Monday, 29 February 2016


How many of us have complained and grumbled about the situation in which we find ourselves?

I would say the majority at sometime or another.  Paul's first letter to the Corinthians contains a passage which is read this third Sunday of Lent (1 Cor. 10.1-3) that is in the middle of a larger essay that talks about how we interact with society.  For Paul there are three possibilities; 1) we can fully integrate ourselves and accept everything that is going on trying to assimilate the culture into our faith practice; 2) we can go part way down this route keeping some things and not others; 3) finally we reject everything from the culture and become an enclave that is closed to those around us.  In a multicultural situation what is going to be best for us?

Drawing from Jewish scriptures Paul uses the integration of both Greek and Jew and Gentile into the burgeoning Christian faith by pointing out the roots of some of the Christian rites of passage in Judaism and reminding the readers of the mistakes that our ancestors had made from which we should learn.  This is the halfway point not full integration and not segregation but accepting some things and learning from the mistakes made in our way forward.

In doing so Paul looks at four things; idolatry, fornication, testing and grumbling or complaining.  If we think about this we have the same problems in the present day and culture.  We have many idols that we set up before we think of God's presence in our lives, sport, film, leisure activities, money, etc.  In some cases even human leaders and interpreters of scripture (ISIS).  The problem with idolatry is that it often leads us away from God and into problems of power, sexuality and horror.  In Paul's essay he quotes from the Golden Calf incident and points out how the Israelite's feasted and then got up to play.  The word play has sexual overtones in the original Hebrew and is used elsewhere to indicate this sort of loose behaviour.  Many of our idols today lead us down this very path and into the arms of Paul's second temptation that of fornication.  Do we need to expand this to any real extent?

Our third temptation so to speak is the testing of God.  Just as in ancient times we still rely on authority to determine whether God's action  or Spirit has been active.  Bishops, priests, Popes and others in ecclesial authority have to authorise what they feel God has done.  Is this not what happened to the prophets in Jerusalem that Jesus is lamenting (Lk 13.31-35)?  Jewish authorities determined the authenticity of the prophet not the reality of God's word.  Yes, there is a need for discernment but discernment may often be in the actions of those involved rather than in official sanction.  Official sanction can often be part of a political maneuver rather than an actual discernment.  Expediency in maintaining the status quo may often dictate the discernment process.  Faith is not a matter of following the signs but one that is bound up in our experience of God.  Indeed, if it does not pan out then we more often then not degenerate into the fourth of Paul's temptation that of grumbling or complaining.

Do we complain to cover our own faults?

Here Paul puts grumbling/complaining into the same category as fornicators and idolaters, just think about that when you next grumble or complain about something.  I said at the beginning of Lent that it is not the temptation but what we do with it that matters.  In our complaining it is often about someone or something of our own situation rather than something else beyond our control.  Rather than complaining is this not an opportunity for us to reconsider our own actions.  It may be about how we look at the situation and allow ourselves to be guided by God's voice in our lives.  Faith is about taking a step into an unknown place and not about standing around and complaining about a situation which we have got ourselves into.  The step of faith allows us to follow the path that God has opened to us our 'escape route' which Paul talks about.  It may be an uncomfortable step, like accepting our own responsibility in our actions, or a path that removes us from the familiar.  Does it matter where we are led if we are discerning and doing what is right before God?  Instead of the complaint and the grumble let us see where the correct response is for our onward faith journey.

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