Ordinary Sundays of Year C (1-34)
The Bible readings for Mass, following the Irish Liturgical Calendar. Texts from the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) are marked by consistently inclusive language. Homily notes, from a wide variety of sources, have already appeared in the ACP website, in the section edited by Fr. Patrick Rogers, Dublin, Ireland.
Theme: Jesus brings justice and divine life to the nations. As his baptised family, we seek the kingdom of God through justice and peace.
A chosen servant of God will courageously help others to find salvation
Thus says the Lord:
"Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness."
At his baptism in the Jordan Jesus went about doing good for God was with him
Peter said to Cornelius and his household: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ-he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him."
At his baptism Jesus' mission was revealed: to share the Spirit of God with us
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented.
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom am well pleased."
Or, ad libitum for Year C:
He will feed his flock like a shepherd
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Purified through the water of rebirth and renewal
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.
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.
The Baptist points to Jesus the Saviour, whom God calls "my Son, the Beloved"
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
During a pilgrimages to the Holy Land I and some friends stood up to our knees in the river Jordan, to renew the promises of our baptism. It was a moving experience as we remembered the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus just after HIS baptism. By being baptised into him we are counted as members of God's beloved family. United with Jesus, we are made like him, God's own daughters and sons. Others who stood that day in the Jordan will remember that moment today and use it to renew their commitment to Jesus. But all of us were baptised somewhere, sometime, and we can claim that baptism fully as our own.
Our Lord's baptism is a vital moment in our story of salvation, where he joined with humanity in the humble outreach to God, and where the Father and the Spirit are seen and heard to be there with him. Our gospel says that "the heavens were opened," a powerful statement of the point of contact between heaven and earth. Later on, as Jesus completes his life-journey on Calvary, we read how "the veil of the Temple was rent in two," a symbol that we are not completely free to enter the Holy of Holies. Today's gospel has Jesus beginning a journey which each of us is asked to travel. It is a journey full of purpose, a journey of intent. We need a sense of purpose and pattern to our living. St Peter summarised the purpose and pattern of Christ's life when he said, "went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." We are each invited, personally, to make this purpose our own.
A little story about finding direction: A Dubliner was down the country travelling along by-roads where the signposts were few and far between. After a while, unsure of his directions, he decided to ask the first person he saw. When he came across a farmer driving his cows home for milking he stopped the car and asked if he was on the right road to Mallow. The farmer told him that he certainly was on the Mallow road. The driver thanked him and was about to move forward when the farmer added, in a nonchalant way, "You're on the right road, but you're going in the wrong direction!' Let's look into our own lifestyle today, to see if our direction is right.
The sacrament I most like celebrating is the sacrament of baptism. It is always such a happy occasion when a child's birth is publicly celebrated and cheered, and here they are received into a larger family, the family of the church. In being received into our church-family, these children become our brothers and sisters in the Lord, sons and daughters of God, and temples of the Spirit. The joy of faith and hope is palpable, especially when the parents and godparents come up to the baptismal font and the water is poured over the head of the child by the celebrant. Each child is anointed before and after baptism with special oil of catechumens and the oil of chrism; the baptismal shawl is placed around the child and the baptismal candle is lit. The whole occasion is uplifting in a way that is unique to that sacrament.
Of course, the majority of baptisms are of children, who are oblivious to what is happening around them. A big decision is being made on their behalf without their knowing anything about it. Yet, just as parents make all kinds of other big decisions for their children without consulting them, so they happily make this significant decision on their behalf. There is a story in the gospels of parents bringing little children to Jesus. When the disciples tried to stop parents doing this, Jesus rebuked his disciples and said to them, 'let the children come to me and do not stop them, for to such as these the kingdom of God belongs.' Parents continue to bring their children to Jesus today whenever they present them for baptism, because in baptism they are being baptized into the person of Christ; they become members of his body; Jesus begins to live within them through the Spirit. When parents bring their children for baptism they are making a decision for them that is very much in keeping with the Lord's desire. 'Let the children come to me and do not stop them.'
Today we celebrate the feast of the baptism of Jesus. It is a good day to reflect on our own baptism and its significance for us. The day of Jesus' baptism was a watershed in his life; it was a day of new beginning. On that day he began his public ministry during which he gave himself fully in the service of God and all of God's people. On that day Jesus launched forth as the one who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. As he set out on that momentous journey for all of us, he was assured of God his Father's favour, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you', and he was empowered by the Holy Spirit, who descended upon him like a dove.
Even though Jesus was baptised by John as an adult and we received Christian baptism as children, our baptism was also a day of new beginning for us. On that day we were launched on the great adventure of becoming disciples of Jesus in our own time. On that day, we too were given an assurance of God's love and favour, and we too were empowered by the Holy Spirit for the journey ahead of us. On that day we were caught up into Jesus' own very special relationship with God and we became a member of Jesus' family of disciples, the church. It is a moment of grace that has the potential to shape our lives in a very fundamental way, in a way that is in keeping with God's purpose for our lives.
In a sense we spend the rest of our lives trying to catch up with that day of new beginning. We are baptized as children but it is as adults that we confirm our baptism for ourselves. It is as adults that we say our own adult 'yes' to the Lord who said 'yes' to us as young children on the day of our baptism. It may be in our late twenties or our thirties or forties or even later that we come to say that 'yes' with all our heart and soul and mind. It is often in those mature years that we can hear the call of Isaiah in today's First Reading, 'O come to the water all you who are thirsty; Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near.' The Lord keeps calling out to us from the moment of our baptism, and as the Lord declares in that First Reading, 'the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.' Our response to the Lord's call, the Lord's word, can be slow in coming, but his call, his word, remains powerfully creative and will in some way or other make of us what God wants for us.
Seamus was a young man who couldn't believe what he had just done. In the middle of the priest's homily, he suddenly left his wife and children in the pew and walked out. He felt angry inside, so angry that he couldn't sit still a minute longer. But he had no idea what his anger was about. Rather than embarrass his family further, he walked home from Mass on his own.
That afternoon he talked the matter over with his wife Sue, but neither of them could work out why he felt so angry. So he made an appointment with his priest for the following Tuesday night. Fr Smith suggested: 'Tell me everything you remember about Sunday morning, starting with all you spoke to when you arrived at church, and everything you can remember about the Mass.' Seamus outlined all the people he had spoken to, and what was said as best he could remember. But nothing stood out from the conversations which shed light on the source of his anger. He then made a summary of the flow of the Mass up till the gospel. He couldn't remember which gospel had been read and what it was about.
It's interesting,' Fr Smith said, 'how you remember well the first two readings, but haven't got a clue about the gospel. So, let me remind you.' The priest pulled a missal down from the shelf and read the gospel. As Seamus heard the familiar words about John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus, he became aware that he did remember hearing them on Sunday, but it was not till Fr Smith came to the last words of the text that he knew what his anger was about:
And a voice spoke from heaven,
'You are my Son, the one whom I love;
I am very pleased with you.'
'That's what I always wanted to hear from my father,' Seamus said bitterly, 'and now it's too late, because he's dead.' Tears came to his eyes as he let himself feel for the first time the deep hurt he had been carrying for far too long. 'Perhaps there is something you can do about it,' Fr Smith replied. 'Let's pretend that your dad is sitting right here in this chair.' He pulled an empty chair over and placed it in front of Seamus. 'Tell him how you feel. Don't leave anything out.'
Seamus stumbled over his words at first, but after a few moments he spoke passionately, pouring out everything he wanted to say to his father. When he was finished, Fr Smith looked at him and said, 'What do you think your father would say to all that?' John thought for a minute and then he replied: I think he would say what he used to say when I was upset and afraid as a child. He would pick me up, give me a big bear hug, and say: "Seamus, I love you. There's nothing to worry about. That's my boy". When he left Fr Smith's office, he felt that a heavy load had dropped from his shoulders. For the first time since his father died, he felt at peace.
There are times in our lives when we need our parents, or some significant other to re-assure and encourage us, someone to tell us who we are, why we matter, and why they have high hopes for us. The time came in the life of Jesus when he too needed re-assurance and encouragement to find a new direction in his life. It happened at his baptism by John in the Jordan River. What happened is cast in dramatic language. From the open heavens the comforting and empowering Holy Spirit came down on him like a dove. A voice from heaven spoke: 'You are my Son the Beloved; my favour rests on you.'
It's after this experience of hearing God speaking to him on the banks of the Jordan River, that Jesus understands that the time has come for him to begin his work on earth as God's Son and Servant. The words of the prophet Isaiah, heard in the First Reading, come to Jesus. "'Console my people, console them,' says your God." It's as though Jesus has just heard God the Father say to him: 'I have chosen you for this mission of Good Shepherd. Go to my people. Tell them that I love them. Show them that I love them. Gather them together and bring them back to me.' Now that he knew what was expected of him there would be no holding back. As we heard in our 2nd Reading: 'He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people, who would have no ambition except to do good.' That's why he laid down his life for others to his very last breath and his last drop of blood.
We too, all of us, are dearly and deeply loved by God. He is our Father too. We are his sons and daughters, made so by our baptism. We are also sisters and brothers of Jesus. We have been joined to his person at our baptism and sent out on the very same mission as Jesus -- to show and tell people everywhere just how much God loves them. Can we re-open our hearts to God as persons called and sent, as people on a mission? Can we hear him saying to us those words spoken to Jesus: 'I have chosen you for this mission. Go to my people. Tell them that I love them. Show them that I love them. Bring them back to me?'
God has prepared joyful feast for his people
For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
The many gifts that come from God's Spirit are meant for the good of all
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who aportions to each one individually as he wills.
Mary's intervention at the marriage at Cana evokes Christ's first miracle
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
In John's gospel the mother of Jesus is mentioned just twice: at the marriage feast at Cana, the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus and at the crucifixion, the end of it. That could be a way of telling us that the role played by Mary was not just the fact of her being the mother of Jesus, but that she was actively involved with Jesus in the work of our redemption. We have read that at the marriage feast at Cana, Mary was invited as well as Jesus himself and his disciples. As the feasting went on and the wine ran short, Mary took the initiative to intercede with Jesus and he performed what turned out to be his first miracle, the first of his signs.
How did Mary know what her son could do? Other interesting questions could arise from the story. Did Mary know back in Nazareth that she was living with a person who could work miracles and yet never once ask him to multiply her bread, or double her money to make ends meet? After all, one might think, charity begins at home. But for Mary and for Jesus the will of God came first.
Jesus somehow knew he had this power to enhance the lives of others. After his forty days fast in the dessert he was hungry and the devil suggested it to him to turn some stones into bread for his own use, but he did not do it. Yet he later multiplied bread for crowds of his hungry followers to eat. What does the Cana miracle tell us? Is it that God's special gifts are not meant primarily for our personal benefit but for the service of others. That is what St Paul says when he lists examples of different gifts of the Holy Spirit and adds that "to each person is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."
What gifts has God given me? Am I using these gifts for some service in the community?" We may wonder why there are no more manifestations of the Holy Spirit like what we read in the Bible. Maybe if we began better using the gifts we have for the common good -- like the gift of praying, singing, teaching, caring, sharing, encouraging, supporting, motivating, writing, etc. -- then we might begin to see miracles. Concern for others is the basic miracle. We could make our own the famous prayer of St Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
John the Evangelist doesn't say that Jesus did 'miracles' or 'marvels'. He calls them 'signs' because they are gestures that point toward something deeper than what our eyes can see. Concretely the signs that Jesus performs point to Jesus' person and describe his saving power to us. What happened in Cana of Galilee is the beginning of all these signs. It is the prototype of those that Jesus will go about performing throughout his life. In that 'changing of water into wine' we find the key to understand the type of saving transformation that Jesus works and that his followers must work in his name.
It all happens in the context of a wedding feast, the human party par excellence, the most expressive symbol of love, the best image of the biblical tradition to express the definitive communion of God with human beings. Jesus' salvation must be lived and offered by his followers as a party that gives fullness to all human parties when these end up empty, 'without wine' and without being able to fill our desire for complete happiness.
The story suggests something more. The water can only be tasted as wine when it's 'drawn out' --following Jesus' command-- of six large stone water jars used by the Jews for their purifications. The religion of the law that is written on stone tablets is worn out; there's no water capable of purifying human beings. That religion needs to be freed by the love and the life that Jesus communicates. We can't evangelize just any old way. In order to communicate the transforming power of Jesus, words aren't enough: gestures are needed. Evangelizing isn't just talking, preaching or teaching; even less is it judging, threatening or condemning. We need to bring about the signs that Jesus did with creative fidelity in order to interject the joy of a God who brings happiness to the hard life of those peasants.
