Small Victories

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.

The Seven Word Sermon: Celebrate Small Victories. Jesus surpasses Moses quietly!

And God said: I will send you a prophet like Moses! And lo! Jesus appeared among us.

Moses called down ten plagues on Egypt! Jesus stopped James and John from calling down fire on Samaria.

Moses parted the sea – thousands of Israelites were saved, and thousands of Egyptians were drowned. Jesus calmed a storm for the sake of a dozen troubled disciples.

Moses presented the whole Israelite nation with manna from heaven six days a week for forty years. Jesus fed two crowds of 5000 and 4000 with bread and fish.

Moses went up a mountain and received ten Commandments. Jesus sat on a mountain and proclaimed eight Beatitudes.

Under Moses, Israel was led for 40 years by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Over Jesus, the voice of the Father was heard twice, at his Baptism and again on the Mountain of Transfiguration.

Compared to Moses, I can’t help feeling that Jesus performed God’s work on a rather smaller stage. Indeed, we know that Jesus was tempted to perform public spectacles. Turn stones into bread? Have angels catch him as he stage-dived from the parapet of the Temple? He could have done both, but it wasn’t what he was about.

Jesus shows us what it is to be truly human. Few of us will be called to the dizzy heights of leading a nation in exile. All of us will feel angry, fearful or hungry at times. So although what Jesus does is less impressive on the world stage, it’s much more important for our daily lives. We are assured of God’s forgiveness, God’s comfort and God’s guidance in the trials which we all face.

We find less assurance in St Paul’s words today, which might give the impression that God isn’t in favour of regular family life. Paul seems to be saying: “You can get married and focus on the things of this world, or you can stay single and do what God really wants.” But if you read one of the verses just before today’s passage, Paul does say he is only giving his own personal advice, not God’s commands; and bear in mind that St Paul is an unmarried man who has had a radical conversion experience and become a travelling missionary relentlessly wearing down his shoe leather across the eastern Mediterranean! Nevertheless, there is some wisdom in what he says.

In a marriage where both partners are not equally committed Christians, there will be tensions which force the more committed spouse to choose between God and their husband or wife. How much time should be given to prayer, at church or in the home? How much money should be offered to the Church each week?  What ethical values should be taught to the children? St Paul is an idealist, and abhors the idea of a Christian spouse compromising on what they might give to God for the sake of peace at home.

Some followers of Jesus will choose not to marry, precisely so that they can devote all their life’s energy to continuous prayer or service of the poor. The lives of those called to be celibate, because this is a counter-cultural choice, will be powerful signs that God’s Kingdom is present on earth.

On the other hand, I think if St Paul were alive today, he would also say there’s a powerful Christian example we can give by being faithful to marriage. When bride and groom choose to live apart until their wedding day, this speaks volumes. When one of us is drawn into a conversation about modern life, we can gently but firmly express our belief that married people must choose to make many sacrifices for the sake of staying together, short of exposing themselves to actual harm, because that is what the wedding vows require.

Marriage always requires daily compromises. Sometimes this means that a partner has to make a permanent sacrifice – setting aside their own pet way of doing something, their daydream of how it SHOULD be…and never drawing attention to the matter again. In marriage, and in daily life, it is the small victories which matter.

St Mark gives us today’s story of Jesus casting out a demon because he wants us to know that Jesus has power to overcome evil and darkness. We, too , face a struggle with temptation – not in the form of a screaming demon, but of that small selfish voice inside of us which suggests we should put our own needs first.

We can win many small victories every day. We can choose to smile when an ageing parent rings us for the fourteenth time this week. We can get on with the laundry and the cleaning as a labour of love. We can pick up the phone and call a friend who is in need. We can do the tasks that need doing with good grace; and when something good happens beyond our control, we can rejA posse of angels on one shoulder prepare to overpower the demon on the otheroice and give thanks to God.

It is Jesus, not Moses, who shows us the path. Curb your anger, however frustrated you get. Be a peacemaker in troubled times. Give freely of what you have to those in need. Live out the eight Beatitudes. Live as a true child of God-the-Father. Live a life marked not by mighty spectacles, but by small victories. Listen to your better nature, not the inner voice of selfishness, and you will be victorious – with victories so small that only God and yourself are aware of the inner battle which have taken place. Then you too will be greater than Moses!