Weekday Readings (Cycle 1), Weeks 23-34
The Mass Readings, following the Irish Liturgical Calendar. Bible texts are from the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version).
These have already appeared on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests, in the homily resources section edited by Fr Pat Rogers, Dublin, Ireland. Many of the Gospel based reflections are from Fr. Martin Hogan, edited here with his permission.
To spread the faith, Paul suffers on behalf of the Church
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.
On a Sabbath day, Jesus heals the man with a withered hand
On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come and stand here." He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?" After looking around at all of them, he said to him, "Stretch out your hand." He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Probably Jesus did not intend to stir up the quarrel in the synagogue that is reported by Mark today. But he sensed a trap by his enemies to put him in a negative light. A disabled man was being used to make Jesus look like a law-breaker, using the man's handicap to get at the volatile preacher from Nazareth. There is a common tendency to put limits on the love of God, just as narrow-minded people tried to limit Jesus' outreach and exclude individuals or whole groups from his help. But the power of Jesus cannot be bound by rigid traditions. So many facile reasons can be advanced for not doing the right thing: it's the wrong day of the week to come looking for help; fear to side with the unemployed or disabled; unable to correct a powerful, influential person, for obvious wrongdoing. And people even see reasons why God should not act generously. But following Jesus' example we should "Just Do It!"
Jesus is often portrayed as giving hope to those who are desperately in need of hope. when he came into the synagogue, he must have given hope to the man with the withered hand, in spite of the hostile presence of others. And the man's hope was not disappointed. In Luke's gospel the last words Jesus speaks to another human being are words that give hope to a condemned man crucified alongside him, "today, you will be with me in Paradise." The risen Lord remains a hopeful presence in all of our lives. In today's first reading from the letter to the Colossians, Paul refers to "Christ among you, your hope of glory." Paul is reminding us that the Lord lives among us, and that his presence among us is the foretaste of eternal glory. His presence among us here and now inspires us to hope for a fuller experience of his presence in eternity. This too is a hope that will not be disappointed. Our faith in the Lord must always be a hope-filled faith. As followers of the Lord, we are always people of hope.
Spiritually, baptism "buries" us with Christ and raises us to live in and with him
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aide, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
Jesus spends the night in prayer and afterwards calls the twelve
Jesus went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the whoe night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
We note a dramatic transition from death to life in the text from Colossians, and the Gospel brings us from night-time to a new dawn. Night is the time of death and contention, as well as of rebirth and new awareness. At night people can lose their healthy sense of self-control, and be swept into various evil actions or thoughts. Paul links with darkness a list of sins which excludes from God’s kingdom, suggesting some that he found or suspected were practiced in Corinth: fornication, idolatry, adultery, sodomy, thievery, drunkenness, slander and the rest.
But night is also a time of struggle against evil. Paul names these forces of evil as superhuman agents, “principalities and powers,” over whom Christ triumphed, “leading them off captive” . Locked in such struggle, we cannot be victorious without Jesus. We are advised in Colossians: Continue to live in Christ Jesus the Lord, in the spirit in which you received him. Be rooted in him and built up in him.
Night can also be a time of profound, silent prayer. Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, spending the night in communion with God. Silent prayer of such intense surrender turns into a dynamic time of new life. “Even when you were dead in sin, God gave you new life in company with Christ.” After being restored by the night of prayer, at daybreak he called his disciples and selected twelve of them to be his apostles. Jesus proceeded to share his life by teaching and by healing all who came to him. “Power went out from him which cured all.”
Did you notice the last line in this gospel, "everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all"? People wanted to touch this man through whom God was working so powerfully. It wasn't just enough to hear him or to see him; they needed to touch him. Touching the Lord is a more intimate, a more personal, form of communication with him than hearing or seeing. The sense of touch remains important in the faith life of us all. We too want to touch the Lord, and to be touched by him.
It is above all in and through the Sacraments that we touch the Lord and allow him to touch our lives. In the Eucharist, for example, we take the bread in our hands or on our tongue and eat it; we take the chalice in our hands and drink from it. The sense of touch is very real there. As we take the bread and take the cup, as we touch the Lord in this way, the Lord takes us; he touches our lives. Like the people in the gospel, we too can experience the healing and renewing power that comes from him. The Lord who touches us in the Eucharist sends us forth to touch the lives of others in life-giving ways.
You have been raised with Christ, so set your heart where Christ is
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things--anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
Luke's version of the Beatitudes: blessings and woes
Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."
We are pilgrims in this world, who have here no lasting city but look for one in the life to come (Heb. 13:14). The Beatitudes, in Luke's version, are significantly more stark and direct, as compared with Matthew's longer list, which have a more adapted and general flavour. In Matthew's version, the Beatitudes are addressed less to the crowd than to the disciples who follow Jesus up the mountain, and they are phrased in the third person, "How blessed are the poor in spirit, for the reign of God is theirs." Luke has Jesus coming down from the mountain to a level place where a large crowd of people came to hear him. His Beatitudes are probably closer to Jesus' original words, phrased in the second person: Happy are you who are poor ; you who hunger, etc. Luke is not writing a general catechetical discourse but has Jesus specifically addressing people who are poor and hungry and in need. We are told, rather bluntly, that God accomplishes more with our poverty than with our wealth, more with our weakness than with our activity. Wealth, celebrity and exclusivity can restrict a person's options and weigh one down with anxieties.
Other hints for living in a world that is passing away came in the reading from Colossians, one of Paul's most stirring calls to living a spiritual life on earth, "Be intent on things above; put on the new person; formed anew in the image of the Creator." He translates these ideals into practical examples: put an end to all fornication, uncleanness, evil desires, put aside anger, quick temper, malice, insults, foul language. stop lying to one another. But his main point always turns out to be unity and charity--the signs of living in Christ, who is "everything in all of you.
These beatitudes sound strange to our ears. How can Jesus call happy people who are poor, hungry and in grief? How can the rich and those who have their fill of everything be called unfortunate? These ideas seem to go against common sense, and they jar with how we normally see life. That is true of a great deal of the teaching of Jesus. It forces us to rethink how we normally view life. Jesus proclaimed a God who wanted to show special favour to the distressed and vulnerable. This is why Jesus addresses this group as blessed, because God is with them and wants to change their situation. Our vulnerability creates an opening for God to work in our lives, whereas when all is well with us we can easily be self-satisfied and dispense with God.
We know from our own experience that we often seek God with greater energy when our need is greater, whether it is our individual or communal need. We come before the Lord in our poverty, our hunger, our sadness because it is above all in those times that we realize that we are not self-sufficient. In Luke's gospel, from which our reading is taken, as Jesus hung from the cross one of the criminals alongside him said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." To this poor, hungry, weeping man Jesus said, "today, you will be with me in paradise." It is when we are at our weakest that the Lord's transforming and life-giving presence is at its strongest.
As God's chosen ones, clothe yourselves with mercy, meekness and patience
As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Be compassionate, like your Father in heaven
Jesus said to them: "I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. RuleDo to others as you would have them do to you. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged;do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
The ideals set for us in the Bible often seem beyond all realistic achievement. The list of goals set by St Paul in Colossians relies on his opening statement of who we really are, "God's chosen ones." If that is who we are, our core identity, then we must act accordingly. The generosity of love is not beyond our power as "holy and beloved." God has drawn us into the life of Jesus, as members of his body, so that inspiration and grace can infuse us like breath or blood. We inhale our Lord's responses to life since in all circumstances Christ is already alive within us. This is Paul's great vision, on which he bases all his appeals for love, kindness, patience and generosity.
This is the spirit of today's Gospel too, where Jesus asks his followers to "bless those who curse you," "turn the other cheek," and--most difficult of all--"love your enemy." These statements reflect the supreme goal of Christian life. These Gospel ideals are grounded in the idea that because we are formed in the image of God, our responses to life should mirror those of God our Maker. Hence Jesus says, "Be merciful, as your Father is merciful." He insists that this is the high road to sharing in the life of God: "Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High."
Today's text from Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount includes some of the most radical ideals in all of Jesus' teaching. At the heart of it is the call to love our enemies and to give to those who do not deserve our love and will never be in a position to pay us back or to give us anything in return. In the culture of the time, people who were in a position to give generously expected some kind of return. Giving to others put them in debt to you; there was a cultural expectation of some kind of return. Perhaps our own culture is not all that different, because we are not all that different. We struggle to be completely selfless in our giving.
Jesus calls for more than our usual culture of giving with a view to receiving. The love he calls for which has no trace of self-seeking in it is a divine kind of love; it is the way God loves. God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked; God does not give with a view to receiving. God does not love his enemies less than his friends. Jesus is calling on us to be God-like in our loving and in our giving. The world would consider this kind of giving a folly; we will be left with nothing. Jesus, however, promises that if we give in this God-like way, a full measure, running over, will be poured into our lap. This morning, we are invited, in the words of the first reading, to let this message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with us.
Paul is grateful for the pardon and grace granted to him
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my loyal child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Can the blind lead the blind? Don't be judgmental of others
Jesus told his disciples a parable: "Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, 'Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour's eye."
The readings are about leadership but they can apply to all human relationships. By implication, we are asked to interact with one another, not as superior to inferior but as equals, recognizing the unique gift of each person. It is because of diversity of strength and grace that problems arise and helpful direction is necessary. What Paul says of himself in First Timothy can apply to each of us. At times we can act out of ignorance and misguided zeal and so appear arrogant to others. We too have received the grace of our Lord, in overflowing measure. The power of grace could convert a persecutor like Saul of Tarsus into the missionary Paul who set off on a world mission.
The Scriptures ask us to respect, admire and learn from the gifts of one another. One can become arrogant and too sure that one's views are the only valid ones--like those autocratic people who once defended their repressive attitudes towards heresy on the grounds that error has no rights! They need to consider whether they are not like a blind man trying to guide another blind person. Both will fall into the pit, both teacher and student. Each of us needs the wisdom of others to balance our own special insights and strengths. We need the wisdom of othes to keep us united, at the service of all, in the spirit so well evoked in the recent words and gestures of pope Francis, as he calls for renewed fraternity and inclusiveness in our church.
Jesus suggests that our limited insight into each other makes it very difficult for us to many judgements about others. It can be very tempting to think that we see clearly whereas others are blind. Jesus seems to indicate that we are all blind to some degree and that it is a very often a case of the blind leading the blind rather than the enlightened leading the blind.
Changing the metaphor somewhat, Jesus gives us the comic image of someone trying to take a splinter out of someone else's eye while being oblivious to the plank in his or her own eye. In calling on us to take the plank out of our own eye first he suggests that we need to be more attentive to our own failings than to those of others. Because of our own faults and failings we do not see clearly enough to understand what is really going on in another person, and, therefore, we need to be very slow to judge and to condemn. Jesus had earlier stated that God, who does see clearly into every heart, is compassionate and merciful to all, even the ungrateful and the wicked. Jesus seems to be calling on us who do not see clearly to take our lead from God who does see clearly, to be as merciful and compassionate as God is.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. All are called
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.
The house of faith, built on rock, survives the flood
Jesus said to his disciples: "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house."
A centre for our meditation today is how Jesus Christ displays his infinite patience . Patience is the virtue of that person who has built on rock. When evil times hit, when the heavens pour down uncontrollable floods, that house remains standing if it is built with deep foundations in the rocky subterrain.
"Rock" bears any number of important symbolical meanings in the Bible, but all of them converge on strength, consistency, fidelity, and continuity. In Num 20:11, the rock is struck by Moses' rod and produces sweet water. In 1 Cor 10:4 this rock follows the Israelites through the desert as a continuous source of water. The rock, says Paul, is Christ. In Ps 81:17 it even produces honey. In Isa 28:16 the rock supports the Jerusalem temple where God dwells among his people. In Ps 95:1 God himself is acclaimed as the rock of our salvation. In Matthew 16:18 Peter is the rock or foundation of the church.
As these and other passages are stitched together, rock indicates the steady assurance of God's grace, the presence of God in temple or church, the human representatives of God as Rock. Patience builds this kind of house.
Impatient persons build on sand and so are not dependable. They act or react impulsively. Anger takes control of them before they can think. Rash words are spoken that cannot be obliterated from people's memories. Within all this haste wisdom is lost. When difficulties come, this person is not dependable. "When the torrent rushed on it, it immediately fell in and was completely destroyed."
The visible part is not always what is most important. From the outside, the two houses in today's parable looked the same. But they were fundamentally different, because their foundations were different. One was built on sand and the other on rock. What was most important about the two houses, their foundations, was not visible on the surface. Jesus is speaking in that parable about the importance of getting the foundations of our lives right, what's below the surface of our living. Just as the houses in the parable had to be able to deal with rivers in flood, we know from our own experience that we often have to deal with very challenging situations. We can be hit with all kinds of difficulties, whether relating to our health, our relationships, our work. Our ability to deal with those difficulties will depend on what our lives are built upon. In the gospel Jesus presents himself as the only foundation worth building upon. Listening to his words and acting on them, following in his way, he says, ensures that our lives will be built on rock, and that we will be able to withstand the storms of life when they come along. If we build our lives on the Lord, the Lord will enable us to hold together when the great tests come along, whatever form they might take. The Lord wants to be the foundation of our lives. But if that is to happen, he needs us to actively take him as the foundation of our lives. If we are to know the security which only he can give us, we need to entrust ourselves to his word, and allow ourselves to be shaped by that word, saying with Mary his mother and ours, "Let it be to me according to your word."
Prayers for the civil authorities, for peaceful governance
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all - this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.
For his faith, the Roman centurion receives from Jesus the cure of his servant
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us."
Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it." When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Different sides of the Church’s mission are seen in today’s texts. While Paul proclaims the Gospel’s outreach to the world, the Roman centurion in shows how well prepared the world can be, to turn to Gospel values.
The mission statement in 1 Timothy is clear and engaging: God wants all to be saved and to know the truth; Jesus gave himself as ransom for all; and Paul has a mission to all nations. Since God wants all to be saved, it seems that the bulk of humanity are being saved without explicitly accepting the Gospel. Much less than fifty percent of the world’s population is Christian. Therefore it is not explicit faith that determines the ultimate fate of an individual but the quality of a live as lived. The difference between faith and unbelief is between having the trusting strength of knowing Jesus and the unclarity of living without his guidance and inspiration. Paul prays both that all may be saved and that they “come to know the truth.” The truth of Jesus sets free and invigorates, brings greater peace and deepens our respect for life. As Paul says, since God is one, all God’s children form one human family, with a mighty mediator between God and ourselvesthe man Christ Jesus.
In today's Gospel the outsider, a Gentile centurion, shows even stronger faith than the Jews. Put in other terms, the faith of a Buddhist or a Muslim can take a Christian by surprise. The Roman centurion shows great concern, simplicity and graciousness towards the distress of his servant. He sends to Jesus for help, risking refusal as a member of the hated Roman army. He also shows courtesy towards Jesus, “Sir, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter my house.” Open and honest, he does not beat around the bush and is not afraid to publicly admit his confidence in Jesus, and courteously sends a delegation of Jewish elders to intercede for him and his slave. These natural virtues served to create a distinguished public servant and portray him as a consummate diplomat. Jesus praises the faith of this foreigner.
The words of the centurion in today's gospel have found their way into our Eucharistid liturgy, when we say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof." The Roman centurion spoke as a pagan who did not want Jesus the Jew to be in breach of the Jewish Law by entering the house of a pagan. He also showed great faith in the life-giving power of Jesus' word. Jesus acknowledges his remarkable faith and declares it to be greater than any faith he had found in Israel. The least likely person, a pagan, an authoritative member of the occupying force, shows faith in Jesus. The gospel reading suggests that faith can be found in the most unlikely of people. We can never second-guess who is a person of faith and who is not. This outsider's act of faith can become ours at every Eucharist.
Qualities needed in church officials--hospitable, respected, truthful, management skill
The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way - for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.
Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons. Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be married only once, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Jesus raises to life the dead son of a widow at Naim
Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favourably on his people!" This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
In today’s guidance to Timothy, we can detect stages of development within church leadership. There is no mention of the roles of apostle, prophet or healer, as in the days of Jesus, and the focus has turned to the roles of bishop, deacon, deaconess and (later) on presbyter and widow.
As the church expanded in number through the Mediterranean world, and faced crises of internal leadership and external persecution, its need of careful organization grew. The development from the more charismatic to the more organizational way of directing the community is normal and necessary. If the more charismatic, freer type of leadership is chronologically closer to Jesus, the later church is also called the body of Christ.. St Paul says: The body is one and has many members, but all the members are one body as is Christ. He reflects on the various kinds of gifts and abilities needed in church life.
The quiet virtues expected of bishop, deacon and deaconess are admirable indeed: irreproachable, married only once, of even temper, self-controlled, modest, hospitable, not addicted to drink, a good manager of one’s own household, holding fast to the divinely revealed faith with a clear conscience. Today we need to pray that people of this quality will still be inspired to offer themselves for the service of God’s people.
In the time of Christ, widows were financially and socially very vulnerable. Without their husbands, they often had to depend on their children, particularly their sons, to provide for them. A widow who lost her only son through death was, therefore, the most vulnerable of all. It is such a widow that Jesus encounters in today's gospel. The gospel reading tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion by this woman's plight. That inner movement of compassion resulted in action on his part, as he restores her son to life and gives him back to his mother. It is striking that the widow in this story did not take any initiative towards Jesus; she did not cry out to him for help. Without waiting to be asked, Jesus simply responded to a situation of human grief and loss.
The same risen Lord reaches out to us today in our situations of grief and loss, without waiting to be asked. When we are at our most vulnerable, his compassion is at its strongest. We are not asked to carry our grief and our loss on our own; the Lord carries us with us; he suffers with us -- "to suffer with" is the literal meaning of compassion. The Lord who touches us in his compassionate love also calls on us to be channels of his compassion to each other in our hour of need, to help carry each other's burdens, as he carries ours
The church is entrusted with the mystery of salvation, meant for the whole world
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:
He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.
Some will not respond to others, whether by dancing or mourning
Jesus said to his disciples, "To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.' For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon;' the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children."
Ideally, the members of the church are all "members of God's household." First Timothy quotes a confession of faith, popular among believers. The Gospel cites a piece of ancient wisdom, echoing the Book of Proverbs and repeated from parent to child, rabbi to student. Paul most probably did not compose the hymn to charity but drew on a well-known hymnic statement of the early church.
A good family is never monotonous and its members are respectful of each others' giftedness. Paul envisaged a church gifted with many talents: prophecy, comprehension of mysteries, generosity in feeding the poor, even willing to die for the faith. But he also knew that some can put on airs and become snobbish. They can be rude or prone to anger, whereas all true gifts should be united in love. There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love. To love in such an way, the leaders of God's household cannot be dominant autocrats or narrow careerists, but people who care deeply for the family of the church. If there is strength in unity, these are the people who strengthen our common faith.
Jesus uses a striking image to describe how the people of his generation responded to his ministry and that of John the Baptist. They are like children who refuse to dance when other children in the playground play the pipes; they are also like children refuse to cry when other children in the playground sing dirges. He identifies himself with those who play the pipes and John with those who sing dirges. It may seem odd to think of Jesus as a piper who plays a tune that invites people to dance to it, but in a sense, that is what we are about as his followers or disciples.
Christians are people who dance to Jesus' tune. Sometimes that phrase of dancing to someone else's tune is used in a negative way. But the gospel suggests that as followers of Jesus we should attune our ears to his rhythm, to the music of his life, and then try and move in time with his music. We should let the music that Jesus plays by his life, death and resurrection, the song that he sings, shape our lives. That particular image suggests that attentive listening is very important in our relationship with the Lord, because we can only move to music that we listen attentively to, and that, in some sense, has become part of us. Mary was an attentive listener to the Lord's word, and she, more than anyone, is the person whose life is in tune with the song, with the music, of Jesus. Her own song, the Magnificat, is very much in keeping with the song of Jesus, the message and the life of Jesus. She is our model and our inspiration as we try to live in tune with Jesus' song.
Timothy is urged to exercise the ministry entrusted to him by the laying on of hands
Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.
A parable commending the woman who wept at Jesus' feet
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him--that she is a sinner."Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak."
"A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "our faith has saved you; go in peace."
Paul reflects on the church and on the qualities needed in its leaders. He takes an encouraging line in his words to people like Timothy, who felt so diffident in offering guidance to others. His advice to Timothy is a classic of avuncular encouragement. Paul assures the younger man of his genuine talents, appreciates his high ideals, and assures him of his ability to teach and preach and lead the community in prayer.
In the Gospel we see how Jesus can be stern with the proud, but tender and protective towards the humble who repent. Jesus grounds his teaching in the parable of God's generous initiative in loving and forgiving. In this provocative story, the person with the heavier load of sin seems to be loved more by God than the other person with lighter debts. This can seem unjust, until we remember that pride is a worse sin than sexual excess. But there is still hope for the proud, if the woman can be forgiven this easily. All authority of the church is under the ideals of the Gospel, with encouragement and esteem for the young, with concern for the repentant, but reminding the proud and self-righteous of the centrality of God's love.
We would not intrude on a meal unless we were invited to it. However, the woman in today's gospel intrudes at the table without invitation. She did so because she wanted to perform a service for Jesus, a service of hospitality and love. Although she was not an invited guest she showed Jesus the hospitality that his host should have shown him but failed to show him. She gave Jesus this extravagant service out of a sense of deep gratitude to Jesus for what she had already received from him. She had already experienced God's forgiving love in and through Jesus, and such was her gratitude for this gift of love that she wanted to offer love in return. The woman serves as an image of all our lives as followers of Jesus. Like her, we too have received great graces from the Lord, as Saint John says in the first chapter of his gospel, "from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." Like her, this sense of having been abundantly graced by the Lord moves us to make a return to the Lord. Having experienced the Lord's great love for us, his merciful love, we are moved to show him our love in return. We are inspired to serve him as he has served us. The woman in the gospel shows us both how to receive from the Lord and how to give to him in return, our offering of thanksgiving.
The value of good order, detachment from wealth and living one's faith
These are the duties you are to teach and urge the community to follow. Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Jesus's companions on his travels included some generous women
Jesus 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.
