Weekday Readings (Cycle 2), 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.
Applying church discipline to a scandalous case (incest)
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, no with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
On a Sabbath day, Jesus heals the man with a withered hand
On a sabbath day Jesus 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.
The hope of forming all members of the church into one body of Christ cannot be accomplished except by divine help. Yet Paul's patient effort to reconcile all men and women brings great joy and satisfaction. Since this ideal is so glorious, Paul feels himself, even in the midst of struggle, to be impelled by a powerful force urging him on.
In his Church community in Corinth, Paul would not tolerate a compromise in public morality, no matter how influential the person may be. He speaks of the "lewd conduct" of a man who is cohabiting with his stepmother. Most probably the father is deceased, but still this type of marriage was seriously scandalous in Jewish eyes (Lev 20:11). Paul demands therefore, "Get rid of the old yeast," for just a little of it would spoil the whole batch. He takes the occasion to speak of the sincerity expected of Christ's followers. Although union with Christ is open to all, regardless of race or nationality, still it comes at the cost of fidelity and self-control. To be one body in Christ (1 Cor 12:12,27) means that the purifying spirit of Jesus must flow through all the members.
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. In today's gospel, 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.
A community of people sanctified by Jesus must preserve high standards of love and respect
When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life! If then you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who are least esteemed by the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?
To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that even your own brethren. Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Jesus spends the night in prayer and afterwards calls the twelve; then teaches and heals
Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the 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.
Some of the faults listed here by Paul are less serious than others, but all were troubling the church in Corinth. The main problem, he thinks is their disunity, and their complacency when wronging one another, “You yourself injure and cheat your very own brother and sister.” He singles out the scandal of members taking their problems and disputes to secular law courts. Indignantly he adds, “I say this in an attempt to shame you.”
Night can be a time of violence and death, as well as of rebirth and new awareness. At night some people lose their healthy inhibitions and self-control, and it can be dangerous to go anywhere near certain areas just as the bars are closing. Saint Paul tends to link the idea of darkness to a list of sins which he found or suspected in Corinth: fornication, idolatry, adultery, sodomy, thievery, miserliness, drunkenness, slander and the rest. Their main sin, in his view, is disunity and their willingness to offend one another, He singles out the scandal of mistrust and deceit in the Corinthian church, so that members feel obliged to take their problems and disputes to secular law courts. Indignantly he expects more of baptised Christians.
But 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."
Christians are free to marry or not, but remember anyway that this world is passing
Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.
The Beatitudes of Jesus, here spoken on "level ground" to a large crowd
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 have here no lasting city. The directness of Luke's Beatitudes becomes apparent when compared with Matthew's which are more abstract. Luke's are addressed to the crowds as "You, who are poor" etc. Matthew's are addressed not to the masses, but to disciples who alone follow Jesus up the mountain, and are phrased in the third person, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the reign of God is theirs." Luke has Jesus coming down the mountain to deliver his message on a level place where a large crowd of people are gathered.
Luke's Beatitudes may be closer to Jesus' original words, phrased in the second person: "Blessed are you who hunger; you shall be filled" etc. Jesus' works are not a general, catechetical discourse but specifically and immediately address "you poor" and "you who hunger." In this Gospel we are told, bluntly, that God accomplishes more with our poverty than with our wealth, more with our faith than with our activity. Poverty and faith have an easier access to God. Wealth and status can close a person's heart or even weigh us down with anxieties.
To the Corinthians Paul admits that on the matter of celibacy he has no commandment from the Lord. He proceeds to give some of his own reflections on the options open to us. He advises people not to rush into marriage; but neither should they to remain single merely as a way to avoid responsibility. And whether married or single, one should not be overly possessive. Husbands and wives are not related as owners of each other but as baptised believers, united in the Lord. This union transcends all difference of gender and underpins their radical equality of value and dignity.
The beatitudes in today's gospel sound strange to our ears. Jesus declares blessed and happy the poor, the hungry and those who weep, whereas he declares unfortunate the rich and those who have their fill of everything. Those sentiments seem to go against common sense. 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.
Not causing another person to fall from grace
"Knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one." For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. And so by your knowledge this weak man is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother's falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful
Jesus said, "I tell you, 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.
Do 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."
In advising the Corinthians Paul mixed idealism with practicality. Knowledge can puff us up into windbags. We can argue cleverly yet cause scandal. Some can be so fixated on theological correctness that lose contact with reality. Sincere dedication to Jesus will refine our sense of concern for people who are scrupulous. Using the example of meat slaughtered in temples and dedicated to pagan gods, Paul argues two sides of this issue. Because those "gods" are really "no-gods," a Christian believer can buy this (cheap?) meat for food. But if my neighbour can't see this distinction and thinks this meat blasphemous, then I run the risk of giving scandal to a neighbour for whom Christ died. I must think of the consequences of my actions, and not just seek my own convenience.
In this same spirit we should soberly re-read this Gospel in order to grasp Christ's expectations from us, like: "Bless those who curse you; Turn the other cheek; and Love your enemy." These are the supreme law of Christian life. In a way, Jesus is asking us to let our hearts be as large as God's own heart.
In Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount we find some of the most radical of all Jesus' teachings. At the heart of it is the call to love our enemies and to give to those who do not deserve our generosity and who will never be in a position to pay it back or to give something to us 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 cuts across that 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's total dedication to his preaching ministry
If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel.
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
The need for self-awareness before we offer to judge others
He also told them 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 deal with leadership but they can apply to all human relationships. We are asked to interact with one another, not as superiors who command inferiors but in humility recognizing the unique gift of each person. Paul writes about himself in graphic terms, acknowledging the abundant grace he has received for his missionary work. It is a commission that Christ has entrusted to him, and he feels compelled to carry it out, even at the cost of considerable sacrifice. It is for apostolic freedom that he has remained celibate, being "free from all men" and he makes himself a slave to all, that he might win the more. Yet even such overflowing zeal can raise its own problems. Sometimes Paul can appear arrogant, demanding and difficult. He feels that he must pummel his body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others he should be disqualified himself. His public self-examination is a lesson in genuine leadership. Some centuries later, Saint Augustine did something similar in his "Confessions" by showing the kind of healthy introspection that can purify the human heart.
The Gospel asks us to respect, admire and learn from the gifts of one another. Otherwise, in our ignorance we will not only be arrogant but like a blind man trying to guide another we lead both into the ditch of error. Each of us needs the wisdom of others to balance our own special insights and strengths. It is difficult for a learned person to receive advice from another, no matter how experienced the other may be. We need charitable interaction in the Church to keep all of our gifts united, at the service of all, for the sake of the imperishable wreath of eternal life.
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 at times 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 Jesus is indicating that we need to be more attentive to ourselves than we are to 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.
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body
Therefore, my beloved, shun the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
The house of faith built securely 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."
Rock has 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."
What is visible is not always what is most important. The two houses in the parable that Jesus speaks in today's gospel looked the same. However, in reality they were fundamentally different, because their foundations were different. One was built on sand and the other on rock. The most important part of each house, their foundation, was not visible. Jesus is speaking about 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 how often we have to deal with all kinds of difficulties, relating to our health, our relationships, our work. Our ability to deal with those issues will depend on what our lives are built upon.
Jesus is the only foundation worth building upon. Listening to his words and acting on them, following in his way, he says, makes sure that our lives are 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, it enables 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. Yet, if that is to happen, he needs us to actively take him as our sure foundation and build our lives on him.
The Eucharistic meal can be profaned by divisions based on class and wealth
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first lace, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait upon one another.
For his faith, the Roman centurion receives a cure for 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. In Luke the Roman centurion shows how well prepared a pagan can be for the Gospel; and Paul's Letter shows how the Gentiles stands in need of correction, to return to Gospel values. The Church's mission 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.
The pagan centurion shows even stronger faith than existed in Israel. If we transfer this into our time, the faith of a Buddhist or a Muslim can take us by surprise. The Roman centurion shows a gracious concern for the distress of his servant. He sends to Jesus for help, even risking refusal as a soldier in the occupying army of Rome. 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.
Converts can teach the parent church. Believers can become hardened against change, take their faith for granted, use it for self-assertion, and lose sight of natural virtues. An instance of such back-sliding was already corroding a group founded by Paul. The Corinthians were not united in charity and peace but split apart into wealthy and poor, or into cliques around different gurus, (Paul or Cephas or Apollos,) or even according to their tastes in food and drink. All this was especially shocking during the Eucharist. To heal it, Paul repeats the central tradition: The one body belongs to Christ, the one blood is that of Christ. Christians are united with Jesus' death and in hope of his second coming. They must stand together, share sufferings and hope and material well-being together, for they are all ransomed by the same Lord Jesus.
The words of the centurion have made their way into our Eucharist, "I am not worthy to have you under my roof.. give the word and let my servant be cured." The new translation of the Roman Missal has, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." 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 tremendous 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.
Many gifts, all at the service of the community, the body of Christ
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to he hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honourable we invest with the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
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.
Examining the New Testament from the Gospels through to First Corinthians and then the Pastoral Epistles, we can see the stages of development of church leadership. In today's Gospel, Jesus spontaneously works a miracle in response to a widowed mother's grief. Corinthians puts miracle working fourth in a list of services in the church (after apostle, prophet and teacher.) In the Pastorals the offices of apostle and miracle worker are not mentioned at all, and the focus is on the leading functions of bishops, deacons, deaconess and (later) presbyters and widows.
As the church expanded through the Mediterranean world, and faced crises of internal cohesion and external persecution, its need of organization grew. We can see this paralleled in the development of an individual's life. Children and youth are filled with hope and seem willing and able to become anything they choose; as young adults, they must choose a particular way of life yet they still bring new spirit and creative innovation within that vocation; finally, as mature adults they settle into their role with caution and conservatism.
Saint Paul's main concern regarding pastoral offices is, "Which of these is best adapted to the needs of church life?" The more charismatic type of leadership carries more danger of splintering. Belief in miracles can result in mad fervor where religion becomes a cult, and the cult leader exercises absolute and lucrative control. On the other hand, we must respect the part played by miracles in the Bible and in church history. Whether in church or in our own personal lives, we must not lose faith in miracles or forget Jesus, the miracle worker. The spontaneity of charisma is needed for health in the church, but the steadfast virtues expected of bishops and deacons are needed too: an even temper, self-control, modesty of demeanour, good management skills and the rest. We hope and pray for both these values in our bishops, for the service of God's people.
In the time of Jesus, widows were considered very vulnerable; they no longer had their main provider, their husband. Widows often had to depend on their children, particularly their sons, to support 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 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.
Paul's hymn to charity, as the supreme virtue
But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way…. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
The self-centred cannot respond to others, by dancing or mourning
Jesus said, "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."
The key word today is family. We are "members of God's household." The family of the Church should not be monotonous or rigidly ruled, for its members are gifted in many ways. Paul mentions many of these talents: prophecy, full knowledge, comprehension of mysteries, confidence to move mountains, generosity in feeding the poor, willing to die heroically. But he knows that intense awareness of and pride in these talents can also cause problems in the church. He does not want any talent to be suppressed, but considers some of the gifted people "noisy gongs," "clanging cymbals." Such people, he suspects, can be rude, self-seeking or prone to anger, whereas all true gifts should be unifying, loving. There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.
Whether for Jesus or for Paul, the leaders of God's Church cannot be proud, egotistic individuals, but people who serve, with love. If there is strength in unity, these are the people who strengthen the church. Today's Gospel shows how readily Jesus himself was misinterpreted by those who looked merely at surface impressions and so judged him to be a glutton and a drunkard. It could serve as a warning against any hasty, inquisitorial procedures in our church, by those whose main focus of attention is to find fault with the views of others
The gospels suggest that Jesus had a wonderful relationship with children. He welcomed them when his own disciples were trying to keep them away from him. He pointed to them as the disciples" teachers because of their openness to God's presence. He identified with them completely, declaring that, in receiving such children, people are receiving him. Today's gospel suggests that Jesus was very observant when it came to children. He noticed their play in the market place. It reminded him of his own ministry and of the ministry of John the Baptist. The refusal of some children to join in the other children's games reminded him of the refusal of his contemporaries to take seriously either himself or John the Baptist. If the children's funeral games reminded Jesus of the ministry of John, their dancing games reminded him of his own ministry. Jesus identifies himself with the children who play the pipes and who invite other children to dance to their tune. It is interesting to think of Jesus as a piper who plays a tune for us to dance to. Jesus is the music of God. To follow him is to allow his music to enter deep into our hearts, souls and minds so that our whole lives move to its rhythm. The music played by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is not a dirge that evokes tears. It is joyous music because it proclaims the favour of God towards all who are open to receive it. It calls forth joyful dancing, the dance of the Spirit. As followers of the Lord, we carry a joyful song in our heart, even in dark times, because we appreciate how greatly we have been graced. Our calling is to allow something of the music of God that Jesus plays to move our lives and to touch the lives of all whom we meet.
The Gospel Paul preached as the basic faith of the Church
Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast, unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little
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."
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?"
We are all called to minister to others, whether as priests and sisters, as teachers, nurses and counselors, or simply as kindly relatives and good neighbours. There is no single way of responding to the needs of others, but today's readings call attention to different ways of ministry. Paul describes his own keen sense of vocation: "I handed on to you first of all what I myself received" and summarizes his message that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again.
In preaching this message about Jesus, he is conscious those whom Christ placed in leadership roles: first Peter and then the Twelve and James who led the Jewish Christians, and finally Paul himself. Christian ministry is based on believing in Jesus' death and resurrection and within the visible community of the church. This sense of unity is helped by Paul's admission that he is the least of the apostles, hardly deserving that very name." We minister to one another in a similarly humble spirit, not lording it over others but counting it a privelege to serve them.
In the Gospel we see Jesus being stern with the proud and the self-righteous, but tender and protective with the humble and repentant. He bases this on his sense that his Father is ever loving and forgiving, as shown in the parable of the two debtors. In this story, the person with heavier debts of sin seems to be loved more by God than the other person with smaller debts. This trait of God can seem unjust until we remember that arrogant pride is a greater sin than excess of sexual libido. At first glance the woman, a public sinner in the town, must be the one who owes the five hundred coins, and the Pharisee the small debtor who owes only fifty coins. There is still hope for the proud, if the woman can be forgiven this easily. We should minister to each another in this spirit, showing encouragement to the young, loving concern to the repentant, and firmness in the face of the proud and self-righteous.
What a contrast between how Simon the Pharisees, Jesus' host, relates to him and how an uninvited guest, a woman with a reputation as a sinner, relates to him. Simon relates to Jesus in a cold, somewhat distant, way, omitting the usual expressions of hospitality in that culture, the washing of the guests" feet, the welcome kiss. The woman supplied all these expressions of hospitality to an extravagant degree, washing his feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair and covering them with kisses. The little parable that Jesus speaks to Simon about the two debtors explains the vast gulf between the woman's response to Jesus and Simon's response. The woman loves much because she has been forgiven much; she had earlier received the gift of God's forgiveness from Jesus. Simon loves little because he has been forgiven little; he has little or no sense of his need of forgiveness. The gospel reading suggests that we give out of what we have received. If we allow ourselves to be touched by God's forgiving love, present in Jesus, then we will be loving people. If we think of ourselves as better than we are and do not come before the Lord in our poverty, asking his mercy, then our lives will not display that joyful and generous love that so characterized the life of Jesus himself. If it is in giving to others that we receive, it is equally true that it is in receiving from the Lord that we are empowered to give.
Belief in the Lord's resurrection is not superfluous, but a vital basis for hope
Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Jesus journeys with the twelve and some women, preaching the Kingdom of God
Soon afterwards he 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.
There's a clear tone of enthusiasm, hope and achievement in today's Gospel story, while the epistle shows Paul locked in argument with some Christians in Corinth who feel that belief in the resurrection is superfluous. The Gospel has more appeal as a topic for today's short homily.