Many of our contemporaries find themselves indifferent in the presence of the Church's word. Our celebrations bore them. They need to see signs that are closer and more friendly on the part of the Church in order to discover in us Christians Jesus' capacity to alleviate the suffering and the hardness of life. Who today wants to listen to something that no longer seems to be joyful news, especially if the Gospel gets invoked with an authoritative and threatening tone? Jesus Christ is awaited by many as a power and a reason to exist, and a path to live more sensitively and joyfully. If people only know a "watered-down religion" and can't taste something of the festive joy that Jesus spreads, many will continue walking away. (J A Pagola)
Ezra the Scribe set out to re-instate the Jewish Laws
The priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
The Church forms many individuals into a living unity in 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 honorable we invest with the greater honor, 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 honor 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 honored, 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.
In the Nazareth synagogue Jesus proclaims a time of healing and freedom
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to procaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Before beginning to tell about Jesus' activities, Luke wants to make very clear to his readers what is the passion that drives the Prophet of Galilee and what is the goal of his action. Christians need to know in what direction God's Spirit pushes Jesus, since following him is precisely walking in the same direction as he did.
Luke describes minutely what Jesus does in the synagogue of his village: he stands up, takes the holy book, looks himself for a passage from Isaiah, reads the text, closes the book, returns it and sits down. Everyone has to listen attentively to the words chosen by Jesus, since they put forth the task for which he feels sent by God.
Surprisingly the text doesn't speak about organizing a more perfect religion or about implanting a more worthy worship, but about communicating liberation, hope, light and grace for the poorest and most unfortunate. This is what he reads: 'The spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord'. When he finishes, he tells them: 'This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening'.
God's Spirit is in Jesus, sending him to the poor, directing his whole life toward those most in need, most oppressed, most humiliated. We his followers need to work in this same direction. This is the orientation that God, incarnate in Jesus, wants to impress on human history. The last should be first in knowing a life that is more worthy, more free, more happy, the life that God want for all God's sons and daughters from now on.
We must never forget it. The 'option for the poor' isn't something invented by twentieth century theologians, nor is it just something fashionable starting at Vatican II. It is the option of God's Spirit that breathes through Jesus' whole life, and that we his followers need to introduce into human history. Paul VI said it: it is a duty of the Church 'to help liberation to be born, and make it complete'.
It's not possible to live and announce Jesus Christ if we don't do it from the defense of the least and in solidarity with those who are excluded. If what we do and proclaim from within the Church of Jesus isn't understood as something good and liberating by those who most suffer, what Gospel are we preaching? What Jesus are we following? What spirituality are we promoting? To say it clearly: what impression do we have of today's Church? Are we walking in the same direction as Jesus did?
The mission of Jesus is expressed with great force in today's Gospel. The Spirit that had come upon him in the Jordan River was leading him to proclaim a message and a way of life to teach. He had moved away from home, and had made such an impression that word about him had got back to his home place of Nazareth. We are told that he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, as he usually did, and announced the start of a new age!
His sermon would be understood by anyone who was familiar with the words of the prophets. Isaiah had stated clearly what would happen when the Messiah came. Jesus read that wonderful passage to them, then rolled up the scroll and announced "Today these words are coming true even as I speak." When he announced that he had come to replace the old Jewish love of law with a new law of love, it caused quite a commotion. At first we are told that everyone was pleased with his basic message; but in next Sunday's gospel, we hear how this encounter ended up. Not too well, actually, but you'll have to tune into the next episode next week!
Human nature has some in-built resistance to God that results from original sin. There is some basic rebelliousness within us, a stubborn pride leading to the blindness and the oppression spoken of in today's gospel. By myself it is impossible for me to lift myself out of the quicksand of my own selfishness. But Jesus has come to join me, to lead me, to save me, and this is the powerful Good News announced in the Nazareth Synagogue.
Jeremiah is commissioned by God, as a prophet
In the days of Josiah, the word of the Lord came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land-against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.
(or, shorter version: 13:4-13, omitting the text in italics)
Paul's hymn to love, as the highest 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.
Jesus shares the fate of prophets, rejected by his own people
Jesus began to say to them in the synagogue, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"
He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
The scene in the synagogue that Sabbath seems pretty disturbing; a people who have come for worship turn angry to the extent of intending to throw Jesus off a cliff. What is it that made them so angered? He had reminded them of a low point in their history, when God punished the people of Israel with a famine, but then saved a Gentile widow. Jesus had also reminded them of God's mercy towards a Gentile named Naaman. Naturally his message was a shocker and just the opposite of they wanted to hear.
Some truths are often bitter. We too may be angered or agitated when someone (even a preacher?) tells us a truth that we don't want to hear. Had Jesus glorified the Jews and told them that they were God's exclusively privileged people, he would probably have received bouquets instead of brickbats, appreciation rather than criticism. But he chose to call a spade a spade.;In effect, Jesus declared that God has no favorites, that there are no privilege cardholders to receiving love and compassion, that all are equal shareholders of God's love no matter who we are, where we come from and whatever our socio-economic status. We don't earn divine favour by the titles we hold, but receive it freely from the unconditional love of God for us. In the second reading, St. Paul too speaks of the primacy of love.
What happened in the synagogue happens even today in some of our churches and communities. We may carry prejudices with us into our places of worship, and if we do, we shut our minds off to the message God wants to give us. Our prejudice can be against the very priest or preacher who addresses us, against some in the congregation, the choir, the readers or other church helpers, or against the hierarchic Church as such. A prejudiced mind will never sit comfortably in Church and will never find fulfillment in worship or carry the gospel message home.
In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he began to read the Gospels seriously and even considered embracing Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. "If Christians have caste differences also," he said, "I might as well remain a Hindu." That usher's prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from knowing Jesus more closely.
Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual writer, wrote of how prejudice can degrade another human person "Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified only with the thinking mind. It means you don't see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce the aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence." Do we take prejudices into our place of worship? Are we prejudiced against individuals or any community? If so, we turn to Jesus for healing.
(with thanks to Fr. Adolf Washington)
A young girl was bent purposefully over her copybook, her pencil poised in a clear declaration of intent. When her mother asked what she was doing, she said she was drawing a picture." Of what?" the mother asked. "Of God," was the answer. "But you can't draw a picture of God," her mother declared. "No one knows what God looks like." "Well they will, when I have finished drawing," replied the girl, nodding her head.
In a sense we could say that Jesus Christ drew for us a picture of what God is like. And because he drew it in his own body, soul and spirit the picture as the reality. Our gospel reading points to a essential element of the reality that is God. God is sovereign; he is not subject to our caprice or prejudice. He is the a God of all peoples; he belongs to all classes; no one is excluded from his love.
Jesus drew that picture when he bluntly rebuked his townspeople in Nazareth for their rejection of his message. He pointed to unlearned lessons of the past and so indicated that his own mission too would embrace the Gentiles. And so it was. There is about Jesus and his actions a certain universalism. His disciples come from a range of backgrounds; his mission is weighted in favour of the poor and disadvantaged, yet he dines with the powerful and wealthy; his healing ministry benefits both the poor an the powerful, Gentiles and Jews. It is clear that all people from all walks of life and from all nations will be the recipients of God's saving message.
Yet Jesus' universalism is never bland. There is always a strong hint of challenge about it. It is never a mere acceptance of the way things and people are. It is a challenge to people to be what God wants them to be his image and likeness; and to live in justice, love and peace. So Jesus will reprimand his disciples for their overweening ambition; and he will constantly call on those who are rich and powerful to become like himself and to be of service to the powerless and poor.
The people of Nazareth felt that Jesus should look after them first. Some writers say that the proverb Physician, heal yourself" is much the same as the phrase Charity begins at home." What they failed to understand was that the gospel Jesus brought was not a gospel of privilege; insisting on preferential treatment, they failed to see that with God charity begins wherever human need is found and wherever people have faith enough to receive it. Those who must hear the world of God are those with ears to hear.
The challenge for us is to draw, in our own lives, a picture of God that is in line with what Jesus gave us. A picture in which salvation is always gift but make authentic in our daily living. A picture in which salvation has to do with all of our living. A picture in which salvation is for all people everywhere in God's time. When we have finished drawing our picture, let's hope that God recognises himself in it.
'A great prophet has arisen among us' the people shouted in villages of Galilee, surprised by Jesus' words and actions. However this isn't what happens in Nazareth when he appears among his neighbors as the one anointed as Prophet of the poor. Jesus observes first their admiration, and later their rejection. He's not surprised. He reminds them of a well-known saying: 'In truth I tell you, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country'. Later, when they throw him out of the town and try to do away with him, Jesus abandons them. The narrator says that 'he passed straight through the crowd and walked away'. Nazareth is left without the Prophet Jesus.
Jesus is and acts like a prophet. He isn't a temple priest or a teacher of the law. His life is marked by the prophetic tradition of Israel. In contrast to the kings and priests, the prophet isn't named or anointed by anyone else. His authority comes from God, insisting on encouraging and guiding the beloved people with God's Spirit, when the political and religious leaders don't know how to do that. It's not by accident that Christians confess a God incarnated as a prophet.
The marks of the prophet are unmistakable. In the middle of an unjust society where the powerful seek their welfare, silencing the suffering of those who mourn, the prophet dares to read and to live reality from the perspective of God's compassion for the least. His whole life becomes an 'alternative presence' that criticizes injustice and calls for conversion and change.
On the other hand, when religion itself gets comfortable with an unjust order and its interests no longer respond to God's interests, the prophet shakes up our indifference and self-deception, criticizes the illusion of eternity and absolutes that threaten every religion, and remembers all those that God alone saves. His presence introduces a new hope since he invites us to think about the future from the perspective of God's liberty and love.
A Church that ignores the prophetic dimension of Jesus and his followers, runs the risk of being left without prophets.
We bother ourselves a lot about the lack of priests and we pray for vocations to the priestly ministry. Why don't we pray that God raise up prophets? Don't we need them? Don't we feel the need of raising up the prophetic spirit in our communities?
A Church without prophets: doesn't it run the risk of walking deaf to God's calls to conversion and change?
A Christianity without prophetic spirit: isn't it in danger of remaining controlled by order, tradition and the fear of God's newness?
Trust in God is a virtue needed not only by fishermen but by all Christians. We need it more than ever, today
Isaiah responds to God's call with enthusiasm
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"
Paul (least of the apostles) came late to faith in Christ
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.
Awed by the miraculous catch of fish, Peter is called to follow Christ
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
These are great readings. The two call stories are, each in its own way, classics. Luke expands the simple call story by adding the miracle and its consequences. It invites a personal reflection on the "why" of my own call as a disciple: what drew me originally and what continues to draw me today and every day?
The story of the 'miraculous catch' in the Sea of Galilee was very popular among early Christians. Various Gospel writers pass on the episode, but only Luke ends the story with a moving scene that has Simon Peter as the protagonist: a believing disciple and a sinner at the same time.
Peter is a man of faith, seduced by Jesus. Jesus' words have more power for him than his own experience. Peter knows that no one goes out fishing at noon on the lake, especially if he hasn't caught anything the night before. But Jesus tells him to do it and Peter completely trusts in him: 'If you say so, I will pay out the nets'. At the same time, Peter is a man with a sincere heart. Surprised by the great catch they got, 'he fell at the knees of Jesus' and with an admirable spontaneity says: 'Leave me, I am a sinful man'. In front of everyone, Peter recognizes his sin and his complete unworthiness to be around Jesus.
Jesus isn't afraid to have a sinful disciple near him. On the contrary, if Peter feels himself to be a sinner, he can better understand Jesus' message of forgiveness for everyone and his welcoming of sinners and the undesirables. 'Do not be afraid; from now on it is people you will be catching'. Jesus takes away Peter's fear of being a sinful disciple and joins him to his mission of reuniting and gathering men and women of every condition to enter into God's saving project.
Why does the Church so resist recognizing her sins and confessing her need of conversion? The Church is Jesus Christ's, but she isn't Jesus Christ. No one can miss seeing sin in her. The Church is 'holy' because she lives animated by the Holy Spirit of Jesus, but she is 'sinful' because not seldom does she resist that Spirit and wanders away from the Gospel. Sin is in believers and in institutions; in the hierarchy and in God's people; in pastors and in Christian communities. We all need conversion.
It's very serious to accustom ourselves to hiding the truth, since this keeps us from committing ourselves to a process of conversion and renovation. On the other hand, isn't it more evangelical to be a fragile and vulnerable Church, one that has the courage to recognize her sin, than to be an institution uselessly bent on covering up her wretchedness from the world. Aren't our communities more believable when they collaborate with Christ in the evangelizing task, humbly recognizing their sins and committing themselves to a life that is each day more evangelical? Don't we have a lot to learn even today from the great apostle Peter, recognizing his sinfulness at Jesus' feet? [J A Pagola]
We've just heard two iconic vocation-stories from biblical times. Last week we had the call of Jeremiah, and this week we have the vocation stories of Isaiah and the apostle Peter. One might ask: "Why these guys? What was God thinking? But this is really nothing new for the God of surprises. Abraham is made a new father in his old age; slow-tongued Moses takes on Pharaoh, young shepherd David is chosen as king, and Saul the persecutor became Paul the apostle. It is clear that God does whatever God wills.