Because of his concern to show them as active disciples, Luke's Gospel is sometimes called The Gospel of Women. Today's summary of the ministry is idyllic, like a glorious tour when Jesus is winning everyone for the kingdom of God. The community of disciples around him, including the apostles and a group of apostolic women, impress us with their serene harmony of life. Some had been cured of illness or physical handicap. The "seven devils" purged from Mary Magdalene do not necessarily mean sinfulness, much less demonic possession, but suggest a deep change Jesus had brought her. God's final triumph is already anticipated by Luke, who gives women an honoured place in this peaceful scene. Again typical of Luke, the names of influential public figures are introduced, such as the mention that Johanna was the wife of Herod's steward, Chuza, Somehow, the political and the spiritual Kingdom can come graciously together. Luke is already anticipating the outcome of the cross, redemption, when there will no longer be distinction of male and female, Jew or Greek (Gal 3:28).
The message to Timothy comes to our help with its message of calm and self-restraint. If we have completed a stretch of busy achievement, it may be time to review our situation. We need to interrelate activity and calm, to take stock where we have gone, to realize the scope of what we have done and who we are. Perhaps, most of all we may need a time of silence, prayer and awareness of the Lord's presence.
We honour Jesus as the servant of all, who said that he came not to be served but to serve. Yet even Jesus needed to be served at times. He was dependent at times on the service that others gave him. Today's gospel draws attention to the ways that some women served him. Luke states that, as Jesus made his way through towns and villages preaching, several women provided for him out of their own resources. Their service of him enabled him to serve others. If Jesus was in need of the service of others at times, we his followers certainly are. We are called to serve, but we are also called to receive the service of others, because we need their service. Serving others calls for generosity; allowing ourselves to be served by others calls for humility, the recognition that we are limited and that others can bring to us what we do not have within ourselves. As Paul saw so clearly, within the church, the body of Christ, we are all interdependent. The Spirit is at work in all our lives in different ways. We need the service of others and others need our service. We all have something to give and something to receive. Today's gospel encourages us to be open to receive the service of the Lord as it comes to us in and through those who journey with us and cross our path in life.
Live without reproach until Jesus Christ returns in glory
In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time – he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.
The parable of the seed and the sower is explained only to the apostles
When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, Jesus said in a parable: "A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold." As he said this, he called out, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"
When his disciples asked him what this parable meant, Jesus said, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that 'looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.'"Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance."
First Timothy urges us to respect those secret stirrings of new life as God's command to us. Our truest self, not yet visible, is like a divine word of command. To know ourselves we must be attuned to our deepest hopes and desires. Then we are charged to keep God's commands faithfully. If we ask "for how long?" the answer is simply, "until Jesus Christ appears." These secret parts of ourselves will outlast all trials and be the source of our new existence. We dare not deny or compromise this mystery which is our very self.
Matthew's explanation of the parable of the sower gives us further pointers about life. As the seed, God's word, can fall on the footpaths and there be trampled down, so life's mystery must not be subjected to every person's advice and be easily subjected to anyone's opinion. If the seed is scattered on rocky ground where it cannot take root but quickly dries up, we must allow God's inspiration to sink its roots deeply into our lives and become a part of ourselves. Neither should the seed be dispersed amid briars, as it would be if we lose ourselves in a whirlwind pursuit of pleasure, and lose our taste for prayer, reflection and the self-denial which every mature person needs. The seed that falls on good ground and yields a plentiful harvest suggests how the grace of God must be thoroughly integrated into ourselves. The harvest depends on the quality of our lives over a long period of time.
In the parable of the sower and the seed, not all of the seed takes root and produces a crop. Indeed a great deal of it goes to waste. Only some found the right soil and went on to provide a harvest. The seed is vulnerable; there can be all kinds of forces working against it. The environment is not always supportive of the seed. The same could be said of our life of faith. The seed of faith that is sown in our hearts at baptism is vulnerable. The environment in which we life is not always supportive of our faith. Trials can come our way and shake our faith. The worries and riches and pleasures of life can choke it. We need to nurture the seed of faith that we have received.
Each of us has a part to play in providing the good soil that the seed needs. One element of such good soil is prayer, both our own personal prayer and the prayer of the community of believers. The reading makes reference to hearing the word and taking it to heart. That form of prayer in particular creates an environment that allows the seed of faith to grow, the prayer of real listening to the word of the Lord, the kind of listening that shows itself in how we live and how we relate to others. We are about to enter the year of faith. It is a good time to ask ourselves, what we can do to help the seed of faith we have received to grow to its full potential.
Cyrus lets the Jews return home and orders their neighbours to help them rebuild the temple
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared: "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of those among you who are of his people - may their God be with them! - are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel - he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem."
The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites - everyone whose spirit God had stirred - got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. All their neighbours aided them with silver vessels, with gol, with goods, with animals, and with valuable gifts, besides all that was freely offered.
A lamp must go on a lampstand, to brighten the house
Jesus said in a parable: "No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away."
For the next three weeks the weekday readings are from the early postexilic literature that was centred on the rebuilt temple, the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Baruch, Jonah, Malachi and Joel. While the wisdom writers pay little attention to the temple, the Jews who returned from Babylon to resettle in Israel urgently consider the role of the temple in their lives. This era is generally known as the Second Temple period.
We are introduced to this period (from 539 B.C. onward,) by the Book of Ezra. The returning exiles had to leave most of their property behind when they headed back to Israel. We know that life in Babylon (a province of Persia, conquered by king Cyrus) had become prosperous in that period. The Jews who never returned eventually produced the famous Babylonian Talmud, still revered by devout Jews. To return to the homeland meant a drastic decision for the Lord. This action was like taking the lamp from under a covering and place it on a lampstand. It allowed others to walk in the beam of its light. People can be greatly enriched, if we leave everything behind us for the Lord’s sake; if we seek God unreservedly, all will be given to us.
When Jesus speaks about lighting a lamp, we have to think in terms of a lamp containing oil which had a wick coming from the oil which could be lit. Many such oil lamps from those days have been recovered in the Mediterranean basin. Such lamps were lit to give light when darkness came. As Jesus says , no one would light such a lamp and then cover it with a bowl or put it under a bed, for that would make no sense.
The image suggests that if the lamp of faith is lit in a human life, it is not meant to be covered or hidden; rather we must allow it to shed light. We must allow the light of our faith to shine through how we live, what we do and how we do it. If we are to do that, we must nurture that light of faith. One of the ways we nurture the light of faith is by listening to the Lord's word. Jesus says, "Take care how you hear, for anyone who has will be given more." By listening to his word, the light of faith will grow more brightly; we then allow that light to shine through how we live our lives.
How the Jews rebuilt and rededicated their temple
King Darius decreed: "Do not impede the work on this house of God; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. Moreover I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God: the cost is to be paid to these people, in full and without delay, from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province Beyond the River. May the God who has established his name there overthrow any king or people that shall put forth a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God in Jerusalem. I, Darius, make a decree; let it be done with all diligence."
So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia; and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. The people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. They offered at the dedication of this house of God one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel, twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. Then they set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their courses for the service of God at Jerusalem, as it is written in the book of Moses.
On the fourteenth day of the first month the returned exiles kept the Passover. For both the priests and the Levites had purified themselves; all of them were clean. So they killed the Passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. It was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by all who had joined them and separated themselves from the pollutions of the nations of the land to worship the Lord, the God of Israel. With joy they celebrated the festival of unleavened bread seven days; for the Lord had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.
Those who hear the word of God and act on it
Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you." But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."
The will of God made known and carried out in a variety of ways. Ezra refers to imperial decrees from the Persian kings Cyrus and Darius, messages of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (read later this week), and financial help from Persia, as supporting the sanctuary liturgy and the functions of priests and Levites.
In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah the shape of Judaism lasting into the days of Jesus was laid down. This form of Judaism supplied the principles by which the people have kept their identity even into our own time. Religion was associated with every aspect of life, and life found its principal meaning within the faith. Even if Ezra's story seems monotonous and impractical to us, it was vital for the life of Judaism. We Christians cannot duplicate this legalistic form of religion but we are being continuously challenged to unite our religion and our life just as intimately.
Whatever our level of faith, we must arrive at an openness to the real world and form significant ties with other people. Perhaps that was the intention of Jesus in his reply sent by a messenger to his mother Mary and his brothers. Those words may even have seemed a repudiation of his own immediate relatives when he said, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it." To truly know that word we must be in contact with all that is sincerely responsive to life.
We venerate Jesus as Lord and as Son of God, for so indeed he is. however, Jesus identifies those who hear the word of God and put it into practice as his mother and brothers and sisters, as his family. In spite of his unique status and his unique relationship with God, Jesus wants to relate to us as family. He wants to call us brother and sister and for us to call him brother. For this to become a reality what he asks is that we hear the word of God and put it into practice.
Jesus was completely given over to the word of God, to the will of God. He heard that word and took it in so completely that it shaped all that he said and did. John's gospel goes so far as to say that Jesus is the Word, the Word made flesh. The essence of our baptismal calling is to hear the word and to put it into practice. Like the seed that fell on good soil, we are to hear the word and take it to ourselves and yield a harvest through our perseverance. If we keep striving to listen to the word of God and so that it shapes who we are and what we do, then the Lord will delight in calling us family.
At the time of the evening sacrifice, Ezra acknowledges God's mercy
At the evening sacrifice I, Ezra, got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said,
"O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favour has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem."
Jesus sends out the twelve on mission, travelling light, dependent on alms
Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money--not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them." They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
Ezra was like another Moses, urging his people to keep their covenant with God. Although the Jews began their return from exile in 537 B.C., about all they accomplished on reaching the Promised Land was to rebuild a bedraggled city and a very modest temple. They were discouraged and weary but Ezra set himself to encourage and guide the people. He reedited the Books of Moses and urged compliance with them, and began a series of oral interpretations of the law that developed several centuries later into the famous Talmud.
He begins with a confession of sins, identifying himself with the people in their guilty plight, "My God, I am too ashamed to raise my face to you, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads." Then he assures them that God's mercy has blessed them again; they are a remnant, a stake, firmly planted in the holy land and they have the good will of the Persian king, and the house of God has been rebuilt. A sober realism marks this sermon of Ezra. Sometimes we need to be told things bluntly, admit our mistakes and take responsibility for their effects, and then count our blessings, for things are not as bad as we suppose. There is a future for us and for our people, our church.
On a happier note is the gospel account Jesus sending out the twelve first Christian missionaries, to cure the sick and proclaim the coming reign of God. These traveling missionaries need not carry bread or money, not even staff and traveling bag. They brought a blessing by their joy and confidence, inviting others to rejoice and thank God. Occasionally the shadow of a living saint crosses our path in somebody we meet. We should encourage their ideals, stand by them, support them, receive them into our homes. Then the reign of God will be in our midst.
When Jesus sent out the twelve on mission he called on them to travel light. They are not to be too self-sufficient. Instead they are to depend on the hospitality of those to whom they preach the gospel. Rather than be overly self-reliant, they are to leave space for themselves to become reliant on others, to become reliant on the Lord present to them in others. We all like to be independent and self-reliant to some extent, and, indeed, we need to be. However, today's gospel reminds us that we can never be fully self-reliant. We began life completely dependent on others, and as we come towards the end of our life we can find ourselves once more completely dependent on others. But even between these two moments of high dependence, we continue to depend on others in so many ways. Throughout our lives we depend on others to bring to us what we do not have within ourselves. We can make the mistake of trying to go it alone and depriving ourselves of rich resources that others can bring to us. The Lord is always inviting us to be open to the service that he renders us in and through others. Each one of us has much to give and much to receive. The Lord who wants to serve others through us also wants to serve us through others.
Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the temple
In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord's house.
Then the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: "Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured, says the Lord.
Herod was perplexed about Jesus and became very curious to see him
Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen.
Herod said, "John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?" And he wanted to see Jesus.
The prophet Haggai makes one simple demand: they are to fetch lumber and rebuild the house of the Lord. He says it in plain, unadorned Hebrew. All other prophets spoke in poetry with eloquent symbols and parables. Haggai was not going to write high literature in a corner slum or produce the golden poetry of an Isaiah or the wrenching pathos of a Jeremiah. But alone of all the prophets, Haggai lived to see his mission accomplished. In 515 B.C. the temple was completed, as we read last Tuesday : The elders of the Jews continued to make progress in the building, supported by the message of the prophets, and finished the building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus and Darius (Ezra 6:14).
Haggai reminds us not only to put aside any pompous airs and address the practical side of people's lives, but also to realize the crucial importance of temple or church and of community in prayer. Without a strong symbol that we are a people of God, with spiritual and moral aspirations, we easily sink into materialism. Even in our poverty we will still cling to our trinkets and be jealous of others for theirs. Without community or family prayer, we will miss the encouragement to be men and women of prayer. Without prayer we end up saying, what's the use of it all?
In the Gospel, we have the sad portrait of Herod the Tetrarch, for whom religion was a curiosity, an anodyne to soothe conscience, a clever way to win the people's allegiance. It is tragic to think that his wish to see the Nazarene prophet was fulfilled only when for political reasons Pilate sent him the captive Jesus. We are told that "Herod was extremely pleased to see Jesus" (Luke 23:8). Religious curiosity can be used for politics and pleasure, merely to relieve boredom!
King Herod Antipas ruled Galilee on behalf of Rome. Luke gives us a portrait of how Herod reacted to Jesus. When he heard about all that was being done by Jesus he was puzzled. He was wondering, "Who is this?" and was anxious to see Jesus. When finally he did get to see Jesus it was in the course of the passion, when Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for a second opinion. Although Herod questioned him at great length, in the end he treated Jesus with contempt and mocked him. Herod was curious about Jesus, but his curiosity did not lead to faith.
There were other people in the gospels who were curious about Jesus and whose curiosity eventually led them to faith. Nathanael and Nicodemus come to mind. Even for people of faith, there is much to be curious about in regard to Jesus. The question of Herod Antipas, "Who is this?" is a good question for us all. It is a question that keeps us searching for Jesus and we always need to be searchers in his regard because we can never know him fully in this life. As Saint Paul says, "now we see as in a mirror dimly." We are all on a quest to know the Lord more clearly so as to love him more dearly and follow him more nearly.
The Lord will make the new temple more glorious than Solomon's
In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying:
Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?
Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.
For thus says the Lord of hosts: "Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts.
The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity," says the Lord of hosts.
When Peter confesses him as Messiah, Jesus predicts his Passion
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answered, "John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Messiah of God."
He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."
Haggai does not deny memories but puts them to their proper use. Without dodging the issue of discouragement, he asks the people, "Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory the temple built by Solomon and demolished by the Babylonians? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem like nothing in your eyes?" But if the prophet can draw upon one memory, he is entitled to summon others. Next he refers to the days of Moses and the covenant at Mount Sinai, "This is the pact that I made with you when you came out of Egypt, and my spirit continues in your midst. Do not fear."
By these good memories Haggai recalls Israel's early days of dedication and achievement, dedication through the covenant at Sinai and achievement during the glorious reigns of David and Solomon. In our lives these are the stages of adolescence and young adult life. The Bible celebrates this phase of life, whether in ourselves or in others. We should encourage the achievement of young people, never be jealous nor envious of them. They will need those golden days as happy memories at a later time.
Out of the searching trial of the exile and the austere days afterwards God drew from Haggai this cry of messianic hope. We too will be blessed with the spiritual insight achieved through suffering and perseverance.
Luke, more than the other evangelists, portrays Jesus as regularly at prayer. The gospel says from Luke, it is when Jesus is praying that he asks his disciples the two questions, "Who do the crowds say I am?" and "Who do you say I am?" Luke suggests that these questions came out of his prayer. They were important questions. The first was a general question; the second was a much more personal one. We can hear both questions as addressed to all of us but the second question is the more demanding, because it asks us to say who Jesus is for us, for me personally. It is easier to say what Jesus means to people in general; it takes a little more out of us to say what he means to me personally. But it is the answer to that second question that Jesus is more interested in. He wants us to give expression to our own personal faith in him. We are each being asked, "What do you believe?"
Jerusalem will be a centre of peace where many will come to dwell
I looked up and saw a man with a measuring line in his hand. Then I asked, "Where are you going?" He answered me, "To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length."
Then the angel who talked with me came forward, and another angel came forward to meet him and said to him, "Run, say to that young man: Jerusalem shall be inhabited like villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and animals in it. For I will be a wall of fire all around it, says the Lord, and I will be the glory within it."
"Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! For lo, I will come and dwell in your midst," says the Lord. "Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you."
Jesus' prophesies his death. The disciples fear to ask about its meaning
All the crowd were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that Jesus was doing, he said to his disciples, "Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands." But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
The Zechariah text is taken from a series of visions in the early part of the prophecy. Visions are necessary for survival when times are bleak, and during the early postexilic period the temple was still in ruins, the people indifferent to the temple and their high priest Joshua was clad in filthy garments (Zech 3:3). This was prophet who coined the phrase, "day of small beginnings" (4:10), but under the impact of other prophets (Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Isaiah), Zechariah dreams of a better future and of a Jerusalem so peaceful that no walls are needed, having the glory of the Lord in its midst.
Zechariah's message is that we don't need to stay gloomy and pessimistic. Each sorrow can be transformed into a reason for hope. The prophet speaks in God's name, "I will favour Jerusalem and the house of Judah; do not fear. These are the things you should do: speak the truth to one another; let there be honesty and peace in the judgments at your gates." He combined visions with earthy practicality, for he appears also as a moral reformer. Zechariah strikes us as the type of young person to whom the wisdom writings were addressed, "Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart, the vision of your eyes."
In the Gospel Jesus was preparing himself and his disciples for the difficult time ahead, when he will be "delivered into the hands of men." If the disciples failed to understand this, it was because they were unwilling to believe their ears. They would not question him about it, lest Jesus repeat what they thought he said. But he repeated the warning as he drew closer to Jerusalem. Hope for resurrection grew out of the reality of death. Like Zechariah, Jesus could see visions to sustain him through the bleakness of life and arrive at life's eternal possibilities.
The admiration of others can be quite fickle. It can be there one day and gone the next. Jesus was very aware of that in regard to himself. At times everyone was full of admiration for all that he did. But at the very moment when he was highly admired as a celebrity he says to his disciples, "the Son of Man is going to be handed over into the power of men." Jesus was not driven by the need for celebrity. He was driven by the desire to do God's will, to complete the work God had given him. That is why he had to go to Jerusalem, dangerous as it was, because that city too needed to hear the goods news of the presence of God's rule in Jesus' life and ministry. The life of Jesus invites us to ask ourselves, "What is it that drives us?" Is it the need for human approval and recognition or is it something deeper? We are all called to make Jesus' desires and priorities our own, to be about God the Father's business as he was, to keep doing God's will and sharing in God's work, in keeping with whatever energies and gifts we have at this particular time and place in our life. Then we will know not just the surface pleasure that comes with human approval but the deeper joy that comes from living in tune with God's purpose for our lives.
Jerusalem shall be filled with those who were scattered across the earth
The word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying: "Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain."
Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets."
Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me?"
Thus says the Lord of hosts: "I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness."
Pointing to a little child, Jesus declares the least to be the greatest
An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, "Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest."
John answered, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you."
Children remain the key to reflection through today's readings and give a glimpse of the new Jerusalem, Zechariah pictures the city with "boys and girls playing in the streets" and in the gospel Jesus turns to children to teach about the "greatest in the Kingdom of God."
So often they demonstrate where adults fail. Children manifest life and enthusiasm where many people in Zechariah's day were simply dragging themselves through life to the grave. The prophet's preaching about new life and bright future was received with a yawn. On his advice and that of Haggai the people had rebuilt the temple. . The splendid vision of a new Jerusalem seemed impossible in the people's eyes. Zechariah, however, quickly asks the question on the part of God, "Shall it; be impossible in my eyes also?"
If we are to believe in the hereafter, we must think of children. Children force us to think also in terms of family and that means the sharing of possessions with the wider family. They make us ponder the mysterious source of life. As adults, we cannot control life as though we were God. At the same time we do not act solely on instinct, like animals. We must think and consider all of the responsibilities of life. But there must also remain a secret part of life which belongs solely to God. Not only in the process of conception, pregnancy and birth, but also in many other important moments of our existence, we do our best when we follow intuitions or inspirations which take even ourselves by surprise.
Children quarrel, yes, but they quickly make up again. The gospel presents us with two scenes of envy and pettiness. The disciples were arguing, "which of them was the greatest." Jesus turns to children and says to welcome a child is to welcome him, and "The least one among you is the greatest." This statement is all the more puzzling if it includes Jesus. Is he the least? He is, supremely, the child of his Father, always in the attitude of receiving the Father's life and as a child he is receiving it totally.
Jesus identifies himself with the least, in response to the disciples' argument as to which of them was the greatest. He identifies himself with a child, and children in that culture were regarded as among the least, in that they were without status or power or influence. They had none of the qualities that the disciples were chasing after in their dispute as to which of them was the greatest. The Lord identifies in a special way with what the world does not consider important. He is saying to his disciples and to us that we meet him above all in the weak, the vulnerable; we meet him in the ordinary, in those who are struggling, in those who seem to have least to offer. Because we meet him in these very ordinary ways, it is easy to miss him. There can be a truly sacred dimension to our dealings with others without our being aware of it. Yes, we meet the Lord in a special way in the Eucharist, but our meeting with him in the Eucharist alerts us to the many ordinary, day-to-day ways in which we meet him and he meets us.
Peoples of every nationality will want to share the faith of the Jews
Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Peoples shall yet come, the inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, "Come, let us go to entreat the favour of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going." Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favour of the Lord.'
Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."'
The Journey begins as Jesus proceeds towards Jerusalem
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
Rejection is one of the most painful of human experiences, especially if it comes from someone who matters to us, someone in whom we have invested a lot of ourselves. An experience of rejection can leave us angry or even bitter. We might even be tempted to strike out in some way, to retaliate in kind. Jesus knew that human experience of rejection, when he was rejected by the people of a Samaritan village. He was a Jew heading for Jerusalem and that was enough to make them refuse him hospitality. If rejection like this was a standard Samaritan response to Jews, the angry reaction of the disciples was a standard Jewish response to Samaritans. They responded to this experience of rejection by suggesting that Jesus allow them to call on God to destroy the Samaritan village. They wanted to strike out.
Jesus' response was very different to that of his disciples. He simply went on to another village; he proclaimed the gospel elsewhere. Jesus remained generous in the face of rejection. That is his way and it is to be our way too. Who we are and how we relate to others is not determined by how others relate to us. Rather who we are, even in the face of rejection, is determined by something much deeper, by our relationship with the Lord and our efforts to keep putting on his mind and spirit.