Luke's account mirrors the first springtime of Jesus' apostolic journeys. The scene is idyllic, that of a glorious tour in which the Lord is winning everyone for the kingdom. The community of disciples around him, the apostles, the women and "many others," impress us with their serene way of life. Some of them had been cured of serious illness or physical handicap. The "seven devils" from which Magdalene had been released do not necessarily mean sinfulness, much less demonic possession, but do suggest a profound cure that Jesus had worked in her. Sickness and death were reflected the reign of evil in the world and must be totally conquered and removed within the Kingdom of God. God's final triumph is already anticipated by Luke, who in his "Gospel of women," gives them a place of honour in this peaceful scene. Again, typical of Luke, the names of influential public figures are introduced, like "Johanna, the wife of Herod's steward, Chuza," Somehow, the political and the spiritual Kingdom have come graciously toether. He is already anticipating the purpose of the cross, which is complete redemption, body and spirit, men and women, friends and strangers, heaven and earth.
We rightly think of Jesus as the servant of all, for he declared that he came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Yet, he too needed to be served at times. Luke clearly states that Jesus was dependent at times on the service that others gave him, and names some women who served him. As he 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 even Jesus was in need of the service of others, 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.
What is sown and dies rises to new, incorruptible life. Our bodies will resemble the risen Jesus
But some one will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being;" the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
The parable of the sown seed is explained only to the apostles, who will share their wisdom with others
When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he 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!"
Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. He 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.
A divine potential simmers in the depths of each of us, something that Jesus compares to a seed, buried in the ground. Looking at the seed before it is planted, one hardly suspects what a flower will develop from it. The process by which the seed "dies" or disintegrates to be reborn cannot be rushed. It needs not time and a silent waiting within the dark, warm earth.
This links with what Paul writes about that part of us which is "subject to decay." Yes, we must die as people of earth, of body. It is not that this part is bad or useless, but only after the flower fades can the seed develope to its full potential. Our future self will be in continuity with our former self, as a new plant grows out of the seed, yet surpassing the old in unimaginable ways. Weakness is sown, and strength rises up. Paul's resurrection faith makes him the most optimistic of religion teachers.
Matthew's explanation of the Sower parable gives other 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. Finally, 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.
Jesus observes that when the sower sows the seed not all of it 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. We have 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.
Practical guidelines for dealing justly with one's neighbour
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.
Do not say to your neighbour, "Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it," when you have it with you.
Do not plan harm against your neighbour who lives trustingly beside you.
Do not quarrel with anyone without cause, when no harm has been done to you.
Do not envy the violent and do not choose any of their ways;
for the perverse are an abomination to the Lord, but the upright are in his confidence.
The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the abode of the righteous.
Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he shows favour.
A lamp must shine, to brighten the house. Listen well!
Jesus said, "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."
It's hard to unpack the cryptic statement that, "The one who has, will be given more; the one who has not, will lose even that little." It can perhaps be paraphrased: the one who has time to pray and reflect will be given more; the one who has not taken the time to turn to God and friends for advice will lose even the little wisdom that he or she possesses. The sapiential books in particular remind us that the Bible is for adult reflection throughout life.
Mature reflection must always try to assess our relationship with our neighbours. This is the topic of today's short essay from Proverbs,. Each line is as down to earth as sidewalks and working clothes. Do not tell your neighbour, Go away and come back again, when you can help them at once. Do not quarrel with a person without cause. Do not envy the lawless person. Typical of the sapiential literature, the responses are moderate and possible. For these writers, the cardinal sins are extremism and radicalism. The sage even seems to permit "quarrels" or "envy", but not without cause nor with the lawless person.
"There is nothing hidden that will not be exposed." Often the Gospel of Jesus does not share the moderation of the sapiential literature. Evidently we need both for the diverse needs and challenges of our life. There is a time to be quietly prodded by the sapiential style; there is another time to be shaken up by the martyrs. At times we think about our past, at other times we seek our future, enlightened by Wisdom and the Gospel.
The parable of the sower that we heard last week suggests the image of the seed of faith that is sown in our hearts and needs good soil to grow and flourish. today's gospel suggests another image for spritual life: the lamp of faith. Jesus seems to be saying that when the lamp of faith is lit in a person's life, it is not meant to be covered or hidden but to remain shining in a public way for all to see. 'No one lights a lamp to put it under a bed. No, he puts it on a lamp-stand so that people may see the light when they come in.' Jesus calls on us to allow the light of our faith to shine for others to see. When the culture is not very supportive of faith, as it is today, there can be a strong temptation to hide the light of our faith, in the language of the gospel, to put it under a bed. Yet, we need to let the light of our faith shine all the more in an environment that is hostile to it, because in doing so we give courage to others. When I let the light of my faith shine, I make it easier for other people of faith to do the same.
Advice about self-control from Solomon's proverbs
The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he turns it wherever he will.
All deeds are right in the sight of the doer,
but the Lord weighs the heart.
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin.
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
The souls of the wicked desire evil; their neighbours find no mercy in their eyes.
When a scoffer is punished, the simple become wiser;
when the wise are instructed, they increase in knowledge.
The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked; he casts the wicked down to ruin.
If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.
Christ's nearest family are those who hear God's word and do it
The mother and brothers of Jesus 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."
Most of the sapiential literature, notably the Book of Proverbs, defers very little to religious authority; it is based on common sense and wisdom. What has succeeded for so many years, even centuries, has an exceptional power. It has no special set of prerequisites to understand its message. Just be open, honest, reflective, humble, strong, the basic qualities of human nature as it was originally created by God and as it has spread throughout the world. All the world knows and accepts the wisdom of Proverbs: The one who makes a fortune by a lying tongue is chasing a bubble over deadly snares.
Whether we take a more mystical view of life, or the more "secular" way of Proverbs, we must keep a healthy openness to the real world and form ties with real people. Perhaps that was what Jesus meant in his enigmatic reply to his mother Mary and his brothers. It only seems a rejection of his relatives when he says, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it"; for elsewhere Luke shows Mary as the great hearer of the Word. But for us to know God's word we must be open to all who are sincere, virtuous, obedient and responsive to life.
We venerate Jesus as Lord and as Son of God, because so indeed he is. In this morning's gospel, 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.
In praise of moderation and sobriety
Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words, or else he will rebuke you, and you will be found a liar.
Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need,
or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, "Who is the Lord?"
or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.
Jesus sends the twelve on their mission, travelling light!
Then 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.
Proverbs has a sober message for the wealthy and powerful, as in competitive times, marked by determination to get ahead. Armed with whatever prestige or learning we may have acquired, human nature is tempted to twist truth and law to our own benefit and to the harm of others. We can easily grow greedy, and as Proverbs says elsewhere, greed, like lust, starves the soul (Prov 13.19). We need to be warned – and we are! These words were not minted for the low income days of recession!
We sense a glow of confidence in Jesus as he sends out the Twelve, to drive out demons, cure diseases and proclaim the reign of God. As traveling preachers they need to trust in people's generosity, so they need not carry bread or money, not even staff and traveling bag. In our own lives, whenever we meet such joyful confidence, we should thank God. Occasionally the shadow of a living saint crosses our path even in our parish or our acquaintances. We should encourage their ideals, support them, receive them into our homes. Then the reign of God will be at our doorstep.
When Jesus sends out the twelve on mission, he calls on them to travel light. They are not to be too self-sufficient, but instead they should depend on the hospitality of those to whom they preach the gospel. Rather than be fully furnished with everything, 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.
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. Yet, 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.
Nothing is new under the sun. Vanity of vanities
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.
All things are wearisome; more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"?
It has already been, in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.
Herod was perplexed and curious about Jesus
Now 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 tried to see him.
A type of ennui can set in when we have too much, too soon. Etched into the memory of the world are those opening lines of Qoheleth, otherwise called Ecclesiastes. The name refers to a preacher to an assembly. But the entire book suggests an assembly that was not a liturgical one nor was the preacher any ordained minister. This wise cynic, this troubling questioner, this tongue-in-check jokester, this affluent writer who owned so much yet called it all a puff of wind, this sage keeps us guessing from the opening word: Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities... All things are mere vanity.
Qoheleth does not talk about liturgy but takes a long, hard look at life. We are to contemplate life as it is and to admit that it is all very boring, unless we begin to seek the way of wisdom, "It is from the hand of God" (2:24), from beginning to end, the work which God has done" (3:11), "rather, fear God." (5:6), "God made humankind straight, but people have had recourse to many calculations" (7:29). He ends his twelfth and last chapter with these words: The last word is: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is all, for human beings. This may not seem like exalted spirituality, yet it is no small thing to shake loose from complacency and begin our conversion.
Then we have Luke's portrayal of Herod the Tetrarch, for whom religion was a curiosity, a temporary pill to soothe conscience, a clever way of winning 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" (Lk 23:8). Religion, like Jesus, can be used for politics and pleasure, the saddest way to relieve boredom.
Different people reacted to Jesus in different ways. Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, was tetrarch of Galilee during the public ministry of Jesus. He ruled Galilee on behalf of Rome. Luke portrays the way this Herod reacted to Jesus. Luke says that when Herod heard about all that was being done by Jesus he was puzzled. He was asking himself the question, "Who is this?" As a result, he was anxious to see Jesus. In Luke's gospel Herod finally did get to see Jesus. In the course of the passion of Jesus Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for a second opinion but Luke tells us that although Herod questioned him at great length, in the end Herod and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt and mocked him. Herod was curious about Jesus, but his curiosity did not lead to faith. Yet, 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.
There is a time for everything under the sun
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a
time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace,
and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain have the workers from their toil?
I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.
He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginnng to the end.
Peter recognises the Messiah: Jesus predicts his death and resurrection
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."
Life's highs and lows are represented in today's text from Ecclesiastes/Qoheleth, so often read at funerals. "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die," etc. The author combines purpose ("an appointed time for everything") with the timeless and monotonous. We never seem to complete the pursuit of our desires and objectives. We interpret this reaction as a healthy way of making decisions and an equally healthy way of knowing that "here we have no lasting city; we are seeking one which is to come" (Hebrews 13:14).
The Gospel recognizes a supremely new "moment" in the coming of Jesus, whom Peter's faith proclaims as the Messiah, an important episode which Matthew and Mark locate in Caesarea Philippi. Like Mark (8:29ff), Luke has here no mention of Peter being appointed as Rock and Bearer of the Keys, but rather passes straight on to the sombre prediction of the Passion. One must presume that Matthew's famous text about the Petrine primacy (16:16-20) is an inspired, post-resurrectional interpretation of Saint Peter's role, in light of the wonderful ministry actually carried out by Peter, and illustrated in Acts 1-12. Clearly, Jesus preferred the title "Son of Man" for himself, rather than Messiah; for it was better suited to carry the hard, sacrificial aspect of his ministry: He has come to serve, not to be served (Mk 8:45), and this is a truth that Peter, the Twelve and all of us, must learn again and again.
Many people find themselves drawn by this morning's first reading, 'There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven.' We sense that there is a profound truth in the insight that everything has its time. If there is a right time for everything, we don't always succeed in finding it. We know from our own experience that our timing can be off. For example, we may speak when it is really a time for silence, or be silent when it is really a time to speak. If we learn from our experiences, we can get our timing better. The more we are in tune with God, the better our timing will be. That is why Jesus' timing was perfect, because he was completely in tune with God. He knew the time for everything. At the beginning of this morning's gospel, we find Jesus praying alone. Coming from his prayer he asked his disciples the decisive question, 'Who do you say I am?' Jesus understood that the time had come for him to ask this question of his disciples. The time had also come to speak about the kind of Christ that he was, the Son of Man who was destined to suffer grievously, be put to death and then be raised up. That question of Jesus to his disciples remains alive for all of us; it remains timely for all of us. It is a question that always has its time; it is timeless. We are invited to keep making our own personal response to Jesus' question.
A wise man's lament about the encroachments of old age
Rejoice, young man, while you are young,
and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth.
Follow the inclination of your heart and the desire of your eyes,
but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.
Banish anxiety from your mind,
and put away pain from your body;
for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.
Remember your creator in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come,
and the years draw near when you will say,
"I have no pleasure in them;"
before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened
and the clouds return with the rain;
in the day when the guards of the house tremble,
and the strong men are bent,
and the women who grind cease working because they are few,
and those who look through the windows see dimly;
when the doors on the street are shut,
and the sound of the grinding is low,
and one rises up at the sound of a bird,
and all the daughters of song are brought low.
Then one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road;
the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails;
because all must go to their eternal home,
and the mourners will go about the streets;
before the silver cord is snapped,
and the golden bowl is broken,
and the pitcher is broken at the fountain,
and the wheel broken at the cistern,
and the dust returns to the earth as it was,
and the breath returns to God who gave it.
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.
-Jesus warns the disciples of his impending death
All the crowd were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that he 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 author of Qoheleth (or, in the latin usage, Ecclesiastes) first seems upbeat about life when he writes, "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." Then he turns away from this glowing portrait and begins to paint his gloomy vignette of old age and death. He thinks of lonely old people, sitting all day long with their silent companions, staring into space: the sun is darkened; the grinders are idle; they who look through the window grow blind; all the singing maidens are silenced. We need these words lest we forget the aged and the dying. One day we too will join their ranks and we need to be told that such is the stuff of inspiration. Even while he experiences the "vanity of vanities" in his latter years, the preacher knows that God is ever present.
And Jesus is always there, with the lonely and the dying. He prepared himself and his disciples for the difficult time. His words were clear, "the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of men." If the disciples failed to understand this warning, it was because they were unwilling to believe their ears. For this reason they would not question him about it, lest Jesus reinforce what they thought he said. He repeated the warning as he drew closer to Jerusalem. Hope for the resurrection grew out of the reality of death. He had a vision of the future to support the bleakness of life and arrive at life's eternal possibilities. Qohelet or Ecclesiastes has not the last word, regarding the future.
Admiration can often be fickle, here one day and gone the next. Jesus was very aware of that in regard to himself. The gospel refers to a time when everyone was full of admiration for all that he did. Having come down the mount of transfiguration, Jesus had just healed an epileptic boy and Luke tells us that all were astounded at the greatness of God, present in him. Yet, such admiration would not last. Jesus was about to set his face to go to Jerusalem and on arrival in that city he would suffer the same fate of many of the prophets before him. That is why he says to his disciples at the very moment when he is surrounded by admirers, "the Son of Man is going to be handed over into the power of men."
Clearly, Jesus was not driven by the need to receive human admiration. 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. His life invites us to ask ourselves, "What really 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.
Job's patience is tested to the uttermost
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, "Where have you come from? Satan answered the Lord, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." The Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil." Then Satan answered the Lord, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." The Lord said to Satan, "Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!" So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother's house, a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, another came and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, another came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, another came and said, "Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you."
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped and said,
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
and naked shall I return there;
the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
blessed be the name of the Lord."
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.
Jesus tells where true greatness is found
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 appear in our first passage from the Book of Job, and here our discussion moves in another direction. We are reading from the prose prologue, which with the epilog at the end, forms the context for the dramatic dialogue within the central part of the book. This prose section turns out to be the most ancient part and belonged to the patrimony of the Near East. We meet the somewhat naive situation in which Satan shows up in the heavenly throne room and argues with God about justice in the human family. God permits Satan to test Job, destroying first his property and then taking the lives of his sons and daughters. Job is alone, totally alone. His wife appears later in the narrative but is hardly any consolation. Alone, yes; but alone with God. "Naked I came out from my mother's womb, and naked shall I go back again. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
Children 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. Yet, 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.
When Jesus wanted to teach his disciples something he sometimes did it with actions as well as with words. We have an example of that in this morning's gospel. The disciples were arguing as to which of them was the greatest. Jesus needed to teach them something about what constitutes greatest in God's eyes. He began his teaching by doing something, taking a child and setting the child beside him. He then completed this action with his words, identifying himself and God who sent him with the child. The child was not a symbol of greatness in the ancient world, but a symbol of weakness, vulnerability and frailty. It is not the great of this world, but the little ones, like the children, who serve as channels for the coming of the Lord. Jesus and God identify themselves with those whom the world considers weak and of no status. In arguing as to which of them was the greatest, the disciples were way off the mark. They were moving in a direction which was the very opposite of how God and his Son, Jesus, move. Jesus suggests that God's values are different to the values of the world. Like the disciples in the gospel, we can sometimes operate out of the values of the world. We have to keep reminding ourselves of God's values as Jesus reveals them to us.
Job's anguished lament at the misfortunes heaped upon him
After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said:
"May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, 'A boy is conceived!'
"Why did I not perish at birth,
and die as I came from the womb?
Why were there knees to receive me
and breasts that I might be nursed?