The characters that God has chosen throughout history to be instruments of justice, mercy, love and compassion have been brave, earthy individuals. We could be wrong to disqualify ourselves from ever being called by God to be his instruments. We may intellectually understand that God has chosen many people like ourselves to be his workers; but too often it ends there, if spiritually we lower our heads, and leave it to others to follow God's call.
Having experienced the Lord's generosity in the extraordinary catch of fish, Peter is suddenly aware of his own weakness and unworthiness. He feels that he does not deserve such generosity from Jesus; but he goes on to discover that the Lord loves him and has a great purpose for his life in spite of his imperfections. From now on he will gather people into the net of God's kingdom. The Lord's purpose for us is not dependent on our worthiness. The Lord does not wait for us to be worthy before calling us to a share in his life-giving work in the world. Indeed, our very awareness of our unworthiness creates an opening for the Lord to work through us. The Lord cannot engage us in his service if we think of ourselves as complete or perfect. As Paul says in the first Reading, "if anyone thinks himself wise in the usual sense of the word, he must learn to be a fool before he really can be wise."
A popular Irish hymn contains the hopeful prayer I liontaibh De go gcastar sinn, "may we be gathered into God's nets." It is a fine prayer in view of the many other nets that are spread out to catch us in these times. There are various nets of consumerism and gambling, that can easily tangle us in a mesh of artificial need, and worry about ability to pay. We feel pressured into "buying things we don't want, with money we don't have, to impress people we don't like!" What about the net of image-building and lots of hype about the success ethic, with an exclusive focus on financial growth and the outward self, to the detriment of human and spiritual values? Also, the net of drug and alcohol culture, and the net of depression, despair and suicide for those for whom life loses its meaning?
We pray that we may be taken caught up in God's own net where life, even with its faults, holds out a promise of goodness, acceptance and hope. We must also involve ourselves in spreading this net. In the story in John 21 the spread net caught a hundred and fifty three fish , every type was taken in the net. Like Peter we are commissioned to "be fishers of people" and if we spread the net at the command of the Lord we too can take every type of person into God's net of forgiveness, meaning, love and hope. This is our vocation and duty as Christians. To really do it, however, we must make sure we are not trapped in one of the other nets. I've always been fascinated by the number of references to fish in the gospel. In Matthew, Christ says: "The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind." When he miraculously fed the multitude he used fish as well as bread. He even found the money to pay his taxes in the mouth of a fish. Fish figured so prominently in the gospel that the early Christians in Rome, chose the symbol of a fish to designate their tombs in the catacombs. The letters which make up the Greek word for fish, ichthus, came to signify "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour."
There were a lot of other people in Palestine in the time of Our Lord, besides fisherman. Yet when it came to picking his apostles, he showed a marked preference for them. He made "the big fisherman', Simon Peter, their head. And he reserved his special miracles, such as the transfiguration and the raising to life of the little girl, only for him and his two fishing partners, James and John. "Put out into deep water', he told Peter. Peter knew, as every fisherman knows, that fish only feed in shallow waters. Jesus was testing him. After a whole night covering the best feeding grounds on the lake, it was asking a lot. But Peter complied, almost as if to humour Jesus. His compliance was amply rewarded. More importantly, he had passed the test. "From now on," Christ told him, "it is men you will catch." (Or as Mark phrased it: "Follow me and I will make you fish for people.")
The one virtue, above all others, that fishermen need, is the virtue of hope. To cast a small hook into a large expanse of water in the expectation of catching a fish, is an act of hope. And to do it time after time, hour after hour without catching anything, without even the tiniest bite, is to hope beyond hope. It was the one virtue Christ needed in the person he chose to lead his followers. He was, as history has shown, launching Peter into deep waters indeed. But he knew what Teilhard de Chardin expressed almost two thousand years later, that "the world belongs to him who will give it its greatest hope."
Jesus has begun to draw followers, whom he will inform, and eventually transform, so they can continue his mission when he returns to his Father. Today's gospel presents a beautiful and simple picture. There is something special about a lakeside, and the presence of the odd fishing boat makes it even more attractive. By now, Jesus had begun to attract crowds, who gathered to listen to his message; and this was in the days before megaphones or public address systems! The nearest thing to a pulpit he could find was a boat, and by pulling out a bit from the shore, his voice would carry much better on the water, and give his space from the pressing crowds.
The next scenario is both simple and central. Peter was disappointed, without even one fish to show for his work, and so the scene was set for a miracle. As usual with Jesus, the outcome was abundant, "pressed down and flowing over" as with the wine at Cana, or the baskets of loaves and fish left over after everyone had been fed. Then Peter was his impulsive self and asked Jesus to leave him, because he was a sinful man. That must surely have brought a smile to the face of Christ, because it was precisely to draw such sinful people to himself that he had come. So Jesus ignored Peter's remark, and instead invited Peter and his friends to join him full-time in the mission he was undertaking. There was something magnetic about Jesus, and, immediately, they abandoned ship, and set off down the road with him.
Christianity is more about attracting than promoting. Throughout history, we read about founders of religious communities and orders. These were people with a vision, dynamic, filled with zeal, and had a powerful sense of mission. Their enthusiasm was highly contagious! Such people always attract attention, and this leads to attracting followers. In our own time we have seen aberrations in the form of cults, based on mind control, that led hundreds to their deaths through suicide pacts. It is the duty of leaders to lead, but they should also know where they're going. Like Moses headed for the Promised Land, Jesus was totally open and definite in the direction of his life. He came to do the Father's will, and he was led by the Spirit. Thank God for the many wonderful leaders and founders with which the Lord has provided us down the centuries. Thank God, for the many such people who are alive and active among us today.
Today's Gospel presents Jesus as teaching rather than preaching. The art of teaching is to bring the learner from the known to the unknown. Jesus speaks of fish, of sheep, of vines, of trees, of water, etc., all of which would be there within the view of his listeners. The Acts begins by telling us that Jesus came to do and to teach. A cynic described education as a process in which information is transferred from the notebook of the teacher to the notebook of the student, without having passed through the heads of either! Jesus spoke and taught from the heart, and what comes from the heart of the speaker always reaches the heart of the listener. In himself, Jesus was the message, and that was what gave weight and power to his words.
Was Peter wrong when he judged himself unfit and unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus? He did not yet grasp that Jesus came to call sinners. What Peter should actually have said was, "Lord, stay with me, because I am a sinful man." Sometimes our church has not been good in its dealing with sinners. What with emphasizing hell-fire and condemnation, sinners were left in no doubt that they did not belong at the Eucharistic table! The message often came across as "Depart from us, for you are a sinful person." Thankfully, under Pope Francis' inspirational leadership, we are reminded of the mind and the message of the Jesus who came to seek out sinners and bring them safely home. If he had a hundred sheep, and one went astray, he would leave the ninety-nine to go after the one that is lost. This message is central to the Year of Mercy proclaimed by the Holy Father.
Peter's prayer could have been, "Lord, please stay with me, BECAUSE I am a sinner. Don't ever leave me, because, apart from you, I'm lost." Indeed, the whole message of Jesus is to reassure sinners that he is always there for them. Peter was well aware of his brokenness, and several later episodes confirmed that fact. It is significant that Jesus made Peter head of the apostles. The principle of evangelising is that one sinner tells another the good news, just as with Alcoholics Anonymous, where one recovering alcoholic helps another to sobriety.
So many of us could come up with some instance in our lives, when, like Peter, we have tried hard and caught nothing. This could be anything from an addiction, to resentment, an inability to forgive, to a scar of mind or memory, which has never healed. This has the potential for a miracle, if I am willing to hand it over. Let go, and let God. There is nothing impossible with God.
Theme: Jeremiah warns about putting our trust in mere human resources. Even the powerful and famous often lead us astray. We should put our primary trust in the Lord, and be grateful for his guidance in our lives.
Trust in human resources is like a withering shrub in the arid desert
Thus says the Lord:
"Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. "
Paul clear reply to some who were sceptical about resurrection
If Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 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.
Luke has just four Beatitudes, and four corresponding 'woes'
Jesus 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.
Then he 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.
Anyone who has been to the Holy Land, and who has seen the rocky landscape and barren yellow soil of the southern part of it in particular, would regard a description of it as a "land flowing with milk and honey" (Num 13:27) as being rather an exaggeration. Yet such was the report received by Moses from the twelve spies he had sent ahead to explore the country, when he and his followers first arrived at its borders. We must of course make allowances for the enthusiasm of the spies, considering that, since they had left Egypt, they had been wandering in the wilderness of the Sinai desert, which was even less hospitable. The truth is that the Promised Land of ancient times was a place of two extremes - the wilderness of much of Judaea in the south, where few living things could survive, and the extraordinary fertility of Galilee in the north, with its thriving population. And this familiarity with the two extremes in nature was one which perhaps coloured the Israelites" thinking when it came to describing theirown response to God's call.
We find ample illustration of this in Moses" last discourse to his followers (Deut 30:15): "See, today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, he will bless you; but if you refuse to listen, if your heart strays, you will most certainly perish. I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life," he urged them, "that you may live in the love of the Lord, your God, obeying him, clinging to him."
Here we have the concept of "The Two Ways'- one good, one evil - a concept which figured prominently in the moral teaching of the early Church. It appears also in the gospel reading today, with its four beatitudes and four woes, and in particular in the first reading from Jeremiah, where the prophet links it symbolically with the extremes of nature found in Israel. A curse on the one who trusts only in human resources - he will be like the dry scrub in the parched areas of the wilderness. But a blessing on the one who places his trust in the Lord. He is like the tree planted near water, which never fades, never ceases to bear fruit.
If you open the Book of Psalms, you will find the same idea of the "two ways" - almost the same words - in the first Psalm, which forms today's Responsorial Psalm, and which is a kind of preface to the entire Book, and indeed summarises the whole moral teaching there. The strange thing about today's gospel sermon by Jesus is that it is addressed, not to the crowds, but to the disciples - "Then, fixing his eyes on the disciples, he said," - implying that the sermon is meant for those who have already decided to follow Christ. Jesus warns them not to allow themselves be harnessed to the things of the world.
The same warning was issued many times by the prophets: "Woe to those who add house to house, and join field to field, until everything belongs to them" - in other words, woe to the speculators and those who seek a monopoly of the world's resources. "Woe to those who from early morning chase after strong drink, and stay up late at night inflamed with wine" - that is those who are pleasure seekers. "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who substitute darkness for light" - that is those who subvert morality and seek to lead others astray. "Woe to those who for a bribe acquit the guilty and cheat the good man of his due" - that is those who lack all sense of justice and honesty in dealing with others. Human nature does not change. All these are just as relevant today as when the prophets first proclaimed them (Is 5:8-23).
But as for the people with no lofty aspirations, the poor and destitute, those burdened with sorrows, those persecuted for trying to pursue the ideals of Christ - the only refuge for all these is to place their trust in divine providence; and Jesus says, happy are these people when they do so, because their confidence will be surely rewarded by God. Here Christ has turned upside down accepted worldly standards. If you set out with all your energy to acquire the things which the world regards as valuable, you will in all probability get them. But that will be your sole reward, he says. Whereas, if you set out to be loyal to God and true to the message of Christ, you may be mocked and insulted by the world, but your reward is still to come. And that reward will be joy eternal, and no one will take it from you.
(1) Jesus in the Beatitudes is not expressing a pious wish, something that we would all love to be true, but simply is not so in the harsh cold world outside the Church. As they are presented to us, they are a statement of fact, or more accurately, a statement of the new situation in which we are placed by the kingdom of God. They are, to say the least, controversial. They are a challenge thrown down to us, because so much of what we see contradicts these statements. People who are poor and hungry, people who are weeping are not happy. What Jesus says is that if they really understand the situation they are in before God, they will be glad. Wealth and a full stomach are not a recipe for misery. But Jesus warns those who are comfortable that if they really understood their situation they would not be so happy. The things that are most important are not being poor or rich, being hungry or well-fed. This is a truth that most people accept in a notional way, or as a pious wish. Jesus invites us to begin to base or behaviour on it.
(2) People often feel morally guilty about their use of bad language. They may feel obliged to confess that they have been "cursing." Yet in today's first reading we hear: "a curse on the man who..." This "curse "is really intended as a warning. It is not intended as a prayer that really wishes ill to anyone in particular. What is forbidden most of all by the command not to "curse" is wishing or still worse praying for ill against a particular person - and so committing such an ill against them in your heart. The "woes" here are not curses, but an expression full of the regret, pity and sorrow that Jesus showed when he wept over Jerusalem. Bad language sometimes conveys an element of real wishing for another's ill. More often it may offend against the spirit of the Beatitudes by dishonouring or humanity, by taking from the dignity and respect that is due to other people, and indeed to ourselves.