King Artaxerxes sends Nehemiah to Jerusalem, to restore its walls and graves
In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was served him, I carried the wine and gave it to the king. Now, I had never been sad in his presence before. So the king said to me, "Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This can only be sadness of the heart." Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my ancestors' graves, lies waste, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?" Then the king said to me, "What do you request?" So I prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favour with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors' graves, so that I may rebuild it." The king said to me (the queen also was sitting beside him), "How long will you be gone, and when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me, and I set him a date. Then I said to the king, "If it pleases the king, let letters begiven me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may grant me passage until I arrive in Judah; and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, directing him to give me timber to make beams for the gates of the temple fortress, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy." And the king granted me what I asked, for the gracious hand of my God was upon me.
Jesus responds to prospective followers by a series of stern statements
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
In career terms, Nehemiah reached his pinnacle as personal valet to the Persian king, Artaxerxes I (464-423 B.C.). An incidental detail indicates his rank at court as the one who first tasted the king's food and drink, to save the king from poisoning. He was in the inner royal retinue every day, and therefore in a position to make requests on behalf of others. As a Jew he was sad to see the city of his ancestors so run-down. Even though the temple had been rebuilt at the urging of Haggai and Zechariah, it was clearly open to hostile invaders. The great prophecies of Ezekiel and Second Isaiah, spoken during the Babylonian exile, may have seemed to Nehemiah like visions without substance, mere whistling in the dark.
His gloom at his people's prospects was so visible that the king asked what ailed him. Nehemiah first prayed for guidance and then asked King Artaxerxes for permission to go to Israel and speed up the rebuilding and fortification of the Temple. He was practical enough to get letters of introduction to local governors along the route of his return and to have Asaph, the royal park-keeper, provide wood for the city gates, the temple-citadel and his own residence. Nehemiah's account ends with a reference to the favour God had shown him.
Few can face risking their lives for a cause, on a continuous day-by-day basis, nor should life be planned that way. But risky moments of initiative moments can challenge us all at times, and then we need to remember some of Jesus' warnings, such as, "Take up your cross and follow me," "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" or "Whoever puts his hand to the plough but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God." Today's gospel also sets a pattern for being prepared for risking change and facing adversity. For this day's challenge to us, we need to discern which of these readings best applies to our present circumstances.
Three people show interest in becoming followers of Jesus in today's Gospel, but they seem to lack an awareness of what in involved or any sense of urgency. Two of them claim they have important duties to attend to first. One would think that burying one's father and saying goodbye to people at home were indeed important. But Jesus insists that following him straight away is the more urgent duty. This is one of several gospel texts that most of us find difficult. Jesus seems so demanding and following him, becoming and remaining his disciple, is a tough challenge. It is never going to be an easy or a soft option.
Yes, Jesus asks for a level of allegiance to himself that is greater than the allegiance owed to family, even though it is not in any sense incompatible with our family allegiances. There may come a time when our fidelity to the values of the gospel will put us at odds with those closest to us. Today's gospel brings home to us that walking in the way of the Lord is a serious business, asking for everything we've got!
Ezra gets his people to renew their loyalty to God and to share their gifts
In the seventh month all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherbiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, "Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved." And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Jesus sends out the seventy-two disciples to announce the reign of God
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Eve the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town."
We sense an urgent sense of hurry in each of these texts. Ezra forcefully gathers the people, even the teenagers ("children old enough to understand"), to hear about God's guidance through the Torah received by Moses. Then Jesus sends out the seventy-two disciples with no provisions, but with an urgent mission to announce that the reign of God is at hand. While these texts share a sense of the need to act at once in a decisive way, they part company in their vision of the future. Ezra foresees a long stretch of history on earth, for which he prepares his people by renewing the covenant and by teaching them God's written law.. while Jesus announces that human hopes would soon be fulfilled in the reign of God.
We need both of these perspectives, both the sense of urgency and some plan for the long haul. Jesus told his messengers, "If the people of any town you enter do not welcome you, move on. But know that the reign of God is near." Facing certain choices in life we may have time to think, and then like Ezra we can carefully prepare for the future. At other times we need to choose instantly, and only our best impulses can help us then. Sometimes we have time afterwards to correct mistakes, but it seems that at other times (like the towns that rejected our Lord's messengers,) our decisions are fixed in stone, unchangeable. Forthe rest of our life, possibly for eternity, we must live with the consequences.
We need Ezra-like leadership also in the Church, someone to speak with authority, whom we can confidently follow. He explained the book of God's law plainly, so that all could understand it. The good Lord did not intend the Torah to bring sorrow but joy. When Ezra saw his people in tears of repentance, he urged them in a friendly tone, Do not be sad, and do not weep Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks. Share with those with nothing prepared. Like pope Francis in our time, Ezra urged joy along with sane discipline and so proposed a way of life to last into the future. With this kind of inspirational, joyful leadership, our Church can emerge strengthened from the travails of our recent past. If we commit ourselves to living under the guidance of God, we have the living presence of Jesus right here, in the midst of us.
St. Luke reports Jesus sending out a large group of seventy two, and inviting them to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out still more labourers into the harvest. The Lord's work in its various forms cannot be entrusted to just a small little group; it requires a large number of helpers. Because the harvest is great and varied, the more labourers the better. This is a very important message for the church in our own day. More and more people are needed to take responsibility for the life of the church, for the work of the Lord.
In sending out this large group, Jesus is not slow to draw attention to the difficulties they will face. He anticipates that some towns will not make them feel welcome. But Jesus emphasizes that whether people make them welcome or not the disciples are to proclaim, "the kingdom of God is very near to you." The Lord is very near whether he is welcomed or not. The Lord is present whether he is received or not. The Lord continues to work in and through those who are ready to be his labourers, whether or not that work is appreciated. We are constantly confronted by the presence of God's kingdom, God's rule in and through his Son; there is no getting away from that reality. The only question is how we are responding to that ultimate reality.
From our time in Egypt until now, we have disregarded the voice of the Lord
The Lord our God is in the right, but there is open shame on us today, on the people of Judah, on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and on our kings, our rulers, our priests, our prophets, and our ancestors, because we have sinned before the Lord. We have disobeyed him, and have not heeded the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in the statutes of the Lord that he set before us. From the time when the Lord brought our ancestors out of the land of Egypt until today, we have been disobedient to the Lord our God, and we have been negligent, in not heeding his voice. So to this day there have clung to us the calamities and the curse that the Lord declared through his servant Moses at the time when he brought our ancestors out of the land of Egypt to give to us a land flowing with milk and honey. We did not listen to the voice of the Lord our God in all the words of the prophets whom he sent to us, but all of us followed the intent of our own wicked hearts by serving other gods and doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord our God.
Tyre and Sidon would have repented, had they seen the miracles done by Jesus
"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.
"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."
Today’s text from Baruch dates to the Babylonian exile (587-539 B.C.), and the context for his sermond was the autumnal feast of Tabernacles. A collection was being taken up, to be sent to Jerusalem for sacrifices and for helping the poor in the holy city. The feast of Tabernacles was originally an octave of great rejoicing. During the exile, however, and in the postexilic period, the joy was tinged with sorrow, for the contrast between what the feast celebrated and the reality of life was so glaring. In Ezra’s day the people needed to be told, “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength” (Neh 8:9-10).
Baruch insists that this sorrow is the fault of the people, not of God: we should blush with shame, for we have been disobedient; we went off after the desires of our own heart. Yet the same merciful God of the exodus is with us today. We are asked to repent, to reform our ways, to set our faces towards our good inspirations and yes, most of all to be men and women of hope.
We too tend to question God’s wisdom, or God's providence in our own lives. Yet here we are reminded how much we belong to God’s family. Like Moses in the desert, we have experienced the goodness, even the miracles of God. In the gospel, Jesus reminds us again of these miracles and holds out to us, even when melancholy and without hope, a new life, transformed by his presence.
Jesus laments the fact that the people of the towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida did not appreciate all that he had done among them. They were indifferent to the Lord's gracious works in their midst, and were not in any way moved by them to turn more fully towards God. We too can sometimes miss the ways that the Lord is moving among us. His presence among us will generally express itself in very ordinary, unspectacular ways. It might take the form of an unexpected kindness that someone shows to us, an invitation we receive that we had not expected, a word of appreciation or support at a time when it was needed, a positive and willing response to a call that we make on someone. The Lord comes to us especially in and through his followers, in and through each other in the church. As he says in today's gospel, "Anyone who listens to you listens to me." We do not always recognize the ways in which the Lord touches our lives. We don't always notice the Lord passing by and gracing us in different ways. At the end of our day, it can be good to look back over that day and to notice where the Lord has been gracing us with his presence, and, then to quietly give thanks for that.
Grieving for the Jews in exile, he begs them to turn again and seek God
Take courage, my people, who perpetuate Israel's name! It was not for destruction that you were sold to the nations, but you were handed over to your enemies because you angered God. For you provoked the one who made you by sacrificing to demons and not to God. You forgot the everlasting God, who brought you up, and you grieved Jerusalem, who reared you. For she saw the wrath that came upon you from God, and she said:
Listen, you neighbours of Zion, God has brought great sorrow upon me; for I have seen the exile of my sons and daughters, which the Everlasting brought upon them. With joy I nurtured them, but I sent them away with weeping and sorrow. Let no one rejoice over me, a widow and bereaved of many; I was left desolate because of the sins of my children, because they turned away from the law of God.
Take courage, my children, and cry to God, for you will be remembered by the one who brought this upon you. For just as you were disposed to go astray from God, return with tenfold zeal to seek him. For the one who brought these calamities upon you will bring you everlasting joy with your salvation.
Jesus rejoices in the graces reserved for the humble of heart
The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!"; He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it."
It baffles us when a person as good as Job must "repent in dust and ashes". But he was humbled by the mystery of God's overpowering presence. He had presumed to question God, as though he, Job, were a divine colleague, but now he disowns his words and repents in dust and ashes. The conclusion to the Book of Job is a strong call to just this kind of humility before God. If we follow Job's example, we will be blessed like him.
Our gospel allows us a rare glimpse into the deepest of all mysteries, the prayer of Jesus himself. The Evangelists, especially Luke, frequently enough speak of Jesus at prayer, but seldom offer more than a reverent silence around such moments. Here he speaks his prayer aloud, overcome by a hidden power. Rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, he thanks the Father that "what you have hidden from the learned and the clever, you have revealed to merest children." We can only hope to remain so grateful in the midst of any success we may achieve, even in our teaching of religion.
It is natural to take pride in our work, especially if we feel that we have done it well. That is what we find the disciples doing in today's gospel. They return to Jesus from a period of successful mission. In their excitement they say to Jesus, "even the devils submit to us when we use your name." Jesus acknowledges the success of their work, yet he focuses on something more fundamental. He tells them to rejoice not so much in the success of their work but in the fact that their names are written in heaven. It is their relationship with God which is to be the real source of their joy. It is that relationship which makes their work fruitful. That is why Jesus goes on to say to them, "Happy the eyes that see what you see." The disciples had come to see and hear the presence of God in the person of Jesus; they had received Jesus' revelation of his own relationship with God his Father and had allowed themselves to be drawn into that relationship. That is why they can rejoice. The gospel reading reminds us that our own sharing in Jesus' relationship with God is our real treasure, not so much the success or otherwise of what we do. It is that gift of sharing in Jesus' relationship with God his Father that allows us to see and hear what many prophets and kings longed to see and hear, and is the real cause for joy and thanksgiving. Even when our work ceases, for whatever reason, be it age or poor health or lack of opportunity, that gift of sharing in Jesus' own relationship with God endures.
Jonah is swallowed by the whale and brought back to Israel
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 'Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.' But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, 'What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.'
The sailors said to one another, 'Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.' So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.Then they said to him, 'Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?' 'I am a Hebrew,' he replied. 'I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.'Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, 'What is this that you have done!' For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.
Then they said to him, 'What shall we do to you, that the sea may quieten down for us?' For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. He said to them, 'Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quieten down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.' Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. Then they cried out to the Lord, 'Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man's life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.' So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish.
The parable of the Good Samaritan
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher,"; he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal lie?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
In today's gospel a lawyer-theologian poses a problem to Jesus about everlasting life, the deepest and most serious of all theological questions. On hearing the Love-commandment and how we are required to love our neighbour, the theologian asks a question to which he already must know the answer. He asks, "Who is my neighbour?" For an answer Jesus instances the Samaritans, a people who were despised and rejected by Israel as heretics and spoilers of the Torah.
Who would be today's equivalent to this "Samaritan" neighbour, those we hate or look down on, who are ignorant and willfully wrong, who have harmed us and taken advantage of us? Listen, Jesus says, listen to them as they teach you how to pray and to follow God's holy will. Listen as they silently turn aside and care for their wounded enemy along the road. Listen, because we who are correct can be so biased and self-righteous, so proud and pious that we miss the signals of wonder and goodness flashed through the darkness to keep us on the course of God's blessed will.
In today's gospel a lawyer asks Jesus two very important questions. He first asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" He then went on to ask him, "Who is my neighbour?" It was in response to that second question that Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan. But that parable doesn't really answer the question, "Who is my neighbour?" It answers another question, the question Jesus asks at the end of the parable, "Which of these three proved himself a neighbour?" In other words, the parable addresses the question, "What does it mean to be a neighbour?" Jesus is suggesting that it is more important to be a neighbour to others than to be trying to work out "who is my neighbour?" The answer to the lawyer's first question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" is "Be a neighbour." The parable is saying to us that if you want to know what it means to be a neighbour, look at the Samaritan. What the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan all had in common is that they all noticed; they all saw the broken man by the roadside. What distinguished the Samaritan is that he responded to what he noticed. His seeing gave way to compassionate serving. It is the kind of seeing that characterized Jesus' whole ministry. Jesus' answer to the lawyer's first question is "Be a neighbour in the way that I am."
At Jonah's preaching, the people of Nineveh and their king repent and so save their city
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across.
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish."
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Jesus defends Mary's right to listen, while Martha is busy with hospitality
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
To interpret today's gospel we must keep a healthy balance between contemplation and action, and remember that each of us reflects, simultaneously, Martha and Mary, Paul and Peter, Jonah and Nineveh. They are all symbols for something God wants of us. This does not deny their individual reality but enshrines Paul's view that "everything in the Scriptures was written for our instruction" (Rom 15:4).
Jonah was a man of action, though not always good action. As we saw yesterday, when ordered to Nineveh to preach repentance he acted promptly but in the wrong direction. He could have avoided all trouble by ignoring the Lord's command and sleeping his life away at home in Israel. Martha is like others in Luke's rendition of the Good News, who threw parties, beginning with Simon Peter's mother-in-law (4:39) and including the father of the prodigal son (15:22-24), Zacchaeus the tax collector (19:5-6) and Jesus' own preparations for the Last Supper (22:7-13). Silent contemplation is the exception, not the rule, in the Old and New Testament. In the Book of Jonah repentance did not consist simply in the ritual acts of sackcloth and ashes. All persons were required to "turn from their evil ways," a phrase repeated twice in this short book, and therefore essential for true conversion. Both ritual and moral action were expected.
Still, the role of Mary begins to emerge as also a valid option. First of all, note how Moses, the founder of biblical religion, ascends into the clouds as he went up on mount Sinai and "stayed there for forty days and forty nights" (Exod 24:18). Later we are told that during his time spent in writing the law, Moses refrained from "eating any food or drinking any water" (Exod 34:28). The king of Nineveh also called for fasting, penance and prayer on the part of everyone, to draw close to god.
We may be surprised at Jesus' words to Martha, "You are anxious and upset about many things; one thing only is required. Mary has chosen the better portion." One might say that he was speaking to the "Mary spirit" that should exist in Martha and belongs to each of us. It is not good to be so active as to be "anxious and upset." Then, we are always in need to be reminded of the secret, inner vision of our lives. The "better portion," praised by Jesus in no ways makes the other portion unimportant or unnecessary; it makes our activity full of spirit and soul, direction and wisdom, love and concern. We each need to be both Martha and Mary.
Most people on hearing this gospel feel some sympathy for Martha. There she is working hard in the service of Jesus and Jesus declares that Mary has chosen the better part. "Poor old Martha" would be a fairly common response. Jesus is clearly not opposed in principal to people working hard in his service and in the service of others. Yesterday's parable of the Good Samaritan praises compassion and active love. But as the book of Ecclesiastes says, "there is a time for every matter under heaven," and in light of this we could say, "there is a time to be active and a time to refrain from activity."
Apparently Jesus understood that his visit to the home of the two sisters was a time for them to refrain from activity so as to listen to his word. Jesus had something to say and he wanted them to listen. It was Mary who recognized that this was the kind of hospitality Jesus wanted on this occasion, the hospitality of listening rather than the hospitality of activity. Mary was more attuned to what the Lord really wanted than Martha was. Yes, the Lord wants us to work on his behalf, but he also wants us to listen to him. Wisdom consists in knowing when the time has come to be active and busy in the Lord's service and when it is time simply to sit and listen to his word.
Jonah complains, angry that God has mercy on Nineveh
Jonah was displeased and became very angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, "O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." And the Lord said, "Is it right for you to be angry?"
Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east win, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, "It is better for me to die than to live."
But God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?" And he said, "Yes, angry enough to die." Then the Lord said, "You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?"
The Our Father stresses daily needs and daily temptation
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."
He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."
Today’s first reading reflects the balance between principles and their application, just as yesterday’s Gospel linked the contrasting examples of contemplation (Mary) and activism (Martha).
We have already seen a glaring paradox in Jonah's outlook. This prophet who claimed to worship the Lord who made the sea and the dry land seeks to flee from the Lord by taking a long sea voyage. Today’s paradox is even more poignant. Jonah would know that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness” . This made him unwilling to preach repentance in the name of such a God, who would have compassion on the enemy nation, the people of Nineveh. He cannot abide the idea of Israel's enemies becoming the object of God’s compassion. Jonah is willing to bypass Nineveh and leave it to destruction, but he becomes angry when God fails to save the gourd plant. The selfish prophet thinks God must show compassion on this little tree, that shades Jonah from the fierce sun and burning east wind. God’s reply blends a good lesson with whimsical concern: You are concerned for the plant… Should I not be concerned for Nineveh, with all its inhabitants?
Jesus was in a certain place, praying. His prayer evokes the desire to pray in the heart of one of his disciples, "Lord, teach us to pray." We can all identify with that request, for we recognize our need of a wise guide when it comes to prayer. In response to that request, Jesus gives a lesson on how to petition God. The prayer of listening is one form of prayer; the prayer of petition is another. We all feel the need to ask God for something from time to time. Jesus' teaching suggests that our prayer of petition should focus first on what God wants, "your name be held holy, your kingdom come."
All our requests are subject to that fundamental request that God's kingdom would come and God's will be done among us. Then Jesus suggests what it is we really need as his followers and, therefore, need to ask for -- forgiveness for our sins, sustenance for the day, God's help when our faith is put to the test. Those petitions are to take priority over all others, and, by implication, all other petitions are in some way to derive from those fundamental ones.
Religion seems to brings no benefit. Yet on the day of the Lord all will be revealed
You have spoken harsh words against me, says the Lord. Yet you say, "How have we spoken against you?" You have said, "It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the Lord of hosts? Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape."
Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name. They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children who serve them. Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
Persevere in prayer, confident of the Father's love to all who ask it
Jesus said to his disciples, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Perseverance is based on the assurance that we already possess what we seek. Luke brings our discussion much closer to earth by citing a more secular word, "persistence." While "perseverance" connotes the way to heaven, "persistence" almost has an unappropriate taste of stubbornness about it. Such indeed is the tone and attitude of Jesus' short parable.
The social law of that country and culture demands an open door even to someone who comes, in the middle of the night. But we do not bang on the door of a neighbour in the middle of the night in order to obtain some bread. Jesus is not arguing what is right or wrong. The point of a parable is kept for the last line. The neighbour obliges, not because of friendship but because of the other person's persistence, and then gives as much as he needs.
Perseverance and persistence carry a note of annoyance and trouble, but most of all require an enduring faith that hopes will not be frustrated. A bond between the neighbours is being deepened beyond the laws of friendship. A new sense of admiration can ensue, once the shock of midnight banging and family disturbance levels off. Jesus takes the parable further by appealing to parents' care and attention towards their children. Does a mother give a snake when a child asks for fish? He acknowledges the basic goodness and fidelity of every human being, yet he also wants our relationships to deepen and become still more reliable:, with God's help. If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. God gives part of himself, his own Holy Spirit so that our own good actions manifest his divine goodness and reach beyond our dreams and expectations.
In the Middle Eastern culture of Jesus' time hospitality was a sacred duty; indeed, it still is in that part of the world today. It is inconceivable that someone in desperate need who knocks on the door of a friend would be refused hospitality, even if it was in the middle of the night. Jesus is saying, "if that is how hospitable you are, think of how hospitable God is." If you are prepared to get up in the middle of the night when a friend knocks on your door, then you should never be slow to knock on God's door because God is an even more wonderful friend to you. Jesus encourages us in that gospel reading, to knock on God's door, to seek out God, to petition God. It is a ringing endorsement of the prayer of petition. What are we to ask God for? To put that question another way, "What does God want to give us?" At the end of that gospel reading Jesus declares that what God wants to give us is the Holy Spirit. "How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." God wants to give us what we most need, and what we most need is the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who empowers us to take the path God wants us to take, the path that leads to fullness of life for ourselves and for others, here and now and in eternity. Jesus insists that if we keep on asking God for that gift of the Spirit we won't find God wanting.
A solemn fast to avert the plague, reminding us of the fearful "day of the Lord."
Priests, put on sackcloth and lament; wail, you ministers of the altar. Come, pass the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God! Grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near--a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.
Jesus casts out devils by the finger of God, not by Beelzebul, as his detractors claim
When Jesus had cast out a demon some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons." Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?--for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
"When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first."
A favourite way of answering a question, among the rabbis and with Jesus, is to ask another. While our culture demands instant answers, the Bible tries to induce a meditative attitude in God's presence. Jewish liturgies testified to a long-standing tradition that God will transform the universe. In God we find not destructive force but a transforming love. Joel quotes from the covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai: The Lord, your God, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness. Somehow, when we are pushed to the limits of our patience, we can realize that God has plans for us beyond the horizons of this earthly life.