For now I would be lying down in peace;
I would be asleep and at rest
with kings and rulers of the earth,
who built for themselves places now lying in ruins,
with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver.
Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child,
like an infant who never saw the light of day?
There the wicked cease from turmoil,
and there the weary are at rest.
"Why is light given to those in misery,
and life to the bitter of soul,
to those who long for death that does not come,
who search for it more than for hidden treasure,
who are filled with gladness
and rejoice when they reach the grave?
Why is life given to a man
whose way is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?
The long journey narrative begins as Jesus proceeds towards Jerusalem
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he 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.
Today we are invited to share in a journey to Jerusalem with Jesus, following the will of God. The way may be winding or thorny, and is partially formed by the environment around us. Hopefully it will be mainly marked by health and kindness, unlike the harsh life that Job has so mournfully described.
The Gospel begins Luke's long journey narrative. All the way to the end of ch. 19, Luke assembles sayings of Jesus which Matthew and Mark scatter elsewhere in their stories. Luke thereby makes a theological (not a geographical) statement that everything points mystically towards Jerusalem, that is towards our union with Jesus in his sufferings, death and glorious resurrection which focus on Jerusalem.
The journey narrative opens with Jesus being rejected in Samaria. These half-caste people in central Palestine had been rejected by the conservative Jews and by this time they were fiercely hostile to Jerusalem. Jesus will not let his disciples pray for the destruction of the Samaritans, but gives them time, just as poor, tormented Job needed time to curse and to be angry. We learn later how many Samaritans were converted to Christianity soon after Pentecost. Even while Saul was persecuting the church, the deacon Philip went down to Samaria preaching the Gospel and curing many people. The joy in that town rose to fever pitch, a very far cry from today's rejection story. Luke's account is preparing for this moment of glory. The Bible respects the different stages in life and enables us to see each of them as a way of following in the footsteps of Jesus.
The disciples James and John, the sons of Zebedee, often show themselves in the gospels to have a very different mindset to that of Jesus. On one occasion they approached Jesus and asked him for the two best seats in his kingdom, one on his right and the other on his left. On that occasion, Jesus brought them down to earth by asking them if they were willing to drink the cup he must drink, the cup of suffering. In this morning's gospel, they react in a very hostile way to a Samaritan village that refused hospitality to Jesus and his disciples. They wanted Jesus to use his influence with God to ensure that they were punished. Jesus again rebukes these two disciples. Rather than responding to their request, he simply went on to another village. In Luke's gospel especially, Jesus' mission is to reveal the hospitable love of God for all, even for those who rejected God's Son. He puts into practice his own teaching to love the enemy, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who abuse us. The father in the story of the prodigal son is very much a Jesus figure in that sense; he showed abundant love for the son who had cursed and abused him. A few verses after the gospel we have just heard, Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan, another Jesus figure who showed love to his traditional enemy, a Jew. Jesus makes the hero of that parable a member of the same group who had refused Jesus hospitality. There is a bigness of spirit here, a generosity of heart, which we are all called to give expression to in our lives, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
God's omnipotent control of the universe and his mysterious guidance of life
Then Job answered:
"Indeed I know that this is so
but how can a mortal be just before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand.
He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength
—who has resisted him, and succeeded?
he who removes mountains,
and they do not know it,
when he overturns them in his anger
who shakes the earth out of its place,
and its pillars tremble
who commands the sun, and it does not rise
who seals up the stars
who alone stretched out the heavens
and trampled the waves of the Sea
who made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the chambers of the south
who does great things beyond understanding,
and marvellous things without number.
Look, he passes by me,
and I do not see him
he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
He snatches away who can stop him?
Who will say to him, 'What are you doing?'
How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him?
Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him
I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.
If I summoned him and he answered me,
I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.
Jesus responds to prospective followers by a series of stern statements
As they were going along the road, someone said to Jesus, "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."
Job takes us back to that austere period after the exile as inviting us to examine how we deal with crisis in life. He replies to Bildad, the second friend who had come to offer his sympathy and comfort in his dark hour.
This chapter summarizes the Book of Job: In the end, nobody can be justified before God, whose wisdom and power are beyond our understanding.. "Should He come near me, I cannot see Him; How much less can I give Him any answer." The final poem (Job 38-41) proclaiming God's control of the universe, beyond human scrutiny and comprehension, is already sketched for us in today's reading. Like Job, we too must live within a dark cloud of mystery, and learn the way of faithful humility before God. Quick answers, like fast food and overnight wealth, are generally not the best for physical health and psychological peace. We can learn to recognize the inner groaning of the Spirit " awaiting the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:23).
Very few people can live heroically on a day-by-day basis, nor should life be planned that way. Yet, testing moments come to each disciple, and then we need to hear again the stern words of Jesus: "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Let the dead bury their dead. Whoever puts his hand to the plough but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God." To deal with today's challenge we need to discern which of today's readings apply, yet even today we must prepare for tomorrow and its new demands.
Three people declared their willingness to become followers of Jesus, but they seemed unaware of what involved or of any sense of urgency. Two of them claim they have some important duties to attend to first. You would have thought that burying one's father and saying goodbye to people at home were priority duties. Yet, Jesus insists that following him straight away, without delay, is the more urgent duty. This is one of probably several gospel texts that we all find difficult. Jesus seems to be so demanding. Yet, Jesus may be making it clear to all of us that following him, becoming and remaining his disciple, is demanding. It is never going to be an easy or a soft option. Jesus does demand 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 gospelbrings home to us that walking in the way of the Lord is a serious business
Job appeals to God to vindicate him
Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me,
never satisfied with my flesh?
"O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
Jesus sends out 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 laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers 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 laborer 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, 'Even 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.
There is an urgency in each of these readings. Job wants his words to be "cut in the rock forever" "with an iron chisel and with lead." Jesus sends out the seventy-two disciples with no provisions, lest they be hampered in their keen and rapid announcement that the reign of God is at hand. Job sets aside all human means of justification and reaches out for God's immediate presence. Jesus announces that our best wishes will be fulfilled in the reign of God. Yet, we also know that this reign, inaugurated by the Gospel, did not lead at once to a glorious paradise but rather to the long period of church history, still awaiting the second coming of Jesus.
One text may seem to suffice at this time. Yet, we need to be prepared for the many tomorrows that lie ahead, lest we reject the Lord's messenger, and when it is too late, we see only the dust of our mistake, shaken from the messenger's feet. Jesus told his messengers, "If the people of any town you enter do not welcome you, go into its streets and say, 'We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God is near.'"
Job is faced with a once-in-a-lifetime ordeal. Human comforters, with their ancient wisdom and respected advice, simply intensified his agony. Job does not want theological explanations but called out, "Pity me, pity, O you my friends.. Why do you hound me as though you were divine?" Then he takes his case directly to God. Each of us too at singular crises may be face to face with the awesome God in the depth of our conscience.
Jesus brings us a major imperative with the message, "The reign of God is at hand." Once we stake our very life on accepting the reign of God, then the rest of our journey through life will benefit from the gospel and especially from the presence of Jesus, "my Vindicator.. whom I myself shall see."
Jesus tells his missionaries that regardless of the reception they receive from a particular town, they are to announce, "the kingdom of God is very near to you." If they are made welcome in a town, they are to make that announcement, but even if they are not made welcome, they are still to make that announcement. Jesus is saying that regardless of whether the gospel is well received or badly received, the kingdom of God remains very near to us. In other words, people may differ, but God remains the same. God remains powerfully present, his reign of love is close at hand, regardless of how the message of Jesus is received. It can be encouraging to remind ourselves of that, especially at times when the hunger for the Lord and for his word does not seem to be as deep or as prevalent as it once was. It is always good to remind ourselves that God was as much present on Good Friday as he was on Easter Sunday. God is powerfully at work when the gospel is being rejected as much as when it is being received.
Only if Job is himself divine can he challenge God's ways
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
"Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed like a garment.
Light is withheld from the wicked,
and their uplifted arm is broken."
Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
"Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
Surely you know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!
Then Job answered the Lord:
"See, I am of small account
what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.I have spoken once,
and I will not answer
twice, but will proceed no further."
Woe to those who reject the word of Jesus
Jesus said to his disciples: "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."
Can one trust in the wisdom of God without really understanding why certain things are allowed to happen? Today's passage from Job says "Yes" through the rhetorical questions God put to Job out of the stormy whirlwind. Because Job had questioned the truth of Divine Providence, he must be like a fellow-god: so God asks, "Have you walked about in the depths of the abyss? Do you know the way to the dwelling place of light? Do you command the morning light and show dawn its place?"
It is natural for people of faith to question God's wisdom in their times of darkness. Yet even when life's demands seem to overtax human strength, we are reminded how much we belong to God's family. Like the people crossing the desert, we too have some experience the goodness, even the miracles of God. In the gospel, Jesus reminds us again of these miracles and holds out to us, even during melancholy times in the life of our church, his promise of a new energy, with life transformed in the direction of justice, love and peace.
Jesus identifies himself very closely with his disciples. 'anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me.' The risen Lord continues to identify himself with his disciples today, with each one of us. Each of us is called to be a living sign of the Lord's presence. The Lord wants to be present in our world through each one of us. We have each received the extraordinary calling to be the Lord's ambassador in our world, to reveal his presence to others. We are all aware of our capacity to hide the Lord as well as reveal him. We can relate to others in ways that are not of the Lord. Yet, that does not stop the Lord from continuing to call us to be his presence to others. He continues to want to live in us, to speak and act through us. We are the members of his body. As he was present in Galilee and Judea in and through his physical body, he wishes to be present in our world today in and through his body, the church, and in and through each individual member of that body. He needs all of us if he is to be fully present because each of us can reveal a different facet of the Lord. As Saint Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, every member of the body of the church has a vital role to play in ensuring that Christ's body is fully alive.
After Job stops complaining, he is blessed more than before
Then Job answered the Lord:"I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?'
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes."
The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job's daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children's children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.
When the disciples return jubilant, Jesus rejoices also
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.
Today's gospel allows us a rare glimpse into the deepest of all mysteries, the joy=filled 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 tell him, "even the devils submit to us when we use your name." He acknowledges the success of their work, yet he focuses on something more fundamental, inviting them to rejoice not so much in the success of their work but in the fact that their names are written in heaven.
Our relationship with God can be the deepest source of our joy. It is that relationship which makes our work fruitful. That is why Jesus goes on to tell 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 the revelation of his own relationship with God his Father and had let themselves be drawn into that relationship. That is why they can rejoice.
This gospel 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.
Paul understood the Gospel by a revelation of Jesus Christ
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
The big question, Who is my neighbour?
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."
Paradox and utter novelty pervade the letter to the Galatians, where Paul insists on the authentic truth of his gospel, namely that in the community based on Christ there is no distinction based on Jew or Greek, slave or free person, male or female, for all are united in Jesus (Gal 3:28). This statement, which we will read again on Saturday of this week, is the keystone to Paul's entire ministry. This insight came to him directly from God,not from Peter or any of the other apostles. Jesus had sent the twelve apostles to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:5), but Paul turns to foreigners, not only for hearts to convert, but also for new styles of worship. Israel could not learn exclusively from her own traditions what God intended as the full and final meaning of her covenant.
Another novelty comes from today's gospel. A lawyer-theologian posed a problem to Jesus about everlasting life, one of the deepest and most serious of all theological questions, and then tried to justify himself because he already knew the answer. He asked, "Who is my neighbour?" Jesus turned to the Samaritans for an answer, to a people who were despised and rejected by Israel as heretics and spoilers of the Torah.
How do we regard our "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.
That lawyer asked Jesus two very important questions. He first asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" He then went on to ask, "Who is my neighbour?" It was in response to that second question that Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan. Yet, 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."
Paul once persecuted the church but later met Cephas (Peter) in Jerusalem
You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, "The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me.
Jesus defends Mary's listening, while Martha is busy providing hospitality
Jesus 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."
While good intentions can drive one to over-activity and even to misguided zeal, the Scriptures defend human activity and good works as essential to salvation. For today's readings we must keep in mind this healthy balance between contemplation and action, and remember that each of us reflects, simultaneously, Martha and Mary, Paul and Peter. Each of these becomes a symbol for us. This outlook does not deny their individual reality but enshrines Paul's view that "everything in the Scriptures was written for our instruction" (Rom 15:4).
In Galatians Paul is a man of action, always at the eye of the hurricane. He was not converted in order to spend his life in prayer but rather to "spread among the gentiles the good news of Jesus." Martha, too, fits the pattern of many good, active people in the Gospel of Luke. She is like others in Luke's account, people 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.
Still, the role of Mary begins to emerge as also a valid option. We are not surprised at Jesus' words, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing only is required. Mary has chosen the better portion." In a very true sense, Jesus 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 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.
This morning's gospel suggests that Jesus welcomed the hospitality that was shown to him by others. On this occasion it was Martha welcomed him to her house. Yet, it seems that Jesus' visit was more a cause of anxiety to Martha than an occasion of joy. That is clear from Jesus' words to Martha, 'Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things.' We can all turn what is, in reality, a pleasure into a chore. Mary, Martha's sister, seems the more marginal of the two women. The house is spoken of as Martha's house, and Mary is simply referred as Martha's sister. Yet, it is this more marginal of the two sisters who received Jesus in a way that was more appropriate to the occasion. Rather than allowing herself to be unnecessarily burdened, like Martha, she simply attended to the guest with joy, sitting at his feet and listening to him speaking. Jesus expressed his appreciation for the kind of attention that Mary gave him. It is often the way in Luke's gospel that the more marginal people are the ones who respond best to Jesus and have most to teach us. On this occasion, Martha had something to learn from Mary, as we all do. Martha was overly anxious to feed Jesus, when, in reality, it was he who wanted to feed both of them with his word. Sometimes, what the Lord wants from us is just to sit and listen, and allow him to feed us with his word and his presence.
Paul openly corrects Peter for compromising the principle of the equality of all believers
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.
On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
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."
Paul roots in the promises of Abraham his conviction that gentiles are "coheirs" with Jesus. Prompted by a clear revelation he laid before the original band of disciples the gospel he preached to the gentiles. It is summarized in a famous statement that we will read later this week: Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). Circumcision and dietary laws were no longer obligatory. Paul was so convinced of this new freedom in Christ Jesus, that when Peter came to Antioch and would not sit to eat a meal with gentiles, Paul blamed him, "for he was clearly in the wrong." It's sobering to recall that the subsequent rapid spread of the Church through the Roman world depended on the recognition by Peter and others that on this debated issue, Paul had been in the right.
Like Peter in today's reading from Galatians, we too sometimes take refuge in a bland conservatism. Our good intentions are blocked by fear and false motives. To let the Gospel prevail in us, we need the strength of daily prayer and even of daily Eucharist. Luke's shorter Our Father may have become a prayer before Holy Communion in the early church: "Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.". It remains a good preparation of Eucharist, today.
In yesterday's gospel Mary was commended for her prayerful listening to the word of the Lord. Jesus himself was a person of prayer, leading both a very active life and a very prayerful life. His own prayerfulness inspired his disciples to become people of prayer, like himself, 'Lord, teach us to pray.' The disciples seemed to recognize that if they were to pray they would need the Lord's help. Prayer is not just a human activity; it is the Lord's activity in us, through the Spirit.
The disciples' request is, in itself, a valuable prayer, 'Lord teach us to pray' or to express that prayer in different words, 'Lord, help me to pray; Lord, pray within me.' The 'Our Father' has been rightly called the 'Lord's prayer' because it is a prayer that the Lord himself has given us. The prayer begins with a focus on God and on God's purposes, and it then shifts to a focus on human need. There is a pattern there that is valid for all of our prayer. We attend first to God and to whatever God desires and then to our needs before God.
Is the Spirit received by law-abidingness or by trusting faith?
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?, if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
Jesus teaches the value of perseverance in prayer
And he said to them, "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 really will find what we seek. No one can keep on asking all through the night if they were not already sustained by God's Holy Spirit. We treasure this Holy Spirit within us, as temples of God (1 Cor 3:16). If we believe, it is under the impulse of God's mysterious presence. Paul assures us that this Spirit "witnesses within our spirit that we are truly God's children" (Rom 8:16).
Instead of the religious word, "perseverance," Luke brings us down to earth by the more secular word, "persistence". While "perseverance" echoes the way to heaven, there's a taste of stubbornness about "persistence". Such indeed is the tone and attitude of Jesus' short parable.
