human wastefulness
and short-sightedness that destroys the environment and uses the
resources of the Earth at an unsustainable rate. By hatreds and
conflict caused by national and ethnic and religious sectarianism. To
be a disciple means to live in a way that takes less for oneself and
gives more to others, that shows solidarity with those who are
marginalised and excluded and all who suffer with the understanding
that this is the suffering of Christ – and to recognise as brothers
and sisters all who God gives us to love – not just some.

Of course there's a cost – because if you live like this then you need
to die to self-centredness on a daily basis. But deep down we
recognise that all we're being asked to die to are the parts of
ourselves that are self-destructive and unloving, and that the way of
discipleship is actually the way towards fulfilment and joy – both for
ourselves and for others. Deep down, we recognise some of the
behaviours and habits of mind that have to go – we recognise some of
the ways we are being invited to live – some of the people we are
being asked to love, So, Jesus asks us – can you afford it?