Jesus acknowledges the existence of supernatural forces of good and evil, devils and angels. He wrestles with these mighty powers and must silence his opponents who accuse him out of envy and fear, "by Beelzebul, he casts out devils!" No, he replies, but it is with God's help that he faces down the power of evil. So we too cannot rely simply on our own unaided strength, but make God our refuge in the day of evil.
Some people put Jesus to the test by asking him for a sign from heaven. They want him to perform some spectacular sign. But they are completely blind to the presence of God in the ministry of Jesus itself. Jesus declares in the gospel that it is by the finger of God that he casts our demons from people. God is powerfully at work in his ministry if only people had eyes to see it. There is no need for Jesus to do a spectacular sign. Sometimes we too can be overly fascinated by the unusual when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. We fail to see the ways that the Lord is present among us in and through the goodness and kindness and hospitality of others, in and through the selfless service that people show each other in all kinds of ordinary and simple ways, in and through the various expressions of love that people show one another, in and through people's quiet prayerfulness. We can miss the deeper dimension of the everyday and the familiar. I think of the poet Joseph Mary Plunkett who wrote, "I see his blood upon the rose and in the stars the glory of his eyes." Nature spoke to him of Christ. The best of human nature and human relationships can speak to us even more powerfully of the Lord.
A time of peace and prosperity will come to God's holy mountain
The Lord says:
"Let the nations rouse themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the neighbouring nations.
Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the wine press is full. The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.
The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake. But the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. So you shall know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it.
In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the Wadi Shittim. Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate desert, because of the violence done to the people of Judah, in whose land they have shed innocent blood. But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. I will avenge their blood, and I will not clear the guilty, for the Lord dwells in Zion."
More blessed than giving birth to Jesus is hearing God's word and keeping it
While Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!"
A sword of sorrow seems to be wielded in today's texts. Joel announces a severe judgment against the nations, in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (="Yahweh judges.") And Luke seems to have in mind Simeon's prophecy to Mary that her heart would be "pierced with a sword." With what bewilderment must Mary have interpreted her son's reply to a woman who shouted out words of spontaneous praise for the one who nursed Jesus, when he said, "Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it."
Even if such symbols are not to be taken literally, they are to be taken seriously. As blood is seen as the locus of life (Lev 17:11), Joel warns that the life of all the created universe must be re-consecrated to God in the valley of decision. We must rethink our entire existence, and evaluate our loyalty to family, country, race and even our church, if the Lord is to be our refuge and our stronghold. We reconsider our relationship with foreigners and with business, employment and government, possibly what is meant by the references to Egypt, Edom and Judah. In all of these rich symbolic expressions, Joel bids us to rethink the heart and source of all our relationships.
Nobody escapes the sharp sword of God's word, not even Jesus' own blessed mother. Her role does not stop with her physical motherhood and her gentle, life-giving care of the infant Jesus at her breast. She too was to listen continually to God's word and to act on its new inspirations. In Luke's gospel, Mary is presented in just that way, treasuring God's word, spoken through her wide reach of neighbours, and reflecting on them in her heart (Luke 2:19). We too must listen again this day to God's word and act on it with new faith and confidence, and reach out with new bonds of love to our faith-family across the world, as close to us as brothers and sisters
Today's gospel must be the shortest in the Lectionary, just two verses long. It is a little exchange between Jesus and a nameless woman that is reported only by St Luke. We should notice how prominently women feature in Luke's gospel story. Anyway, on this particular occasion, a woman was so taken by what Jesus was saying that she spontaneously burst out with a blessing directed at Jesus' mother. One woman declared another woman as highly blessed, for being the mother of Jesus.
Now, our Lord undoubtedly had the highest possible regard for his mother. But he deflects the woman's beatitude onto a much wider group, "Still happier/more blessed those who hear the word of God and keep it." Of course, Jesus' mother was a prominent member of that much wider group. She, more than anyone else, heard the word of God and kept it. Jesus is saying that if his mother is blessed, it is not so much because she is his mother but because she gave herself over to the hearing and doing of God's word, "Let it be to be according to your word." Jesus is also saying that if we give ourselves over to the hearing and doing of God's word, we will be blessed just as as she is.
Jesus, descendant of David is recognised as Son of God by the resurrection
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Ninevites and the queen of Sheba will blame the people of Jesus' generation
When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, "This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!>
Some people with little or no knowledge of Jesus manifest a gentleness, honesty and generosity which puts to shame many Christian believers. The gospel gives us excellent examples of this. While Jesus was comparing the gentiles with his Jewish compatriots, the story was written for Christian communities. The queen of the south represents Africa, mentioned in the Bible as Kush or Ethiopia. This distant land was impenetrable and forbidding to Israelites who feared the open sea and only rarely resorted to ships, such as in Solomon's time (1 Kings 9:26-29) and under Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:49). Ethiopia came to visit Solomon in the person of the queen of the south (1 Kings 10:1-13). Similarly, the Ninevites, those hated Assyrians who caused such widespread destruction to neighbouring countries, could be converted by the preaching of Jonah. With very little religious background these pagans came to faith. We who see and hear what "kings and prophets desired to see" (Matthew 13:17), we who have so much and accomplish so little!
Each of us, Paul seems to say, contains in ourselves not one but two life-principles. We are born of the flesh in the natural order, and born of the spirit in the supernatural order. The first follows a law that is irreversible--conception, birth, life in the flesh. Paul compares this to Judaism with its multiple laws for each moment of human existence. Our second birth through the Spirit far surpasses our fleshly human ability and potency, and it leads to eternal life. Flesh is doomed to die; spirit is promised eternal life. The spirit co-exists with our human, fleshly self and liberates us from its slavery to death.
This double birth is modelled in Jesus, according to Paul's opening words to the Romans. Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh but was made Son of God in power, by his resurrection from the dead. Salvation comes through the Spirit, not only in Jesus' case but always. The Spirit is somehow present in everyone in the world. We too have the benefit of the Scriptures, the sacred liturgy and a long tradition of saints. All of us can remember wonderful moments in our own lives when the Holy Spirit brought us the fruits of love, joy and peace. We are able to anticipate eternal life and its joy here on earth, for the Spirit of Jesus, greater than Solomon or Jonah, dwells within the fleshly temple of our bodies.
Jesus notes the failure of people to appreciate him or to recognize the significance of his presence as someone greater than Jonah, greater even than Solomon. If the people of Nineveh responded with faith to Jonah and if the Queen of the South showed such trust in Solomon, how much more should Jesus' contemporaries respond to him. The same Jesus who was present to his contemporaries is present to us as risen Lord. We too can fail to appreciate the Lord who stands among us.
Like Jesus' contemporaries, we can look for signs without recognizing the powerful signs of his presence that are all around us. The greatest sign of the Lord's presence, a sacred sign or sacrament, is the Eucharist. In the Eucharist the Lord is present to us under the form of bread and wine, saying to us, "This is my body; This is my blood." In coming to the Lord in the Eucharist we are coming to someone greater than Jonah or Solomon. The Lord is present to us in other ways also. We take his presence seriously by responding to his call and following in his way, as the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah's call. Having been graced by the Lord's presence, we are to respond to his presence by living in a graced way.
Refusal to worship the true God leads to immorality
I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith."
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Inner cleanliness is far more important than external appearance
While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.
In today's text from Romans, we hear of the visible manifestation of God's eternal power within the created world and are gradually led to the invisible reality of God himself. The gospel seems to say that the condition of the inside of the cup is more important than the outside, and generosity more effective than the washing of hands. Romans moves from the outside in, the gospel from the inside out. Galatians seems to hit the happy medium: there ought to be a harmonious blending of faith and love, flesh and spirit, inner and outer cleanliness. If such an integral and peaceful wholeness exists in us, then Paul's ideal of perfect liberty will be ours.
The Epistle to the Romans is not easily interpreted. Paul's ideas seem to shimmer as he glides from one aspect of salvation to another. We can bring the ideas back into focus if we recall the key phrase, so prominent in Galatians (3:11) and now repeated as a dominant theme for the entire Epistle to the Romans, "The just person lives by faith." Faith here implies fidelity and trust over the long run. It recognizes that the mysteries spread across the universe are also deeply imbedded in each person's soul.. The "justice" signifies that God, humanity, and the entire created universe live up to what they are. Actions flow from nature. God is just when. he lives up to his covenantal promises. When Paul writes, "in the gospel is revealed the justice of God which begins and ends with faith," he means to say that God fulfills these convenantal promises in a way beyond all expectation, yet true to his own compassionate self.
Jesus calls for an active expression of faith through works of love: "give what you have as alms." love, therefore, is to be concerned about the needy and generous in attending to them. Then, he concluded, "all will be wiped clean for you." This is a curious thought. The poor and the needy generally have a more difficult time with cleanliness than the wealthy and the leisured class. The poor work longer hours, are involved with dirt, grease and dust, and do not have at hand all the conveniences of hot and cold running water, privacy and energy. Could this be why Jesus had not properly washed his hands before sitting down to eat at the Pharisee's house?
The familiar expression "missing the wood for the trees" warns against the common tendency to lost sight of essentials. A fine example of this tendency is noted in today's gospel, where a Pharisee who had invited Jesus to a meal was taken aback when Our Lord did not observe the usual Jewish rituals of washing before eating. Jesus replies by accusing the Pharisees as a group of being preoccupied with non-essentials while paying little attention to essential values, such as giving alms to the poor. When it comes to our faith, we constantly need to keep returning to the essentials. You could say that the Second Vatican Council was a collective effort on the part of the whole Church to get back to essentials. Saint Paul had a great nose for the essentials when describing the Christian calling. In Galatia, he was up against some Jewish Christians who were insisting on the necessity of the Jewish rite of circumcision for everyone in the Church of Jesus. In today's first reading Paul states the essentials plainly, "what matters is faith that makes its power felt through love," or faith working through love. We are called to faith, a personal entrusting of ourselves to Christ who gave himself for us in love upon the cross. Our faith is to find expression in a life of love, in a life that allows the love of Christ, to which we entrust ourselves, to flow through us and touch the lives of others. Paul would say that everything else is secondary.
Jew and gentile will be judged by the same criteria
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, "We know that God's judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth." Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one's deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
Woe to Pharisees and lawyers who insist on impossible legal details
"But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herb of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it."
One of the lawyers answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too." And he said, "Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them."
The Scriptures insist on the value of freedom and the primacy of love, but also warn us against the excess of libertinism and individualism. Jesus' teaching on this is carefully nuanced. While contrasting the way that the Pharisees paid their tithes, while neglecting justice and the love of God, Jesus concludes that the latter are more important, but immediately adds, "without omitting the other." He did not mount any campaign against the Jewish or Mosaic law. In fact, he observed it carefully and always had a sensible reason for departing from it. When he permits a freer way of acting, he is generally defending his disciples, e.g., plucking and rubbing grain on the Sabbath.
If we truly discern, we will recognise the danger of stressing external details and in judging others accordingly. The more that we multiply rules, the more we try to control other people's lives. With control over others comes a temptation to judge them. At the same time we ourselves are in danger of thinking ourselves holy because we are exact in externals. Our insistence on punctilio can be a barrier to holiness!
Jesus did not reject all rules and regulations, in this case, the duty to pay tithes. So we should not neglect these things either. Yet he stressed the centrality of justice and the love of God. It is good for us to question our motives in making and obeying rules and in judging by externals. Some would esteem the appearance of a home more than the happy life within the home. If we are in the habit of passing judgment on family, community and people at large, we have probably lost touch with the more central values of love.
Today's text from Romans seems harsh in its judgment of the sinfulness of the pagan Roman empire. But then Paul adds a balancing note, "With God there is no favouritism." He notes the different scale of values and the cultural diversity between Jews and the Greco-Romans. It is so easy, at least at first, for a person from one culture to judge severely a person from a different background. Even if there are some absolute truths, these truths will take different colorations within different cultures. Jesus adds key word of advice: Before beginning to judge others we must first lift a finger to lighten their burden. Perhaps then we would become so aware of their good qualities, that negative attitudes would be silenced.
Jesus is critical of the Pharisees for taking the seats of honour in the synagogues. Looking for special status was very deeply rooted in the culture to which Jesus belonged. Most of the generous giving that went on was with a view to gaining honour from others. If someone built a public baths, for example, their name was clearly inscribed on it for all to see. Perhaps things haven't changed all that much in that regard. Jesus had a very different attitude to honour and prestige. He certainly did not seek it for himself and he did not encourage his disciples to seek recognition for themselves, even though they were prone to doing so, as they argued among themselves as to which of them was the greatest.
James and John asked Jesus for seats on his left and right in his kingdom. Rather than getting honour from others, Jesus put the emphasis on giving honour or showing honour, the primary one to whom we give honour being God. We are to live in such a way that we bring honour to God and not to ourselves. Even our good works are to bring honour to God and not to ourselves. At the beginning of the sermon on the mount in Matthew's gospel Jesus tells his disciples, "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." Jesus assures us that in living in a way that brings honour to God, we will indeed receive honour from God, in the next life, if not in this life.
All have sinned, but are freely justified by faith in Jesus Christ
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one.
In attacking Jesus, the Pharisees take sides with those who killed the prophets of old
Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,' so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering."
When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
Paul here offers the basis of his gospel and entire ministry: that all human beings, whatever their race, are spiritually dependent on Jesus. By contrast, today's gospel is similar to the "woe" or "curse" passages of the Old Testament.
Many significant expressions bring depth and Old Testament resonance to Paul's writings, each with its own specific nuance of meaning. Such words include: justice of God, the glory of God, redemption, blood, the law or Torah, choice by God, divine favour, mystery, fullness of time, Christ's headship. For our meditation we choose one of these, namely blood, which occurs in all three readings for today. Through Christ's blood he achieves expiation for all who believe; his blood joins that of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world (Luke). Clearly a positive life-giving meaning is assigned to the blood of Christ.
When Paul writes to the Romans, "through his blood God made Christ the means of expiation for all who believe," he is saying that Christ's death and resurrection have established a bond of life in all who are one in Christ Jesus. The focus of attention is not on the death (even though this agonizing event is not to be overlooked), but on the new life which the risen Christ suffuses into our midst. Because this "life" or "blood" of Christ is so pure, vigorous and divine, we are cleansed of all impurities within our system and are granted a supernatural energy and perception.
Jesus mentions the blood of martyrs in his controversy with Pharisees and lawyers. When he condemns them for putting monumental tombs over the graves of the prophets, it is not that he is opposed to honouring the prophets. Typical of the blood-symbolism, Jesus wants to honour the dead, not so much by concentrating on their dead bones nor even on their dead memory, but by continuing their life and imitating their selfless concern for others, especially for the poor and for others in desperate need; we too are meant to stand up for the cause of justice, for other people's dignity and rights.
Jesus criticizes the lawyers, the experts in the Jewish Law, the Law of God, for taking away the key of knowledge. They have failed to come to know God themselves, as Jesus reveals Him, and have prevented others from coming to know God. Their calling was to be teachers of the ways of God, but they have not been true to that calling. Jesus himself was the key to the knowledge of God, because he reveals God more fully than any other human being could. In rejecting Jesus, the lawyers were taking away the key of knowledge, failing to recognize God at work in Jesus for themselves and not allowing others to discover God in Jesus either. God has given us the key to knowing him, by giving us Jesus. Jesus is the key to the knowledge of God, and we are all learners. Indeed, we will always be learners when it comes to God. The mistake is to think ourselves learned and clever when it comes to God. On the contrary we are more like infants, always having much to learn. Only if we recognize that will we come to know God more fully. That is why Jesus prayed a little earlier in Luke's gospel, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the learned and the clever and have revealed them to infants."
For the believer, faith is credited as justice. This is how Abraham was justified
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:
"Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin."
What you hear or say in secret, proclaim from the rooftops
Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows
Romans tends to be sober and cautious due to the atmosphere of controversy. Paul is still battling against the "Judaizers" of the early Church who demanded the full observance of the Mosaic law from every disciple of Jesus. He turns to the example of Abraham, to illustrate that justification is by faith rather than by works. Not only does the Torah state clearly, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as justice," but it is also an indisputable fact that Abraham preceded Moses by hundreds of years, and therefore did not observe the Mosaic law. If this part of Paul's argument is so obvious that he may seem guilty of overkill, it may be meant to counter a tradition that Abraham knew in advance by revelation the entire Mosaic law, obeyed it and so was blessed. Such seems to be the position of the sage, Ben Sirach, "Abraham, father of many peoples, observed the precepts of the Most High, and when tested,he was found loyal. Therefore, God promised him with an oath that in his descendants the nations would be blessed (Sir 44:19-21).
Paul disdains this later tradition and takes his case back to Genesis. First came God's choice and call (Gen 12), then Abraham's faith (Gen 15) and only later did he demand circumcision (Gen 17) and prove himself faithful in the test (Gen 22). If God's gift to Abraham, and like Abraham now to the gentiles, was so freely bestowed, then Paul and ourselves need no longer think of past sins. Nor will we be concerned about offenses against a law that is no longer binding on us.
Exuberance and liberty of spirit are found in today's gospel. What was said in the dark we are to proclaim from rooftops. If our merciful God is concerned about sparrows, then "fear nothing. You are more precious than a whole flock of sparrows." Justification by faith in this God liberates us more than from the law. It makes us free, confident and already part-way to heaven.
The image of God Jesus presents in today's gospel very striking. God is so involved with the details of creation that even the humble sparrow is not forgotten in God's sight. We tend to presume, perhaps unfairly, that, when it comes to those in leadership positions, the more exalted they are, the less in touch they are with the details of people's lives. Jesus' way of speaking about God in today's gospel suggests that this does not apply to God. God is exalted above every human being, above all of creation, and, yet, God is involved with the details of that creation. As the gospel says, "not one sparrow is forgotten in God's sight." God is interested in the details of our own lives too. As Jesus says in our gospel reading, "Every hair on your head has been counted; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows." Jesus is saying, if a sparrow is not forgotten in God's sight, how much more is that true of us. Jesus reveals a God who is not detached from us, but who wants to be involved with the details of our lives, with our ups and downs, our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures. If God is interested in the details of our lives, we can speak to God out of our experience. We can bring before him the details of our lives in prayer, knowing that he is deeply concerned about us. We can speak from the heart to God, as we would to our closest friend. God invites us to entrust our lives to him.
Hoping against hope, Abraham became the father of many nations, believing in the life-giving power of God
The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations")--in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become "the father of many nations," according to what was said, "So numerous shall your descendants be."
Do not worry about defending yourselves. The Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what to say
Jesus said to his disciples: "I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before he angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say."
Abraham's hoping against hope, must have seemed odd, even to Sarah his wife. Who would ever think that this elderly couple would not only be the source of a great nation? A person without Abraham's faith would call this man's hope simply "ridiculous." When a situation turns out to be humanly hopeless, we should recall Abraham and Sarah. Such situations calling for radical decision come often enough in individual lives, and within history too.
Paul calls us to "look to Abraham and to Sarah," so that the Lord may have pity on all our ruins and turn our desert existence into a paradise like Eden. Abraham himself never witnessed how marvellous this promised fertility would be. He saw only his son Isaac. In a way, Abraham's faith had to reach beyond death to the resurrection of the dead. For this reason Jesus appeals to the example of Abraham for belief in the resurrection.
People closely united to Jesus realize how disastrous is a word spoken against the Holy Spirit, who is God's personal presence with us, to inspire us with courage and vision at any moment of crisis. "The Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment all that should be said.
The gospel has Jesus calling his disciples to be courageous in bearing witness to him, in declaring themselves for him in the presence of others. He also promises them that in bearing witness to him they won't be left to their own resources. Rather, as Jesus says, when the time comes the Holy Spirit will teach them what they must say. Declaring ourselves for the Lord today can be difficult because of the climate in which we live which is so often hostile to faith and religion, and our Catholic faith in particular. It is easy to become discouraged when there is so much hostile and negative press around. We can easily be cowed into silence and invisibility. The gospel today suggests that we must work to resist that temptation. It calls on us to declare ourselves for the Lord publicly and it promises help in doing that, the help of the Holy Spirit. As Paul says, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. We need to keep on praying for a daily Pentecost in our lives so that we have the courage to declare for the Lord who himself had the courage to declare for God his Father even though it meant having to submit to death on a cross.
Like Abraham's faith, our faith will be credited to us by God
No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
Our Lord warns against greed in all its forms
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
While the Bible teaches about the justifying power of faith, this does not undermine the value of good works, as though nothing else was required but to believe and to pray. Above all we have the powerful example of Jesus himself, who went about doing good, preaching, healing, listening, defending, encouraging, supporting the poor. If faith could stand on its own without commitment to good works, then what of the great prophets like Isaiah, who preached a strong message of faith flourishing through works of justice?
Paul's favourite Old Testament spiritual guide was Isaiah, who wrote the stirring, almost untranslatable couplet: Unless your faith is firm, You shall not be affirmed (Isa 7:9). This same Isaiah laid equal stress upon good works. Condemning Israel's liturgy as sterile and useless, he called for conversion: Make justice your aim: redress the wrongs, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow (Isa 1:16,23).
The gospel reminds us of the faults of omission of which otherwise seemingly good, rich people are often guilty. They can be so tenacious about keeping for themselves preserving what they have amassed as private property. They set their total security in wealth and respectability. To this streak in most of us, Jesus gives this warning: Avoid greed in all its forms.Possessions do not guarantee life Do not grow selfishly rich, instead of growing rich in the sight of the Lord.
Issues of inheritance can be very divisive in a family. Family members have been known to fall out over wills. The gospel says Jesus is portrayed as showing a great reluctance to get involved with a family dispute over inheritance. Instead, he takes the opportunity to give a teaching on the dangers of greed of any kind, and he illustrates his teaching with a parable. The main character in the parable comes across as rather insecure. He has had a wonderful harvest, but he is not happy. He immediately begins worrying about how he is going to store all his extra grain. He begins to be happy when he builds himself bigger barns to store all his extra grain and his goods. He begins to feel secure. However, having built all his barns he dies; he was storing all his goods for himself to secure his life, but it turned out to be a false security. Jesus' comment on the parable suggests that we find our security not in storing up excessively for ourselves but in making ourselves rich in the sight of God, and we do that by emptying ourselves as Jesus did so that others might become rich. The message of the Scriptures is that God is our rock, our refuge, our security. If God is our security, then we are freed to give generously of what we have been given, after the example of Jesus.