(3) St Luke has taken some pains to emphasise that Jesus' words are addressed to the poor, the hungry, the suffering now. There are plenty of people in the world who are poor, hungry, and suffering now. Perhaps we are among them? If so the Beatitudes are addressed especially to us. It may still take a mighty movement of faith for us to see that the kingdom of God really does transform our situation. If there is little faith in our lives before suffering touches us, we will find faith hard to summon up when the day comes.
(4) If we cannot honestly count ourselves among the poor, the hungry, and the suffering, we can do more than just take to heart the warnings that follow. We can remember that the beatitudes here are especially addressed to the poor and hungry. We can take up the invitation to do something about the situation of the poor and hungry. We can recall that we, the comfortable people with resources at our command that are denied to others, are called to be the instruments of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that is one of justice, love and peace. For justice, love and peace, there is a price to pay.
In today's passage from Jeremiah, I notice the active role of the roots that stretch to the stream. What are we stretching out toward? I also like the reality and honesty of the heat and drought which inevitably comes. Life is like that. Ups and downs. Challenges. Crisis. Tragedy. Nevertheless, when one remains plugged into God who is the source of all love, mercy, and goodness, one will still bear fruit and green leaves. When one plants himself elsewhere, one stands in desolation. If we find ourselves in a desolate place we can still place our trust in God and trust that God, for whom nothing is impossible, can spring a river of life up beside us at our conversion and by his grace.
A second theme: Have I Thought About Heaven Lately? can take off from the second reading from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians. This homily can simply take on the character of the occasional teaching moment where one reminds the faithful of our beliefs in the afterlife in heaven - and with God. Is this something we ever think of? When have we thought of our own mortality last? When have we thought of heaven last? Do we truly believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? Do we believe that we too shall be raised from the dead? Perhaps it is time in your faith community to ponder these questions to simply keep the minds of the faithful heavenward.
A third theme: Dependence is Not a Sign of Weakness. is a themes that gets played over and over in salvation history. When mankind walks humbly, takes care of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the alien, and is utterly dependent upon God then true happiness and peace ensues. When mankind gets prosperous, fat, lazy, self-seeking, independent, and disregards the marginalized then trouble ensues. True happiness is nowhere to be found. The grace of God is scarce.
In our reading from Luke we read of a number of people who are calle Blessed. It is by no accident that these individuals are all utterly dependent upon God due to their circumstances - the poor, the hungry, the sad, the despised. They are the faithful, they are the pray-ers, they are the devout ones, they are the trees who weather the heat and drought but who stretch their roots to the water. They are dependent upon God and feel no shame.
On the contrary, others are in danger of the woes. They are tempted to feel their false sense of independence and security. They are rich, consoled, filled, happy and popular. It is difficult - but not impossible - to hold on to a sense of utter dependence upon God in these situations. In the version of this text from Matthew, he adds - Blessed are the poor in spirit - meaning blessed are those who may not be materially poor; but who keep their heads on straight materially. Dependence upon God is not a sign of weakness; rather it keeps one aware of a never ending source of strength.
In the old cowboy films set in the Wild West, it was the sheriff's job to catch the outlaw. Posters were printed depicting the wanted man and hung in saloons, usually with the caption:
"Wanted dead or alive" and offering a reward. Modern police departments have developed a more sophisticated version of this. Where the criminal is unknown, they create what is called an identikit picture, from descriptions they get from interviewing eye-witnesses. A likeness is built up from the size and shape of the mouth, nose and chin, the height of the forehead, the spacing between the eyes etc. The resulting portrait, surprisingly often, leads to the apprehension of the criminal.
It would be interesting to attempt to produce an identikit, not of the physical traits but of the personality make-up (or moral traits) of certain types. Let's pick the obvious one, the one we are most familiar with, the pop-idol, media-mogul, star-athlete, leading politician, TV personality, the one everybody is talking about. Mr Success himself. The one we all yearn to be, model ourselves on, and encourage our children to be. The new secular saint.
He/she must be highly motivated. Money is the great driving force. Money means power. As Cardinal Newman put it: "All bow down before wealth. Wealth is that to which the multitude of men pay an instinctive homage." To get it and the "good life" that comes with it, he/she must be aggressive, rough riding subordinates, trampling on underlings, ruthless with incompetents, unscrupulous with competitors. Needless to say, an ambivalence towards the law- and an indifference to morality are prerequisites. The rash of corruption scandals presently making the headlines, not only in Italy but right across the globe, leave little doubt about that. Worldly success is rarely achieved with "clean hands." Throw in a few other features, such as pride, avarice, covetousness, anger, and lust, and our portrait is complete.
No modern image-maker or star creator would look twice at someone whose outstanding qualities were humility, compassion, poverty, self-denial and selfless dedication to the service of others. Yet, these, as the Sermon on the Mount outlines for us today, form the identikit of a Christian.
Theme: Today's Eucharist celebrates Jesus as Lord of compassion and love. If we bear grudges against others, we cannot properly approach his altar. We ask him to rid us of our petty vengefulness
Saul, jealous of the young David, wants to kill him
Saul rose and went down to the Wilderness of Ziph, with three thousand chosen men of Israel, to seek David in the Wilderness of Ziph. So David and Abishai went to the army by night; there Saul lay sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head; and Abner and the army lay around him.
Abishai said to David, "God has given your enemy into your hand today; now therefore let me pin him to the ground with one stroke of the spear; I will not strike him twice." But David said to Abishai, "Do not destroy him; for who can raise his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless?" So David took the spear that was at Saul's head and the water jar, and they went away. No one saw it, or knew it, nor did anyone awake; for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them.
Then David went over to the other side, and stood on top of a hill far away, with a great distance between them. David replied, "Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and get it. The Lord rewards everyone for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the Lord gave you into my hand today, but I would not raise my hand against the Lord's anointed.
Paul's parallel and contrast between Adam and Christ
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.
Instead of seeking revenge, we seek to show compassion towards all
Jesus said to his disciples, "I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 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."
There is a famous passage in Jeremiah which says, "See the days are coming, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel." It continues, "Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God, and they shall be my people... There will be no further need to teach one another, or say to one another, "Know the Lord." No they will all know me from the least to the greatest." (Jeremiah, 31:31). The important message is that people should look into the centre of their being, their heart, in order to discover God, what God wants them to do. St Augustine was influenced by Jeremiah's concept of a new inner covenant with God, and made it the basis of his spiritual life. "Do not seek outside," he wrote, "but enter into yourself; for truth dwells in the interior person." In his Confessions Augustine tells how he experienced this personally. "I entered, and with the eye o my soul I saw the Light that never changes lighting up my mind."
It is by extraordinary coincidence that the conversion of Augustine came about originally by his reading of the Epistle to the Romans; beginning at chapter 13, verse 13. This was a most earnest challenge by St Paul to everyone who professed to be a follower of Christ. "Let us live decently as in the day," Paul urged, "not in carousing and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and stop pandering to your sinful nature, and satisfying its desires." This is down-to-earth and concrete advice, a kind of corollary to be taken in conjunction with the idea of interior being in Jeremiah. The acid test of inner holiness is whether or not it is accompanied by good works, the opposite of all the sins mentioned by Paul.
We must remember that the New Testament was written in Greek, and "carousing" (komos) in Greek was used to describe a noisy band of revellers who rampaged through the city streets at night, demeaning themselves and being a nuisance to others. It sounds familiar today also. Even to the pagan Greeks, drunkenness was a particular disgrace. Although they were a wine- drinking people - they did not have tea or coffee in those days - drunkenness was considered especially shameful, for the wine they drank was much diluted, and was only taken because water was scarce, and moreover dangerous, on account of possible contamination, something which is true to this day in warm climates. Drunkenness, then, was a vice which not only a Christian but any respectable pagan would condemn. Today, the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent, has been designated Temperance Sunday throughout the country. Temperance does not mean total abstinence but rather moderation in indulging our appetites.
In the 19th century, inordinate craving for strong drink was seen as a kind of curse on the Irish, a glaring weakness in our national character. People resorted to drink, during periods of great deprivation and misery, to try and escape their troubles. Nowadays it is by and large an unbridled seeking for earthly pleasure. And while the simple pleasures of life are something we should be grateful to God for, what we must impress upon our minds is that pleasure unlimited and Christianity simply cannot co-exist. "Unless you deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me, you cannot be my disciple," Christ is saying to us as we begin our Lenten preparation for the celebration of Easter. What he is asking of us is not so much total abstinence, but rather temperance, restraint, self-control, virtues which are gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Over-indulgence in alcohol is never a means of escaping life's problems. It merely adds to them. It can lead to break-up in marriages, the disruption of personal relationships, the danger of alcohol-related diseases which after heart disease and cancer is the third most likely cause of premature death among Irish people. The over-riding reason why we should exercise restraint in drinking is that temperance is a virtue. Temperance is not only a duty; it is a test as to whether we are true disciples of Christ or not. On this Temperance Sunday we should pray that we, and others, may cherish this virtue of temperance, and always respond to the warning of John the Baptist, "Be sober and watch. The Lord is near."
(1) Others had said: "do not do to others what you would not have them do to you." That is perhaps the basic law of manners and politeness. Jesus, characteristically, goes beyond this: Do to others... The Christian ethic is positive. It goes beyond "Thou shalt not..." to "Do .... " It is activist. There is the story of the man who appeared at the gate of heaven asking to be let in. St Peter asked him why he thought he should be let in. The man answered: "my hands are clean." "Yes," answered Peter, "but they are empty!'
(2) The Christian ethic always asks for more. Many people are puzzled and confused because Christian moral guides are sometimes slow to lay down a clear minimum which people must achieve to be justified. But Jesus asks for more. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?" What is so special about that? Jesus asks for extra. We told his disciples: "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Yet with those who tried and failed he was full of sympathy and compassion. He will never say "enough," but he will not reject anyone who has failed and comes back to him.
(3) Some people see life in terms of dog eating dog. David had his chance to kill his enemy before his enemy killed him, as Saul fully intended to do. But he held back and he would not take Saul's life. The temptation to violence is an easy one. The world is full of wars and violent confrontations. We yield too readily to our instincts of aggression, whether it is the great aggression where nation confronts nation in a balance of terrir, or violent confrontations between groups of citizens, or violence in the home. Education in peaceful means of solving interpersonal and intercommunal difficulties is one of the greatest needs of our age. The way is open to Christians to start to learn more about non-violent means of solving conflicts and becomes peacemakers.
(4) Compassion is the characteristic of God - even of the "Old Testament God" whom many commentators, following some early Christian heretics, like to portray as harsh and cruel. Our psalm, which comes from the Old Testament emphasises that God is not the seeker of vengeance that many people imagine him to be. He is not waiting and anxious to punish each and every fault, but he is concerned only to remove our sins and to make us one with him.
(5) God's love and goodness, his desire not to reject or to lose us, is shown most powerfully in what he has done for us in his Son Jesus Christ. He has made us into a new creation. He wishes to join us with him for an eternity of fulfilment and happiness. God's compassion for sinful and unhappy humanity is the model of our compassion. St Matthew had said: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Ch. 5:48.) St John said: "God is love" (1 John 4:7.) St Luke's report of Jesus' words is: "Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate."
Today's gospel summarises something that was new to the religious leaders of Jesus' day. They had a law that decreed "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." In other words, they were expected to strike back at those who harmed them in any way. It is in a gospel like that presented to us today that we see just how radical and revolutionary Jesus' teaching must have sounded back then. Indeed, it is still quite revolutionary in today's world, with our dog-eat-dog mentality. The process of salvation which he had come to establish would be based on forgiveness, and, therefore, to be part of, and to belong to that process must put each one of us right Out there in the front line of tolerance, forgiveness, and love.
There is surprising power in forgiveness, gentleness, meekness, and love. "Blessed are the meek" says Jesus, "they shall possess the earth." We have all seen the movies, read the books, or heard the first-hand accounts of the lives of Mahatma Ghandi or Martin Luther King. The bully cannot deal with the power of the one who won't strike back, and, therefore, such people are killed, as the only evident way of stopping them. To err is human, to forgive is divine. We are all familiar with the concept of people being small-minded, big-hearted, narrow-minded, tolerant, bigoted, judgmental, etc. We have seen revolutionaries trying to overthrow the powers-that-be by force of arms. In doing this, many innocent people get killed, and, it often happens that the liberated oppressed become the new oppressors. On the other hand, we have Peace Movements, Civil Rights marches, and candlelight vigils to highlight injustices and oppression. Aggression from one provokes aggression in another. My strength is as the strength o ten, because my heart is pure.
