WelCom October 2017:
This is Year A of the Liturgical Calendar, which follows the Gospel of St Matthew on Sundays during ordinary Time. Dr Elizabeth Julian rsm addresses some basic questions about Matthew’s gospel to show how it is relevant to our lives today.
Last month I discussed Matthew’s portrayal of the disciples. In this article I consider a particular aspect of the gospel’s geography – mountains.
Mountains are regarded as sacred in both Eastern and Western religions. Mountains are the meeting places of heaven and earth. The gods live on the mountain tops. They reveal their glory and majesty in thunder that causes the mountains to shake. They issue authoritative decrees from the mountains. For many cultures, climbing a mountain is associated with acquiring a new vision, gaining spiritual insight and the potential for transformation. Mountains are powerful places both to see from and be seen from, as Anne Powell captures so strikingly in one of her poems: ‘Under the eye of the mountain watchful like God behind a cloud.’ Mountains exude a great sense of mystery. They can evoke awe, surprise, wonder or dread. Even when Mt Taranaki is shrouded in cloud its presence is a strong force, its height contrasting sharply with the landscape around it.
Through mountains, Māori acknowledge their oneness with the land. On the marae they will often speak directly to the mountains, greeting and farewelling them as the need arises.
Both the Old and New Testaments reflect the many functions of mountains. They are places where people live, look after animals, take refuge, are buried, gather for ritual, receive revelations and worship.
It is in Matthew’s Gospel, however, the mountain theme is most obvious. In the six major mountain scenes below, mountains are places of disclosure, places where something new or transforming happens.
“…in Matthew’s Gospel the significant moments happen on mountain tops.”
As New Testament scholar Paula Gooder points out, in Mark’s Gospel significant moments happen for the disciples in boats, but in Matthew’s Gospel the significant moments happen on mountain tops. It is there that we get a sample of who Jesus is throughout the gospel.
1. The Mountain of Temptation (4:8). Here Jesus experiences and overcomes the final temptation to rebel against God before beginning his public ministry in Galilee. He has to work out who he is and what his ministry will look like. His days of preparation are over.
2. The Mountain of Instruction (5:1-8:1). In this scene Jesus the teacher ascends the mountain like Moses on Mt Sinai. But Jesus delivers a new interpretation of the Law: ‘You have heard it said … but I say unto you …’
3. The Mountain of Healing (15:29-31). On this mountain Jesus the healer amazed the crowd by transforming the lives of the lame, deformed, blind and mute and many others from brokenness to wholeness enabling them to praise God.
4. The Mountain of Transfiguration (17:1-9). As Jesus is transfigured before them Peter, James and John receive new insight into the identity of Jesus. The voice from the cloud reveals that Jesus is the Son of God.
5. The Mountain of Warning (24:3-25:46). Just before his passion and death Jesus talks to the disciples about what lies ahead, instructing them about the need for watchfulness and the time of judgement
6. The Mountain of Commissioning (28:16-20). Here the disciples learn about their new task from the Risen Jesus. Previously they have been commissioned to preach, heal, raise the dead and drive out demons (10:7-8). Now they are being sent to make disciples, teach and baptise. It is here, too, that they receive Jesus’ assurance that he will be with them always.
So what message do these mountain experiences have for our lives today? One of my teachers says that life is a mountain experience of God.
Here are two suggestions to nourish your spirituality:
- 1. Reflect on the questions below based on the six Gospel passages. In your spiritual journey this year, month, week, what experiences have you had in your personal life, ministry, parish community, family, of being:
- tempted to give up before embarking on something new?
- instructed for the journey?
- healed from any form of brokenness?
- significantly changed?
- warned about the dangers ahead?
- commissioned for a new task, confident that God will be with you?
- 2. Where is the mountain referred to in each passage best symbolised for you? Mountains or hills features prominently in both dioceses. If possible visit your chosen mountain(s) between now and the end of the year. Spend some time using all of your senses to really experience the place. We speak of praying the rosary, praying a psalm, and praying the Our Father. Perhaps we should include ‘praying the place’, thereby tapping more intentionally into the ‘everywhere’ God. Engaging in ‘place’ prayer will hopefully lead to a ‘placeful’ approach to life. We may begin to notice the ‘great pile of filth’ that our common home has become.
Using the suggested questions allow the Scripture passage to speak to you in that particular place before returning home.
Sr Anne Powell’s poem: ‘Under the eye of the mountain watchful like God behind a cloud.’
Taranaki is my mountain.
Waiwhakaiho is my river.
Ngamotu is my standing place.
under the leisurely eyes of cows.
Once when I was little
I cut my eyebrows off
“My God!” yelled Mum
“they’ll never grow again!”
a daring thing to do
under the eye of the mountain
behind a cloud.
© Anne Powell