Through Adam, sin and death came to us all; through Jesus Christ, grace far surpasses all sin
Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. If, because of the one man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Good for those servants whom the master finds wide awake at his return
Jesus said to his disciples: "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
By the time Luke wrote his gospel, the early church was no longer obsessed with the proximate return of Jesus in glory. The idea of waiting for the Day of the Lord was no longer urgently directed to a once-for-all coming in glory to end the present world and usher in the everlasting kingdom. As with the Our Father, Luke thinks of a daily presence of the Lord Jesus in our neighbour and in contemporary events. We must be waiting,yes, ready to open the door of our heart, and share our possessions, should Jesus come even at midnight or before sunrise. Whatever happens anytime, anywhere, must be received as though Jesus were here in person.
On another point too, Jesus overturns oriental custom and sends us back to the drawing board of our theology and organization of life. Normally, when a master returns, his servants must wait on him. Now the reverse is to happen: The master will put on an apron, seat the servants at table, and proceed to wait on them. In our service of receiving others in our heart or home, it is we who benefit most. When we try to be of service to others, it is they who heap good gifts on us.
No one can form deep ties with others, even with one's own flesh and blood, without some carrying of the cross with Jesus. But our sacrifice is inspired by his, for his goodness inspires us to follow his example and his Holy Spirit supports us in the process. Our lives, like Christ's own, become a sacred temple,a dwelling place for God. The charity of Christ forms us into a world family,just as God wants. This thought flows through Paul's words to the Romans. We are all one through Adam and still more so through Jesus. Through Adam we share in the sins, prejudices and weaknesses, inherent in human nature, but through Jesus there is "overflowing grace" to change our lives. Paul writes, "grace far surpasses sin, leading to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
In the gospel today, we have the unusual image of the master of a household putting on an apron, sitting his slaves down at table and then waiting on them. The kind of picture Jesus was painting there had no place in the culture of those days. But the picture in the parable that Jesus speaks there does put us in mind of the scene in John's gospel where Jesus puts a towel around himself and washes the feet of his disciples. The Lord, it seems, wants to serve us; the Lord wants to be our servant. Normally, the role of Lord and the role of servant are at opposite ends of a spectrum, but in Jesus they are combined.
In the parable in today's gospel, the master's service is in response to his servants' faithfulness and vigilance. The Lord who serves us looks to us to be faithful and vigilant, so that we are ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks. We are reminded of that saying of the risen Lord in the Book of Revelation, "behold, I stand at the door and knock." The Lord is always knocking at the door of our lives; he comes and knocks every day. If we respond to his daily coming, today's gospel assures us that he will be our servant in ways that will surprise us.
Be obedient to God and you will come from death to life
Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Be on your guard. He will come when you least expect it
Jesus said to his disciples: "Be aware of this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
Peter said, "Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?" And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you,he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one o whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
From the point of view of Romans we are "men and women who have come back from the dead to life," and the risen Christ dwells within us. Luke seems to say in the gospel that Jesus has gone on a long journey and has disappeared across the horizon. As we think on it, the divergence does not seem quite so severe as at first. We are advised to live daily, even moment by moment, as though the Son of Man were at the door, already knocking and ready to come in. Another key to the readings occurs in the word "servant" or "slave," at least for Romans and Luke. Paul advises us to be "obedient slaves of justice." Biblical "justice" goes even deeper than concern for the distribution of this world's goods. It is rooted in God's utter fidelity, being true to God's own self and to his promises. To Moses on Mount Sinai Yahweh w as "a merciful and gracious God rich in kindness and fidelity" (Ex 34:6). Therefore, as " slaves to justice," we must live with an awareness of God's marvellous plan of salvation.
Only as slaves of justice are we true to our inner self, to our authentic personality, to being in the image of God. The terms servant or slave recur repeatedly in the gospel. Jesus tells the parable of the unworthy steward who began to abuse the housemen and servant girls, to eat and to get drunk. This steward is a slave himself, only of a higher position, but has forgotten most elementary norms of justice to others. The wise steward-slave was to be a just and faithful in his service.
The master comes unexpectedly, and in all sorts of ways Jesus is knocking at our door, literally everywhere. He is rising to new life in people and places where we would least expect it. Such is "God's secret plan." We, as chief stewards of the house, must not mistreat nor abuse anyone. We need to care tenderly for each person. We need to be very solicitous about the use of God's good earth. Any moment, any time Jesus will come and knock.
Personally, I don't much like to be taken by surprise. We like to have a good idea of what is coming down the road and when it is coming. But we know from experience that the unexpected does happen. It is that experience of the unexpected that features in the parables Jesus speaks in today's gospel. The burglar breaks through the wall of a house at an hour nobody expects; the master arrives home at a time when his irresponsible servant is not expecting him. Jesus indicates that there can be the element of the unexpected in his relationship with us and ours with him. The Son of Man comes at an hour we do not expect. We may be inclined to relate that to the hour of our death; sudden and unexpected death is certainly a reality. However, the coming of the Son of Man to us in the course of our lives can also be unexpected. The Lord may call us to do something we had never thought about; he may prompt us to take a path we have never taken before. He can come to us through unexpected people, through people we would never associate as the Lord's messengers. His word may speak to us in a way we have never heard it before. The gospel reading suggests that when it comes to the Lord, we can expect the unexpected. As Isaiah says, his ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts. What is important is that we are open and receptive to him.
Freed from sin and now serving God, and destined for eternal life
If I may speak in human terms because of your natural limitations, just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus lights a fire on the earth, through the baptism of his Passion
"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No,I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
Today's readings thrive on paradox. In Romans Paul speaks of being slaves of God; surely he does not imagine God as a slave-driver? We also feel the paradox between Jesus saying he has "not come to establish peace but division" and his assurance elsewhere that "Peace is my gift to you" (Jn 14:27). We must meditate quietly, to let the deeper harmony of the Scriptures appear to us.
Paul centers his teaching on God's love for us--a love that goes beyond all logic. We can hardly explain fully to other people's satisfaction or even our own, why we love someone. In a sense, love makes "slaves" of us, but it not a slavery of lost dignity or fear but a slavery that frees us from shame and fear. If we are swept beyond our control and want to risk everything for the sake of Christ, we feel a new level of love and a new kind of integrity.
In the gospel Jesus is enslaved by love to the Father's holy will. His words express a strong sense of emotion, "How I wish the blaze were ignited!" He seems swept beyond his understanding, almost beyond his human tolerance and patience. The baptismal reference is clearly to his passion and death, particularly as Luke develops the direction of Jesus' ministry, as setting his face to go towards Jerusalem where he would meet his fate. But when the time came closer, he was plunged into agony in the garden of Gethsemane where he prayed, "Father, if it is your will, take this cup from me." In his anguish Jesus prayed with all the greater intensity, so that his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground (Lk 22:42,44).
He has came to bring fire to the earth and wishes that it were already blazing. This is probably a reference to the fire of the Holy Spirit; at the beginning of the Acts, Luke describes the Holy Spirit coming down on the disciples like tongues of fire. But Jesus knows he cannot pour out the Holy Spirit until he has undergone his passion and death, what he calls a "baptism that he must still receive." Knowing he will soon be plunged into this fiery ordeal, he declares that his distress is great until it is over.
Luke presents Jesus as desperately wanting to get this ordeal over, so that the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God's love, can begin to blaze. This distress does not only touch Jesus. He declares that because of his mission families will be divided. Some members of a family will respond to the message of the gospel and some will reject it. The Lord's coming and presence touches the depths of the human heart in one way or another and that can leave people at odds with each other. Regardless of the consequences, however, our calling is to allow the fire that Jesus has brought to the earth to burn within us. We are to keep calling on the Holy Spirit to enkindle in us the fire of his love.
Who can free me from my moral crisis? Only God, through Jesus Christ
For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
If you can foretell the weather, why can't you read the signs of the time?
Jesus also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, 'It is going to rain;' and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat;' and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
"And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I ell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny."
Hope is the most difficult major virtue to appreciate and safeguard, since in many ways Faith and Love are more obvious. Faith can be clarified by studying the Bible and Church documents, while love can clearly be practiced (or not) in our responses to the manifest needs of our neighbour. Of the three great virtues, Hope is perhaps the most intangible.
In today's text from Romans Paul offers an existential view of hope. He views life's challenges not in calm detachment as though from a distance but from inside, from within himself. He was a gifted and creative apostle, but proved to be a thorny character for many, especially for Peter and the Jewish Christians. Sometimes he feels frustrated and despondent. At other times he reacts so impulsively that his actions were done against his own will. Paul agonizes at length over his situation: "My inner self agrees with the law of God, but I see in myself another law at war with the law of my mind." This leads him to the impassioned cry, "What a wretch I am. Who can free me from this body under the power of death?"
This self-criticism does not end up in futile moaning but blossoms into an act of thanksgiving, "All praise to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" He is candidly aware of being conflicted, confused, caught between his ideals and the ever present danger of selfish pride. Today's gospel shows how impulsiveness can be turned into a necessary virtue. Some chances do not come a second time, and our failure to rise to an occasion could mean losing a golden opportunity. Some graces belong to the day and the hour, the kairos, a favourite biblical term. Kairos is not just an ordinary moment like any other in the long sequence of time (chronos) but a very special moment with vital implications. The moment must be seized, for the sake of love and fidelity. The stakes are high, and not to decide is itself a negative decision.
We tend to talk a lot about the weather in Ireland. It is a regular topic of conversation. We find it a useful thing to talk about when we have nothing much else to say. Because the weather in Ireland is so changeable and variable, there is always something to say about it. It has either been raining or is raining or is about to rain. Even when it doesn't rain for days we consider it worthy of comment.
Jesus suggests that his contemporaries sometimes talked about the weather too. They knew what weather was coming from the direction of the wind; they were able to read the face of the earth and the sky. Jesus was disappointed that they were not able to read the times they were living in. They failed to recognize from what Jesus was saying and doing that God was moving among them in a special way. We too can be very aware of the ways of the weather but not so aware of the ways that the Lord is present to us and moving among us. Jesus promised us that he would be with us always until the end of time. The signs of his presence can be subtle and non-dramatic, but, nonetheless, very real. We pray today for the eyes to see the ways the Lord is present to us, especially in and through those whom we meet in the course of our day.
God sent his Son to share his Spirit and bring our mortal selves to godlike life
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law--indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
The randomness of tragedy. Yet we must yield good fruit
At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. So he asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next ear, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
The Bible proposes close interdependence and sharing as the ideal state of the people of God. Individuals are seldom considered in isolation, but as a member of the Hebrew nation, and in the New Testament this view reaches out to all the human race. Paul builds on this insight when he says that through one man, Adam, sin entered the world and that on a higher level, through one man, Jesus, the grace of God is freely available to all. For Paul, all share the same flesh and all should be gifted by the same Holy Spirit. "Flesh" for him indicates weakness and moral instability, while "Spirit" indicates life, purity and permanence. The Spirit gives character, quality, dignity and integrity.
Ideally, each member brings joy to others and is helped by them on the pilgrimage of life. However the variety of gifts and roles can provoke envy, antagonism, and even an ugly form of dominance. The administrator must beware of being over-bearing, the teacher of being pompous or proud, the practical-minded person must not totally abandon study and reflection, nor the spiritual-minded person abandon everything to devote herself to prayer. Each gift must function as a genuine service "to build up the body of Christ," and therefore depends on others, even while serving them. If we share a common bond of flesh and spirit, as we read in Romans, then we both drag each other down and build each other up. The same person's talents can help and complement us, or annoy and threaten us.
As we live in interaction, as members of one family with Jesus and with one another, we suffer together and we lift each other up. Together we grieve for each other's sins, so that together we can bear fruit. If we do not transmit life together, we are like the persons whom Jesus warned, "You will all come to a dreadful end." Or again, "If the tree does not bear good fruit, it shall be cut down."
The parables get us thinking and reflecting, to tease out what they might mean. In today's parable we have a fig tree in a vineyard that seems as good as dead. It has failed to bear fruit for three successive years. The reaction of the owner of the vineyard seems quite reasonable; have the fig tree cut down because it is only taking up space that could be used for vines. However, the owner's worker had a different perspective. He looked at the apparently useless fig tree and he saw the possibility that it could still bear fruit. He had a more generous vision of the fig tree, a more hopeful vision.
In turth all was not lost; there was still time for the fig tree to come good. The parable may be saying that this is how the Lord looks upon us, for he sees not just what we have failed to do in the past but what we are capable of doing in the future. He looks on us with generous and hopeful eyes. That is the way we are to look at each other and, indeed, at every situation in life. Like the worker in the vineyard, we need to be patient, to be prepared to wait, and to be able to see beneath the unpromising surface to the faint signs of new life that may be there.
In the Spirit, we are God's children; he is our "Abba--Father"
So then, my brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh--for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Jesus cures a woman on the sabbath; causing indignation
Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day."
The Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at al the wonderful things that he was doing.
Seeing badly stooped people tottering step by step, or leaning on a cane lest they collapse to the ground, is an all too common sight to anyone who has traveled in under-developed countries. They have spent their strength and twisted themselves out of shape by back-breaking work in rice fields or elsewhere; they have looked so long at the ground that they physically cannot look up to the heavens. But though bent over, these folk are often spiritually strong. Their words carry an enormous common sense, their minds cut through idle speculations. Their calloused hands can handle the infant grandchild with delicate care, their weakened eyes still carry a sparkle of pride and peace.
Jesus saw one such woman while teaching in a synagogue on a sabbath day. He knew what was proper and lawful to do on the sabbath, but could not rest till every man and woman was re-created to the divine image. In the Ten Commandments, the reason for resting on the sabbath is that after the work of creation God "rested on the sabbath day" (Exod 20:11); but on this particular sabbath, Jesus could not enjoy his sabbath rest until the work of creation was completed and this woman was restored to what she was meant to be.
At the sight of her, Jesus says a healing word, then puts his healing hand on her, and immediately she stands up straight and starts thanking God. His action was prompted by divine wisdom and his conviction of what the sabbath was supposed to achieve. When the synagogue ruler became indignant that the healing was on the sabbath, Jesus' response comes from the impulse of mercy and from the spirit of common sense imbedded in his heart. "You hypocrites. Which of you does not let his ox or ass out of the stall on the sabbath to water it? Should not this woman be released from her shackles on the sabbath?"
In a more theological tone, Paul recognizes the mysterious presence of God's spirit within humankind: The Spirit makes our spirit aware that we are children of God. Tomorrow's reading is even more pointed, "The whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God." Jesus' words to the stooped woman echo this hope; his healing word calling out to her responds to the hope of the created eagerly awaiting that revelation. To sum up, grace heightens our awareness of natural goodness and actually builds on it. Our crippled or handicapped neighbours often hold the key to our understanding of God's revelation in Jesus.
In the gospel a synagogue official insists that no work be done on the Sabbath. In reply Jesus insists that God's work can be done on any day of the week. He was doing God's work by releasing a woman from a condition that prevented her from standing upright. He untied her bonds; he set her free from what was setting her back.
His message is that life-giving work is always timely. There is no day, no time, when it cannot be done. Jesus wants all of us to share in some way in his work of releasing people from what holds them back. We are to be friends, to be kind, forgiving each other as God has forgiven us in Christ, loving one another as Christ has loved us. In this way we share in the Lord's life-giving and liberating work. Such work is always timely; there is never a wrong time for it. His cure of the woman led her to glorify God rather than Jesus. We are told that when "she straightened up; she glorified God." That is always the goal of our sharing in the Lord's work too. We do the Lord's work, not in order that we are glorified but so that God is glorified.
The future we hope for is already within us, like a seed waiting to flower
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
God's reign is like a mustard seed, or like yeast to make the dough rise
Jesus said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches."
And again he said, "To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."
Deep in our human nature is planted a seed that will grow in surprising ways; there is an inner "yeast" to transform us as in the dough that is baked into fresh bread, the staff of life. The whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of what is already stirring within it, and of ourselves as children of God.
Various texts of Romans chapter sparkle with magnificent, exciting possibilities. They clearly state that every human being across the planet earth carries the seed of eternal life, the source of transformation into Jesus Christ, of hopes beyond understanding. We may reflect that all those millions of non-Christians throughout the world also carry within themselves the seed or image or hope of eternal life. The extraordinary goodness which we find among the pagan world of Buddhists or Hindus, or the strong monotheistic religion of Islam, represents and inward groaning for what is yet to be revealed.
If we seek our place in the reign of God, we must reverence the hidden mustard seed of divine possibility in our lives. We must be like the woman who so kneads the yeast into the dough that other people's lives rise with freshness, life and dignity.
Both parables in today's gospel--one involving a man (gardening) and the other involving a woman (baking)--have the same focus. Both draw a contrast between something very small and the important impact it goes on to have. A tiny mustard seed produces a tree which becomes a home for the birds of the air. A tiny piece of leaven transforms a significant amount of flour. Jesus says that the kingdom of God works like that. He seems to be saying that in the realm of God what is very small can turn out to be very significant.
Even our smallest acts of kindness can have an impact for good beyond anything we might imagine. Small initiatives taken in the service of the Lord can create an opening for the Lord to work powerfully. We can be tempted to think that unless some event within the church is big and impressive in the eyes of the world it does not count for much. But the parables in today's gospel suggest that it is the small actions, the tiny initiatives, what goes unnoticed by most people, that can become the bearers of the kingdom of God.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness to pray as we ought to
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Outsiders will enter God's kingdom while insiders will be excluded
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then in reply he will say to you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!' There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
When Jesus was asked, "Will there be only a few saved?" he doesn't answer that question directly. Instead, he uses the question an opportunity to issue a challenging call to those gathered about him, "Try your best to enter by the narrow door." In this way he seems to be suggesting that speculating about how many will be saved is not helpful. Rather than engage in such idle speculation, we should strive to enter by the narrow door. It is easy to pass through a wide door. However, if we are to pass through a very narrow door, we need to be focused, we need to pay attention and zoom in on the door, as it were. By means of this image, Jesus is suggesting that taking and staying on the path that leads to life involves struggle and effort. There is a striving involved. However, it is not an anxious striving, because the Lord is drawing us through that door. The Lord is striving on our behalf. It is his wish that, in the words of the gospel, people from east and west, from north and south, would get through that door and take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus laments over Jerusalem and its coming destruction
Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jersalem.'
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
Coming up to Halloween, the Apostle calls to mind the world of spirits that surrounds us--invisibly, to be sure but also in ways that touch our lives. He minces no words in his warning about the battle against evil in which we are all engaged. For Paul, the battle for goodness and integrity is fought in real earnest. Yet the same text overflows with confidence, suggesting that the battle is almost over and won, when it asks, "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?"
We must take seriously both sides of this: 1) our battle is not against human forces but against "principalities and powers"; and conversely, 2) nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God. The excelling love of God is real, but it does not dispense us from the struggles of life. We are required to face them, each in our own way. Problems will still plague us but they are not excuses for giving in to depression or panic, or failing to face up to the challenge in our lives.
Paul offers a perpetual motivation for coping with these trials. He declares that in them all we are more than conquerors because of him who loved us. Love is the secret ingredient in our response to life. We must keep in mind the image of Jesus and the love which prompted his obedience to the will of the Father: Will not the God who gave his own Son for us, grant us everything we need?
The gospel recognizes the certainty of Jesus' destiny with death, and his struggle to accept it. He knows that "No prophet can be allowed to die anywhere except in Jerusalem." Yet the cruelly fickle city of Jerusalem does not evoke any hatred in him, only sorrowing love and eventual hope: How he wanted to gather its people together as a hen collects her young under her wings. Eventually, love wins out
Jesus compares himself to a mother hen gathering her brood under her wings; he longed to gather the people of Jerusalem in a similar way. The tragedy is that Jerusalem refused to be gathered. In this gospel Jesus expresses a sense of powerlessness. He has a deep longing to gather people to himself but that longing goes unfulfilled if people refuse to allow themselves to be gathered.
Our Lord acknowledges his powerlessness before the great mystery of human freedom. His desire for us needs to meet with some level of desire in us for him, if his purpose for our lives is to come to pass. But in the first reading Paul expresses his conviction that nothing can come between us and the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ. Perhaps then the Lord's love, his longing for our hearts, can eventually overcome even our resistance. However, the gospel today suggests that the Lord longs for us to respond to his loving initiative towards us, and is greatly distressed when that response is not forthcoming.
Paul would endure anything to win his fellow-Jews to Christ
I am speaking the truth in Christ; I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit. I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
What "keeping the sabbath" really asks of us
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?" But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, "If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?" And they could not reply to this.
It's the Sabbath again and Jesus is doing what he does best: teaching, healing, and getting himself into trouble! This marvelous story has many of the elements we love in the Gospel. Jesus is spreading joy and breaking down barriers while the fumbling Pharisees fuss about in the background, exasperated. And yet you might ask, "Wasn't all this covered last Monday?" Indeed yes, for the sabbath story that day is very similar to today's, also from St Luke. Both tell about Jesus healing and both cures took place on the Sabbath. B lead to an argument with the religious authorities about what the Sabbath requires, and in both cases Jesus comes out on top.
But the stories are not identical. One is set in a synagogue, and the objection was from the synagogue ruler. Today's is in the house of a Pharisee, with no reference to the synagogue. In last week's story, it was an arthritic woman that was healed; today it is a man with 'dropsy', which means that his limbs were swollen up with fluid. The link is that Jesus heals them both there is much rejoicing on the part of all, except for a rigid minority. These critics just can't accept the way that Jesus--a popular teacher of religion--could apparently flout the law of God by disobeying the commandment to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
One can almost sense a similar clash of views coming from the episcopal synod in Rome. An act of mercy could seem as disobedience to the clear law of God. That's the Pharisees' charge, and it's a serious one, and it's the sort of thing Jesus was accused of all the time. Of course the Gospel also says that he came "not to abolish God's law but to fulfill it" (Matthew 5:17) and yet that statement tacitly admits that Jesus did not deal with the divine law in the way other religious leaders did. They had clear rules about what you could and could not do on a Sabbath; but Jesus showed a freedom to discern when mercy must override the rules.
It's as if he just didn't speak the same language as his critics. We could go so far as to say that Jesus didn't appeal to theology at all in these two sabbath stories. He answered their objections at an entirely secular level. His opponents are talking about the law of God what it forbids us to do. Jesus is focused on the women and men around him, and how to go about helping them, as we would help needy oxen and donkeys! Indeed there is something secular and rebellious about Jesus, whenever God's law is being quoted in a way that is not life-affirming.