How would the following exercise appeal to you? You sit in front of a mirror; reflect on all of the failures and sin in your life. You take as much time as you need for this. You are going to ask God's forgiveness, you are going to try to make amends wherever possible, and you want to move forward from here. Ask yourself one simple question: How willing are you to give yourself absolution, to forgive yourself totally, before you dare ask God to forgive you? Is there any point in asking God to do something for you that you are unwilling to do for yourself? Guilt is not from God. Rather is it your own inability to forgive yourself. A leading psychiatrist said that he could discharge two-thirds of his patients immediately if he could get them to forgive themselves.
Jesus taught us one simple prayer, which we call the Our Father or the Lord's Prayer. It is a simple prayer, and it is quite short. One of the petitions is where we ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We can rattle off this prayer, and fail to realise the bind in which it can place us. We are putting a condition on God's forgiveness, and that condition is that we are willing to forgive others. Please take time out sometime today to reflect on the ramifications of saying this prayer.
Hanna was a Christian Jew living in Holland during the Nazi occupation of that country. She has written some beautiful books, filled with the spirit of the Christian gospel. One of those books is her own story. She tells of what happened to herself and to her family. One night a man came to their door in great panic and terror. He told them that himself and his family were going to be taken away by the Nazis. The only hope he had was that he might be able to bribe the police, and they might be left unharmed. He begged for some valuable objects to effect the bribe. He was given whatever they could possibly give, and then he left. It was a trick, because he went straight to the Nazi police, and reported them for assisting in his proposed escape. Hanna and all of her family were arrested, and they ended up in a German concentration camp. All of her family died there, and she was the only survivor. Later, when she returned home, she spent a considerable length of time tracking down the man who had betrayed them She eventually did so. Her only reason for wanting to meet him was that, for her own peace of mind, she needed to forgive him. She felt that it was only through forgiveness, and not through resentment, that she could continue to live in freedom.
Theme: Our Lord invites us to take the plank out of our own eyes before we try to take the splinter out of others' eyes. It is good to take a hard look at ourselves and our own shortcomings
The sieve, the kiln, the tree: three images about ways of speaking
When a sieve is shaken, the refuse appears; so do a person's faults when he speaks. The kiln tests the potter's vessels; so the test of a person is in his conversation. Its fruit discloses the cultivation of a tree; so a person's speech discloses the cultivation of his mind. Do not praise anyone before he speaks, for this is the way people are tested.
If we persevere in God's work, we need not fear death
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
We cannot offer guidance unless we see the way clearly ourselves
Jesus 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.
"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."
In the first part of the Book of Revelation, the Risen Jesus sends a message or revelation to each one of seven churches in Asia Minor. The last of these messages was addressed to the Church in the city of Laodicea. This city stood astride the great road East from the port of Ephesus on the Mediterranean coast, the ancient trade route to the heart of what is now Turkey and countries beyond. Laodicea was renowned as a financial centre, for its commercial enterprise, for its medical discoveries, and especially for its wealth. It was so rich that it did not even need God, and the Christian Church there had the grim distinction of being the only one of the seven Churches about which the Risen Christ had not a single good thing to say. These were his words: "I know all about you; how you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither, but only lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth" (Apoc 7: 15f). Such an awful pronouncement of Jesus contains a apt message for the world tody also; for the spiritual state of much of modern society can be summed up as religious indifference - something which has been described as the least conspicuous yet, the most radical form, of atheism.
Like the citizens of Laodicea, millions of modern people are neither hot nor cold; they experience no religious stirrings whatsoever, nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion (GS 19). They lapse into a form of spiritual stagnation, which is quite remote from both energetic faith and energetic atheism alike, and without the support of the believing community spurring them on to seek Christ, without the guidance that comes from the word of God in Scripture, without the grace that follows from reception of the Sacraments, they become stuck in the rut of their own indifference. Their attitude has become predictable, static, whereas to grow in a spiritual relationship with God demands change, and, as Cardinal Newman wrote in his famous Apologia, to grow is to change and to be perfect is to change often.
Nevertheless, indifference need not continue throughout the whole of one's life. For the human mind deep down is constantly being drawn by God's Spirit, and this being so, it is never quite totally cut adrift from reflecting on the meaning of life, and death, and eternity. When an attempt is made to convert a person who has fallen away from the practice of religion, we can say that the grace of God has been there ahead of that attempt, and conversion is not so much passing on spiritual truths as awakening something within, which has been really present all along. For this purpose God makes use of human agents.
Nowhere do we see a clearer example of this than in the first chapter of John's gospel, where the call of the first disciples of Christ is described. We read how John the Baptist was with two of his disciples when Jesus passed by. John said, "Look, there is the Lamb of God," and this simple remark was sufficient to make the two become followers of Jesus. One was Andrew, and he was instrumental in making his brother Peter a disciple as well, when he said, "We have found the Messiah." Next day Philip was added to the group, because Jesus had said to him, "Follow me." Philip then met up with Nathanael, known also as Bartholomew, and told him of his belief that Jesus was the one promised by Moses and the prophets. When Nathanael dismissed this claim as being ludicrous, Philip said, "Come and see." The brief conversation with Jesus that followed was enough to make Nathanael change his mind completely. In each case a few simple words brought about a life-long commitment.
We are told that when Jesus came to select the twelve Apostles he spent the whole night beforehand in prayer to the Father, as it were to discover the Father's wishes. At the Last Supper, Jesus in his priestly prayer to the Father referred again and again to the Apostles as those whom the Father had given him. The seeds of their vocation had been already sown in them by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus' task had been to call them. Jesus was the agent, who with a few brief words would cause those seeds to germinate and take on new life. God has great plans for each one of us too, if only we remain receptive to his call. And the advice of the Risen Christ to us is that in the conclusion of his message to every one in turn of the seven Churches in the Book of Revelation, "If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying."
(1) Jesus clearly enough states in the Gospel that we have no right at all to judge others. The Christian life is firmly based on the premise that we are all sinners, that we have no right to judge one another, that we should all be united in a common admission of sinfulness. What is striking about a meeting of reformed alcoholics is this sense of a shared admission of a common weakness. Each of those present is encouraged to take the first step towards reform: admitting that he has a difficulty that he cannot control. Each one is encouraged by the example of others to take this first step. Yet even here a certain anonymity is preserved. Among the general body of Christians our sinfulness is much less obvious and striking in its effects than the addiction that grips an alcoholic. But we find it far more difficult to admit a common weakness. Rather we tend to preserve the impression that we are all virtuous and to claim a right to judge others that we do not deserve.
(2) However, we do need to be able to guide and encourage others. Parents have the responsibility of showing their children, by example of course, but also explicitly in words what the Christian life is and how it is led. The Gospel reminds us that the blind cannot lead the blind, that we need to remove the log out of our own eye precisely in order to be able to help (though not to judge) others. One cannot undertake to guide others until one has a good grasp of the Christian life: one must not only be well-informed, but one must have examined one's life and begun the work of correcting one's deficiencies. Yet even here pessimism is to be avoided. As every teacher knows, you really begin to learn something when you try to teach it to others. Every parent knows that just because he or she becomes aware of the need to teach the children how to live he or she is encouraged to behave in a more Christian way.
(3) Just because a person has achieved a high standard of behaviour does not mean that all is well. God searches the heart. The heart too betrays itself. Sometimes a person who appears virtuous may show in his speech, perhaps by hard and bitter and unforgiving things said about others, that all is not well in his heart. Jesus was careful to warn his disciples about self-righteousness - the attitude of a person who has judged himself and given himself a pass or honours mark and so slips into judging others. A good and sound heart must be based on an interior attitude of self-criticism. It must be based in the conviction that I am a sinner, and not just a sinner in minor and unimportant things, but a person who can only enter heaven by receiving God's forgiveness in many things. If we do not have this conviction we should do a hard thing: we should ask God for it, because it is one of the essential graces of the Christian life.
The Church's post-Easter liturgical season is a time for confirming of our faith, and it is appropriate that we listen once more to Jesus' teaching to see whether it is maturing in our own lives. Today's readings focus on one essential, "imperishable" attitude that needs to be part of every Christian's life, if he or she wishes to live true wisdom and to put on the immortality of life with the risen Lord (1 Cor 15: 54.) It is an attitude that will not come easily, but rather something in which we must "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord... Labour is not in vain" (1 Cor 15: 58.)
Called to produce good out of the good treasures faith has placed in the believer's heart (Lk 6: 45), each Christian is called to be like the teacher (Lk 6: 40.) However, this striving to imitate the Lord can be weakened and stunted altogether when one allows a judgmental attitude to take root in one's life. Constantly criticising others, and always passing judgmental their motives and actions, results from the "power of sin," part of its sting (1 Cor 15: 56.) This perishable attitude leads to spiritual death.
Luke speaks of this weakness as a possible error in the life of a Christian. His passage is not addressed to unbelievers but to disciples (Lk 6: 40), for the constant concern with other people's faults is sometimes found among the sisters and brothers of faith (Lk 6: 41.) When such a disciple sees the speck that is in a brother or sister's eye (Lk 6: 41) or self-righteously corrects others without evaluating one's own life, then we have a hypocrite (Lk 6: 42), a blind guide (Lk 6: 39.)
All four evangelists, in different contexts, deal with the sinful, self-righteous arrogance of believers who pass judgment on the faults of others, while remaining blind to their own. Mark criticises them forcefully, Matthew calls them to reconciliation, and John holds up Jesus as the model - the Son who judges no one. Out of all the source-material offered to Luke for the great sermon, he chooses this as one attitude to beware of.
Luke's warning and pastoral advice may well be appropriate for believers still, and we should be mature enough to examine ourselves on this potential weakness. The problem is not believers passing religious judgment on the possible immorality of unbelievers, but believers passing judgment on believers, sisters and brothers finding fault with each other. The post-Vatican II Church has witnessed polarisation and divisiveness; believers have found fault with other believers" approaches to liturgy, Church structures, forms of renewal. We have seen personal attacks grow out of disagreements about external adaptations, and experienced a schism, the first in a century, filled with recrimination and fault-finding. Some Christian individuals and groups, rather than build on their common faith, have preferred mutual condemnation, as one or other arrogantly claims truth and orthodoxy, zealously wanting to remove a speck from someone else's eye, while missing the log in their own (Lk 6: 42.) The experience of Catholicism as also been witnessed in other Christian traditions, as contemporary persecution becomes more and more the mutual persecution of Christians by Christians.
This period of post-Easter deepening of our faith and dedication should lead to a maturity of faith, in which "everyone when... fully taught will be like... the teacher" (Lk 6: 40.) This passage on the judgmental attitude of arrogant believers is sandwiched between the teaching on universal love (Lk 6: 27-36) and the call to build one's life on the solid foundation of Jesus' teaching (Lk 6: 46-49.) Genuine love challenges each one to "be merciful, even as your Father is merciful," and will make the disciple like the Most High who is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish (Lk 6: 35-36.) The teaching on the need to build on the solid foundation of Jesus' words reminds the disciple that calling Jesus "Lord" is not enough, we must become like the teacher in his love for all.
Today's readings remind us that we are called to new life with the risen Lord; a life that results both from his gift and our efforts. Part of our effort is to remove obstacles to growth, and one of the most important blocks that festers when left uncured, is arrogant judgment of other believers. Today provides an occasion to examine ourselves in this critical area of Christian life.
Blindness, for children, seems to hold no terror at all. They love even to fake blindness in many of their games like Blind man's buff Maybe it's because they're so terribly afraid of the dark that they always make a game out of blindness. If only blindness could always remain a game children play!
But it's not so. Of all the forms blindness takes among adults, physical blindness is the most uncommon and the least terrible. Look at places, where not long ago a car-bomb went off killing innocent bystanders and maiming many others. Or countries that in our own time have had genocidal massacres. You don't have to look further than the newspapers or your TV screen to see people who are blinded by hate and ignorance, fear and prejudice. The terrorist who sees only the sacredness of his own cause and nothing else. He certainly doesn't see his brother in other men or God in all men. Few countries in the world can claim to be immune from terrorism.
There are those in high places and in places not so high, who cast a blind eye on all the corruption, fiddling and dishonesty that surrounds them. The "clean hands" investigation in Italy represents only the tip of an iceberg. Scandals and cover-ups are confined within no frontiers. The kick-back, the back-hand, the pay-offs are convertible currency world-wide.
Other blindnesses are more pitiable. Those unhappy crea tures whose lives are locked up in blind alleys, from which they can see no way out. Addicts of all kinds but above all those addicted to hard drugs like heroin or cocaine. And the cartels who feed their addictions give a new horror dimension to the expression "the blind leading the blind."
As for the rest of us, who pride ourselves on our sharp eye, our balanced view, our long-term perspective, how blind we are to our own shortcomings. How often we close our eyes to the crying needs of those even in our own immediate circle, not to mention the poor, the old, the handicapped. How often we try to take the speck out of our neighbour's eye, while neglecting the beam in our own. Such is the Blind man's buff we grown-ups play. And the sad thing is that, unlike children, we think we can see.