The social custom of that culture demands that the door be opened even to someone who arrives in the middle of the night. Maybe we should not bang on our neighbour's door at midnight in order to borrow some bread. Jesus is not saying what is right or wrong here. The point of his parable is in its last line. The neighbour obliges, not because of friendship but because of the other's persistence, and then gives as much as is needed.
Jesus takes the point 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. 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.
Justification is by faith, made available through the death of Christ
So, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you." For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for "The one who is righteous will live by faith." But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary "Whoever does the works of the law will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree";, in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Jesus casts out devils by divine help, not by the devil's power
But some of the people 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, for Jesus as for the rabbis, is by posing another question, in this case, "by whom do your own exorcists cast out devils?" While our culture demands instant answers, the Bible tries to induce a meditative attitude in God's presence. 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 indeed, 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.
Paul looks at the divine agency in an even deeper way, as he writes about the initiative of God and of his Christ in offering us eternal life. For him, the fundamental truth is that "justification" and a sharing in the divine life is a benevolent gift on God's part, something freely offered, not something earned by us through years of obedience to a set of laws. It is mainly in Galatians and Romans that he lays out his theology of justification by faith: our proper response to God's loving gift is one of trust and gratitude, followed, of course, by allowing ourselves be guided from then on by the example of God's Son and by the generous impulses of the Holy Spirit. In this way, the finger of God should be always operative in our daily choices.
Some people put Jesus to the test by asking for a sign from heaven. They want him to perform some spectacular miracle, to prove his credentials, but are completely blind to the presence of God in the ministry of Jesus itself. Jesus declares that it is by the finger of God that he drives demons out of 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.
In Christ, all the baptized are equally children of God
But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Most blessed is the one who hears God's word and keeps 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!"
Paul tells how the privileged role of Israel, God's elect people over eighteen centuries, is ended. From now on, "all are one in Christ Jesus." And Luke seems to have in mind the prophecy of Simeon to Mary that she would be "pierced with a sword" (Luke 2:35). With what a shock of bewilderment must Mary have interpreted Jesus' response to a woman who shouted her spontaneous praise for the one who nursed Jesus, when he said, "Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it."
The sword of God's word reaches to the heart of things in Galatians, to strike down all false, artificial boundaries between "Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female." Paul writes: All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. The pain and humility by which divisions and grievances may be healed are usually more difficult than the offence which initially provoked the differences. Paul summons us to this "valley of decision," to heal old wounds and family disputes, to become "one in Christ Jesus."
No one 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 listened continually to God's word and acted on its inspirations. In Luke, 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 is one of the shortest in the Lectionary, just two verses long. It is a little exchange between Jesus and a nameless woman that is to be found only in the gospel of Luke. Women feature prominently in Luke's gospel. A woman was so taken by what Jesus was saying that she spontaneously uttered a beatitude, directed at Jesus' mother. One woman declaring another woman blessed because she was the mother of Jesus, this very special human being. Jesus undoubtedly had the highest possible regard for his mother. Yet, 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 just as blessed as she is.
Through faith we are born free. It was for liberty that Christ freed us
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery.
But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, "Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth-pangs; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than the children of the one who is married."
So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
The Ninevites and the queen of Sheba will blame 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, when she came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. The Ninevites who had destroyed northern Israel were converted by the obstinate Jonah. Yet, a greater power than Solomon and Jonah was present in Jesus. With so little those pagans accomplished so much. We who see and hear so much... accomplish so little!
It reminds us of Paul's letter to the Galatians, where he introduces the famous opposition between flesh and spirit, the way of nature and the way of God's promises. This image many Old Testament passages which speak of several key persons born of very elderly or sterile couples: Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah in their old age (Gen 18:11); Samson, whose mother had been "barren and had borne no children" (Judg 13:2); Samuel, whose mother, "Hannah was childless" up to that time (1 Samuel 1:2).
Paul's line of reasoning in Galatians is in a style strange for us. In fact, he who knew Israel's history so well turns history on its head, arguing with Rabbinical subtlety. He traces the unconverted Jewish people to Abraham's son Ishmael, while the gentile Christians are related to Abraham's son Isaac, conceived by Sarah. Each of us, he seems to say, has not one but two births. We are born of the flesh in the natural order, and born of the spirit in the supernatural order. Our second birth (through the Spirit) surpasses our fleshly human ability and potency, and it leads to eternal life. Flesh is doomed to die; spirit is promised eternal life.
People come to Jesus looking for a sign. He replies that the signs they are looking for are actually there in front of their eyes if only they could see them. The people of Nineveh took Jonah more seriously than some of the people of Jesus' generation were taking him, and, yet, there were far more powerful signs of God's presence in the life of Jesus than in the life of Jonah. Something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of Sheba took Solomon more seriously than some of the people of Jesus' generation were taking him, and, yet, there were far more powerful signs of God's presence in the life of Jesus than in the life of Solomon. Something greater than Solomon is here. In looking for some striking, spectacular, signs from Jesus, many of his contemporaries were missing the signs that were staring them in the face. In looking for the extraordinary, we too can miss the richness in the ordinary. In many ways Jesus was very ordinary. 'Is not this the son of the carpenter?', the people of Nazareth asked. When Jesus spoke about God's kingdom, the ways of God, he did so in very ordinary terms, the sower going out to sow, the man robbed on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the father whose son left home in a very selfish fashion, the weeds that grow among the field of wheat. These were scenes from ordinary life. Jesus was saying, the signs of God's presence are to be found there in the ordinary stuff of life, for those who have eyes to see. This morning we pray for eyes to see the many signs of the Lord's presence in our day to day lives.
In Christ Jesus, circumcision no longer counts; only faith acting through love
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Purity of heart is above exterior cleanliness. Alms have cleansing power
While Jesus 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.
"Faith" in Saint Paul's sense has much to do with fidelity and trustworthiness. The Holy Spirit is present throughout the universe, slowly but surely revealing God's invisible realities. Thus the stakes of life are high. It is not a matter of "natural goodness" but of fidelity to a supernatural spirit within each person. The law of the flesh must give way to the law of the spirit. We are set free from laws about circumcision and legal cleanliness, clean and unclean foods, so that we can follow the more demanding law of the spirit, which is love and everlasting fidelity.
Jesus makes the demand more explicit, "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?
We know from experience that different things are important to different people. What is important to me is not necessarily important to someone else. We can get upset when something we think is important is not taken seriously by someone else who has a connection with us. In the gospel, Jesus is invited to a meal by a Pharisee. The Jewish ritual of washing in a certain way before meals was clearly a matter of importance to Jesus' host, but it wasn't an issue of any significance to Jesus. Other matters were more important to him. He tells his host that external ritual washings are far less important to him than the values and attitudes that we carry within us. Jesus looks for that inner disposition that finds expression in almsgiving, for example. This was a very important Jewish practice for Jesus, the willingness to give generously from our resources to those in need. The gospel reminds us that what we think important is not necessarily what the Lord considers important. What we value is not always what he values. We spend our lives trying to imbibe his values, his priorities, and allowing them to shape our hearts and minds. As Paul says, we are to put on the mind of Christ. We need to keep turning to the Scriptures, and to the gospels in particular, if our priorities are to be in keeping with the Lord's priorities, if our mind and heart are to reflect something of his mind and heart.
The symptoms or fruits of the flesh contrasted with those of the spirit
If you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Woe to legalists who impose impossible burdens yet neglect compassion
Jesus said to the Pharisees, "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 message of Jesus insists on the primacy of love, but also warn us against the excess of libertinism and individualism. In today's text from Galatians, Paul minces no words in stating what proceeds from the undisciplined flesh: lewd conduct, impurity, envy, envy, drunkenness and the rest. Jesus' words are more 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 (Matthew 12:1).
The more that we multiply rules and regulations, the more we try to take control of other people's lives. With control over other people's lives comes a propensity to judge them. Jesus did not deny the validity of rules and regulations, in this case, the requirement to pay tithes. So we should not be in the habit of neglecting these things. Yet he stresed the more important need for justice and the love of God. It is good for us to question our motives in obeying rules and in seeking to be proper and correct in external details. Some consider the appearance of a home more essential than the happy life within the home. We may look good just because that is expected of us. But 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.
Every individual has the capability of living a good life, whether Jew or Greek. We are asked to look for this goodness in others before we drag them before our hastily convoked court of law. Jesus, moreover, adds another bit of important advice. Before we begin to judge others harshly, we are asked first to "lift a finger to lighten" their burden. Perhaps then we would be in such admiration of their goodness and patience, that negative attitudes would be choked off.
We all find ourselves burdened from time to time. Sometimes that burden seems to weigh very heavily on us; at other times it is much lighter. The gospel calls on us to help carry each other's burdens, but the opposite can also happen; it can be particular people that burden us the most. In today's gospel, Jesus accuses the lawyers, the experts in the Jewish Law, of loading burdens on people that are unendurable, without moving a finger to life them. They interpreted the Jewish Law in such a way that it had become a burden for people. Rather than a path to life, the Law had become another burden on an already burdened people. Jesus did not come to further burden those who were already burdened. Rather he called out to them, 'Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.' He came to draw us into a deeper relationship with God and thereby to empower us to live as God is calling us to live. The call of the gospel does make demands of us, but they are the demands of love. They are the demands of a loving Lord who wants us to have life and have it to the full and who gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to respond to the challenging and life-giving call of the gospel. .
God chose us in Christ before the world began, to be holy in his sight
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Jesus' enemies are like those who killed the prophets of old
Jesus said, "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.
Many Old Testament theological ideas resonate in Paul's writings, such as the justice of God, the glory of God, redemption by blood-sacrifice, divine favour, mystery, the fullness of time. There is an evocative reference to blood in both readings for today. We have been redeemed through his blood (Ephesians); and Christ's 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.
In the liturgical book of Leviticus, blood evokes a whole series of meanings and emotions, the most basic being that the very life of a living body is in its blood (Lev 17:11). It is as life, therefore, and not as the symbol of death, that the blood of Christ mysteriously unites us with God and each other. When the covenant of life was sealed between Yahweh and the Israelites (Exod 24:6-8) blood was sprinkled on the altar and on the people. Each of us is a living person when warm blood flows from heart to head and hands and feet uniting all the members.
Ephesians stresses the bond of unity established by blood, and extends this unity to "before the world began." This gift of life in Christ Jesus is given because God planned to love us and give us life, before we even existed. This sweep of the eternal benevolence is strongly expressed in Ephesians. If only our love for others could be modelled upon it!
Jesus raises the theme of blood in his controversy with a group of Pharisees and lawyers. When he condemns them for erecting 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 remembering their dead bones, but by continuing their life and imitating their concern for others, especially for the poor and people in desperate need; we too are meant to stand up for the cause of justice, for other people's dignity and rights.
Today's first reading is from the letter to the Ephesians. We will be reading from that letter for the next two weeks. It is a very beautiful letter, with a great richness of language and message. Many scholars hold that it was not written by Paul himself, but written by one of his disciples in Paul's name sometime after Paul died. If that is the case, it is a letter that is worthy of Paul. We have just heard the opening verses of the letter, which take the form of a prayer of blessing, 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…' God is blessed because of all that God has done for us through Christ. The prayer blesses God because of the richness of God's grace that has been showered on us through Christ. We know all about showers in this climate. The next time we are tempted to give out about yet another shower, we might think of that line from the letter to the Ephesians, 'the richness of God's grace which God has showered on us.' According to that prayer, God has graced us because through the blood of Christ we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins. That is why, in the words of the prayer, we are moved 'to praise the glory of God's grace', which is what we do every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Having been graced by God, we give God thanks and try to live graced lives.
We are sealed with the Holy Spirit, the down-payment God has made to his people
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot crush your soul
The crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, and Jesus 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."
At our personal centre is an inner dignity that surpasses any good works we do and puts us at ease before God, already enjoying his gift of peace. That's how today's reading from Ephesians sees us, as having received something like a "down payment" or "first instalment" of eternal life, just as a pregnant woman already possesses new life, unborn, within her. She has the assurance, but must wait for the birth. She holds the future child, but is still guessing what it will be like. In Ephesians we are said to be "sealed with the Holy Spirit," the pledge of our inheritance. Paul can offer no logical explanation for the gift, except that we were "chosen, predestined" by our loving God. We were loved before we loved in return, we were carefully chosen to be God's very own people. Our life is meant to be lived in praise to God's glory. If our entire life and its growth and fulfilment are due entirely to God, how free and uninhibited we can be.
The exuberance and liberty of spirit is also in today's gospel. What was said in the dark we are to proclaim from rooftops. If our merciful God is concerned about sparrows and the small details of creation, then we need 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 ending of this morning's gospel makes some very striking statements about God. The sparrow was the smallest bird of Jesus' time and place and it was the cheapest bird to purchase in the market place. Yet, Jesus declares that not one sparrow is forgotten in God's sight. God is someone aware of even the smallest and least significant of nature's creatures. Jesus' real focus, however, is not so much on sparrows but on his disciples, men and women like you and me. He argues that if the humble sparrow is known to God and cared for by God, how much more are we known to and cared for by God, as we are each worth more than hundreds of sparrows. Jesus seems to be saying that God is concerned with the details of his creation, and with the details of our own lives. On the one hand God is transcendent, and is due our reverence and awe, what the gospel refers to as 'fear.' 'Fear him who has the power to cast into hell.' Yet, on the other hand, God is profoundly close to us, and has a personal involvement in all of our lives, and in the details of our lives. If that is so, we can bring our lives to God, knowing that God is interested in us and concerned for us. We can entrust ourselves to God knowing that God will receive us as someone treasured and full of worth.
May God enlighten your vision to see the hope you are called to
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
In attacking Jesus, the Pharisees take sides with those who killed the prophets of old
Jesus said, "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.
When Paul wrote (in Romans) that "through his blood God made Christ the means of expiation for all who believe," he meant that Christ's death and resurrection have established a bond of life in all who believe in him. The focus of his attention is not on the death (though this crucial event is not overlooked), but on the new life which the risen Christ suffuses into our midst. In Ephesians this emphasis on the life-giving resurrection of Jesus is even stronger. It is God's power set loose in the world when he raised Christ from the dead, to work its life-giving effect in us all.
Jesus mentions the blood of martyrs when arguing with Pharisees and lawyers, when he condemns them for putting up splendid monumental tombs over the graves of the prophets. Of course, it is not that he is opposed to honouring the prophets. For Jesus, the best way to honour the dead is by continuing their life-work and imitating their concern for others, rather than by concentrating on their dead bones. The inspirational legacy of the martyrs is honoured whenever in our time we stand for God, and speak and work 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."
We are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved, and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
Warning against greed in all its forms. Possessions do not guarantee the success of a life
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."
He said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
While Saint Paul often insists, as in today's text, that we are justified by sheer grace, it is not to condemn good works, as though we were to do nothing but believe and pray. Paul's favourite author was Isaiah, who wrote: "If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all" (Isa 7:9). This same prophet also stressed good works, as in his famous conversion plea: "Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Isa 1:16,23).
The gospel reminds us of some serious often unrecognised faults in well-off, seemingly good people. They can be greedy and miserable about holding on what they have earned, inherited or invested. They have a vested interest in maintaining and increasing the differential of power and ownership between themselves and those who are poor. They can put too much confidence in wealth and respectability. To this materialism, which exists in some form in almost every human heart, Jesus gives this warning: "Avoid greed in all its forms..Possessions do not guarantee life.. Do not grow rich for oneself instead of growing rich in the sight of the Lord."
We have become more security conscious in recent times. We all want to feel secure in our homes especially when we hear of break-ins in the neighbourhood. At a deeper level we want to feel secure also. We want to secure our lives. We can sometimes look for security in possessions of one kind or another. In the gospel Jesus warns against seeking security in accumulating desirable objects. When someone comes up to Jesus asking him to intervene in an inheritance dispute, Jesus informs him that a person's life is not made secure by what he owns. There can come a time in our lives when we realize this more clearly and we find a freedom to let go of what we have been hanging on to. We realize that possessing things is not meant to be an end in itself but rather what we possess is always for the good of others at the end of the day. This is a lesson that the rich man in the parable that Jesus spoke had not learned. He accumulated the goods of this world for the sake of accumulating. He stored them but they were serving no useful purpose. He made the mistake of thinking that accumulating and storing would make his life secure. However, when God suddenly called him out of this world, he stood before God a poor man. In spite of his many possessions, he was not rich in the eyes of God. Jesus calls us to be rich in the sight of God. This will often entail making ourselves poor for the sake of others, emptying ourselves in some way so that the lives of others are enriched. Jesus shows us the way. Saint Paul says of him, 'though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.'