It seems that the man with dropsy was deliberately brought into that mealtime setting, as a way of setting a trap for Jesus. This clearly unwell man would not normally have been invited to such a meal. He was there simply as a kind of bait to trap Jesus, to see if he would heal this man on the Sabbath. Jesus seems more than happy to fall into the trap set for him, for he immediately healed the man and sent him on his way. Whereas the Pharisees showed scant respect for the clearly unwell man, Jesus showed total respect for him by responding to his need and leading him towards a fuller life.
In the name of defence of God's law, religious experts sometimes display little respect for persons in need. Jesus bears witness to an authentic form of religion that treats others with the respect that is worthy of their dignity as people made in God's image and precious in God's sight. Pope Francis regularly speaks about our need to treat others with the respect which is due to them a people made in the image and likeness of God. As followers of Jesus we are called to keep taking our lead from him; his way of relating to others is to be ours, and his way can be ours with the help of the Holy Spirit that he pours into our hearts. When Jesus' way becomes ours, through the power of the Spirit, then, in the words of Paul in the first reading, we "will reach the perfect goodness which Christ Jesus produces in us for the glory and praise of God."
The paradoxical status of God's people, when they reject Him
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?
So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, "Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob." "And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins." As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Not choosing celebrity or status
Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, and they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher;' then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
Unlike the evangelists, Paul's gospel does not even attempt to gather up and record the words and deeds of Jesus. Rather his gospel is about the risen Lord, alive now within the community. Every action and word among the believers becomes an action or statement of the "body of Christ." What joy filled the heart of Paul and what holiness was transmitted to others, by simply mentioning the name "Christ." With this name he felt he could sweep aside all envy and envy among the faithful.
In this great letter to the Romans, Christ is seen as both the treasure and the vocation of the gentiles. They are drawn into the grace of Christ and are called to spread his spirit in the world. This unusual turn of events brings Paul to think of his own people, the tribes of Israel, who as a group refused to recognize Jesus as Lord and Messiah, though many of them did become disciples. But as Paul sees it, as a nation, they were overcome by blindness. Rather than discuss the baffling "mystery" of Judaism's destiny, our meditation here can focus on Paul's word, "blindness." How much anger and impatience would be spared, how much kindness and gentleness manifested, if we would stop judging people's motives. Even if we are in the right, our approach to others would be so much more in accord with Scripture if we would only attribute good intentions and divine grace to those who differ with us. "God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew." Also, the divergent viewpoint in our neighbour may enable us to see our own position of faith all the more clearly. "Blindness has come on part of Israel until the full number of Gentiles enter in. Paul adds, "Then Israel will be saved," but only when we ourselves are fully dedicated to the gospel which is the person of Christ. What hinders conversion is not our ignorance of truth but our lack of joy and enthusiasm "in Christ."
Too many good people want to be publicly known and recognized for their goodness; too many consciously or unconsciously pull rank so as to sit in the place of honour. In today's parable Jesus is kind enough to adapt himself to this common weakness of even good people. So he advises that we "Sit in the lowest place so that the host will say, 'My friend, come up higher,' then you will win esteem." He seems to be saying: "If you must seek esteem, at least go about it in a proper, civilized way." The gospel ends with the most difficult commandment of all, be humble. The commandment to be humble is a stumbling block to us all, even if exaltation is offered as a reward.
The final words in today's gospel apply above all to Jesus' own life, "whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Saint Paul tells how Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and then humbled himself, even unto death on a cross--and, because of that, God "gave him a name above every other name." Having humbled himself, he was exalted by God and becomes the source of our salvation.
Jesus did not look for honour for himself, rather, in order to serve others he was prepared to be dishonoured, enduring the shame of crucifixion. But he received the only honour worth having, honour from God. Jesus is calling on others to take the path that he took, the path of humble service of others leading to receiving honour from God. He criticizes those who look for honour at banquets, whose goal in life is to be honoured by others, to win recognition and celebrity. He shows that the highest goal in life is to do God's will, and the way to this is through the humble service of others.
Paul concludes his meditation on Israel with the mysterious ways of God
The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.
When preparing a feast, invite beggars, the crippled, the lame and the blind
Jesus said to his host, one of the leading Pharisees, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Jesus addresses a wealthy Pharisee who had invited him to a meal. The Pharisees tended to eat only with their own kind, but the Lord challenges them to invite those they would not normally invite. In contrast to his host, Jesus shared table with all sorts of people, with the rich and the poor, with the educated and uneducated, with the religious and those considered sinners, with men and with women. His hospitality at table was a symbol of his whole ministry. He did not exclude anyone from his outreach, but wanted to reveal the year of the Lord's favour to everyone, especially to those who would have considered themselves outside of God's favour.
By his whole way of life, including his style of eating, Jesus was revealing the broad hospitality of God. In contrast, the God whom the Pharisees revealed was a God who wanted to exclude more than include. The gospel reading calls on all of us to reveal something of the hospitality of God by our whole way of life. We can all be tempted to exclude others, even whole groups of people. It is very easy to move purely within a circle of people whose outlook, attitudes and social class are similar to our own. The gospel reading today invites us to keep widening our circle so that it reveals more and more of the expansive heart of God revealed for us in the life of Jesus.
Though many, we are one body in Christ, with a variety of gifts
We who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
God invites poor people from the streets and the alleyways--all sorts of places
One of the dinner guests said to Jesus, "Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!"
In reply, Jesus said to him, "Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had ben invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.' Another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.' Another said, 'I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.' So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.' And the slave said, 'Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room." Then the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the roads and lnes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.'"
Our deepest hope is given us by God and offers us great prospects. We cannot ignore or reject it without losing out in the process. Hope is not given simply for our private contentment, for unless it is shared, it is lost. The ever-hopeful watchword of Paul is, "Rejoice in hope." The reading from Romans begins with the need to share our gifts, because we are "one body in Christ and individually members one of another." Each one, compared to a member of the human body, must serve the entire body exercise one's gifts in such a way that the hand is never thinking just of the hand but of the mouth to which it offers food, and the mouth is never so absorbed with chewing as to overlook whether the stomach can digest the food and nourish the other parts of the body, including both arm and mouth.
He lists seven gifts bestowed on believers: 1. prophecy, in accordance with faith, so that the bond of unity in Christ be strengthened; 2. ministry, to represent the church in serving others in their material or physical needs; 3. teaching, that the mystery of Jesus be ever more profoundly appreciated; 4. exhortation, like parents joyfully encouraging then-children in their talents; 5. almsgiving from one's private resources, generously and graciously; 6. administration which should recognize its subordinate place on the list of gifts and act "with love"; 7. works of mercy, to be cheerfully performed. Not only does the entire church depend on the right functioning of each member within the body, but each member will shrivel and weaken, unless properly exercised.
The Gospel reinforces this principle. We should not set our own individual goals against Christ's invitation into the church and into community. Remembering how helpless and impoverished we would be, left to our own devices only, we take our part in welcoming others into the hospitable family of God.
In Luke's gospel especially, Jesus is often shown in conversation during a meal. Today he is guest at a meal hosted by a leading Pharisee at which other Pharisees and experts in Jewish law were present. One of the guests utters his faith in the form of a beatitude, "Happy the one who will be at the table in the kingdom of God." In reply, Jesus offers a parable which compares God's kingdom to a great feast. But whereas the other guest's beatitude refers to a great feast in the future, in Jesus' parable the invitations to the feast have already gone out in the present. He draws people's attention away from the future and into the here and now. The invitations have already gone out. What is to be our response right now, to God's invitation? In the parable, people who initially said "yes" to the invitation turned it down at the last minute, just as the meal was ready to be served. They got distracted by various worldly attachments, which are all good in themselves but are not the primary good. As a result of their refusal, a surprising, last-minute invitation goes out to the kinds of people who normally get invited to nothing. These have no strong attachments and are delighted to accept. The parable is a reminder to us to be attentive to the Lord's invitation in the present moment and not to allow the good things of this world to so absorb us that we are not longer free to respond to his invitation as it comes to us in the here and now of our daily lives.
Paul's summary of all God's commandments,"love one another."
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;" and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
The self-renouncement Jesus asked of his disciples
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and Jesus turned and said to them "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
Our deepest hope is given us by God and offers us great prospects. We cannot ignore or reject it without losing out in the process. Hope is not given simply for our private contentment, for unless it is shared, it is lost. The ever-hopeful watchword of Paul is, "Rejoice in hope." The reading from Romans begins with the need to share our gifts, because we are "one body in Christ and individually members one of another." Each one, compared to a member of the human body, must serve the entire body exercise one's gifts in such a way that the hand is never thinking just of the hand but of the mouth to which it offers food, and the mouth is never so absorbed with chewing as to overlook whether the stomach can digest the food and nourish the other parts of the body, including both arm and mouth.
He lists seven gifts bestowed on believers: 1. prophecy, in accordance with faith, so that the bond of unity in Christ be strengthened; 2. ministry, to represent the church in serving others in their material or physical needs; 3. teaching, that the mystery of Jesus be ever more profoundly appreciated; 4. exhortation, like parents joyfully encouraging then-children in their talents; 5. almsgiving from one's private resources, generously and graciously; 6. administration which should recognize its subordinate place on the list of gifts and act "with love"; 7. works of mercy, to be cheerfully performed. Not only does the entire church depend on the right functioning of each member within the body, but each member will shrivel and weaken, unless properly exercised.
Clearly, Jesus' expression about hating one's father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters, cannot be taken literally. Earlier in the gospel, Jesus had called his people to love their enemies, to bless those who curse them, to pray for those who treat them badly. He embodies that teaching in his own life. He healed the ear of the enemy who had come out to arrest him; he prayed asking God's forgiveness for those who were crucified him.
Jesus is using deliberately exaggerated language to get across his core insight. He is really saying that those who want to follow him will have to love him even more than they love those for whom they would normally have the deepest natural affection. As God's representative, as God's Son, Jesus alone is to be loved in the way that God is to be loved, with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. Nothing less will do for God or for God's Son. Jesus seems to be saying that if we want to be his disciple, we can't be half-hearted about it. Our following of the Lord is not a casual affair; it needs to be carefully considered, just as someone who decides to build a tower or to go to war needs to think it through thoroughly beforehand.
In life and in death we belong to God; hence we love each other
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God." So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
There is more joy in heaven over finding the one lost sheep (or lost coin) than over all the rest
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
In Luke's account, Jesus never misses an opportunity to join in a dinner-party. Many of the great discourses in this gospel were delivered at the dining table of his wealthy hosts. Both parables conclude with a happy retriever of lost goods [a lost sheep or lost silver pieces] inviting friends and neighbours in and bidding them, 'Rejoice with me!' and such happy occasion are compared with God's own joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, which is greater than over the ninety-nine righteous who have no need to repent.
We are all reflected both in the ninety-nine sheep that are always accountable, and in the one lost sheep that wanders off and is reluctant to live under control. We have ideas and talents that understand and try to carefully direct. They are always with us and we are quietly proud of them, since because of them we receive compliments and awards. These constitute ninety-nine righteous percent of ourselves that has "no need to repent." But perhaps God has also poured an unpredictable and unruly talent or quality into us. Stretching the parable a bit, we might say that this easily lost part of ourselves can be a special moment of time or a unique opportunity crossing our path, chances and graces so fleeting that they can easily pass us by. All of us possess some talents and inspirations, for ourselves or the church, for our family, neighbourhood or country, that seem too idealistic even to talk about. They might be spoiled or injured by ridicule or simply by cool indifference. Or they might turn out to deman so much of ourselves that we try to suppress them. Such inspirations could become crucial turning points in our lives--whether to forgive another and be reconciled, to volunteer assistance badly needed by a marginalised group, or to make a clear decision for marriage for priesthood or for some other vocational choice.
From this parable too we can better understand Paul's injunction against harshly judging one's neighbour. We judge from the evidence we see; but what we see may be just the ninety-nine, the one other being lost to view. Our judgment seldom takes into consideration the rediscovering of the lost sheep or coin, which cannot easily be seen. But when the lost one is found, the ninety-nine are also inspired with new meaning, for Jesus wants all of his people to share in his identity as the shepherd who never ceases to care for those outside the margins, the lost ones that he came to find.
We often have to spend time searching for something we have lost, especially if one is as prone to losing things as often as I am. We also find ourselves searching for people in various ways. Parents search for their children if they ramble off. Men and women search for someone they can share their lives with. We all search for friends, people with whom we can journey and who want to journey with us. Underneath all this searching and longing is a more fundamental search for God who alone can satisfy the deepest longings in our hearts.
Saint Augustine wrote that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Even more fundamental than our search for God is God's search for us. God's search for us took flesh in the person of Jesus. He said of himself that he came to seek and to save the lost; he gave expression to God's longing to be in communion with us. The shepherd who searches for his lost sheep and the woman who searches for her lost coin in today's two parables are images of Jesus' search for us, of God's search for us in Jesus. God never ceases to seek us out because we are all lost in different ways. Our search for God is always in response to God's search for us. In the words of the first letter of Saint John, "We love because God first loved us."
Paul marvels at what God has done through him among the gentiles
I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Thoe who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand.”
The worldly often take shrewd initiatives; the parable about the unjust manager
Jesus said to his disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light."
From what motives and attitudes do we act from day to day? All too many are workaholics, distracted from any serious reflection on our basic motives or even about the end-result of our excessive activism. A hurricane sweeps through our lives and drives other people as well. To correct this frenetic motion Scriptures declares that “by waiting and by calm you shall be saved” (Isa 30:15). Yet the Scriptures do not canonize inactivity. We have the example of Paul, apostle of the gentiles, world traveller in the second part of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 13-28), prolific writer of letters, many of them preserved in the New Testament. In today’s text he even boasts of the work he has done for God. We can study his writings for signs of how to modulate our own activity.
The spirit by which Paul wanted to be motivated was the Holy Spirit, the spirit of adoption through which we become “heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:15, 17). Paul was at the service of Christ Jesus, and achieved only what the Spirit prompted him to do. Courage spurred him on to undertake difficult tasks, to preach where Christ’s name was unknown. Yet amid draining demands Paul did not succumb to relentless activism nor to a blind drive to get it done, but found time to keep a corner of his heart for long stretches of contemplation, “eagerly awaiting the coming of our saviour.” His ideal was to inspire and minister to the new life within the heart of the believer. “as gently as any nursing mother with her little ones” (I Thess 2:7) and warmly appreciating what God was accomplishing in and through others also. Paul furthered the charisms and talents of each person in the community, and this he saw as a “priestly duty, ” fostering the heart of the believer to become a pleasing sacrifice to God.
Turning to the gospel, we move from Paul’s elevated spirituality to plainer, common-sense language. We are invited to be enterprising and to act with initiative. Jesus notes how worldly people possess these qualities more abundantly than the other-worldly. But in making good use of our bodies and human talents, we are serving the God who created us in the divine image and likeness (Gen 1:26) and to offer spiritual sacrifice to God who dwells within us as the temple of divine glory (2 Cor 6:16).
This parable is one of the most puzzling of all the parables of Jesus. The main character is a steward who is dishonest and wasteful, as a result of which he is dismissed from his post. After his dismissal he takes decisive action to safeguard his future as best he can. Calling together his master's creditors, he reduces what they owe, probably by cancelling the cut that he would have got for himself. In other words, he forfeited money he would have received to ensure that he received something more valuable, the goodwill and the hospitality of his master's creditors. In a moment of crisis he realized that some things are more important than money and, on that basis, he took decisive action.
And yet, Jesus spoke this parable because the children of light, his followers, have something to learn from this somewhat shady character. As he used money that was due to him to gain himself friends on earth, the parable calls on us to use our resources to gain ourselves friends in heaven. We are to be generous with our resources here and now, and then we will experience God's generosity in the future, in this life and beyond. As Jesus says elsewhere in the gospels, the measure you give is the measure you will get back.
Greeting Paul's co-workers, and praise of God's unfolding plan
Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith--to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
Maxims about worldly goods and the service of God
Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your heats; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
The list of colleagues named and priased by Paul in the final chapter of Romans shows how much he valued the contribution of others to the success of his own work. The list begins with Prisca and Aquila who "risked their lives for the sake of mine" and in whose house the congregation meets for prayer. Then there are: the beloved Epaenetus "first fruits" of his mission in Asia; Mary "who worked hard for you;" a couple named Adronicus and Junias, "fellow prisoners, outstanding apostles; who were in Christ even before me." Then we catch a glimpse of Paul's secretary, Tertius, who actually penned the letter, and sends his greetings and those from Paul's host, "Gaius, and Erastus, city treasurer, and our brother Quartus."
Clearly, Paul did not run a one-man show but believed in team ministry and endorsed the gifts and talents of many others. Nor was Paul anti-woman. In this list women receive as much attention as they do in Luke's gospel. In naming the Jewish couple, "Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers, " Paul names the woman first, she who risked her life for his sake. He praises the hard work of Mary and of Junia, an "outstanding apostle." The mention and endorsement of these co-workers is highly significant, here where Paul concludes his most elaborate, theological explanation of the gospel that he preaches wherever he goes.
The gospel, as in the preceding days, says unambiguously that we are to make good use of this world's goods. If we are faithful in these small matters, we can be trusted in greater things. But do not be the slave of money. And in financial matters, very often what humans think important, God holds in contempt.
St Paul once wrote that money is the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10). what concerns Jesus is not money in itself but rather about the use that money is put to. He advises, "use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity." He uses the language of trust in relation to money. It is something that we are entrusted to use well, and if we show ourselves to be worthy of that trust, by using it well, then the day will come when we will be blessed with genuine riches, the riches of eternal life. Jesus seems to be saying that more important even than what we have is what we do with what we have. Whatever resources come our way, we are called upon to use them in the service of others. The gospel challenges us every day to use what we have to benefit others, and what we have includes not only our material possessions, but our gifts and talents, our experience and our time. We all have much that can benefit others, if we are willing to give it away and to share it.
Think of the Lord constantly, and seek his guidance truly
Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth, think of the Lord in goodness and seek him with sincerity of heart; because he is found by those who do not put him to the test, and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him.
For perverse thoughts separate people from God, and when his power is tested, it exposes the foolish; because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, or dwell in a body enslaved to sin.
For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit, and will leave foolish thoughts behind, and will be ashamed at the approach of unrighteousness.
For wisdom is a kindly spirit, but will not free blasphemers from the guilt of their words; because God is witness of their inmost feelings, and a true observer of their hearts, and a hearer of their tongues.
Because the spirit of the Lord has filled the world, and that which holds all things together knows what is said.
Instruction on scandal, repeated forgiveness, and the power of faith
Jesus said to his disciples, "Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive."
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."
This week draws on the Book of Wisdom, the last of the sapiential books to be written. Then in the two weeks that follow we will read from the two Books of Maccabees and the Prophecy of Daniel, where the Jews suffered for their fidelity to the Mosaic law in its prescriptions for daily and family living. The Book of Daniel, like Maccabees, reflects an era of intense persecution; and particularly in Daniel we have a glimpse of the glorious coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.
We are to live with two feet firmly planted on earth. The Old Testament often strikes us as a very earthy document, yet no less valuable for that. God accepts us whoever we are and wherever we happen to live, whatever may be our family or neighbourhood setting. Already in its opening essay, the Book of Wisdom introduces many practical pointers or warnings for this steady positioning of ourselves: seeking integrity of heart; avoiding foolish advice; not putting God to the test; the duty to rebuke injustice; keeping guard over our tongue. We note the sense of God’s presence within this practical counsel: for God listens to all that is said. The Jewish writer in Egypt who composed the book of Wisdom offered his young students a larger setting for their life, with heart and mind sensitive to God’s presence within oneself and open to a God-filled universe. No place is too small, no question too trifling, nor is any place too immense nor any problem too complex, for the influence of God not to be at hand, helping us.
Today’s gospel tackles one of the most difficult problems among people who are high-minded, trustful and idealistic: how easily they can be scandalized. Some will say that such people just need to be more streetwise and hardened to life, but Jesus defends the innocence of others and warns against giving scandal. On the other hand, idealistic people often find it difficult to forgive. Because virtue comes as second nature to them, they cannot appreciate the force of temptation felt by others, or they are so obsessed with their own criteria of holiness and their own scale of values, that they fail to see the goodness and the different values in the other. The inability of such pious folk to forgive may turn out to be a still greater scandal to the less devout, less religious person. One’s quest for holiness needs to be balanced by faith in God’s activity in the lives of others.
Jesus warns against putting an obstacle in the way of someone else's faith, leading someone astray, away from the Lord. The opposite to that is being a support to someone else's faith, being present to others in ways that help them grow in their relationship with the Lord. We can do that in various ways. Those who become faith friends or prayer friends to the children who are to make their 1st holy communion in May support their relationship with the Lord. When the children become aware of people praying for them, it helps them to appreciate all the more their friendship with the Lord and his friendship with them. At the beginning of his gospel, Luke presents Mary and Elizabeth as faith friends or prayer friends. The meeting between them, following on Mary's visit to Elizabeth, helped each of them to deepen their relationship with the Lord. Elizabeth was graced by Mary's coming and Mary in turn was inspired to pray her Magnificat by Elizabeth's welcome of her. We may feel that our own faith is not strong enough to be a support to the faith of others. Like the disciples in the gospel we may find ourselves praying, "Lord, increase our faith." But in response to that prayer, Jesus assures his disciples and all of us that even a little faith can work wonders, even a small mustard-seed size of faith can do marvellous things for the faith of others.
The dead may seem extinct, but their souls are in peace
God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever. Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his elect.
We are servants who have done no more than our duty
Jesus said to his disciples, "Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
A belief articulated late in the Old Testament era is that God imbued human beings with something imperishable, based on the divine nature. Each of us, regardless of race, gender or wealth, has a spark of God's own nature. In the end, heaven will so surpass our expectations and all our endeavours, that we will exclaim, "We are useless servants, who have done no more than our duty."
We begin life created to the divine image; we end it by discovering the fullness of that image in Jesus Christ, when he returns in glory. In between, we trudge or trot along the human path of life. The human life on planet earth, somehow or other in God's mysterious ways, allows us to grow into the divine image implanted at the start. Wisdom, the latest Old Testament book, offers this understanding of life. It praises those who have paid for their ideals with their lives, As gold in the furnace, God tested them, and took them himself. Life provides the testing-place, the furnace that can refine the divine image in us. Similarly we read in Hebrews, "after being chastened a little, they shall be greatly blessed."