Of all those who followed Christ, looking for this, that and the other thing, there was only one, a blind beggar called Tim in the city of Jericho, who asked simply: "Lord, that I may see!" Like Tim, we are all blind beggars and his is a little prayer we could all say and often.
Theme: Jesus praises the Roman centurion's faith. The church has adopted this man's words as a prayer just before Communion. We should be open to receive words of wisdom, even from unlikely sources
Solomon welcomes foreigners to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem
Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord and, stretching out his hands towards heaven, said:
"When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name - for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm - when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built."
Paul warns against trouble-makers, who preach a different version of the Gospel
Paul an apostle, sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead, and all the members of God's family who are with me, to the churches of Galatia.
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.
Jesus praises the centurion's faith and heals 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."
And 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.
"Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." This confession which we all make before receiving Holy Communion is based on today's gospel story about the Roman centurion. "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word and my servant shall be healed." This was what the centurion had said, and the fact that this man -
foreigner or gentile, and an army officer - was given the highest commendation by Jesus - "Nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this'- all this must have really infuriated the critics of Jesus, who were listening on. We might even add that hardly anywhere in the Roman Empire could one find an official so concerned about his personal slave as this man. For example a highly respected Roman statesman and moralist (Cato) in ancient times, writing on farm management, strongly advised land-owners that each year they should examine their farming implements and get rid of all those which were faulty or old, and that they should do he same with any of their slaves who were old or sickly. It was the accepted practice in those days that when a slave was past his usefulness he was thrown out to die.
In the light of such indifference to human suffering we should view the action of the centurion in the gospel story. His slave was dear to him and he was prepared to try everything to save his life. He was a deeply religious man, and we know that he donated some of his modest income towards building a synagogue for Jewish worship in Capernaum, at a time when most Romans regarded the Jewish faith as barbarous superstition. He was, moreover, a humble man; he would not even come to Jesus himself. And finally he was a man of faith; even before Jesus performed the miracle, his attitude was "I know you can cure my servant, you need only say the word and he will be healed."
The Jews, on the other hand, who had witnessed Jesus perform even more miracles, persisted in ascribing all of these to the power of the devil. Surprisingly, however, with few exceptions, we can say that as far as those who witness miracles are concerned, nothing lasting seems to be gained, that apart from creating a short-lived sense of wonder, they do not appear to make people better as regards their religious views, or principles, or habits. You might say that a miracle would startle you, but being startled is not conversion, any more than religious knowledge is the same as religious practice.
God offers his grace to us in several other ways, and if these make no impression, the likelihood is that, as in the case of the Jews, miracles will not convert us either. We might ask then, what is the real reason why we do not seek God with all our hearts, and devote ourselves to serving him? Why do people, even after witnessing miraculous happenings, continue to ignore the voice of God that speaks to everyone from within? Sacred Scripture gives us part of the answer when it says, "Take care brothers (and sisters) that there is not in any of you a heart so evil and unbelieving as to turn away from the living God." In other words, we do not serve God, precisely because we lack the heart, the will, and the desire to serve him. We prefer anything to religion as did the Jews at the foot of Mount Sinai, when they grew tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain. They proceeded to erect and adore a golden calf, and afterwards amuse themselves.
Alas, we are no better. How often do we allow ourselves to be seduced by the glitter and attractions of this passing world? We turn aside from the promptings of God's divine Spirit because of our lack of fervour and love in serving him. Oh yes, we keep hoping that we will be converted to God, but at some future date, like the people of Athens whose response to Paul's teaching was, "We would like to hear you talk about this another time," or the young Augustine who prayed, "Make me pure Lord, but not yet." We should keep reminding ourselves of the warning of Psalm 94, recited daily by all who say the Divine Office, "Oh, that today you would listen to his voice. Harden not your hearts." "Listen" is a key word in the Bible. It appears 1,100 times in the OT and 445 in the New Testament. In our prayer to God, especially when celebrating the Mass, not only do we speak to God, but God, in turn speaks to us, provided we listen to the voice of his Holy Spirit within us, and not allow ourselves to be wilfully distracte.
The central theme of all of today's readings is universalism: the fact that God - the one, true God who revealed himself initially to Israel is the God not only of Israel but of all nations, of all humankind.
The homilist might fruitfully remind the congregation of the "history of salvation: " God revealed himself firstly to Abraham and this revelation reached a climax in the Jerusalem temple But God's will has always been to bring all nations together as his one people a Solomon saw, however vaguely, this "plan" of God to reveal himself to all nations. The trouble in the Churches of Galatia had been caused by people who insisted that, to be "first class (Christians at least, the faithful had to subscribe to the prescriptions Of the Jewish law - whereas Paul had preached that once faith In Christ was necessary. According to Paul, all human beings of whatever culture or race - could belong to God, through Christ provided that they believed in the gospel. Faith was the only prerequisite, the only qualification required, to belong to the church the new "people" of God, This is also apparent from today's #Gospel: the centurion's servant is healed because of the centurion 5 faith, And Jesus' healing is always a sign of the spiritual salvation which he brings to the world. The centurion is an example of all those who come to God, within the "temple" of the Church, through faith in Jesus.
There are many practical applications - for our personal life and for the life of the Church - to be drawn from today's liturgy of the word. The first and most obvious is that there is no room for insularity and chauvinism - let alone xenophobia - in the Christian view of humankind. There are no "foreigners" in God's eyes - before him all human beings are equal and all are called and destined to become his children, members of his one "people."
The gospel and the moral conversion which it demands are profound and far-reaching but also simple and make for the development of all persons as full human beings. Nothing truly human is alien to the gospel, and all human beings, of whatever culture, colour or race, can accept it and, thereby, reach fulfilment, It would be wrong to identify Christianity with any one culture, be it Jewish, Roman or Western European. The basic qualification of the Christian: to believe in God through Jesus Christ can be, and is, found in every authentically human culture. Only on this condition can the Catholic Church be truly "catholic," that is, "universal: " found everywhere.
At this point the homilist might refer to the efforts being made to bring about greater unity between the Christian Churches - the ecumenical movement - and to achieve a better understanding between the different world religions. It should be stressed that today's liturgy expresses our belief that there is only one, true God and that it is the will of this God that all human beings should come to know him. All our efforts to understand "other" religions should not be construed as a dilution of this fundamental truth of our religion.
The true Christian should - in imitation of Jesus - be a welcoming, unprejudiced person. Many societies today include immigrants; many people are forced to emigrate, to flee for refuge from natural or political disasters. The "global village," the "multi-racial society," the "pluralist society" - these are cliches, but they remind us that we are living in a world in which people are experienced as being "different." The Christian attitude to all genuinely cultural differences between people is one of positive acceptance and welcome, not just of "tolerance," in the belief that God himself accepts and welcomes people as they are, and that he gives them healing, salvation and access to his Church, on the one condition that they welcome the gospel preached by his Son and continually communicated to the world through his Church. It is incumbent on the Church to safeguard and to work for the purity of this gospel. In practical terms, this means that all the members of the Church should ensure that they are not bigoed, biased or prejudiced with regard to others but open, hospitable, welcoming and friendly to everyone - just as God has been, and is, to them. After all, the centurion in today's gospel represents, by far, most of the Christians in the world today.
Today's gospel seems to contain an ordinary gospel story, telling of an action in Jesus' life which we would judge to be fairly characteristic: someone needs help, asks Jesus, who comes and gives what is required. Nothing startling there... until we look at who asks for the help and who receives it.
The Romans in Palestine were unwelcome occupiers, to put it mildly. They were occupation forces among the Jews, a people keenly aware of the meaning of freedom and nationhood. Not only was the presence of the Romans a political insult, but a religious one as well. The Romans were pagan, bringing even on their legion standards images which they worshipped. The Roman general Pompey had, years before, walked nonchalantly into the Holy of Holies in the Temple, a blasphemous act which should have meant immediate death. The Dead Sea Scrolls witness to the hatred which many Jews had for the Romans, and to the hope that God would some day drive them from the land. The presence of Rome in Palestine was offensive to the religious and political sensitivities of nearly every good Jew. And if a Roman's servant was sick, it would cause heart-ache among very, few. But there's no evidence of this state of affairs in this gospel passage. When the servant needs help, who comes and asks Jesus? Not just a group of Jews, but Jewsof some standing in the community. And do they ask because they are afraid what will happen if this Roman monster is turned down? No, they praise this Roman to Christ "He deserves it of you." And Christ himself is not only open enough to come to the centurion's aid; he ends up praising the centurion's faith above anything he had seen in his own people.
This story demonstrates one important aim of Jesus: he came among us to take groups of people and individuals, all with every reason to hate each other, and to establish understanding between them. In his own lifetime, he did this by loving across every barrier: as a Jew, he loved Romans; as a Jew, he loved Samaritans; as a teacher of religion, he had time for the religionless and the erring; as the only Righteous One, he loved sinners. There was no outsider with Jesus.
But can the same be said about the followers of Jesus? There are plenty of outsiders as far as we are concerned. If we are on one side of a fence, chances are that we don't like many people on the other side; that fence can be social class, skin colour, employment category, county border, political sympathies... in fact, just about anything that makes people different from each other can be a wall that no human feeling can breach.
One mistake which is tempting to make in approaching this problem is to pretend that the differences aren't there, which approach would be about as successful as trying to enter a room pretending that there are no walls. Only when we know the walls can we find the doors. People in the world will always differ in customs, outlooks, ways of speaking, ways of voting. A world where everyone were the average height and thought the average thoughts would be boring, indeed. Our loving of our neighbour has to recognize these differences, and not be blind to them. Our love must extend to people whom we know to be different from ourselves. It's a major challenge, for it not only means changing our actions (which is difficult enough), but changing our attitudes and evaluations of others. There are few things as deeply rooted as our prejudices.
One area that must be mentioned over all is our religious differences, especially with our fellow Christians. The present divided state of the Church of Christ is the tragic result of the will of man, not of the will of God. As is sometimes noted, the present generation of Christians is not responsible for the fractioning of the Body of Christ: historically, the blame can rest on people, long buried, who didn't care enough or work hard enough to keep all Christians in union with one another. But in another sense, we bear just as much responsibility today. Our prejudices, fears, and suspicions can keep the wounds in the Body of Christ open - our bitterness and lack of forgiveness to past wrongs can assure that the gulf between Christians is kept wide.
Jesus, the one so open to those who are unlike himself, prayed for us who have such great differences among ourselves. When at that Supper, he looked around at those who were with him, he saw Simon the Zealot, who had worked with those who tried to oust the occupation forces (or at least sympathized heavily with them) ; and he saw Matthew, who collected taxes for Rome, a collaborator with the enemy. He saw Peter, whose enthusiastic faith at times virtually bubbled over, at times a little too enthusiastically; and he saw Thomas, whose sceptical approach to things supernatural would become famous world-wide. And looking at these differences, and dozens more, and knowing that there would be many more differences in his followers yet to hear of him, he prayed: "Father, that they all be one." And it seems that this is one prayer in whose answer we have a say.
The Roman centurion in this gospel has special significance for me. Several years ago a young relative of mine, aged 7, arrived at Dublin airport from the USA, along with her mother. She had been violently sick throughout the flight, and, before she set foot in Ireland, she was already dreading the return flight. Some hours after she arrived, I brought her to one side, and I told her that I was going to entrust her with an important secret, which nobody else must know. Through a friend of mine, I had succeeded in getting a tablet which was guaranteed to prevent travel sickness, but my problem was that it was not available on the public market, and my friend would get into serious trouble if it were known that he had given one to me. This cheered her up no end, and any chance she got during her vacation, she would come to me and whisper that she didn't worry at all now about the flight back home. I left them at Dublin airport for their return journey. I brought her over into a corner, where I slipped her half an aspirin, with a sup of water. Within seconds she was telling me that she felt much better already! Apparently she had a most enjoyable flight home. I use this example to show what can happen when there's faith and trust. The comparison ends there, in so far as the power Jesus used was far removed from the placebo employed by me!
This gospel offers a few details about this centurion. One of the first things we notice is the kind of person he was. It was Jews who came to Jesus, because he was so good to them, and he built their temple for them. He was concerned about his servant who was a slave, at a time when slaves were another form of property, to be disposed of at the will of their master. He was truly a remarkable man.
One of the most striking things about the man, of course, was the strong faith he had. How he came to this level of faith we can only surmise. He must have been a humble man, because centurions in his day were people of authority, and things happened because they said so. He considered Jesus so superior to him that he did not consider himself worthy to have Jesus come under his roof. It is interesting to note that, following his example, after all these years, we, too, declare "Lord, I am not worthy..."
"All things are possible to those who have faith" were the words of Jesus to the man whose son was possessed by the demons. "There is nothing impossible with God" was the message to Mary. Jesus pays a remarkable tribute to the centurion "I tell you, I have not found faith like this in all of Israel." The centurion was certainly a remarkable man.