God has broken down all barriers, to form one new people
Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
Servants who are wide awake at the master's return
Jesus said, "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 of writing his gospel, somewhere in the 80's – and therefore half a century into Christian history, Luke and most other members of the church were no longer obsessed with the proximate return of Jesus in glory. Awaiting the Day of the Lord was no longer keeping them awake at night! As with the Our Father, Luke thinks of the daily presence of Jesus in our neighbour and in daily events. We must be waiting, always ready to open the door of our heart, and of our possessions, whenever Jesus comes knocking. Whatever happens anytime, anywhere, must be received as though Jesus were here in person.
On a small but significant point, Jesus overturns normal custom and sets us to think about our own approach to authority and service. Normally, when a master returned home, his servants waited on him. But now the reverse is to happen: The master will get the servants to sit at table, and proceed to wait on them! When we are focussed on faithfully doing our service to Christ in others, it is we ourselves who ultimately benefit. When we try to be of service to others, it is they who heap good gifts on us.
Ephesians has a great, mystical vision of God's grace in our lives: Our lives, like Christ's, are to be a sacred sacrifice. Our bodies are built into a "temple,.. a dwelling place for God in the Spirit." Perhaps the greatest gift will come through our realization that our family extends to many brothers and sisters. "You are strangers and aliens no longer. You are fellow citizens of the saints and members of God's household."
In today's gospel parable, we have the strange 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 in which he and his disciples lived. Yet, 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 Jesus tells 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.
Paul preaches to the gentiles the rich mystery of Christ
Surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.
Be on guard, for God's judgment will come suddenly
Jesus said to his disciples: "But know 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 servants, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant 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 servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and if he begins to beat the other servants, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant 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 servant 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 to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
Luke seems to say that Jesus has gone on a long journey away across the horizon, beyond our ken. Ephesians offers another perspective: we already possess the mystery of Christ in us, and we are still seeking the fullness of this mystery. We are advised to live each day as though the Son of Man were at the door, already knocking and ready to come in; as loyal servants, we must be ready when he comes. The idea of "servant" occurs repeatedly in the gospel. Here 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 servant himself, only of a higher position, but has forgotten most elementary norms of justice and concern for others. The wise steward-servant was to be a just and faithful in his service.
Ephesians concentrates on the far horizons, lost in a golden insight, an extraordinary revelation. Note the repetition of such phrases as: God's secret plan, the mystery of Christ, the unfathomable riches of Christ, the mysterious design hidden in God, the Creator of all. God's age-old purpose has existed before creation and controlled the making of the universe. It exists now throughout the world, whether people realize it or not, accept it or not. In light of the gospel, this Ephesians text takes on another nuance. The master comes unexpectedly from all corners of the universe. 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 stewards of the house, must not mistreat nor abuse anyone. We need to care for each person, and be very solicitous about the use of God's good earth. Any moment, any time Jesus will come and knock.
We don't much like to be taken by surprise. We like to think that we have a good idea of what is coming down the road and when it is coming. Yet, we know from experience that the unexpected does happen. It is that experience of the unexpected that features in the parables Jesus speaks in this morning'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 this warning to the hour of our death; sudden and unexpected death is certainly a reality. However, more is being referred to than that. 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 take us down a path we might never have gone done if left to ourselves. The Lord can come to us through unexpected people, through people we would never associate as the Lord's messengers. The gospel suggests that when it comes to the Lord, we can expect the unexpected. As Isaiah says, God's ways are not our ways, God's thoughts are not our thoughts.
May you grasp the depth of Christ's love, beyond all knowledge
For this I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name, praying that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Lighting a fire on the earth, Christ also causes deep divisions
Jesus said to his disciples: "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."
Ephesians centres on God's love for us, a love that reaches beyond logic and rational control. If we are able to fully explain why we love someone, such love may be shallow. Deep love mysteriously makes "servants" of us, but not a slavery wherein we grovel in fear but a slavery which sets us joyfully on the way to eternal life, freed from shame and fear. Our bodies acquire a new dignity as "servants of justice." If we are swept beyond our control and risk everything for the sake of life in Christ and eternal life, we experience a new level of love and a new integrity surrounds us, body and soul.
In the gospel Jesus is in thrall to the Father's holy will. The language is strong in its echo of inner emotions, "How I wish the blaze were ignited!" The reference is clearly to his passion and death, particularly as Luke shows him "firmly resolved to go towards Jerusalem" where he would be taken from this world. Yet, when the time came for the fulfillment of this plan Jesus was plunged into agony. He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, "Father, if it is your will, take this cup from me.".. In his anguish he prayed with all the greater intensity, so that his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground (Lk 22:42,44).
This can help us a appreciate the force and implication of Jesus' other words: It is not so surprising that serious division will split families into quarreling factions, each misunderstanding the other. Yet, such division is only temporary, for in Jesus himself, where the separation was felt most keenly, was a unifying power to break down all barriers and make one chosen people of Jew and gentile, male and female, servant and free. All are one in Christ Jesus. Only in this way can the justice of God, and the fulfillment of God's promises of love and fidelity, be accomplished.
In this morning's gospel Luke gives us an insight into the torment within the heart and soul of Jesus. Jesus says that he has come 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 his second volume Luke describes the Holy Spirit coming down on the disciples in a form like tongues of fire. Yet, Jesus is aware that 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.' He is soon to be plunged into this fiery ordeal and he declares that his distress is great until it is over. Luke presents Jesus as desperately wanting to pass through this ordeal so that the fire of the Spirit can begin to blaze. We stand on the far side of Jesus' baptism, his passion and death. Something of the fire of the Spirit has taken hold in our own lives. This fire of the Spirit was given to us at great cost, the cost of Jesus' passion and death. There is an onus on us, therefore, to keep that fire of the Spirit burning in our hearts. We need to keep praying, 'Come Holy Spirit, fill our hearts, and kindle in us the fire of your love.'
One body and one spirit, a warm ideal of church unity
I, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Why can't you interpret the signs of the present time?
Jesus said to his disciples: "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."
In symbolic language, Jesus shows how we must seize the offer of salvation that comes to us in the here and now. Some important chances do not come a second time, when failure to act would mean losing the opportunity. Some graces belong to the "day" and the "hour," the "proper time", the "kairos," a favourite biblical term. Kairos is not just a moment like any other in time (for which the Greeks used the word chronos) but a very special moment with tremendous implications. The moment must be seized and promptly, for the sake of charity, conversion, and fidelity. The stakes are high, and not to decide is itself a negative decision.
Under the genial leadership of pope Francis, this time can be a Kairos for us, individually, and for the universal Church. We and our episcopal leaders are to act for God with the same energy as we seek practical decisions to further the Christian faith in our time. The natural virtues of prudence and courage must be put to the service of the religious activity, the body is at the service of the soul.
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. In this morning's gospel, 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 this morning 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.
The church led by apostles and evangelists, to teach and unify its members
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people." (When it says, "He ascended,"; what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in very way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
All must yield some good fruit, or the tree may be cut down
Some people arrived who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Jesus 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 basic dynamics of Christian unity are highlighted in today's lovely text from Ephesians. Together, all believers form the one "body of Christ," still growing to its full stature to form the perfection God wants for us. Through Christ the whole body grows and the members are kept in a loving union. The theme of unity is not as clear in the Gospel passage, yet somehow the Galileans slaughtered by Pontius Pilate and those who were killed by a falling tower at Siloam, were also linked with other men and women. Their fate shows how the innocent may suffer along with the guilty. While the Bible holds that suffering awaits sinful people, it does not follow that suffering people are always sinners; rather, much of the pain and loss suffered by people is caused by others, so close are the bonds of flesh, nationality, race and family.
On the more positive side, all of us are called to form one body in Christ, and we have each specific gifts to contribute to building up that body. Paul lists some of these active charisms : apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, in roles of service for the faithful to build up the body of Christ. Their diverse forms of service are for the good of the whole community, just as the various parts in the human body provides for its living functions. This analogy is more fully developed elsewhere, " If all the members were alike, where would the body be?" (1 Cor 12:19).
Ideally, each church member draws strength from the others and is helped by them. But in practice, the variety of gifts and roles can provoke envy, antagonism, and even dominance or arrogance. The administrator must beware of over-administering, the teacher not try to rule on all problems, the practical-minded person not totally abandon study and reflection, or the spiritual-minded person leave everything to prayer. Each gift must function in a genuine role of service "to build up the body of Christ," in what we would now call a spirit of dialogue and collegiality!
Many of the parables leave us thinking and reflecting; they encourage us to tease out what they might mean. In this morning'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. He felt all was not lost; there was still time for the fig tree to come good. The parable may be saying that this is the way the Lord looks upon us. When the Lord looks on us 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.
Be kind to one another, forgiving as our merciful Father is
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.
The Jewish leaders' indignation, after a merciful cure by Jesus
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." But 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 all the wonderful things that he was doing.
The arthritic woman, tottering step by step, leaning on a cane, used to be a common sight especially in under-developed countries. They have spent their strength and twisted their bodies out of shape by back-breaking labour in rice fields, transplanting individual young stalks, or at the harvest picking up the stray shoots of rice. But though bent over, these old folk are often spiritually strong. Jesus saw one such woman while teaching on a Sabbath day in one of the synagogues. He knew the inner purpose of the Sabbath, and could not rest till every poor human being was re-formed to the divine image. The Sabbath rest had it roots because after the work of creation God "rested on the Sabbath day" but on this particular Sabbath, Jesus could not enjoy his Sabbath rest until the work of creation was completed and this woman was remade to the divine image.
At the sight of her, Jesus said a creative word, "Woman, you are free of your infirmity!" then laid his hand on her, and immediately she stood up straight and began thanking God. His action was prompted by divine wisdom and his conviction of what the Sabbath was supposed to be. 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?" When Pope Francis tried to nudge the 2015 Synod of Bishops in that direction, he met with stiff opposition... Some hearts were closed, that that of the Syagogue official!
Ephesians too gives clear priority of charity. It advises us to practice the virtues of human nature: kindness, compassion and forgiveness, yet it also elevates the motives for those natural virtues, "Follow the way of love, even as Christ loved you." It sternly warns against sins that common sense will immediately condemn, such as lewdness, promiscuousness and lust. 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 we hear the synagogue official insisting 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. Jesus 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. Jesus insists that such life-giving work was always timely. There was no day, no time, when it could not be done. Jesus wants all of us to share in some way in his work of releasing people from what holds them back. The first reading calls on us to be friends with one another, 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. Jesus' work on behalf 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.
Love between spouses mirrors Christ's love for the church
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind, yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
The reign of God is like a mustard seed… or yeast
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. Marriage, one of the most basic, elementary of human institutions, mirrors the mystery of Christ's love for the church.
Christian hope is not centred on looking heavenward but attends to the details of human life. Ephesians suggests that marriage, family and marital love are spirited by the example and the immediate presence of Jesus. Where there is faithful, fruitful marriage, it is a powerful image of Jesus' love for the church. Both aspects of love, within marriage and within the church, result in holiness. It is helpful to apply to marriage, as is intended in this passage from Ephesians, what is said of Christ's love for the church: He gave himself up for her to make her holy. Proposing that wives should be submissive to their husbands is an outdated ideal that should be interpreted as a cultural inheritance from that ancient time. This same section of Ephesians also speaks of the obligation of slaves to obey their masters (Eph 6:5). No one would quote this today to support slavery, that was also part of culture of that time.
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.
The two parables in this morning's gospel, one involving a man and the other involving a woman—have a similar focus. In both cases a contrast is drawn between something very small and the very significant 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. In each case, Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like that. Jesus 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. Yet, 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.
Practical advice for parents and children, masters and servants
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother";, this is the first commandment with a promise: "so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth." And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Servants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are servants or free. And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.
Enter by the narrow door. Surprising people will enter
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."
We might feel two opposite responses to today's readings. On the one hand, the way of salvation does not seem too difficult, especially when, as St Paul says "all things work together for our good," or as in Ephesians our normal human relationships can continue, with patience, reverence and honesty. But then, when we turn to the gospel we get the opposite impression, that eternal life is so elusive that it almost seems foolish to try to attain it. We are left to puzzle at the enigmatic one-liner, "Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last."
Luke may give us the clue for harmonizing these twin poles. We listen again to these tough-sounding words: Try to come in through the narrow door. Many will try to enter and be unable. Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last . Is the Lord saying that in each of us there are hidden impulses which move us towards salvation? Right now we may overlook them or even try to silence them, crowd them out with activities and distractions, excuses and arguments. Perhaps, "the narrow door" which leads us to a new, transformed existence is some niggling inspiration or other: to forgive someone who has hurt or wronged us; help a neighbour or relative in their old age or sickness; dedicate some of our time to prayer and in reflection. A decision that seems small, may also turn my life around. What I had put in last place in my scale of values, now appears first; my former first concerns now take last place.
Ephesians may seem far away from Jesus' proverbial remarks, by clearly stating the obvious about everyday ethics, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord. Parents, do not anger your children. Servants, obey your human masters. Masters, stop threatening your servants." Yet, Paul adds some qualifying remarks: Parents are to train their children in a way befitting the Lord. Servants are to show their masters "the sincerity you owe to Christ." And each one, servant or master, "will be repaid by the Lord." These qualifiers transform the letter into specifically Christian counsel. Again what seems accidental gives new direction, and what hardly seems to matter turns out to be the "narrow door" that leads to salvation.
His listeners often asked questions of Jesus and when they do so he generally responded to their question. However, occasionally he is portrayed by the evangelists as not responding to a question. We find an example of that at the beginning of today's gospel. Someone asks Jesus, 'Will only a few be saved?' Jesus refuses to respond directly to that kind of speculation, 'How many will be saved?' Instead he takes the question as an opportunity to call on people to strive to enter by the narrow door. Jesus implies that the way towards salvation, fullness of life, requires effort and focus on our part, just as entering through a narrow door requires a certain amount of focus and concentration. The narrowness of the door does not imply that only a few will get through it. In fact, at the end of the gospel Jesus says that people from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Beyond the door there is a vast multitude. There is an implicit answer there to the question, 'Will only a few be saved?' Jesus says, 'No, not a few, but many.' Yet, that broad hospitality of God, Jesus implies, is not a reason for complacency. We still have to strive to enter by the narrow door, and we do that by following behind Jesus, walking in his way, hearing God's word and keeping it, as he did.
Putting on the armour of God, for the struggle of life
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Pharisees warn of Herod's plans to seize Jesus; he 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.'"
When Paul (or whoever wrote Ephesians in his name) presents the moral life as a battleground, where we need the whole armour of God, it evokes Jesus' warning to "Enter the narrow door ." Is the Lord saying that in each of us there are impulses that hold us back from salvation? Right now we may overlook them or even try to silence them, cover them with excuses and arguments. Perhaps, "the narrow door" which leads us to a new, transformed existence is to help a neighbour or relative in their old age or sickness; dedicate some of our time to prayer reflection. The gospel recognizes Jesus' struggle with the certainty of his impending death, the narrow door by which he would return to his true life in heaven. But he sees his ministry as that of a prophet who must speak his truth no matter what the cost. And he will die a prophet's death in Jerusalem. Still, the Holy City does not evoke hatred and bitterness, only an expression of his sorrowing love and his indomitable hope: "How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her young under her wings." Eventually, love will win out.