In today's parable Jesus seems to accept customs which are not acceptable today; but he is simply drawing his parable from the realities of life about him. He refers to slavery and to what a master can expect from the slave. For work well done the master would not necessarily show gratitude, because the slave was just doing his job. Jesus did not endorse slavery; rather he prepared the way for its abolition by emphasizing the dignity of everyone. But he insists that the eternity God has in store for us will far surpass our human merits. It is a comforting thought that God blesses us much more than we can ever deserve.
Pride is something we probably all struggle with. The more good we appear to be doing, the more we can be tempted to pride. The parable in today's gospel warns against that tendency to pride on the part of those who do their duty and, indeed, do it well. In the gospel, Jesus declares, "When you have done all you have been told to do, say, œwe are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty ." In another parable Jesus spoke, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee displayed of the dutiful person; he boasted of the good life that he lived, and seemed to be of the view that his virtue gave him a claim on God. However, no matter how well we live, no matter how much we do what God asks of us, we never have a claim on God. The good news is that we don't need a claim on God; we don't need to score points to be sure of God's favour. God has favoured us and keeps favouring us by giving us his Son. In response to that gift, we try to serve God faithfully, by doing his will, in so far as we can discern it. Our faithful service of the Lord will always be only a pale reflection of the Lord's faithful service of us.
God, as Creator of everything, provides for all alike
Listen, O kings, and understand; learn, O judges of the ends of the earth.
Give ear, you that rule over multitudes, and boast of many nations. For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High; he will search out your works and inquire into your plans. Because as servants of his kingdom you did not rule rightly, or keep the law, or walk according to the purpose of God, he will come upon you terribly and swiftly, because severe judgment falls on those in high places. For the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy, but the mighty will be mightily tested.
For the Lord of all will not stand in awe of anyone, or show deference to greatness; because he himself made both small and great, and he takes thought for all alike. But a strict inquiry is in store for the mighty. To you then, O monarchs, my words are directed, so that you may learn wisdom and not transgress. For they will be made holy who observe holy things in holiness, and those who have been taught them will find a defense. Therefore set your desire on my words; long for them, and you will be instructed.
Of ten lepers healed, only one returned to give thanks
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."
Jesus states clearly, "Your faith has saved you." We need that sort of faith, able to recognise our total dependency on God for life and for its good use, and also for its cooperation with others and towards eternal life. By faith God enables us to put our best self to the service of one another, and so to give praise to our Maker. This injunction to live within bonds of love and community, is expressed very simply. To the Samaritan who "threw himself at his feet," Jesus replied, "Stand up and go on your way." He stands up with dignity and joy, healed of the dreadful disease of leprosy, and goes his way, no longer forbidden to live with others, no longer ostracized as unclean, resuming life as it ought to be, now blessed with good health and gratitude to God.
Along with our Lord's encouraging remark the gospel contains a sad ommentary on human ingratitude. For 'Were not all ten made whole? Where are the other nine? Was there no one to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?' At that time, in the eyes of most Jews the Samaritans were scorned, feared and avoided, after long history of mutual distrust. Some five centuries earlier, the Jews had refused to allow the Samaritans to cooperate in rebuilding the temple (Ezra 4) and in return the Samaritans built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim and tended to side against the Jews in later wars. Jesus' words were noted this antagonism but were trying to break it down and show that even Samaritans could have true faith.
Was it their sudden return to good health that distracted the other nine so that they forgot about Jesus and failed in the normal human courtesy of returning to thank Jesus for their cure. Strangely enough, God's finest gifts--life, strength, the ability to think imaginatively and to act creatively--easily become the means by which we forget God and also forget to serve our neighbours. With good reason the Book of Wisdom warns us about the proper use of life and talents. It admonishes us that the Lord made the great as well as the small, and provides for all alike; but that a tougher scrutiny awaits people of power and influence.
"Who has returned to give thanks to God, except this stranger?" We have all been graced in various ways; we have all received a great deal as a gift. We don't always recognize that the ultimate source of all these graces and gifts is God. That is what distinguished the Samaritan leper from the other nine in today's gospel. All ten were equally graced; they had all been healed by Jesus of a disease that left them only half-alive. But it is said of only one of them that, finding himself cured, he turned back praising God at the top of his voice. This man threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him because he recognized that God had given this cure. He thanked Jesus, but he praised God. He had the insight to see that God was at work in his healing.
Jesus recognized this leper's insight; he didn't say, "nobody has come back to thank me, except this foreigner," but "no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner." That is why Jesus goes on to say to him, "your faith has saved." This leper had the vision of faith; he recognized God at work in the good that had happened to him, in the extraordinary way he had been graced. We are called to that same vision of faith; we are called to recognize and to acknowledge God at work in all those experiences of grace that bless us in the course of our lives. God's grace calls forth our praise.
Wisdom reaches from end to end and governs all things well
There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.
Wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. She is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.
Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.
She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail. She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well.
The reign of God is not "out there" but is already among us
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you."
Then he said to the disciples, "The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, 'Look there!' or 'Look here!' Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.
At the centre of life lies wisdom, which Christians might translated as "the reign of God". This wisdom "penetrates and pervades all things." We in turn are called to an integral life, and to form such a bond of solidarity and union with others that the kingdom of God can flourish among us.The Book of Wisdom sees human integrity as coming through wisdom, this virtue that is God's supreme gift. It presents our God as compassionate and good--always and everywhere creatively at work in our world.
But we become impatient when things go awry in our world and like the questioners, we press Jesus to answer, "When will the reign of God come?" In reply, Jesus puts aside one part of the question, when. The kingdom of God is not to be identified with a point of time; this is a warning to those who try to predict the end of the world on such and such a day. He also refuses to locate the reign of God "here" or "there." There is no particular, all-holy place where the kingdom dwells, as though one place is better than another. Jesus' answer is baffling but also consoling: The reign of God is already in your midst.
Personally rooted within our hearts, the kingdom of God has already begun, through the presence of Jesus who dwells within us. Here we can already taste the sweetness of eternal life. Here we may imbibe the strength to be strong and loyal, for God's wisdom lives in the human heart at its best.
Sometimes we can miss something of great significance; it is right there before us but somehow we do not notice it. When the Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, he tells them, "the kingdom of God is already among you." They failed to see that the kingdom of God was present in and through the person of Jesus. They were not alert to the signs of God's kingdom in his ministry of healing and teaching. The kingdom of God was there but in a less dramatic form than they expected it. The gospel reading reminds us that the Lord is present in our lives in more ways than we realize. His presence does not always admit of observation in the words of today's gospel. It will often be un-dramatic, without fanfare. Yet the Lord is really present especially in the words and deeds of people that build up and heal and bring life. The Lord has assured us that we will never be without his presence. What we need are eyes to see and ears to hear, the eyes and ears of faith. Like the disciples earlier in Luke's gospel we need to pray, "Increase our faith."
The beauty of created things can lead us to their Maker
For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists, nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.
If through delight in the beauty of these things people assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them. And if people were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is the one who formed them. For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.
Yet these people are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him. While they live among his works, they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful. Yet again, not even they are to be excused; for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?
The Son of Man comes suddenly. Be prepared
Jesus said to his disciples, "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them--it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left." Then they asked him, "Where, Lord?" He aid to them, "Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather."
Oddly, even God's good gifts can distract us from God himself. Because natural things are so good, our love for them can become a substitute for loving God and stifle any desire to think about life beyond this world or about the God invisibly present through and in this good world of ours. Much closer to home, once the good meal is on the table, we seldom remember to thank the cook. Parents who lavish toys and gifts on their children are quickly and easily taken for granted. Yet Wisdom plainly holds that from the greatness and the beauty of created things, their original author, by analogy, is seen.
This raises a number of important questions for the agnostic and atheist as well as for the religious person. Wisdom states, "They are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair." For religious people even certain habits of prayer and worship can be an obstacle to really drawing close to God, if the rubrics of worship become more important than the One to whom we pray. Similarly, parents can be so concerned about the impression their children give to the neighbours, that fear of shame becomes more important than love for children.
Clear guidance on such matters is given in the gospel. The Son of Man will break through all our face-saving devices and false concerns. Jesus makes the statement, difficult indeed, yet found in all four Gospels that "Whoever tries to spare their life, will lose it; whoever seems to forfeit it, will keep it."
While living enthusiastically in the present, we must look behind the veil of signs to see the Creator. While loving one another, we need to be rooted in the love of Jesus, to deepen our capacity for loving. If we forget God, our love will become shallow and self-serving; and such love does not last. It seems as if only if we share with others, will God entrust us with eternal life; and to hold on to life we must find it with Jesus, who enables us to truly love one another.
The gospel warns against being so absorbed in the ordinary things of life that we neglect what ultimately matters. The reading speaks of eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, marrying wives and husbands. These activities and many others are the stuff of life. They are very important. Life could not go on without them. They are so important that we may to see them as of ultimate importance; this is all there is. But above and beyond all of that necessary activity there is a deeper reality, what the reading refers to as the day for the Son of Man to be revealed. The Son of Man is revealed at the end of time and at the end of our own personal lives. The Son of Man is also revealed in the here and now; the Lord calls out to us in and through the ordinary activities in which we are always engaged. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. All of life is an invitation to contemplate the Lord who is at the heart of life. He calls out to us, as we go about our daily lives, to seek his constant presence.
In the peaceful stillness of the night God's Word came down
For while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying the sharp sword of your authentic command, and stood and filled all things with death, and touched heaven while standing on the earth.
For the whole creation in its nature was fashioned anew, complying with your commands, so that your children might be kept unharmed. The cloud was seen overshadowing the camp, and dry land emerging where water had stood before, an unhindered way out of the Red Sea, and a grassy plain out of the raging waves, where those protected by your hand passed through as one nation, after gazing on marvellous wonders. For they ranged like horses, and leaped like lambs, praising you, O Lord, who delivered them.
God responds to persistent prayer like that of the widow
Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'"
While most of us will occasionally go the extra mile today's texts ask for fidelity over the long haul, not necessarily the single heroic act but the heroism of staying with the daily routine of duty. What we are expected to do seems very ordinary, but it takes God's extraordinary grace to keep at it.
We may seem to be getting nowhere and yet we can accomplish much, by simply keeping the family intact or the business afloat or the parish functioning as a place of prayer and goodwill. The gospel addresses this paradox of seeming stuck and yet reaching our goal, as exemplified in the widow who kept coming to the judge, demanding her rights. Finally the judge's patience was wearing out, and so settled matters in her favour. Monica, the mother of St Augustine, is another patroness of persistent people. We can accomplish very much by our daily routine.
This final verse in the gospel is odd. No other parable in the gospels ends on a question-mark. When he comes, will he find faith on the earth? Originally it probably referred to the long trial of the Roman persecution but it speaks to any number of situations. One of the best responses to the question is to be involved in evangelism, each of us in our own way. Then when the all-powerful Word bounds from his heavenly throne, we will find ourselves ready and waiting to greet him.
It was the temptation of believers to lose heart that Jesus had in mind when he spoke the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. Here was a woman who refused to lose heart, even though she was facing a judge who neither feared God nor had any respect for other people. This powerless widow was being faced down by a powerful judge; the odds were all stacked against her. But she refused to give up because she knew that justice was on her side. She refused to lose heart. Jesus puts this woman before us as a model of persevering faith in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles.
At the end of his comment on this parable, Jesus asks the question, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?" Jesus is asking if he will find the kind of resilient faith that typified the widow or, rather, will he find that people have lost heart and given up the struggle to believe. God's faithfulness is not in question. The question mark is over our faithfulness. Jesus spoke this parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. In other words, the primary way we keep faithful when times are difficult is through prayer.
The Jews suffering under persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes
From them came forth a sinful root, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus; he had been a hostage in Rome. He began to reign in the one hundred thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. In those days certain renegades arose in Israel and misled many, saying, "Let us make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us." This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.
Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath.
Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. Very great wrath came upon Israel.
Jesus cures a blind man, who then praises God and follows him
As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." Then he shouted, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" He said, "Lord, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has saved you." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.
The first reading describes the crisis leading to the rebellion of the Maccabees against the paganising of Israel in the second century bce. Antiochus of Syria wanted his Jewish subjects to conform to all the Hellenistic ways of the surrounding nations, abandoning their religious traditions in order to embrace the ways of modernity. This historical overview has many echoes in today's Ireland, where some seem hell-bent on imposing a new, secularist lifestyle and worldview.
The blind man at the Jericho gate longed for the fuller life that restoration of his sight would allow him, so he asked Jesus strongly, "Lord, that I may see!" whether or not he was aware that receiving his sight would involve new demands for him, new responsibilities to family and friends, he was willing to take his chances. Then, having received back his sight, he began to follow Jesus "giving glory to God." His life was given a new focus. Now he could see his wife and children, his friends and surroundings, as treasured gifts. The shining sun, the palm trees around the oasis, the birds gliding in the sky, the bees that buzzed in his garden, this whole new world was received in wonder as he followed Jesus along the way.
Our own conversion may not be as total or dramatic, but we should still pray for the spiritual sight to see the world and others as God's blessing, and to see by what ways the Lord is leading us--and his church--right here and now.
There is something endearing about the blind man in today's gospel. He has that great quality of persevering prayer. When he turned towards Jesus and prayed, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me," the people around Jesus scolded him and told him to keep quiet. But in the face of this obstacle, he simply shouted all the louder, "Son of David, have pity on me." He wasn't going to be put off his prayer by other people's intolerance of him. He models for us what persevering prayer looks like. This man's prayer was driven by his need to see again. Very often our own heartfelt prayer of petition is driven by some very deep need within us. In bringing that need to the Lord we allow him to engage with it and respond to it, just as Jesus responded to the need of the blind man when he brought his need to Jesus in prayer. The blind man did not cease to pray when he was healed. His prayer changed. The gospel reading tells us that "he followed Jesus praising God." His prayer of petition changed to a prayer of praise. The prayer of praise may not come as naturally to us as the prayer of petition. But we all have something to praise and thank God for. The blind man teaches us not to forget to enter into this kind of prayer, in response to all the ways the Lord has blessed us and continues to bless us.
Eleazar's refusal to be disloyal to Yahweh gives an example of virtue for the whole nation
Eleazar, one of the scribes in high position, a man now advanced in age and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat swine's flesh. But he, welcoming death with honour rather than life with pollution, went up to the rack of his own accord, spitting out the flesh, as all ought to go who have the courage to refuse things that it is not right to taste, even for the natural love of life.
Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring meat of his own providing, proper for him to use, and to pretend that he was eating the flesh of the sacrificial meal that had been commanded by the king, so that by doing this he might be saved from death, and be treated kindly on account of his old friendship with them. But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs that he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to send him to Hades.
"Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life, " he said, "for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. Even if for the present I would avoid the punishment of mortals, yet whether I live or die I will not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws."
When he had said this, he went at once to the rack. Those who a little before had acted toward him with goodwill now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned aloud and said: "It is clear to the Lord in his holy knowledge that, though I might have been saved from death, I am enduring terrible sufferings in my body under this beating, but in my soul I am glad to suffer these things because I fear him." So in this way he died, leaving in his death an example of nobility and a memorial of courage, not only to the young but to the great body of his nation.
Jesus dines with Zacchaeus, to seek and save what was lost
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
The final Gospel verse can help us interpret many other stories about Jesus. His key mission was "to seek out and save what was lost." Perhaps Jesus' words can be turned around paradoxically, and rephrased to read: we cannot be found unless we lose ourselves; unless we are found by Jesus, we cannot be saved.
To be found by Jesus meant that Zacchaeus had to give up and lose much of himself. He set aside his dignity by climbing up the sycamore tree, and then promised much of his wealth would go in paying back those he had defrauded. We should not how Jesus also set aside his dignity as a man of God by going to dine at the home of such a notorious sinner. Zacchaeus, after all, was chief tax collector in the city of Jericho, through which many pilgrims passed on their way to festivals at Jerusalem. This city funneled all the wealth of the East towards the capital.
When Jesus came to where Zacchaeus sat up in the sycamore tree, he looked up and called him, "Hurry on down!"--for he had seen a spirit of repentance in Zacchaeus' heart. Indeed, "the Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost."
In Eleazar's case, he was called not just to a change of lifestyle but to hand over his life by martyrdom. Again, by losing, he gained much, for while dying, he expressed an inner joy because of his devotion to the Lord God. Eleazar's martyrdom brought a blessing for the entire Jewish nation, leaving such an unforgettable example of loyalty to God.
Whatever else about Zacchaeus, he certainly was a seeker, a searcher. The text says that "he was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was." In his search to know Jesus, he was prepared, quite literally, to go out on a limb, the limb of a tree. This would have been considered a rather undignified place to be for a man of his status. Zaccaeus does something extravagant in order to see Jesus, to come to know him. In the course of his search he discovered that the one he was searching for was also searching for him. "I must stay at your house today," said Jesus who came to seek out and to save the lost. Zacchaeus who was searching discovered that he was the object of a greater search. When Zacchaeus then offered Jesus hospitality, he also discovered that a greater hospitality was being offered to him, the hospitality of God through Jesus. "Today, salvation has come to his house, because this man too is a son of Abraham." Jesus declared that this man belonged to God's people; there was room for him at God's table, in spite of the murmuring of the crowd. The story we have just heard reminds us all that our movement towards God is always overshadowed by God's movement towards us. When we take a small step towards the Lord, we discover that he has already taken a giant step towards us.
The mother of seven sons urges them to die rather than betray the covenant
It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine's flesh.
The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honourable Although she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors. Filled with a noble spirit, she reinforced her woman's reasoning with a man's courage, and said to them, "I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws."
Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt, and he was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still alive, Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his ancestors, and that he would take him for his Friend and entrust him with public affairs. Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him and urged her to advise the youth to save himself. After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son. But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: "My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things hat existed. And in the same way the human race came into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers."
While she was still speaking, the young man said, "What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king's command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our ancestors through Moses. But you, who have contrived all sorts of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God.
A man entrusts property to his servants; returning, he rewards those who made it work
As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, "A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, 'Do business with these until I come back.' But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We do not want this man to rule over us.'
When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, 'Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.' He said to him, 'Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.' Then the second came, saying, 'Lord, your pound has made five pounds.' He said to him, 'And you, rule over five cities.' Then the other came, saying, 'Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.' He said to him, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.' He said to the bystanders, 'Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.' (And they said to him, 'Lord, he has ten pounds!') 'I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.'"
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
This Maccabees reading is the clearest statement of belief in the afterlife in all the Old Testament. It reflects the piety of the group which later became the Pharisees, a group opposed to the rigid conservatism of the Jerusalem priesthood and who expected the resurrection of the dead. This belief did not evolve from scholarly debate, but from radical trust in God's fidelity and perhaps also from contact with other peoples, like the Greeks, where belief in the afterlife was already well established.
The faith of the Maccabean mother rested solidly on her conviction of God's fidelity to her and her seven children, which would surpass the barrier of death and the tomb. In a vibrant declaration, the mother linked her faith in God, creator of the universe, with trust in God's ultimate justice. Creation, pregnancy and rebirth are linked together in her mind. The living God loves his creation with the same concern as a mother has for a child in her womb, and this divine love embraces faithful people even through persecution and death, leading to a new resurrection.
In his parable today, Jesus may be referring to a well-known story, how Herod the Great, who had fled for his life from Jerusalem, made his way to Rome and charmed the emperor Augustus into supporting him, and then returned to take over as king of Israel. The parable warns us that the king will return--and therefore we must be prudent, industrious and honest, for one day we will be called to answer for our use of our talents. "Use it or lose it" is a phrase that applies to every human ability. We can paraphrase Jesus' words as, Whoever puts a talent to the service of others will be given more; but whoever has nothing that he is willing to share will lose the little that he has.
The parable we have just heard tries to counteract the expectation that the full coming of God's kingdom was imminent. They were preoccupied about the future; Jesus directs their attention to the present. The parable speaks of a man of noble birth who went abroad to a far country and who would eventually return as king. However, his servants' attention should not be on the day of his return but on using the resources he had given them in the here and now. Too much concern about the future can distract us from the present. What matters is the generous and courageous use of the gifts and resources the Lord has given us for the service of others here and now. This is the approach to life the Lord is encouraging. The servant who put his pound away safely out of fear is the antithesis of this approach to life. In our use of our gifts and resources we may fail and make mistakes, but the parable suggests that failure is preferable to fearful inactivity.
Mattathias starts the Maccabee rebellion against pagan rule
The king's officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein to make them offer sacrifice. Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled. Then the king's officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: "You are a leader, honoured and great in this town, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the people of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the Friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honoured with silver and gold and many gifts."
But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: "Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, everyone of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors, I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king's words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left."
When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein, according to the king's command. When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him on the altar. At the same time he killed the king's officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, just as Phinehas did against Zimri son of Salu.
Then Mattathias cried out in the town with a loud voice, saying: "Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!" Then he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the town.
At that time many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the desert to live there.
Jesus is upset over the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem
As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God."
Not surprisingly, struggle and warnings mark the readings for the final two weeks of the Church year. In the Book of Maccabees, from which our readings come, victory comes only after a severe struggle.
We read about the fidelity of Mattathias and his seven sons. The old man would not succumb to bribery or fear, "I and my children and my kinsfolk will keep to the covenant of our ancestors. God forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments." It is not for us to judge the subsequent military violence of Mattathias; we have never been in such desperate circumstances. A major challenge for us and our generation is to learn to live in a more sustainable way on this earth. Unless we – and especially the more developed countries – learn to curb our insatiable use of fossil fuel, and simplify our lifestyle, the world may soon find itself in a heightened state of war about resources. This sets us before hard choices, and we must find the kind of decisiveness shown by Mattathias and his family. Such moments are never simple or easy. As we anticipate such moments we must be prepared to stand with Jesus as he grieved over Jerusalem, for his tears were not only a sign of great sorrow, but equally they flowed from the great love in his heart.
