Friday, 16 July 2010

Patronal Festival - Responding with Gratitude

Patronal Festival

2 Corinthians 5:14-17

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Luke 8:1-3
Some Women Accompany Jesus

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.


One of the downsides of having St. Mary Magdalene as our patron saint is that actually there is very little written about her in scripture. The Gospel reading we usually have at our Patronal Festival is the one from John in which we are reminded that Mary was the first person to see Jesus after he was raised from the dead.

So much has been inferred from that reading. Authors like Dan Brown with his Da Vinci Code have a lot to answer for in the way they have imagined or fabricated all sorts of things about Mary and her relationship with Jesus that are completely unfounded in either scripture, tradition or other early apocryphal writings about Mary.

However there are things that can be inferred about Mary Magdalene, even from the small amounts that were written about her, and one of those is that her relationship with Jesus seems to have been founded on her gratitude to him for the way he treated her. For example, have you ever noticed this tiny Gospel reading we have today: just three verses from Luke’s Gospel?

There seems to be so little in it, and yet it says so much. Jesus is going through cities and villages as a travelling teacher, preacher and healer. Like many Rabbis he is accompanied by his disciples, but unusually he’s also accompanied by a number of women who he had helped. This seems to be pretty much unparalleled in the Jewish world where women were definitely second class citizens.

The most prominent name in this grouping is our Mary Magdalene, but there were also Joanna and Susanna and many others. What we find is that this group accompanying Jesus and the disciples were providing for them. It’s significant that these were women because generally women had no financial resources unless they were widows, although Joanna being mentioned as married to Herod’s steward suggests she was allowed to spend her husband’s resources and that he was a ranking official. Jesus was known about at the highest level.

I believe that the message to us today is that we should take note of their gratitude to Jesus, and Mary’s in particular. We don’t know the exact circumstances, but this description of her having had seven demons cast out suggests that Mary had been in a terrible state when Jesus met her. Through his ministry he had set her free and she had responded to that with gratitude.

My guess is that something similar had happened with each of these women. In some way they had all received from Jesus and so they wanted to respond to him with gratitude. I suspect their gratitude would have been based on what St. Paul writes in the epistle that once someone is in Christ they are a new creation, and that the old has simply passed away. They are made new.

Plainly these women knew the reality of having being made new and that was what they responding to. So the question I want to ask us is, how aware of what God has done for us are we? Is that something we dwell on, or even think about? I suspect this is one of the reasons why Jesus made his comment about the difficulty the wealthy have with entering the kingdom of God being like a camel getting through the eye of a needle.

When we have so much, are we really grateful, of do we take it all for granted? Is our focus likely to be more on what we have than on being new creations?

So what does it mean to be a new creation? There was a certain boy who was very different from the type of children we seem to have at our school here. Whereas at our school, if I ask for volunteers in assembly I can guarantee pretty much every hand will go up, this boy was the kind of boy who would immediately look down at the ground and sink down in his chair, hoping that no one would notice him.

When he went on to senior school, a similar pattern continued. Despite being capable of doing good work he often deliberately did less well so that he would never get called out in front of the class to be congratulated on his good work. When his music class was split up into small groups to do presentations on their favourite bands he kept his head down again and managed not to have to do the presentation.

When he was fifteen he became a Christian. In other words from then on he was in Christ. He was a new creation. Nothing about his desire not to be noticed changed, but slowly and surely his life began to change direction eventually leading to him gaining in confidence and discovering that there were things he could do that he would never have dreamt of as a younger person.

That young boy was, of course, me. I look back at the timid child that I was, who would never in a million years have stood up in front of people and I wonder what happened. St Paul put it like this. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

Now there’s a lot of theology in that verse to do with being made clean; being made new, but I also think it’s about being given the chance to be remade as the person God intended for you to become. I look back at my life and what the Lord has done for me and I cannot help but be grateful. That’s not to say it’s been a bed of roses. You know very well that I have lost a great deal too.

Yet somehow that doesn’t alter the fact that the Lord has been good to me, and so I want to say thank you by trying to do with my life what he asks. I don’t think I’m very good at it, and I am way to good at taking things back for myself, so there’s an awful lot of saying sorry, but when I reflect on my journey with the Lord, I owe him a great debt for going on in this process of setting me free.

I think that’s how Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Suzanna and all those other supporters felt. Jesus had done something for each of them on a deeply spiritual level, and so they responded with gratitude by supporting him and his disciples in his mission.

So the question falls back to us all. How often do we reflect on what the Lord has done for us? Are we aware on the effect on our lives that being in relationship with Christ has had? And how does that move us to respond. What kind of gratitude should we be showing and how can we support Christ’s mission and take part in it? These are all questions for you to ponder. Amen

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