Humility is the foundation-stone of all authority. We are told that Jesus spoke with great authority; in other words, he knew who the author was, because he never said anything unless the Father told him. People in authority positions have a greater responsibility for service. Their authority is based on love and service, rather than fear and power. A husband asked his wife one-time "Do you know how many truly great men there are in the world today?" "I don't," she replied. "But I know that there's one less than you think there is!" As a result of reflecting on today's gospel, I could do well to search my heart for arrogance, pride, domineering, haughtiness, and impatience.
It was a hospital ward, and over in the corner was a man lying on the broad of his back, looking up at the ceiling. He was unable to sit up, or lift his head. Over by the window was another man, who spent most of his time looking out the window. For over an hour every day, the man by the window regaled the other man with graphic descriptions of everything that was happening out on the road. As he spoke about the clouds, the children playing, the vehicles flying past, the other lay there with his eyes closed, trying to imagine in his mind's eye everything the other man was describing. One day, the man was describing a parade passing by, while the other could almost see the band marching and playing. Listening to the descriptions of what was going on outside was the highlight of his day, and it helped him enormously to deal with the frustration of being so powerless.
One morning the nurses came in and found that the man by the window had died during the night. His body was removed, and, later that evening, the man in the other bed asked if he might be transferred to the bed next the window. The nurses readily acceded to his request. After a few days, the man made a Herculean effort, and, with the help of a few pillows, he managed to get into some sort of sit-up position, so that he could look out the window, and see all the things the other man had described to him so often. When he looked out the window he got a great surprise. There was a blank wall outside the window, and there was nothing to be seen. He called the nurse, and asked her how was it that the other man had given him all those daily details, when, in fact, there was nothing to be seen outside the window at all. The nurse replied "He was one of the kindest men I have ever met. He was actually blind, and he did that every day just to help you deal with your boredom." Like the centurion, a man like that is himself a miracle, and miracles happen wherever they are!
Elijah restores the widow's son to life
The son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!"
But he said to her, "Give me your son." He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again."
The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." So the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth."
The Gospel Paul preaches comes from a revelation of Jesus Christ
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. 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.
Jesus restores to life the only son of a widow at Nain
Soon afterwards 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 favorably on his people!" This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
God's initiative . In the story Jesus takes the initiative; the widow offers only her unspoken need. Jesus acts with such concern and sensitivity that the approach of God's power, though it provokes awe, arouses also praise and faith. If this could be the manner of God's approach to us always! Yet that is precisely Luke's message. Jesus is the image of the Father, sharing in action the love of the Father for us. We only have to place our need of salvation before him. He approaches the spiritually needy as mercifully and with as much concern as the physically needy. Jesus sorrows for human wretchedness, and the only thing he cannot overcome is a refusal to acknowledge the need of God's salvation.
Our realisation . Like the widow we must know that we are in need. We cannot save ourselves. "Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh" (Luke 6:21.) We must weep for our sins, for our indifference, our lack of perseverance in good intentions, our helplessness to heal the ills of the world around us. God is "visiting" us every day of our lives through Jesus, the risen Lord, coming close to us in love and concern. Jesus visits us especially in the Eucharist. We are called first to accept the gifts of life that he gives us, then to praise him joyfully for the gift. We do not have to be in the charismatic movement to do that.
Conversion . Some prefer to reject God's approach or simply disbelieve in Him. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem in sorrow that its response is so poor (Luke 19:44.) Our lives are the poorer if we don't realise that Jesus has the same love and concern for us that he showed for the widow of Nain and her son. That is a sort of conversion, of turning towards God, that we look for in the Mass. "Lord, come to me; visit me in your love and stay with me always."
There is a story attributed to Oscar Wilde, which takes up where today's gospel ends. It runs something like this: One year later, Jesus came once more to this town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that there was a woman sitting on the roadside weeping bitterly.
When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. "Do not cry," he said. Looking up, the woman saw Jesus standing there and began to weep even more loudly. "Why do you weep so?" Jesus asked the woman. "Because of you," the woman answered. "I curse the day I met you when I was burying my only son and you brought him back to life. Now I wish he was dead." "Why do you speak so?" Jesus asked the woman. The woman answered, "When my son came back to life, his fame spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside. Many people came to do him homage. Before, he had been a dutiful son to me. Now, his head was turned and he squandered all my savings on wastrels and harlots who fawned upon him, abandoning me on the wayside with neither son or home." When Jesus heard these words he was astonished and, turning round, said to the crowd following him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found ingratitude like this."
The moral of this story, according to Wilde, was that nobody, not even God, should interfere in other peoples' lives. Wilde's theology fell far short of his undoubted literary skills. In the gospels there is no miracle which is futile, trivial or unwholesome. Nor are there miracles which inflict punishment on anybody. Christ's miraculous intervention in our lives, albeit extremely rare, is always benign. In the case of the bereaved widow, the gospel expressly mentions that "he felt sorry for her." His motive was to heal her pain, not to replace it with another. The motive of this miracle was compassion: its message was God's victory over death. All the miracles of Jesus are the prelude to his own resurrection, which was the decisive triumph of the power of God.
Personal and profound suffering would bring Oscar Wilde deeper insights into the compassion of God. Falling from grace, the once literary lion of glittering London society became a social outcast, committed to Reading gaol. In his prison cell, he began to wonder: For who can say by what strange way Christ brings his will to light. In the humiliation and desolation of his imprisonment, he came like the widow of Nain to experience the compassion of God:
Ah! happy they whose hearts can break and peace of pardon win.
How else may man make straight his plan and cleanse his soul from sin?
How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?
And he of the swollen purple throat and the stark and staring eyes,
Waits for the holy hands that took the Thief to Paradise;
And a broken and a contrite heart the Lord will not despise.
Today's Scriptures offer two major examples of repentance. Even if the notion of sin is almost extinct in Western society, we are invited to accept personal responsibility for our wrong-doing and seek God's forgiveness
When challenged about his sin, King David has the grace to repent
Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.
David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." Nathan said to David, "Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die."
Jesus is so central to Paul that he feels crucified with Christ
We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.
But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
In a Pharisee's house, Jesus praises the repentance of the sinful woman
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-that she is a sinner." Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak." "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly."
Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "our faith has saved you; go in peace."
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.
We can't help wondering why was Jesus so forgiving towards the wayward and the sinners, and yet so seemingly harsh towards the upright Pharisees, pillars of the Jewish religion? It must be because Pharisees saw moral goodness as atheir own achievement, based on will-power and integrity, without need for divine help or forgiveness. God, they felt, was a Law-enforcer, who rewarded those who observed the Law, while punishing those who broke it. This explains their attitude towards sinners, whom they shunned and despised. They were blind to the fact that we do not, and cannot, create our own goodness.
St Paul faces this point, and indeed puts into words what most of us feel, on occasion, about our own conduct. "I cannot understand my own behaviour," he says. "I fail to carry out my good intentions, " Our rescue from this dilemma is by a loving trust and faith in Jesus Christ. Be guided by the Holy Spirit, he advises, not by the Law, and you will not yield to self-indulgence (Gal 5:17). The core of the his message is not about law, but about the grace of God, the love and forgiveness which Christ alone can give. For St John too, the essential sin is to lack this faith and trust in Jesus. Faith is admitting our need for Jeus, accepting his claims, and coming to Jesus relying on his mercy. This is the point of today's gospel. Love wells up in our hearts from the experience of being forgiven by God.
Julian of Norwich, a 14th century English mystic who lived most of her life as a recluse in a cell attached to a church, saw the life of faithful discipleship as a succession of failures, of falling down, picking ourselves up and falling flat again. "We need to fall," she wrote, "and we need to see that we have done so. If we never fell, we should not know how weak and pitiable we are in ourselves. Nor should we fully know the wonderful love of our maker." And indeed no one, no matter what they have done, is barred from forgiveness. Our first reading describes the repentance of king David, and the gospel that of a despised public sinner. No matter how terrible the sin, God is ready to blot it out, if we repent.
"It is the one who is forgiven little who has little love," was our Lord's rebuke to the Pharisee. The ones who are good for making excuses are seldom good for anything else, and we see how King David did not offer excuses for having brought about the death of Uriah after committing adultery with his wife. "I have sinned against God," he openly admitted, and God forgave him. Let us too sincerely admit the need we have for forgiveness from such a forgiving and compassionate God.
The homily might concentrate on good and bad associations with the sacrament of reconciliation, i.e. on the experience of receiving God's forgiveness, which is at the same time the gift of his life and love, the binding of the repentant sinner to himself, rather than the feelings of guilt and anxieties and arithmetical gymnastics. Any confessor will realize that it is so much easier and more satisfying to deal with the "big" sinner who acknowledges guilt frankly and is overjoyed by receiving forgiveness, than with the dulled conscience like David, or the "good" person not conscious of sin like Simon. Perhaps the preacher's role is to help the Davids and the Simons to find in themselves the response of the sinful woman. The Mass should be a conversion experience for us, a turning to God.
(2) Explain that God's gift of forgiveness involves God's gift of himself. It is an enriching of our lives with his love and his truth. We are splendidly gifted by a generous and compassionate God. We do not merit the gifts. Thank God we do not get what we deserve! What is lacking in so many of us is a response of gratitude and love for the gifts we receive. We put no heart into it. Jesus is our guest, and we treat him decently enough, but as nothing special. Like Simon, we miss the meaning of what is happening. Lord, teach us to stand at your feet, to listen to you, to reach out to you in love, to rejoice that you meet us with such patience and understanding.
Today's gospel gives us a "close-up" view of the friend of sinners in action. I knew somebody like that. She was an elderly religious sister who was retired, and who was free to use her time as she pleased. Every morning she set off with a shopping bag, and no one seemed to know where she was going, and what she did all day. She never spoke about her work, and nobody asked her. One day she was knocked down and killed by a car as she tried to cross a busy road.
Her funeral took her community completely by surprise. Every drop-out, wino, and homeless person in Dublin arrived at the convent for her funeral. She had been their friend, and they came to pay tribute to her. It was quite a revelation for her community, who were embarrassed, humbled, and profoundly moved by the outpouring of grief they witnessed.
Today's story is at the house of a Pharisee, one of those who emphasised love of law rather than the law of love. It was certainly no place for a public sinner to show her face. She was outside the pale, of a group despised by devout Jews. It is almost as if Jesus had prearranged the scene, to let him state the whole purpose of his mission. He frequently said that he had come to call sinners, and to befriend them.
Not only did Jesus befriend the woman, but he even let her serve him. There was something about him that stirred a profound reverence within her, and she showed that reverence and respect by the anointing with oil, which was the highest expression of reverence one could show to another. Jesus had a ready-made, real, living object lesson right there, and he took full advantage of it. He was aware of the shock and horror among the onlookers, and he used the occasion to drive home a central point of his teaching.
Jesus warns about his impending suffering and death. Only by taking up the cross can disciples follow him. We are fuller disciples of Our Lord if we learn to accept the crosses that come our way
Guided by a new spirit, people will revere the One they have killed
The Lord says this, "And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.
On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity."
Neither slave or free, male or female: the equal dignity of all the baptised
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.
Jesus warns that he will be rejected, and his fate will be shared by his followers
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."
Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.
One day, somewhere in the foothills of Mount Hermon, where Jesus had brought his disciples for a quiet time, he asked them straight out, "Who are people saying that I am?" It is the most crucial moment in the ministry of Jesus. Luke sets the episode in a period of stillness and reflection, away from the hectic activity prior to it. This episode marks a turning point in Christ's mission, for at its end we are told, "As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, he fixed his face firmly to go to Jerusalem."
Heading for Jerusalem must have cost Jesus a real inner struggle. Was he apprehensive about what his fate was to be in Jerusalem? All our Gospels say how well he knew he was going to meet his death there at the hands of his enemies. Or was he happy with what he had achieved so far, with the understanding of himself and his mission his disciples had gained?
As their first answer to, "Who do people say that I am?," his disciples list some of the popular rumours circulating about him, that he was John the Baptist restored to life, or a reincarnate Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in Jewish history. Then came an awkward silence when he put the harder question, "Who do YOU say that I am?" It is never enough to know what other people see in Jesus. Christianity is not just knowing about Jesus; its core consists in knowing Jesus personally, and this in a developing way. In other words, knowing Christ comes ultimately from a person-to-person experience of his living presence, an experience that grows within the Christian community and is vital in sustaining it.
Peter's answer to this question of who Jesus is the only one recorded, and it is interesting to examine the different reports of it in the three synoptic gospels. The oldest, Mark's report, is simply, "You are the Christ." The title Christ, Messiah, means "the anointed one," a quality shared by kings, priests, and prophets, and Jesus was seen as combining all three. Luke's gospel has the slightly longer answer, "You are the Christ of God," which to his Gentile-Christian readers helped to explain that Jesus was on a God-given mission . The report in Matthew, written later still, is the longest and most elaborated, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." We cannot know exactly what Peter said on that occasion, but the shortest version "You are the Christ ," is the most likely. The other two versions: "You are the Christ of God," "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" could easily develope from that, as the evangelists reflected on the full significance of Jesus.