Luke presents Jesus in a very emotional state in today's gospel, weeping because the city of Jerusalem did not receive him, and did not recognize that in Jesus God was visiting them. The city will now have to live with the consequences of rejecting Jesus. The tears of Jesus are the tears of a love that has been rejected. Jesus came to reveal and make present God's hospitable love for all, but many rejected God's messenger of good news. There is a sense in which Jesus, and God who sent him, was helpless before such rejection. All Jesus can do is weep at human intransigence. Jesus cannot force himself on people; when rejected, he can only move on. He has come to seek and to save the lost, but the lost, and that includes us all, have to be open and responsive to his searching love. He walks with us and wants to enter into communion with us, but, every so often, he needs us to say to him, in the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over."
The temple is purified and rededicated, at the first ever celebration of the feast of Hannukah
Then Judas and his brothers said, "See, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it." So all the army assembled and went up to Mount Zion.
Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshipped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors. There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.
Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.
Jesus drives traders from the temple. The hierarchy wants to destroy him but the people treasured his words
Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers."
Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
Today's texts recall the reconsecration of God's temple. In Maccabees this happens in Jerusalem, after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes; and in the gospel, Jesus cleanses the sanctuary after its profanation by traders in the temple courts. We might ponter on ways in which our lives and our church can become more truly a house of prayer, a temple according to God's holy purpose.
Jesus has wept over Jerusalem for failing to recognize its time of grace. Today he enters the temple and drives out the merchants and traders. His objection is not to the ritual sacrifices but to the abuse of religion for financial gain by merchants and religious leaders who were more concerned for money than the worship of God.
To purify the temple means to let God be supreme in our lives. That means that our business and financial dealings as well as our politics must be moderated by God's law of justice and compassion. We should bring every aspect of our daily lives--family and neighbourhood, work and recreation--into the temple, so that these can be purified, sanctified and placed under God's protection. At first, this program seems sweet and easy. But Jesus' requirements may be as stern as in today's story. As we renew our attachment to him, God can say of us, "My house is a house of prayer." Every part of life, home and family, work and play, can contribute to the depth and sincerity of our prayer, with God enthroned everywhere in our being.
The gospel reports Jesus' displeasure at what is happening in the Temple in Jerusalem. Instead of serving its original purpose as a house of prayer for everyone, it had come to serve the interests of a few. Every human institution needs constant reform and renewal, and that includes religious institutions, like the church. The Lord is always prompting us to reform and renew our institutions so that they serve God's purposes more fully, rather than our own purposes.
No human institution, no matter how revered, is perfect; it will always be in need of renewal, because it will always be shaped by people who are tainted by sin. We need to take this to heart in an ongoing way and be open to the Lord's call to repentance and renewal. This was not the case with those responsible for the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. After Jesus' actions in the temple, the gospel says that the chief priests and the scribes tried to do away with Jesus. To resist this renewal is to resist the Lord. Our journey towards God, both as individuals and as communities, will always involve repentance, a willing to keep on turning more fully towards what God wants for our lives.
Antiochus attributes his collapse to his persecution of the Jews
King Antiochus was going through the upper provinces when he heard that Elymais in Persia was a city famed for its wealth in silver and gold. Its temple was very rich, containing golden shields, breastplates, and weapons left there by Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian king who first reigned over the Greeks. So he came and tried to take the city and plunder it, but he could not because his plan had become known to the citizens and they withstood him in battle. So he fled and in great disappointment left there to return to Babylon.
Then someone came to him in Persia and reported that the armies that had gone into the land of Judah had been routed; that Lysias had gone first with a strong force, but had turned and fled before the Jews; that the Jews had grown strong from the arms, supplies, and abundant spoils that they had taken from the armies they had cut down; that they had torn down the abomination that he had erected on the altar in Jerusalem; and that they had surrounded the sanctuary with high walls as before, and also Beth-zur, his town.
When the king heard this news, he was astounded and badly shaken. He took to his bed and became sick from disappointment, because things had not turned out for him as he had planned. He lay there for many days, because deep disappointment continually gripped him, and he realized that he was dying. So he called all his Friends and said to them, "Sleep has departed from my eyes and I am downhearted with worry. I said to myself, "To what distress I have come! And into what a great flood I now am plunged! For I was kind and beloved in my power.' But now I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem. I seized all its vessels of silver and gold, and I sent to destroy the inhabitants of Judah without good reason. I know that it is because of this that these misfortunes have come upon me; here I am, perishing of bitter disappointment in a strange land."
Jesus affirms the resurrection, for God is the God of the living
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."
Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive." Then some of the scribes answered, "Teacher, you have spoken well." For they no longer dared to ask him another question.
The Sadducees, who did not believe in any hope of life beyond our eartly existence, present a scenario to Jesus which seeks to make belief in life after death look ridiculous. It is obvious they understand that Jesus himself teaches the reality of life after death. Their challenge is based on the presumption that any life after death would simply be a continuation of our physical, earthly life. In his reply Jesus challenges this presumption and declares that those who belong to the world of resurrection beyond this earthly life no longer die, but live with a life that is eternal. Therefore, there is no need for procreation or for marriage where procreation occurs.
Logically, because the life that we enter after death is eternal, how we will relate to each other then will be totally different to how we relate to each other now. Jesus does not elaborate on how we will relate to each other in the next life; he simply states that this new way of relating to each other will be qualitatively different to how we relate to each other in this earthly life. When he speaks about what lies beyond this life, he uses images that suggest some form of communal life, such as the image of the great banquet where people gather together. He invites us to imagine a life in which we are in a new relationship with himself, with God, and with each other. Jesus' earthly ministry focussed on gathering people into a new kind of community. He understood this community, which was soon called the church, as a sign of the life to come. It pointed ahead to life in God's kingdom, even if the life of heaven is so totally new that no earthly experience can compare with it.
Daniel and his companions are more respected than all magicians and counselors in Babylon
In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.
The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods. Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king's palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king's court. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah.
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. Now God allowed Daniel to receive favour and compassion from the palace master. The palace master said to Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king."
Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: "Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe." So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days.
At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams. At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palace master brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, and the king spoke with them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king's court. In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
The widow gave two coppers to the temple, but it means more than the wealthiest of benefactions
One day Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the temple treasury; he also noticed a poor widow put in two small copper coins.
He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on."
Daniel and the three companions were at a turning point in their lives. Their former existence in the land of Judah had been disrupted and they must begin all over again at the royal court in Babylon. They are willing to adapt, learn the new language and be instructed in Babylonian customs, but they drew the line at where change would be sinful and would amount to compromise with the will of God. That line may seem strange to us, as it was their absolute refusal to eat unclean food, against the Law of Moses, but in their culture this seemingly small matter was of vital importance. Their dedication led to a depth of wisdom that made them admired and loved, for loyalty to God can bring a peace and contentment that are not otherwise reached, and the gentle Daniel could make his way through the complexities of the royal court.
By the grace of God our personal integrity will sustain us through life and enable us to turn again to God after momentary lapses. The trials of life do not destroy but purify the person of faith. The gospel has the example of the widow who drops two copper coins into the treasury. Jesus declares that by giving what she could not afford, it was worth more than the wealthiest donation. We must be ready when the spirit inspires us to give in ways that are outside our comfort zone, ways that can unite us with Jesus who gave himself totally on the cross for us. The widow dropped in her coins, never realizing that anyone saw what she was doing, never thinking that it would be remembered throughout the world. Only when the time comes will each of us know the reality of what we have given to our neighbour and to God.
The phrase "widow's mite" has come into our language from the gospel we have just heard. It brings home the paradox that, sometime, in giving a lot, some people are actually giving a little, whereas other people, in giving a little, are actually giving a lot. The widow gave less than anybody else to the temple treasury, but, in reality, she gave an enormous amount, because she gave everything she had. That paradox is true even of our own individual lives. There are times when we may appear to be giving very little but, in reality, we are giving a lot, because we are giving as much as we can give. For various reasons, we can be below par. Our health may be troubling us; our energy level may be low because of some personal issue we are struggling with. What we have within ourselves to give is much less than it usually is. In those circumstances, even to give a little of ourselves can be giving a great deal, can, in fact, be giving everything, because all we have to give is a little. The widow in today's gospel reminds us that, even when we have little to give, we can still be extremely generous.
In a vision, Daniel sees four kingdoms destroyed by a stone falling from the mountain, which proceeds to fill the whole earth
Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar, "You were looking, O king, and lo! there was a great statue. This statue was huge, its brilliance extraordinary; it was standing before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. As you looked on, a stone was cut out, not by human hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, were all broken in pieces and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
"This was the dream; now we will tell the king its interpretation. You, O king, the king of kings--to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the might, and the glory, into whose hand he has given human beings, wherever they live, the wild animals of the field, and the birds of the air, and whom he has established as ruler over them all--you are the head of gold. After you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over the whole earth.
And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron; just as iron crushes and smashes everything, it shall crush and shatter all these. As you saw the feet and toes partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but some of the strength of iron shall be in it, as you saw the iron mixed with the clay. As the toes of the feet were part iron and part clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. As you saw the iron mixed with clay, so will they mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever; just as you saw that a stone was cut from the mountain not by hands, and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. The great God has informed the king what sall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation trustworthy."
Don't be misled about the end of the world
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them.
"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he aid to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
As we near the end of the church year we meet some of the most symbolic literature in the Bible, dealing with the end of the world, which also ranks among the Bible's most popular parts among certain circles with a taste for the apocalyptic style. We must be careful in interpreting it, as the language is highly coloured and evocative. Jesus offers a word of caution when he declares, "Take care not to be misled." The liturgy provides the surest way to apply these passages to our lives, bidding us take responsibility for our actions, examine where we are spiritually, and face God honestly. Yet the end gives way to a new beginning. With the imminence of Advent and four weeks later of our Saviour's birth, we are given a new chance, a new lease of life. The end and the beginning, responsibly taking stock and then beginning over again by God's mercy, are equally important.
Assessing with eyes of faith, we see so many human efforts to dominate others, controlled by personal interests and pride. We see a statue, similar to that shown in Nebuchadnezzar's vision. This statue with its four principal sections represented the four great kingdoms, as the Israelites remembered them: of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians and Greeks. No matter how colossal they were, and seemingly invincible, they collapsed. The message is that world empire and prestige, material wealth, political clout--none of these can last forever. The only thing that lasts is what God achieves in our lives; this becomes; "a kingdom that shall never be destroyed." But we may pass through many difficulties before eventually the good deeds, like the wheat, will be harvested by the Son of Man when he comes in glory.
As we approach the end of the liturgical year, the readings tend to focus on the darker side of human experience, the experience of destruction, of loss, of conflict, of deception. It is as if the liturgy is in harmony with the dark days of the end of the month of November. When we begin the new liturgical year next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, the days remain dark, but the liturgical readings take on a much brighter hue as they invite us to look forward to the coming of the light. This morning, Jesus speaks of the destruction of the wonderful Temple in Jerusalem, as well as of other dark events. No one looking at the temple in Jerusalem in Jesus' day could ever have imagined it being destroyed. After all it had taken nearly fifty years to build, and it wasn't quite finished in the time of Jesus. But even the strongest and finest buildings only last so long. Today's gospel calls on us not to get too attached to what does not last. Instead, we are to attach ourselves to the one who says of himself in one of the gospels that "something greater than the Temple is here." When all else fails and disappears, he endures, and through our relationship with him we too endure.
The writing appears on the wall and Daniel interprets its meaning
King Belshazzar made a great festival for a thousand of his lords, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar commanded that they bring in the vessels of gold and silver that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand. The king was watching the hand as it wrote. Then the king's face turned pale, and his thoughts terrified him. His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, "So you are Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard of you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that enlightenment, understanding, and excellent wisdom are found in you. But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you are able to read the writing and tell me its interpretation, you shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around your neck, and rank third in the kingdom."
Then Daniel answered in the presence of the king, "Let your gifts be for yourself, or give your rewards to someone else! Nevertheless I will read the writing to the king and let him know the interpretation. You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven! The vessels of his temple have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them. You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honoured. "So from his presence the hand was sent and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENÉ, MENÉ, TEKEL, and PARSIN. This is the interpretation of the matter: MENÉ, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; PARSIN, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians."
The disciples of Jesus will be persecuted, yet not a hair of their head will be harmed
Jesus said to his disciples,"Before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."
The final sentence of the gospel, perhaps later added to Jesus' words as commentary and application, directs our meditation today. "By patience you will save your lives." It is another one of those floating comments that can fit into many situations. It occurred earlier in Luke 8:15 in a somewhat adapted form, where the seed bore fruit "through patience." It recurs in Paul's call to "patiently do what is right" (Rom 2:7). In another passage of Romans, this same word, patience, becomes a major link, "affliction produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope, a hope that will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:3-5).
Mené, Tekel, PARSIN: The Greek word for patience or endurance (hypomoné) reflects a strong inner attitude of perseverance, consistency, dependability. With this in mind, we can re-read today's scriptures and first of all, the gospel. Persecution cannot break such a steady person, nor can family relationships that seem to be strained beyond all limits. "You will be delivered up even by your parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends." In times such as this, we must continue in our loyalty to God. We need the conviction that sooner or later God will justify us, and at that moment because of continued fidelity our family and community will reunite. In the meanwhile Jesus promises "I will give you a wisdom which none of your opponents can take exception to or contradict." Our words will be prompted by true love and honest fidelity. Such words will have power to persuade and will gradually bear their good fruit.
Truly, "by patience you will save your lives" and the lives of all your loved ones. This line, which can fit into many different moments of our lives and enable us to carry onward towards the promised land, has a nice ring in the Latin translation of St Jerome: in patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras--"In your patience you will possess your souls."
The gospel today reflects the reality of life for many Christians in the first century of the Church. Bearing witness to Jesus and to his values in that culture meant being put on trial by religious and political authorities, leading to imprisonment and, sometimes, to death. It often meant the experience of betrayal by family members and closest friends. It is bearing witness to one's faith publicly which brought all this negativity upon oneself. It was possible to keep one's faith private in those times, and to live a reasonably undisturbed life. But authentic faith is always public. Our relationship with the Lord may be very personal to each of us, but it can never be relegated to a purely private sphere. Our relationship with the Lord is to be the most important relationship in our lives. If that is so, it will impact publicly on all our other relationships, on everything we say and do. We don't just keep the faith in some kind of private space; we live the faith in a public way. That will never be easy, in any culture. But the Lord assures us in today's gospel that he will give us the resources we need to enable us to witness to our faith when it is difficult to do so. His enduring presence to us will make it possible for us to endure.
When Daniel is saved from the lion's den, the king recognizes Yahweh as deliverer and saviour
Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, "O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?" The king answered, "The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked." Then they responded to the king, "Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the interdict you have signed, but he is saying his prayers three times a day." When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, "Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed."
Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, "May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!" A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?" Daniel then said to the king, "O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong." Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.
The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions--they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces. Then King Darius wrote to all peoples and nations of every language throughout the whole world: "May you have abundant prosperity! I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth; for he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions." So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
Jerusalem will be destroyed when the Son of Man comes on the clouds with power
Jesus said to his disciples, "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
While Mark 13 combines the prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem with that about the end of the world, Luke separates these two events. Writing after the collapse of the Holy City, Luke saw that its destruction did not usher in the final age of the world and the second coming of the Son of Man. His restatement of Jesus' words enables us to see the status of our own existence, in the time before the final age of the world.
The Book of Daniel draws on older traditions that reached back into the Babylonian exile and had become part of Israel's heritage. Like Daniel, Israel itself had been preserved alive from the dangers of the lions' den of the exile. About four hundred years later, during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (who had inherited a part of the empire of Alexander the Great), Israel again experienced horrendous persecution and the collapse of the holy city. The long years in-between, silent, monotonous years, did not seem to have achieved anything. Even though they were marked by intense interest in the law of Moses and an attempt to obey that law punctiliously, now this lowering cloud and whirlwind of destruction swept through their lives again.
Daniel advises the people that God is preparing a letter to the nations and peoples of every language. This letter will proclaim that Yahweh, the God of Israel's ancestors, is the living God, enduring forever, whose kingdom shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be without end. While the monotonous years provide the opportunity to appreciate and safeguard our prayer and fidelity with God, the tempestuous period of trial becomes a divinely appointed way of casting down those walls and sharing our God and our family with the world.
Today's gospel makes reference to wars and destruction, great upheavals and the fear they generate. But the gospel also speaks about the coming of the Son of Man into the midst of all this darkness and it promises that those who are open to his coming will experience liberation. We all need to be liberated in one sense or another; we all need to be freed from whatever it is that is holding us back from doing what the Lord is calling us to do, from being the person the Lord is calling us to be. It is only the Lord who can free us to live as we are meant to live. Saint Paul speaks about the glorious freedom of the children of God that awaits us beyond this life. But here and now, we can begin to taste the first fruits of that glorious freedom, to the extent that we open our lives to the coming of the Lord and to the coming of his Spirit. Saint Paul also says in another of his letters, "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." We are only truly free when we are living in tune with the Spirit of the Lord, when the Holy Spirit is bearing rich fruit in our lives. As we come to the end of the church's liturgical year and as we begin a new liturgical year, we pray, "Come Holy Spirit."
Those who reject the beast will reign with Christ, 1000 years
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Know that the reign of God is near. My word will not pass away
Jesus told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
While the Revelation text is typical of apocalyptic literature and full of elaborate symbolism, today's gospel speaks in plainer language. From the example of the budding fig tree we know that summer is near. So "when you see all the things happening, know that the reign of God is near." Both of today's readings offer signs; but the meaning of these signs must be sensitively intuited, and the instinct of faith attunes us to what God is saying by the signs about us.
The wildly imaginative book of Revelation was written under the pressure of persecution by the Roman empire, when the church felt hounded on all sides. The inspired seer of Patmos announced the proximate collapse of the tyrannical empire that would lead to a period of peace for the church. After that will come the second appearance of Christ, the new heavens and the new earth, the new holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, beautiful as a bride prepared to meet her husband.
The fig tree is in full bloom and the harvest is near, yet in our lives, of family and church, in our neighbourhood and world, we have to be realists. A strange recommendation: to be realists amid the weird symbols of the apocalyptic seers. Realists in digging beneath the surface and silently and perceptively listening to the mysterious message. This message will not go away, for it is the word of God, anticipating the new heavens and the new earth. Weird as it may seem right now, our world will be transformed into the beautiful Jerusalem, the lovely bride prepared to meet her husband.
We live in a world of rapid change. Many people find this constant change disconcerting and unsettling. We seem need at least some constants in our lives, and we find change easier to manage if some things remain the same. In order to come to terms with change, especially very significant change, we need some element of reliable stability. In the gospel Jesus speaks about change, and not just change on a small scale, but change on a cosmic scale, hugely significant change. He declares that heaven and earth will pass away; it is hard to imagine a more radical kind of change than that. But having spoken of such radical change, he immediately refers to something that will never change 'my words', he says, 'will never pass away.' In the midst of even the most radical changes, the word of the Lord remains constant, because the Lord himself remains true. He is the rock that endures when all else passes. In the midst of disconcerting change we know that the Lord abides, and when everything else is shifting, he remains steady. Our connection with him, our relationship to him, will help to keep us steady when all else seems ready to fall apart.
Daniel begs for an explanation of the vision. The persecuted saints will receive the kingdom
As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: "As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever--forever and ever."
Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped what was left with its feet; and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and concerning the other horn, which came up and to make room for which three of them fell out--the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke arrogantly, and that seemed greater than the others.
As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them, until the Ancient One came; then judgment was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom.
This is what he said: "As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth that shall be different from all the other kingdoms; it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces. As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them. This one shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings. He shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time. Then the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and totally destroyed. The kingship and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them."
The great day comes suddenly. Be on your guard. Pray constantly to stand secure before the Son of Man
Jesus said to his disciples, "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
This final day of the church's year continues the call to blend practical realism with an exalted hope. We need to see the heavy clouds from both sides; on one side, darkness and signs of persecution, on the other side, bright sunlight and the enjoyment of eternal peace. The readings affirm that the transition from darkness to light will be certain and sudden. Meanwhile one must live with faith in God's eternal plan for us and for the entire world. Whether in darkness or light, we are not alone but are united with all of God's holy ones.
In Daniel, the prophet writes how he was terrified by the visions of the mind. The great persecution still raged and the beast made war against the holy ones and was "victorious until the Ancient One arrived." Daniel was living in the midst of that period of time when the beast reigned, "for a year, two years, and a half-year." Three and a half years is a symbolical number for great distress which must extend its full course but must also end. It may be tedious to trace the symbolism of numbers through the Bible, but the Scriptures affirm that we must persevere through the entire time of trial, and that this time will certainly end. Only at the end will we see everything in proper perspective and for now many details remain wrapped in darkness.
Though his gospel was composed after one such period of severe trial (the destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D.) Luke actually wrote during a peaceful breathing-space. Therefore, he warns, "Be on guard lest your spirits become bloated with indulgence and drunkenness and worldly cares. The great day will suddenly close in on you like a trap." It seems that faith thrives more during adversity than during peace and financial prosperity. So Luke also advises, "Pray constantly." Live in God's presence and then you will "stand secure before the Son of Man" when he comes in full glory.
The thirty-four weeks of the church year are coming to an end. They do so with an announcement that the Lord Jesus will come suddenly, soon and gloriously. We have been gifted with the long preparation of the church year. We will now be further graced with four weeks of special alertness during Advent. Since in our life's pilgrimage we are surrounded by all of this spiritual force, we can lay aside every hindrance of sin, and with eyes fixed on Jesus, persevere in running the race which lies ahead, to reach the glorious destiny he has won for us.
Jesus warns against becoming so immersed in the attractions and cares of life that we fail to see beyond them. We need to step back and find a space in which we can become aware of the Lord and his presence to us. In the language of the gospel we are to watch, to become watchful, attentive to the Lord within and beyond all of life. Such watchfulness and attentiveness is at the heart of prayer. That is what prayer is, which is why the gospel says, "stay awake, praying at all times." That exhortation to pray at all times may sound strange to our ears. How can we pray at all times? Is prayer not something we do from time to time? Paul says something similar at the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians when he calls on the church there to "pray without ceasing." Jesus and Paul were calling for a contemplative stance towards life, a prayerful attentiveness to the Lord at all times, before all situations, in the midst of all our tasks. To help us do this, we could take a very short prayer drawn from the Scriptures and allow it to echo quietly in our hearts as we go about our day, a prayer like, "Lord, make haste to help me," or, as we begin the season of Advent this evening, the simple Advent prayer, "Come Lord Jesus."