Jesus was clearly a keen observer of nature and of the animal world. He would have seen a hen in farmyards gathering her brood of chicks under her wings. That sight spoke to him of his own ministry. He too was in the business of gathering people. He wanted to form a new kind of community, consisting of people who would not normally gather together, Jew, Samaritan and Gentile, rich and poor, law abiding and sinner, male and female. In this morning's gospel he laments the fact that the people of Jerusalem, for the most part, were not open to being gathered by him. He longed to gather them together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but they refused; they were not willing. Jesus had a great desire for the lives of others, but if that desire was to come to pass, it needed to find some openness in others. Even Jesus could be powerless before the mystery of human freedom. He could call and invite and plead, but he could not coerce. Even as his desire for others was being met with murderous resistance, even as he hung from the cross, he continued to call and invite and plead; he continued his work of gathering. When he rose from the dead, that work of calling and inviting and gathering continued and continues to this day. The Lord does not and cannot cease his work of gathering people around himself. He continues to await our response; he continues to lament when it is not forthcoming and to rejoice when it is. In the first reading, Saint Paul tells us that there are spiritual forces at work trying to prevent us from responding to the Lord's work of gathering us to himself. To resist such forces, Paul says, human strength is not enough. We need God's strength, God's armour, which is why, in the words of that reading, we need to pray in the Spirit on every possible occasion.
Paul longs and prays for the spiritual good of his converts
From Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you,constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God's grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insightto help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless,having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
While at dinner, Jesus ignores the Sabbath prohibition
One sabbath day Jesus went to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal, and 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.
Loving responses are clear in these Scriptures: the warm affection of Paul for the Philippians and the loving mercy of Jesus for the ailing man, despite the spying tactics of his critics. Paul writes affectionately to the Christians at Philippi, certainly his favourite church. The words ramble on without restraint, an unusual style for a public letter. "I think of you constantly. I hold all of you dear. I long for each of you with the affection of Christ Jesus." Paul was not just some Stoical ascetic, an argumentative theologian and administrator. He was much more, even if those traits do at times appear. As a warm-hearted person, he could not be phlegmatic to other people. But even in such a warm letter, he keeps up his concern for the spread of the gospel. These words express this relationship very well: "I give thanks to my God .. for the way you have all helped promote the gospel from the very first day."
While today's gospel ends as a "conflict story," we should not overlook the love and confidence between the two people central to the scene: Jesus and the man with dropsy. What hope and prayer must have filled the sick man's mind, as he sat there in silence. No words are recorded from him as Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?" Luke adds, "At this they kept silent," but the silence was loaded with feeling. Jesus was risking his reputation in the eyes of the most powerful people in Judaism, for the sake of an unnamed sick man, who is quickly lost to sight after he was cured. He healed him and sent him on his way. Jesus did not attempt to profit from his love or from his miracle. Like him we must always try to love, even when surrounded by confrontation.
Jesus was sitting at a meal given by one of the leading Pharisees at which other Pharisees and religious experts were also present. It seems that the man with dropsy was deliberately brought into that meal as a way of setting a test for Jesus, to see if he would heal this man on the Sabbath. This clearly unwell man would not normally have been invited to such a meal. He was there simply because he was being used as a kind of bait to trap Jesus. It seems that Jesus was more than happy to fall into the trap that was set for him. He immediately healed the man and then sent him on his way.
What should we learn from this? While 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 religion, some religious experts show little respect for people in great need. Jesus bears witness to an outlook that treats others with the respect due to 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."
Paul takes everything in stride, so that he may preach the Gospel
What does it matter, except that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
The best seats at the table
One sabbath day Jesus went to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal, 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."
The Christians at Philippi must have asked Paul about people who went round preaching about Christ, yet did not take part in their Eucharist or prayer-meetings. We remember a similar episode in the gospel (Lk 9:49-50) and in each case envy is the fault which is not allowed among his disciples. Paul replies that whenever anyone proclaims Christ, whatever the motives, it brings him joy. He reduces the entire gospel to that single word, "Christ," who lives as our risen saviour.. For "it is not ourselves we preach but Jesus Christ as Lord" (2 Cor 4:4-5).
Unlike the evangelists Paul's written message does not record the words and deeds of Jesus. Rather his gospel is about the risen Jesus, 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.
Too many good people want their goodness to be known and recognized and pull rank in order to "sit in the place of honour." In today's parable Jesus kindly adapts himself to this common weakness even of otherwise good people. "Sit in the lowest place.. so that the host will say, 'My friend, come up higher,' then you will win esteem." It seems that Jesus is saying: if you must win esteem, at least go about it in a proper, civilized way. The gospel ends with the most difficult commandment of all, humility. The commandment to be humble is the stumbling block of believers and even they have to see an exaltation offered as a reward.
Jesus is critical of those who seek honour for themselves. At the meal to which he had been invited, he noticed how some of the guests went out of their way to pick the places of honour. In response Jesus speaks a parable that is critical of this kind of self-promoting behaviour. Jesus suggests that his followers should not be concerned about seeking honour from others. What really matters is the honour we will receive from God. We are to live in such a way that God will honour and exalt us. God's honouring of us may not happen in this life. However, if we live in a way that is shaped by the gospel, God will certainly honour us after death. As Jesus says, repayment will be made when the virtuous rise again. The various honours we might receive in this life fade into insignificance compared to the honour that God wants to confer on us. That is why as followers of Jesus we are not to be concerned as to whether or not the good we do is recognized by others. The Lord calls on us to be faithful to the good we are doing, even when we are not recognized, even if honour does not come our way. We do not worry about recognition from others, because what really matters to us is the honour we will receive from God.
Setting aside rivalry or conceit, all should be generous to others
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Inviting the poor to your table will be rewarded
[At a meal in the house of a Pharisee] Jesus said also to the one who had invited him, "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."
In general, people live by the Quid pro Quo principle, of looking after our friends and paying our lawful debts, and once in a while giving something to charity. We like to think that people should get what they deserve. But Jesus seems to require a bit more than that from his true friends. Because God gives us more than we deserve, we should be prepared to do the same for others: go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, be generous because God is generous. This call to go beyond the call of duty finds vivid expression in today's Gospel. Through his parable style, Jesus invites us to an extraordinary level of hospitality in our lives. It is another way of saying the God's goodness to us needs to overflow in our dealings with others: "Blessed are they who show mercy, for mercy shall be theirs" (Mt 5:7).
In his letter to the Philippians Paul translates that general ideal of mercy into specifics. We need to seek unanimity, unity of spirit and ideals, avoid rivalry or conceit, think humbly of self and sincerely care for the interests of others. By such means we do not take away other people's dignity; they remain our brothers and sisters, members of our one large family. Paul then makes it very personal: By this compassion and pity, I beg you make my joy complete . How well he combines the balancing ideals of obligation and spontaneity in Christian life. In one and the same text he refers to that "which you owe me" and that which "I beg you" to do.
The gospel illustrates what showing mercy can mean: When you have a reception, invite people who are ill, lonely or marginalised. If our memory is good, we will recall times when God invited us in our own beggarly and sinful state to a banquet of joy, forgiveness and new life. When Jesus assures us of being repaid in the resurrection of the just, he suggests that we do acts of mercy not just (or primarily) to win praise from others, but rather for the reward promised by God, which includes joy for doing a worthwhile thing for its own sake.
Jesus addresses himself to a wealthy Pharisee who was his host at a meal. The Pharisees tended to eat only with their own kind. Jesus challenges his host to invite to his table those he would not normally invite, people beyond his circle. Jesus, in contrast to his host, 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 very broad table was a symbol of his whole ministry. He did not exclude anyone from his outreach. He 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 approach to meals, 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 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 this morning 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.
Like Christ himself, who took the form of a servant
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
God invites poor people from the streets and the alleyways
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to Jesus, "Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" Then 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 poured into us by God and offers us great future prospects. We cannot ignore or reject it, without losing out in the process. Furthermore, hope is not bestowed on us by God simply for our private, individual enjoyment. 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 of the gifts bestowed on individual members of the church, the body of the Lord: 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.
In Philippians Paul draws on an early church hymn to Jesus, calling on us to submerge ourselves in the loving bond of community and there exercise a loving ministry of service, like his. Our basic attitude to life must be that of Christ himself. As eternal Son of God, Jesus did not deem his divine status something to be doggedly retained, but he "emptied himself" of his status, to be born as a human being. We are advised to live so fully as a member of the church that we are emptied of self-serving and focus on the interest of Christ's body.
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.
It is remarkable how often Jesus is found at table in the gospel, especially in Luke. On this occasion one of the guests utters a beatitude, pointing to the future, "Happy the one who will be at the table in the kingdom of God." In reply Jesus offers a parable about a feast to which invitations have already gone out right now. He focuses people's attention from the future to the present. The invitations have already gone out. What is to be our response in the present?
The people who had initially said "yes" to the invitation turned it down just as the meal was ready to be served. They let themselves be distracted by various hobbies and attachments, which are all good in themselves but are not the primary good. As a result of their refusal, a surprising invitation goes out to the kinds of people who would never get invited to anything. They have no strong attachments and are delighted to respond. 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.
By their goodness of life, the converts give Paul cause to boast
My dear friends, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. I is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you, and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.
Self-renouncement is asked from disciples of Jesus
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus on his way and he 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."
Today's gospel is rather grim, if we were to read it in isolation; but it is nicely balanced by St Paul's more optimistic message to the Philippians. He points out how a local parish community can function in a loving way, if there's a widespread spirit of service and goodwill. He advises them (and us) to act without grumbling or arguing; in an innocent and straightforward way, as genuine children of God. He then refers to time of his death, which he thinks is near, and feels sure that he will not have run the race in vain or worked to no purpose. And so, quite serenely, he invites them to "be glad too, and rejoice with me."
Jesus' words about turning one's back on father and mother and family must be seen in light of his broad insistence on the two commandments of love, for God and for neighbour. Who is closer than our family? If there are times, hopefully rare, when we act in such a way that causes grief to others – such as when parents discipline their children, or a friend corrects another – even this must be done in love. Like Jesus, we too must regret any involuntarily suffering we may cause to another. For love is the ultimate fulfillment of God's will.
Our Lord's words today seem very harsh and strange to our ears. Yet, we are dealing here with a Semitic idiom, expressing preference. If you prefer one thing, or even one person, over another, you are said to love the one and hate the other. Jesus is not calling on his disciples to hate their families, but to love him more than they love even their families. He is to be the primary love or the primary loyalty in our lives. Elsewhere in the gospel Jesus quotes what he terms the first commandment to love God with all one's soul, strength and mind. However, because Jesus is God-with-us, to love God in this total way is to love Jesus in this total way. As followers of Jesus we are called to give him our primary allegiance; our relationship with him is to influence all our other relationships. Jesus calls for great loyalty and devotion. That is why he calls on potential disciples to think it through, just as a builder has to think through whether he will be able to finish building the tower if he starts on it. We ask the Lord today to keep us whole-hearted rather than half-hearted in our following of him.
We who are the real people of the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh—even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
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 wilderness 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."
Do you have to spend a certain amount of precious time looking for something you've lost? That is certainly true of anyone so prone to losing things as often as I am. We also find ourselves looking for people in various ways. Parents look for their children if they ramble off. Men and women look for someone they can share their lives with. We all look 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 this morning'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.'
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 he tells in today's gospel 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.
Each of us is 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 demand so much of us 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.
The parable assures us that the lost sheep and lost coin in each of us can be found. We must leave aside the ninety-nine other aspects of ourselves and seek this one, fleeting aspect. But are we ready and willing to light a lamp and sweep the house of our existence diligently, till we discover the lost coin?
With this background we can also recall our Lord's warning about judging our neighbour. We judge from the evidence we see; but what we see not may be the full story. Our estimates seldom take into consideration the possibility of finding the lost sheep or the lost coin. But when the lost one is found, the picture is complete. Jesus wants all of his people to share in his role as the shepherd who never ceases to care for those outside the margins, the lost ones that he came to find.
We should be guided by the cross of Christ, because our citizenship is in heaven
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Parable of the unjust steward; the children of this age are shrewd in their dealings
Jesus said to the 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; or the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
What spurs us to action in our daily lives? Some seem to lack motivation while others are workaholics, swept on by drive and ambition and wanting to drive other people hard as well. A good example of the activist temperament is Paul, apostle of the gentiles, man of many travels (Acts 13-28), prolific writer of letters to the communities of faith that he had founded. In today's text he boasts of the work he has done for God. We can search his writings for signs of how to regulate our own activity.
The guidance that Paul consciously sought was that of the Holy Spirit, the power through which we become "heirs with Christ". Paul was at the service of Christ, with a courage that spurred him to preach where Christ's name was unknown. Yet all through this work Paul found time for prayer and contemplation, for being with the Christ whom he proclaimed as saviour. His ideal was to inspire new life in the hearts of believers. He could urge the Philippians to "be imitators of me," sharing in his spirit of self-giving. True Christianity is forward-looking, for already "our citizenship is in heaven." Paul was and remained an apostle of hope. We read from him today: Christ will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it according to the pattern of his glorified body.
In the gospel today, we find a plainer, more common-sense level of discourse. We are called on to be enterprising and to act with initiative. Jesus notes how worldly people possess these qualities more 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).
Some of the characters in the stories told by Jesus have qualities that are far from admirable. But often those characters who leave a lot to be desired have some redeeming feature to them. The prodigal son did make the journey home again, even if it was out of desperation. And today's gospelgives us another example of a story in which the principal character is anything but a paragon of virtue. He is described as a dishonest steward who was wasteful with his master's property. Yet, he too had a redeeming feature. Perhaps Jesus is reminding us that everyone has some redeeming feature. The redeeming feature of the dishonest steward was his shrewd ability to take decisive action when his back was to the wall, so as to ensure that after he lost his job there would be people who would be well disposed to him. Jesus' comments on the story suggest that we have something to learn, not from his dishonesty, but from his shrewdness, from his ability to take decisive action when required. Very often our following of the Lord requires us to take decisive action to ensure that we continue to take the path the Lord is calling us to take. There can be something we need to do or to stop doing if, in the words of this morning's first reading, we are to remain faithful to the Lord.
Thanks to the community who helped Paul in his imprisonment
I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
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."
Just as yesterday Jesus reproached idle disciples for not showing enterprise and initiative, today Paul commends his active co-workers in the service of the gospel and stresses how he himself can cope in all circumstances, whether eating well or going hungry. The gospel, again, clearly tells us to make good use of this world's goods. How conscious are we of the needs of people who share this world with us?
In his prison cell, Paul adapted to his environment and even made a virtue out of necessity. "I know what it is to have plenty and how to go hungry." In effect, he says, "I know how to eat well when I have the good fortune to do so." Most of us might cringe at admitting this so publicly; sometimes we also hesitate to acknowledge how others have helped us. Paul shows healthy spontaneity in thanking his "dear Philippians," for their gifts. These did more than make life more pleasant in his prison cell; they comforted him at a time when no other local church sent anything to supply his needs.
We should accept our dependency on others while knowing how to maintain our dignity and self-respect. Paul advises us to share our own selves, our time, our insights, our ability and our sympathetic listening. Long before Karl Mark, he valued the principle, "To each according to their need; from each according to their ability." The gospel says unambiguously that we are to make charitable use of whatever we have and not be slaves of money. If we are faithful in such small matters, we can be trusted in greater things. And in financial matters, very often what humans think important, God holds in contempt.
Jesus makes a distinction between material riches and genuine riches and he associates genuine riches with heaven, the 'tents of eternity.' He calls on us to use material riches in such a way that they prepare us to receive the genuine riches of eternal life. This involves using our material resources in the service of the Lord and his people. Paul singles out the church in Philippi as an example of those who have used their material resources in the service of others, in particular, in the service of Paul himself. He remembers how in the early days of his preaching the gospel, the church in Philippi helped him with gifts of money. Writing from prison, he thanks them for the help they have sent him more recently. Knowing Paul was in prison, they sent gits to him by means of their messenger Epaphroditus. Paul is grateful for all this material assistance, and, yet, he declares that he is not dependant on it, because, as he says, 'there is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength', namely, the Lord. Paul found his strength, his security, in the Lord, and, therefore, he was free in regard to material possessions. Paul's life shows us that if we find our strength and security in the Lord we will feel no need or desire to become a servant of Mammon, in the words of the gospel.
The blessings of the faith and the qualities of a church leader
From Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began—in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Saviour, To Titus, my loyal child in the faith we share: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.
I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you: someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious. For a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.
Instruction on scandal, forgiveness and 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.
The Scriptures for today show the interaction of ideals with hard-nosed common sense. This is evident in the Epistle to Titus, which reads like a manual for clergy, less enthusiastic than Paul's earlier letters and focussed on practical aspects of church governance.
