HOMILY SUNDAY 15 ‘B’ 2018
Many of us now, in the course of our lifetimes, will have lived in a good number of different places. Maybe different places in the UK, maybe also different countries overseas. But even if it has only been within the UK, we can look back and see just how different one part of our country is from another.
It’s not just a matter of the different scenery in different parts of the country. It is rather a matter of the wide variety of social customs, the general outlook on life, people’s different temperaments, and the contrasts in the kind of language people use. I do not mean so much local accents, as ways of speaking that arise out of different ways of thinking. As regards how you put things, how you express what you want to say, it is very important to bear in mind where you are. For example, an ordinary comment in the West Riding of Yorkshire would most likely be heard as rude, tactless and exceedingly blunt in East Sussex – where there’s quite a convention in middle class circles to say the opposite of what you really mean.. ‘Of course you mustn’t upset your plans by coming to our party’ really signifies, ‘We shall be mightily offended if you don’t show up when we’ve been good enough to invite you…’
Now if we read the New Testament carefully, we shall soon see that, comparably, there are very great differences between different ways of life, different customs, different cultures in the various early Christian communities that have given us the collection of books that make up the New Testament. For example, we can compare the passage that forms today’s Gospel – from St Mark – with the parallel passage in St Matthew. Both are generally agreed to reflect the missionary situations in their respective communities at the time they were written down. In St. Mark, the missionaries are permitted to take a staff or stick with them – which is forbidden in St. Matthew. The missionaries are permitted to wear sandals in St. Mark – but no footwear is allowed in St. Matthew. St. Mark’s rules are very much less stringent than the rules in St. Matthew. The differences in fact point to the situation of St. Mark’s community in the expanding Church of the first century – where missionary work involved long, more arduous journeys. St. Matthew’s community was a Jewish-Christian community in Palestine, with quite narrow geographical horizons – where shoes and staff to aid long distance travel were not needed.
These minor details are an indicator to us in our own day that, as regards mission, different circumstances, different social settings, will demand different ways of going about the work of mission. Our western society has almost lost any kind of religious way of speaking. All the same, we need to know how best to talk about our Faith and we need to have the confidence to do this. But, along with that, it will be primarily by who we are – by our deeply rooted faith – that we will be evangelists, missionaries. If others can see that we find meaning in life through our faith, especially at times of sadness, illness and bereavement, then they may in turn begin to glimpse through us the living God: the God who has revealed himself to us in Jesus, in whom we see the fullness of truth and the fullness of love.