Paul writes in paternal tones, calling Titus "my true child in our common faith," but trusting in his prudent judgment, "I left you in Crete to do what remains to be done, especially the appointment of presbyters in every town." He goes on to speak of faith's broad horizons: Titus must promote the knowledge of the truth, the hope of that eternal life which God promised in endless ages past. Within this setting, Paul inserts his practical concern for the nitty-gritty. The presbyters to be appointed must be of irreproachable character, not self-willed, married only once, not arrogant, respectable family men, hospitable and amiable.
Today's gospel tackles a problems often felt by idealistic people: they can too easily be scandalized. Maybe such people just need to be more streetwise and tough, but Jesus defends their innocence and warns against giving scandal to them. Idealists often find it difficult to forgive, or to empathise with the temptations felt by others. Even in the Church, some are so obsessed with their own criteria of holiness and their own scale of values that they fail to see goodness in the different values of others. The inability of a church leader to dialogue with others may turn out to be a 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.
In the gospels we find many prayers of petition made to Jesus by various people. When the disciples were in danger in a storm at sea, they prayed aloud to him, 'Lord, save us.' In today's gospel we find another prayer of theirs, 'Lord, increase our faith.' It is a prayer we all probably find easy to make our own. It reminds me of another prayer of someone in the gospels, 'Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.' The prayer of the disciples, 'Lord, increase our faith', comes immediately after Jesus' challenging call to forgive those who offend us and who go on to ask our forgiveness, even if they offend us seven times. Before Jesus' challenging message, the disciples felt their need of more faith, 'Increase our faith.' In reply, Jesus declares that even faith the size of a mustard seed can do extraordinary things. The Lord can work powerfully through our little faith. Even if we feel our faith is weak at times, we can thank God for our little faith, because the Lord can do great things with it. We can never underestimate how the Lord can work in and through our little faith, if we let him.
Practical instructions for living, while awaiting the return of our Saviour
But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.
Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
We ought to reckon ourselves as merely servants who have done no more than is 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!'"
In his advice to Titus, Paul respects the limits of the church's local culture, yet also sets our human life within a divine framework. He begins with an appeal that our speech be "consistent with sound doctrine" and explains that the core of this sound doctrine is about the "glory of the great God and of our Saviour Christ Jesus." What we do on earth will determine how we shall relate to Jesus in his glorious second coming.
In between, Paul is quite pragmatic. Both his words here and today's gospel accept social and cultural structures which are not acceptable today. Jesus refers to slavery and to what a master can expect from the slave. For work well done the master would not necessarily show any gratitude, because the slave was only carrying out his orders. Jesus is not endorsing slavery, though he was preparing the way for its abolition by emphasizing the dignity of every individual. At the end, if we trust, we will not only understand truth, as Wisdom promises us, but we will also be absorbed within a joy and glory far surpassing our human merits. Everything will seem useless by comparison.
In the culture of Jesus' time servants who did their duty did not expect to be thanked for doing what was expected of them. Their faithfulness to their task did not put their master under any obligation to them. Jesus seems to be saying that something similar can be said about our relationship with God. We are called to serve God by our lives. We serve God by our worship, our efforts to walk in the way of his Son, to love one another as Jesus has loved us. We try to be faithful to this calling as best we can, day in and day out. Our efforts to be faithful do not place God under any obligation to us. At the end of the day, we have no claim on God, even after we have done all God asks of us. In a sense, we always come before God with empty hands, in our poverty. No matter how well we have served God, we are always beggars in God's presence. Yet, it is that awareness of our own emptiness and poverty that opens us up to receive from God's fullness. It is in becoming like little children that we enter the kingdom of God. In the words of Mary's great prayer, the Magnificat, God fells the hungry with good things, but the rich he sends empty away.
We are saved by the Spirit, through Jesus Christ
Remind your people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Of ten lepers healed, only one, a Samaritan, 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."
The nine men missed a golden chance, when they failed to say thanks. Jesus tells the one man who did come back to thank him, "Your faith has saved you." We need a faith like this, to recognise our dependency on God for life and its blessings, including the help we get from others towards eternal life. By faith God enables us to put our best self to the service of life, and so to give praise to our Maker. The Samaritan who threw himself at Jesus' feet is told, "Stand up and go on your way." He goes his way, no longer forbidden to live with others, no longer ostracized as unclean, resuming life as it ought to be, blessed with good health and gratitude.
Alongside this positive note comes a sad commentary on human life. "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?" Perhaps it was their sudden return to good health that distracted the other nine so that they failed in the normal courtesy of returning to thank Jesus for their cure.
Titus gets from Paul a list of practical instructions for the Christians in Crete: to be loyally subject to civil government; not to be slanderous or quarrelsome; to display perfect courtesy towards everyone. All these virtues seem within our normal ability, yet Paul ends by stating, "God has saved us, not because of any good deed we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us and justified us by his grace." No virtue is possible without God's Spirit given us through Jesus Christ.
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. Yet, it is said of only one of them that, finding himself cured, he "turned back praising God at the top of his voice." He threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him because he recognized that God was working through Jesus. 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.
Philemon must welcome back his runaway slave, Onesimus
I have received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love, and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.
Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ.
The reign of God is already here in our midst
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.
The bonds of love and friendship go far beyond the letter of the law. In the introduction, Paul calls Philemon a beloved friend and fellow worker, and he expresses his joy and comfort in his rich friend's love, "because through you the hearts of God's people have been refreshed." We too are called to a love that refreshes and unites, and to reach out so as to find in each man or woman our own kith and kine, our "joy and comfort." At first they may seem as distant from us as the runaway slave was from Philemon, and yet they become like a neighbour to us. While Paul does not directly take issue with slavery, he sees equal dignity between slaves and others. And therefore, "Among you there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). This insight would eventually do away with the scandal of slavery in the Christian world.
We can be impatient and like the questioners of Jesus, press him for an answer, "When will the reign of God come?" In replying, he immediately dismisses the question, when. The kingdom of God is not to be identified with a point of time; this is an important warning to those who try to predict the end of the world on such and such a day. Jesus also refuses to locate the reign of God "here" or "there." There is no particular, all-holy place where the kingdom must appear, in one country rather than another. Jesus' answer is baffling but also consoling: The reign of God is already in your midst. Intimately, personally rooted within us, is the kingdom of God, already begun in Jesus who dwells within us. In him we may already taste the sweetness of eternal life. Here we get the strength to be strong and loyal, for God's wisdom already lives in our hearts.
I like that poem by Joseph Mary Plunkett which begins, 'I see his blood upon the rose and in the stars the glory of his eyes.' All of nature spoke to him of Jesus. He recognized the Lord in the wonder and diversity of God's creation. He had a keen eye, a spiritual eye; but the Pharisees seemed to lack that keen eye. They asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was to come, yet they were blind to the signs of God's kingdom already present to them. As Jesus says to them, 'You must know, the kingdom of God is among you.' Jesus was referring to all that was happening in his ministry, all that he was saying and doing. The God of life was powerfully at work in the ministry of Jesus and yet many people could not see that; instead they felt threatened by him. The God of life continues to work powerfully among us in and through the risen Lord, in and through the Holy Spirit. What Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit is there to be observed in people's lives, the first fruit of the final harvest of the kingdom of God. We need eyes to see the signs of the kingdom in our midst. We come before the Lord in our blindness, asking him to help us to see.
Love one another and acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come incarnate in the flesh
I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another.
And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning, you must walk in it.
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
The Son of Man comes suddenly. Warnings from the past
Jesus said to his disciples: "As it was in Noah's days, so will it 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 said to them, "Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather."
It can happen that the good gifts of nature distract us from God. Because they are so good, they can substitute for God and stifle the desire to think about any life beyond this world or about God who invisibly sustains 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.
By contrast, in his Letter John expresses great joy at finding some of his Christians walking in the path of truth, and loving one another. The path of truth leads through home and family, religious communities and daily obligations. Here is where we love with compassion, forgiveness and forbearance, with joy and hope. From this interaction we learn the meaning of God's compassion towards us, and his joy in us. If we are always seeking God, the creator behind the beauty and greatness of our world, the Lover who inspires our love and gentleness, then we will always be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. Even if he comes without warning, we are ready.
While living fully and enthusiastically, we must always seek to look behind the veil of goodness and greatness to see the Creator. While loving one another, we need to be rooted in the love of Jesus, so as to deepen our own loving. If we forget God, our love will become shallow and even selfish; and such love does not last.
The gospel this morning warns against being so absorbed in the ordinary day to day activities of life that we neglect what is of ultimate importance. The reading speaks of eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, marrying wives and husbands. These activities and many other similar activities are the very stuff of life. They are vitally important. Life could not go on without them. They are so important that we may to see them as all that there is. Yet, 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. He is also revealed in the here and now; he comes to us in and through those ordinary activities in which we are always engaged. As the Prologue to the gospel of John says, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. All of life is an invitation to behold and contemplate and engage with the Lord who is at the heart of all of life's activities. He calls out to us, as we go about our daily lives; he seeks us out and we seek him out in response.
It is well to provide hospitality for traveling missionaries
Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth.
God will act in response to persistent prayer
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.'"
In a crisis, most of us will go the extra mile (Mt 5:41), sometimes, but today's Gospel asks for fidelity over the long haul, not the single heroic act but the persistence to stay with the daily routine of duty, whatever that may be, given our age, our job and our local, familial or pastoral obligations to others. What we are expected to do is ordinary, but it takes God's extraordinary grace to keep at it.
The gospel addresses this paradox of seemingly getting nowhere and yet accomplishing very much, exemplified in the widow who kept coming to the judge, demanding her rights. Finally she wore him out, and so the judge settled matters in her favour. Monica, the mother of St Augustine, is patroness of persistent people. We can accomplish very much by a faithful, daily routine.
This final verse in the gospel is probably a later addition to the original parable about the widow. No other parable in the gospels ends on a question-mark. The editor added this "floating" remark of Jesus, which could fit many situations, to voice his own question, "When he comes, will he find faith on the earth?" Originally it probably referred to the long trial of the Roman persecution but it also speaks to the state of our Church, here and now. What are we, what am I, doing to promote faith, hope, love and justice, in imitation of Christ and responding to the gently inspirational leadership of our pope and other church leaders?
The widow in that parable is a wonderful portrayal of the refusal to get discouraged, even when everything goes against you and you come up against the worst instincts of other people. The widow encountered a judge who had no respect for God or other people, and yet she kept coming to him until she got the justice she was entitled to. Jesus paints this picture of a persevering widow who refuses to get discouraged because it captures the kind of faith that he is looking for from his disciples. Having spoken the parable, Jesus asks the question, 'When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?' Jesus is asking, when he comes back at the end of time, will be find a faith which has the same quality of dogged perseverance that the widow displayed. Jesus is calling for a faith that endures, that refuses to give up, even when all the supports for faith seem to be taken away. These have been difficult times for people of faith. We have all experienced the temptation to discouragement. Yet, Jesus is saying in this morning's gospel that to be a believer is to be a persistent believer. The supreme example of a persistent believer was Jesus himself. In spite of the evil he encountered in various forms, he remained faithful to the end, even as he hung on the cross. The widow is a Jesus figure. Like her, we are all called to have something of Jesus' persevering faith.
Encouragement to the churches in Asia Minor
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him, to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne.
"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands:
"I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
Jesus cures the blind man, who then becomes a disciple
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.
Wanting the normal life that sight would allow him, the blind man at the Jericho gate begged for this gift, "Lord, that I may see!" But getting his sight back would involve new pressures, shifting his relationship to family and friends, responsibilities, his whole way of life. He was willing and eager to accept these challenges and take his chances. Once he received his sight, he began to follow Jesus, "giving glory to God," with a new focus to his life. He could now see his wife and children as treasured gifts. The shining sun, the palm trees clustered at the oasis, the birds gliding across the sky, even the bees in the desert between Jericho and Jerusalem, all this beautiful world was received in wonder as he followed Jesus along the way.
Our own conversion may not be as total or dramatic, but it is still very real and just as necessary. Perhaps we are like the people of Ephesus in the first reading. Like them, we may never have been truly bad people, as they are commended for their "patient endurance and strength." If such is the case, we may wonder, what more can God ask of us? Perhaps He may be addressing our conscience as he did theirs, "I hold this against you, that you have turned aside from your early love. Repent and return to your former deeds." Only we ourselves can know if these words are for us. We alone hold the memory of our early love, the ideals from which we may have fallen. These challenging words can be addressed to married people, to religious and priests, to lay apostolic ministers, to men and women in many secular or religious careers, "You have turned aside from your early love.. Repent, and return to your former ways."
Jesus was going into Jericho, intending to pass through on his way to Jerusalem. But he stopped, in response to the earnest cry of a blind beggar, 'Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.' Jesus' face was set towards Jerusalem, determined to reach the city that had a reputation for killing prophets. Yet, he wasn't so fixed on getting there that he was indifferent to whatever happened along the way. What happened on the way was as important to him as the destination. That is why he gave this blind man his full attention when others were rebuking him and telling him to keep quiet. Jesus always responded to the call of the present moment. He answered the man's heartfelt prayer of petition, 'Let me see again', and, as a result, his prayer of petition gave way to a prayer of praise which spread to all the people who saw what had happened. Jesus models for us the importance of responding to the call of the present moment. We can all be too focused on where we are going to the neglect of where we are. What we might be tempted to think of as interruptions can actually be where the Lord's call to us is to be found.
Those who are lukewarm will be spat out
I, John, heard the Lord say to me, "To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God's creation: "I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, 'I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.' You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches."
Jesus dines with Zacchaeus, searching for what was lost
Jesus 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."
To be found by Jesus, Zacchaeus had to give up and lose much of himself. First of all, his dignity by climbing up the sycamore tree, and then much of his wealth by paying back fourfold those he had defrauded. Maybe Jesus too had to lose some of his dignity as a "holy man," by going to dine at the home of the unclean sinner. Zacchaeus, after all, was even "chief tax collector" in the important city of Jericho, through which many pilgrims had to pass on their way to the festivals at Jerusalem. This city funneled all the wealth of the East towards the capital.
When Jesus came to the spot where Zacchaeus had climbed the sycamore tree, he looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, hurry down!," for he had seen a spirit of repentance in the man's heart. Jesus risked still more of his dignity, by inviting himself to the sinner's house, for he came "to search out and save what was lost." And the tax-collector's response was whole-hearted acceptance.
Mostly our decisions are much less dramatic and easily overlooked. It is easy to be lukewarm, like the church of Laodicea. If we are lukewarm, we are not really bad; we help the poor, a little; we are sympathetic, sometimes; we are forgiving, towards a select few. In other words, we practice our Christianity half-heartedly. Strangely enough, God wishes that we "were one or the other, hot or cold." In the language of the gospel, God seems to prefer that we would be great sinners, capable of conversion, rather than "lukewarm, neither hot nor cold," standing up for nothing and just taking the easy option in all circumstances!
People are often more complex than we give them credit for. Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector in the pay of the Romans, was identified by the people of Jericho as a sinner. It was presumed that he was taking more money in taxes than he was entitled to and kept the surplus for himself. Yet, there was more to Zacchaeus than the label 'sinner.' He was also a seeker. The gospel says that he was seeking to see what kind of man Jesus was. Indeed, he was so intent on seeking Jesus that he was prepared to climb a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus, a rather undignified thing to do for a person of his status. When Jesus looked up at Zacchaeus in the tree, he didn't see Zacchaeus the sinner but rather Zacchaeus the seeker. He was responding to Zacchaeus the seeker when he said, 'I must stay at your house today.' Jesus entered into communion with Zacchaeus, shared table with him, and in so doing released Zacchaeus' generosity of spirit. We can label ourselves or be labelled by others in a very negative way, but the Lord's way of seeing us is always far more generous. He recognizes the seeker in us, the longing for something better, and if we allow him to enter into communion with us he will draw out our latent goodness and generosity.
The twenty-four elders before God's throne
In my vision I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come."
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."
Parable about God's investment in us
As the people were listening to Jesus, 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 oer 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.
The visionary in Revelation shares his religious experiences in symbols like the roar of many waters, the flashing of thunder and the flaming of torches. All of us have had some significant religious experience: the joy of our first communion, and later perhaps decisions to be of service to others, moments when God seemed especially near, moments of peace after sorrow of loss. Sometimes we have tasted a particular sense of God's closeness to us; at other times we have sensed the wonder of God through the beauty of nature. Later, if things seem to be falling apart through severe misfortune or sadness, we can recall those moments of joyful awareness— and hope for their return.
In the parable, Jesus could be alluding to a king who was well-known in Israel, Herod the Great, who had to flee for his life from Jerusalem, then made his way to Rome and charmed the emperor Augustus into naming him king of Israel, and then returned to Palestine to take over. The parable warns us that the king will return, and therefore we must be prudent and loyal, industrious and honest, for one day we will be called to answer for our use of time and talents. "Use it or lose it" is a phrase that applies to our human potential. We can paraphrase Jesus' words, "Whoever puts their talents to the service of others will be given more; but the one who has nothing he is willing to share will lose the little that he has."
The last bit of the parable, about the king's having his enemies killed in his presence, is rather baffling. It may simply be a memory of what king Herod actually did to his enemies on his return from exile. It can hardly be Jesus portraying a vengeful God, for his central teaching is about God's power and goodness. The faith he teaches is always towards a God whom we can call upon as "Abba, Father!"
Immediately after speaking this parable, Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem on a colt, to the cries of 'Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.' Jesus' imminent entry into the city of Jerusalem led some of his followers to believe that the kingdom of God would soon come in all its fullness. Jesus speaks this parable to counter the expectation that the full arrival of God's kingdom was imminent. The parable suggests, rather, that there would be a long interval between Jesus' enthronement as king at his resurrection and his return at the end of time in power and glory. This long interval is a time of opportunity for creative service of others, a time to use the gifts and resources we have been given in doing the Lord's work. One of the servants to whom the master in the parable entrusted resources did nothing with what he had been given, because of fear. Fear left him paralyzed, held him back. It is striking the number of times Jesus says 'Do not be afraid.' Jesus was very aware how fear can prevent people from responding to his call. The opposite of faith in the gospels is not so much unbelief but fear. When we rise above our fears in response to the Lord's call, we make it easier for others to do the same. We encourage each other—we give each other courage—by being courageous ourselves.
The Lamb who was killed opens the seals of the Book of Life
I, John, saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."
Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
They sing a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth."
Jesus weeps over the 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."
John, caught up in ecstasy on his rocky prison-island of Patmos, felt sad that no one could open the scroll with the seven seals, and at the bloody appearance of Jesus, bearing the wounds of his passion. Throughout the Book of Revelation Jesus is the "Lamb that was killed," but he is also the triumphant one who leads his sheep to eternal life. He is the holy one, worthy to open the scroll.. "for you were killed, and by your blood you purchased for God people of every race and tongue.. You made of them a kingdom, and priests to serve our God." John tells the persecuted Christians of his day that they are being tested by fire, just as was their leader and saviour, who triumphed over death itself.
How does he meand that they (and we) were purchased? Not in the crass sense of a price paid to God, but because Jesus united himself so intimately with human flesh and blood that he became totally immersed in us—and we in him. His love and obedience, his death and resurrection became our family treasure, our inheritance. All God's children were forgiven in him, for the Father saw us as intimately bonded with our elder brother, Jesus.
Only the Lamb who was killed and who has triumphed over the power of death can open the scroll with the seven seals. Jesus has experienced to the fullest extent the trials and joys, the failures and triumphs of human existence. He alone knows our inner core, and can direct our development and lead us into the vision of heavenly joy. Through him, we all become "priests to serve our God," who turn each human experience into one of worship in God's presence.
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 scroll that was sweet on the tongue but sour in the stomach
I, John, heard the voice that I had heard from heaven sppeak to me again, saying, "Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land." So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, "Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth." So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.
Then they said to me, "You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings."
Jesus drives traders from the temple. The hierarchy wants to destroy him but the people treasured his words
Jesus 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 ongoing 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. What is important is to acknowledge this in an ongoing way and to 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 ongoing 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.
The two prophets were killed as martyrs, possibly Peter and Paul, but are taken up to heaven in glory
I, John, heard a voice saying: "These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.
When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth."
After the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here!" And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them.
Jesus defends belief in the resurrection of the dead
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus 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.
During the fierce persecution of the churches in Asia under emperor Domitian in the last decade of the first century, the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation was written as a call to courage and perseverance in the faith, in spite of the danger of prison or even of death. In wild and colourful imagery the writer (traditionally Saint John) evokes a strong sense of the life hereafter, where those who have suffered for the message of Christ will have the highest places in glory. In todays' text the two "lampstands" (possibly referring to Peter and Paul) wer martyred by the powers of evil (Roman empire) who "conquered and killed them," even as their Lord was crucified. But then "the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet," and "they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, Come up here!" While we understand that the language is figurative and apocalyptic, we share the underlying belief, that the souls of the just are safe in the Lord's hands.
"At the resurrection, whose wife will she be?" The woman who had successively married seven husbands is only a story that was told and repeated, probably to the embarrassment of women. Jesus wrong-foots his questioners by answering their question in an unexpected way, to reflect on the nature of life after death and the form human bodies will take at the resurrection, mysterious, yet full of life, because God is the God of the living. The ultimate answer, for which we should risk everything, our whole human fate on earth, rests in God's heart. Yet we already live within that mystery, feel its attraction, and live off its strength, for already we are part of this earth and part of the life in heaven.
The question the Sadducees put to Jesus is intended to make belief in life after death sound ridiculous. If a woman marries seven brothers in this life, one after the other, because each one died in turn, then in the next life whose wife will she be? The question rests on the crass assumption that life after death will simply be an extension of life in the present time, with the same physical and biological conditions as here and now. In his reply Jesus declares that in the case of life after death, we are dealing with a different quality of life to life in the present time. There will be continuity; as unique individuals we endure. However, there will also be transformation; life after death is infinitely richer and fuller. In the same way, the risen Jesus was in continuity with the Jesus who lived and died; it was the same Jesus. Yet, he also underwent a transformation through his rising to eternal life. He was present to others in a different way. God remains in personal relationship with us after death; he continues to call us by name. Indeed, he draws us closer to himself, and in so doing he draws us into a fuller and richer life. In drawing us closer to himself God also draws us closer to each other, because the closer we come to God, the closer we come to each other. In that way we can be assured that our deepest relationships will not be destroyed by death but will be deepened and transformed.
The 144,000 are the first fruits of humankind.
Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.
The widow’s mite is worth a fortune.
Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw 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.”
To draw near to God we are asked for unconditional love and devotion. The ultimate level of commitment is brought home to us during the last week of the Church year as we read from the Book of Revelation. The martyrs have died as everyone must, have even faced martyrdom, and are now numbered among the 144,000 elect who follow the Lamb who had been slain. The Greek text calls them “virgins,” in the sense of people totally committed to the one they love, like a bride for her groom on the day of their wedding.
The trials of life are meant to purify the person of faith. Even sins are an opportunity to trust ourselves less and to rely more fully on God in the future. At the end, we will be among the numberless throng who enter the marriage feast, for the full and final experience of the love of God. At times this may be an inspiration to go the extra mile and give our shirt as well as our cloak (Mt 5:40-42).
In the gospel we have the moving story of the widow who drops two copper coins into the treasury. Jesus declares that by giving what she could not afford, what she gave was worth more than the wealthiest donation. We too must be ready as and when the spirit inspires us to give until it hurts, like Jesus who gave himself totally on the cross for us. Only in the end will each of us know the real value of what we seek to give, as we make our way through life.
The widow who gives all she had to live on to the temple treasury could be understood as an image of Jesus who went on to give all he had, his life, for others. Although she gave very little in monetary terms, her giving was more generous than the larger contributions of others, because she gave her all. She reminds us that generosity is not always easy to measure. Those who appear to be giving little may, in reality, be more generous than those who appear to be giving a lot. At the end of the day, it is really only the Lord who can measure generosity, because he alone knows what we are capable of giving. The Lord's assessment of generosity will often be very different to our assessment. Whereas we tend to look at what is visible, the Lord looks deeper; he looks at the heart. The widow would not have made much of a visible impression on those who saw her, but she made a big impression on Jesus, so much so that he pointed her out to his disciples. The gospel reminds us that even when we appear to have very little to offer, our efforts to give from that little will mean a great deal to the Lord.
The grapes are thrown into the winepress of God's wrath
Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, "Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe." So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, "Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe." So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse's bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.
Take care not to 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, he 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.
Towards the end of the liturgical year we meet some of the most alien-sounding literature in the Bible, dealing with the end of the world, which also fascinates so many people. We must be careful in interpreting it, as the language is highly symbolic and non-literal. Indeed, Jesus urges us not to be misled about this theme. 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 honestly come face to face with God.
We must be people of sincerity and honesty, not just bluffing our way along. We have to practice justice and mercy, characterized by sympathetic understanding of the human situation of our neighbour. If we have been disappointed with others, perhaps cheated and lied to, we may tend to summon the end of the world for these people, no second chance, let them be totally condemned! Perhaps we need to look at them again, through the eyes of Jesus, who sees to the heart of things. Guided by his spirit, we, like the stone hewn from the mountains, can become the new temple, the new kingdom of God. We must extend this hope to others as well, as we look forward to a new year of grace, beginning in Advent.
Next Sunday is the first day of Advent, the beginning of a new church year. In this last week of the church's year the gospel this morning has to do with endings, in particular the ending, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The disciples expressed amazement at the sight of the Temple; it was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the world at the time. Yet, Jesus announces that a time will come when not a single stone of it will be left on another. It must have been impossible for people to conceive of that ever happening. Yet, in the history of the world so much has passed away that people thought would be around forever.
Even in recent times so much has fallen that once seemed impregnable. We are left asking, 'Will anything endure?' A few verses beyond where this morning's gospel finishes Jesus says, 'Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.' The words of Jesus and the values they express will endure; the one who proclaims those words, the Word made flesh, will endure. When all else fails, the Lord will be there. His relationship with us endures, even when our relationship with him grows weak, as Paul says in one of his letters, 'if we are faithless, he remains faithful.'
The seven plagues sent by the wrath of God
Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended. And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: "Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed."
Dangers to be faced by disciples, before the Lord's return
Jesus said to his disciples: "But 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 added later to Jesus' words by way of commentary and application, is striking: "By your endurance you will gain your souls." 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 endurance." The Greek for endurance (hypomoné ) is like our modern phrase "hanging in there" and reflects an inner attitude of perseverance, consistency, dependability. In hard times we must continue in our loyalty to God. 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 love and fidelity. Such words will have power to persuade and will gradually bear their good fruit.
People of patient endurance can, according to Revelation, join in the triumphant song of Moses after crossing the Red Sea (Exodus, 15). Like the people led by Moses, we too face stretches of wilderness and desert. We can do nothing other than push onward and persevere. "Mighty and wonderful are your works, Lord God Almighty. Righteous and true are your ways, O King of the nations!"
This phrase, "by your endurance," which can fit many moments of our lives and help us to carry onward towards the promised land, has a nice ring in the Latin translation of Saint Jerome: in patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras, "By your patience you will possess your souls."
Shortly before his death Jesus speaks to his disciples about their own passion. He tells them that they will be seized and persecuted, handed over to the authorities and to imprisonment, all because they bear the name of Jesus. Those words of Jesus have come to pass throughout the history of the church. Indeed, people are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus today in huge numbers, in places like Syria, Iraq, Northern Nigeria, North Korea and other parts of the world. Although, we are not being persecuted for our faith here at home, it is more difficult to be a believer in today's world than in the more recent past. The social support is much less. In a sense, every Christian generation has its problems and difficulties. In the gospel, Jesus assures us that he himself will be with us when we find ourselves facing opposition and hostility and are tempted to discouragement. 'I myself will give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist.' At such times we are not left to our own strength. Moreover, because the Lord is with us to support us, the trials and tribulations that come our way because of our faith are an opportunity for us to bear witness to our faith. Jesus declares 'that will be your opportunity to bear witness.' We witness not in our own strength but in the strength the Lord gives us. Jesus goes on to make a wonderful promise to us if we are faithful to him during difficult times, 'your endurance will win you your lives.'
The happy guests at the Lamb's wedding feast
I, John, saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendour. He called out with a mighty voice, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul and hateful bird, a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.
Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, "With such violence Babylon the great city will be thrown down, and will be found no more; and the sound of harpists and minstrels and of flutists an trumpeters will be heard in you no more; and an artisan of any trade will be found in you no more; and the sound of the millstone will be heard in you no more; and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more; and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more; for your merchants were the magnates of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God, for his judgments are true and just; he has judged the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants." Once more they said, "Hallelujah! The smoke goes up from her forever and ever."
And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are true words of God."
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 Holy City had fallen to the Romans, 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 re-statement of Jesus' words speaks to our own existence, in the time before the final age of the world.
Such moments, according to Revelation, will avenge the blood of God's servants. False joys will be unmasked; futile waste of energy trying to build flimsy securities will be brought to an end; all the buying and selling of world merchants will stop. The ultimate shape of the future always rests in God's hands, and in the end God achieves the victory beyond all human endeavour.
Today's gospel has a very dark and sombre tone. Jesus speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem and the terrible consequences for all who are living there. He goes on to speak of great disturbances in the cosmos that will bring fear to people everywhere. Yet, just when all is at its darkest, Jesus declares that the Son of Man will appear in all his power and glory bringing redemption, liberation, to all who welcome his coming. There are times in our lives when our own world can appear to be falling apart. Disturbing events happen over which we have little or no control; we can be left shaken and frightened. today's gospelis reminding us that it is above all in such moments when we are most aware of our vulnerability and frailty that the Lord is closest to us. He stands by us in his risen power, giving us strength in our weakness. His presence has the power to liberate us from our fears and to give us the confidence to stand erect with our heads held high, in the words of the gospel. We can be tempted to let the darkness envelope us. We need to resist that temptation because the light of the Lord's presence shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
Those who reject the beast will reign with Christ for 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
Then he 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 readings for today offer signs; but the meaning of these signs must be sensitively intuited, and the instinct of faith must attune us to what God is saying by the signs about us.
The wildly imaginative book of Revelation was written under the pressure of intense persecution by imperial Rome, 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 flux and rapid change. We have had changes in society, changes in the church. Many people find change disconcerting and unsettling. In the midst of change we need some constants. We find change easier to manage if at least some things remain the same. If we are to come to terms with change, especially very significant change, we need some element of stability. In the gospel this morning, Jesus speaks about change, not just change on a small scale, but change on a cosmic scale, hugely significant change. He makes reference to heaven and earth passing away; it is hard to imagine a more radical experience of change than that. Yet, 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 all our changes the word of the Lord remains a constant, because the Lord himself remains a constant. In the midst of disconcerting change we know that the Lord abides; when everything else is moving, he remains steady, and our connection with him, our relationship to him, keeps us steady when all else seems unsteady.
The river of life, the healing fruits and the Lamb who is coming soon
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
And he said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place. See, I am coming soon!" Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book."
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."
On the last day of the liturgical year we hear that our passing from darkness to light is certain and will come soon.. Meanwhile we 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 who have gone before us.
Luke composed his gospel some years after one such period of severe trial (the destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70) and apparently wrote it during a peaceful breathing-space for his Christians. We gather this from the way that he words Jesus' warning, "Be on guard lest your spirits become bloated with indulgence and drunkenness and worldly cares." It sounds like an echo of our Irish spate of prosperity in the so-called "Celtic Tiger" era, when so many overspent and indulged themselves as though borrowed money were theirs to spend! How prophetic the words of Jesus sound, for our situation since the crash of the boom-times: "The great day will suddenly close in on you like a trap." If it is true that faith thrives more during adversity than during peace and financial prosperity, perhaps we may hope for some rebirth in our Church. But in Luke Jesus also advises that spiritual life requires commitment: "Pray constantly." Live in God's presence and then you will "stand secure before the Son of Man" when he comes in full glory.
In his vision on the island of Patmos, St John views the momentous crises of earthly existence from the perspective of final glory. Here is the silver lining to the clouds, the end of the three and a half years of trial. The seer of Patmos feels himself already standing with one foot within the heavenly Jerusalem and one foot on planet earth. Therefore he hears Christ's promise, "I am coming soon… They will drink from the river of living water, clear as crystal, which issues from the throne of God and of the Lamb."
The thirty-four weeks of the church's liturgical year are ending this very day. 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 and prayer during Advent, starting tomorrow. With the help of God, 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.
Once again 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.'