The four Gospels reflect the faith of the Christian communities out of which they grew. What we find in the period between the writing of Mark's gospel and that of Matthew, is the growth in their understanding of Jesus. The active faith of the first Christian generations penetrated deeper and deeper into his identity. It was only after deep reflection on the sayings of Jesus, on the miracles he worked, and especially on his presence to them in the post-resurrection time, that they came to clearly believe in his divinity.
The later church continued to find meaningful answers to his question, "Who do you say that I am?" And Christ to this day continues to issue the same challenge to each believer. Writing about the faith to his young companion Timothy, St Paul declared, "I know whom I have believed," not "I know what I have believed." Essential Christianity is not captured in a list of truths. It means knowing a person, not a person of the remote past, but the person of Jesus Christ living within and among us, for individually and collectively we are called to be the temple of the risen glorified Son of God.
People today are more interested in rights and freedoms and personal dignity than in a message about self-denial or taking up the cross. Yet today's readings show us a nice balance between human dignity and equality for all and the need for self-sacrifice. Modern freedoms are welcome and too long delayed, but they bring attendant dangers when a culture of entitlement replaces one of responsibility.
Basing the homily on the Galatians text, one of the following could be developed:
(1) Each should know and rejoice in our own dignity as child of God. But each other person is as good as we are in the eyes of God, equally a brother or sister of Christ.
(2) The first duty of a Christian towards his neighbour is to give him his proper dignity as a child of God. Allow him or her to be what he or she is.
(3) Remember the one they pierced on the cross. That's the Master we follow. And remember that he is pierced often today in the oppressed, the poverty-stricken, the sick, the neglected. I must seek for them the dignity I claim for myself.
Today's gospel poses the central question of our faith: "Who do you say that I am?" If we reply that Jesus is someone we are prepared to follow, he makes very clear what that will imply. Imagine, if you can, Jesus posing that same question to a group of intellectual theologians. The answer would go something like this: "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being; the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships." I could well imagine that Jesus' reply would be: "WHAT?'!
"And you, who do you say that I am?" Jesus is a personal God, who asks personal questions. "Will you also go away?" "Do you love me more than these?" The question is addressed to each of us personally, and the answer must come from personally too. We will not find that answer in a book, but in the heart. If we are to follow him, we must join in his journey, as Peter did. We must take up the cross of daily living, faithful to his call, so that he can lead us to the fullness of life. If we follow him, we need not expect much in the way of earthly glory for our pains. Just as he was rejected and marginalised for refusing to conform to the standards of this world, whoever takes him seriously may expect a similar response.
The complete answer to the question is "You are my Saviour, my Lord and my God." "You are Saviour in the room of my past; the Lord of the room of my future, and you are God in the room of today." God is totally a God of now. "I am who am." If he is Saviour, then I don't have to be back in the past, with regret, guilt, or self-condemnation. If he is Lord, then I don't have to live in the future, with worries, anxieties, and fear. I need have no fear of the future, if I believe that he holds the future. If he is God today, then "there is nothing impossible with God."
Elisha immediately answers his call; leaving all he follows Elijah
The Lord said to Elijah, "You shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place."
Elijah set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was ploughing, with twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?"
He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
Resisting the flesh which draws us back towards sin and slavery
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.
Jesus resolutely takes the road to Jerusalem, calling others to follow him
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.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
A renewal of personal loyalty to Jesus and to his teaching seems to be the obvious theme today. One might begin by talking about decisions or choices. Few really important decisions are made without some regrets or hankerings after the alternatives which had to be foregone, particularly if the choice made leads to difficulties or hardship. Some decisions are made once for all (e.g. to eat this cake) ; others have to be reaffirmed constantly (e.g. to love one's spouse.) Our decision to follow Jesus is never without such hankerings after the alternatives, and it must be constantly reaffirmed. Seldom do we really slaughter our oxen like Elisha; seldom do we co-operate fully with the Holy Spirit so as to be free from slavery to our weak humanity.
The following points are suggested by the readings:
(1) Renouncing old ways of sin and the hankering for it. Seeking conversion, turning back to God and beginning again. Stress the use of the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass for this purpose.
(2) Personal commitment to Jesus, to put him first. Rediscovering his values so as to seek in them our real happiness and fulfilment. If we consider that all the fun and enjoyment is on the side of the impure, all the advantages on the side of the dishonest, we have not begun to see Jesus' values as the best ones. Following Jesus requires a decision, easy to make but hard to persevere with, to pay attention to him for ten minutes each day in prayer.
(3) Witnessing to the Kingdom with our lives. Paul knows that the most practical way we can do this is by loving our neighbour. This requires a serious attempt to live in harmony with those about us. There are plenty of would-be Christians who have not imbibed the spirit of their leader, like James and John in today's gospel. They want God to "sort out" those who oppose them, and believe they have "cornered" God for their side.
(4) Persevering with Jesus;. keeping the hands to the plough, looking ahead and not back. By ourselves we will not be able to do it. We must not neglect the Spirit who has been given to us by the risen Christ. As Paul says, we must be "led by the Spirit," guided by him. Perhaps it is because he is so conscious of the gift of the Spirit that Luke can make such demands on the disciples throughout his gospel.
In the Gospel we have the advice given separately by Jesus to three individuals who wanted to follow him on his religious wanderings. Far from pressuring them to join his group, he even seemed to discourage them. The first was advised to count the cost before joining, as Christ had no fixed abode. His words to the second seem quite harsh. "Let the [spiritually] dead bury their dead," the man heard. Perhaps his father was not yet dead, and the eldest son would not leave the family home until after his father's death. The lesson is that if we are faced with a radical option and do not take it at once, it is less likely that we will do so later. His reply to the third was also uncompromising: "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is the right kind of person for the kingdom of God." The fragile wooden ploughs of that time were in danger of breaking if they struck any of the stones that littered the fields. Therefore the ploughman had to keep his eyes on the ground ahead at all times. The commitment to his task by the disciple of Christ should be total at all times as well.
All through our lives, God is also calling us, whether we respond or not, even as he called Abraham from his homeland, Peter from his nets, Matthew from his tax office, Elisha from his farm. But, how many of us answer the call? Referring to the Jews, Jesus said, "Many are called but few are chosen (Mt 22:14). The almighty God, speaking through Moses to the Israelites, seemed almost to rejoice and take delight in the small numbers who were following his call. "It is you that the Lord your God has chosen to be his own people out of all the peoples on the earth. If the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, it was not because you outnumbered other peoples; you were the fewest of all peoples" (Deut 7:6f).
This was again echoed by Christ before his disciples, "Fear not little flock, for it has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom" (Lk 12:32). But the sad thing, not only in the Old Testament, but throughout the history of Christianity, is that God's generosity has been often met by a lack of gratitude, faith, holiness, truth and fidelity. It is a great mystery why one person follows the call of God and lets it give direction to his/her life, and another does not. We do not know why this happens, but we cannot blame God for it. "As I live, says the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked should turn from their evil ways and live" (Ezek 33:11). "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). This reassures us that there is no lack of love on God's part for each and every person that ever lived. It is in the manner of their response to God's love that people are found wantig Nor can there be room for complacency, taking our salvation for granted. Even so great a saint as the apostle St Paul said, "I treat my body hard, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, having preached to others, I myself should become a castaway" (1 Cor 9:16). We should always bear in mind that we are children of God, called to live in the light of Christ, and not dwell in the darkness.
Today's Gospel could make us wonder whether Jesus was trying to attract or to discourage followers, he was so blunt and forthright in spelling out the hardships it would involve. Jesus has called each one of us to follow him. 'Follow me' is a frequently repeated invitation. He calls us into a personal relationship with himself. We are invited to share in his life and in his interests. Discipleship and mission go hand in hand. Precisely because it is his mission it has to be carried out in his way. James and John were zealous but they wanted to do things their way. Jesus rebuked them. A fire and brimstone approach even towards opponents, was unacceptable to him. He had come as a saviour not as the leader of a punishment squad. 'The anger of man docs not work the righteousness of God' (James 1:20). We can be forgetful. Sometimes followers of Christ appear to be more like followers of the 'sons of thunder'. We need the guidance of the Spint to help us to clarify and to refine our understanding of discipleship.
Disciples do not have to sleep rough, but they must try to break free from false forms of security. The apostles abandoned the security of an established lifestyle in order to be with Jesus. At an earlier time, Elisha had to set aside his security as a well-off farmer in order to serve with Elijah the prophet. 'I will follow you, sir, but first let me, '.Have the words a familiar ring about them? How often could his first response be our own? I will follow you but on my own terms. I will follow you, if the cost is not too high . We can hardly criticise those would-be followers mentioned in the Gospel. But Jesus does convey a sense of urgency. There is no time to haggle over terms and conditions. Consent must be unconditional. We have to say a total 'Yes,' like Mary, our Blessed Mother. If we do that we can experience the fierce, inner joy of the Spirit which St Paul calls a "pledge," a first instalment of heavenly joy.
After the Exile, Jerusalem is like a mother nursing her child at the breast
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her, that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.
For thus says the Lord: I will extend prosperity to her like river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies.
Paul bears the marks of Christ's passion on his own body
May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule ?" peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.
Jesus sent the seventy missionaries to share in his powerful ministry
or, shorter version: 10:1-9, omitting the italics
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.' And I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
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 ."
One word ("Peace") dominates today's readings. In Isaiah peace flows like a river through the landscape of the future. Paul, speaking to the Galatians, to the background of divisions in the community, promises peace to all who follow Christ. In our gospel, when sending his disciples out, Jesus tells them that their first message to every house must be: "Peace to this house."
But even as the word is spoken you sense the reluctance of the world to receive it. Even the reluctance and inability of the Christians to live it out, to give it more than lip service. The divisions are obvious in the epistle. Some in the Church want to retain the Jewish circumcision, others view it as a sign of the past. Every age in the Church has its own moments of crisis, its own dividing lines. These may be small issues or large ones. Every community has its breaking point. These may be in the hearts of the best believers. In the gospel we see the disciples returning filled with joy from their success. They are boasting of their success, proud of their preaching and living. Christians are, too often, marked by an arrogance of belief. They look down on others. Such pride swallows the Christ who preached poverty of spirit. It leaves us less compassionate before a world which needs to know the compassion of Christ.
Behind all these readings is the idea and reality of service. The joyful hymn of Isaiah can only be heard in its full glory when we hear the suffering servant singing it. Its promised peace emerges from the insights and love of someone who has suffered the divisions and hatreds of the world and reconciled them in himself. Paul puts this with woeful clarity: "The only thing I can boast about is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world."
The cross of Christ reveals two things about the world: First, the intense love of Christ for the people of the earth; and second, how divided and broken that world is. Religions go their proud way. Empires and political powers set their own agendas and punish all who question their power over human life and its use and abuse. To remain peacemakers we must remain true to the cross. The poverty and brokenness of Christ on Calvary is the model of how we are in the world. We must live that poverty of spirit: "no purse, no haversack, no sandals." We must never become proud and arrogant. Christ is a humility before the pride of the world. Christ is free love before the necessities of the powerful. Even those who reject Christ must be loved ?" their nearness to his Kingdom must remain our message.
We can only do this in an often cruel world by retaining our faith, hope and love. Among the wolves of a Calvary world the lambs must remain true to themselves. Our faith in a Christ who died out of love for us all. Our hope is that his faith and love are the source of our peace. Our belief is that by our living out of God's love of the world and its people the Kingdom of peace will be given to us all.
Our Scriptures show us the Church and world as they are. More importantly they reveal what they might be had we but the faith, the hope and the love of Christ.
The gospel has Jesus sending his disciples out to do his work. He instructs them, and gives them definite directions. Then they returned to him to report on how they got on.
At election times we get the literature in the post, through the mailbox, or we have someone call to the door. Those who call to the door usually travel in twos. They have been well briefed, and they have their presentation ready. They are representing the one seeking election, and, therefore, they ensure that they remain faithful to the political manifesto of that person or party. If not every day, then certainly every week, they return to headquarters to report on how they got on. Today's gospel, of course, is about much more than seeking votes in an election, but there are some similarities.
There is so much teaching in today's gospel that we are forced to be selective. Firstly, we note that he sent them out in pairs. He called each one individually. He never asked the five thousand to follow him, after he had fed them with the loaves and fish. While he called each one personally, he never sent an apostle out alone. There are but two incidents in the gospels when an apostle went out alone: one was to betray him, the other ended up denying him. Community support is essential to living the gospel. Even a hermit has to be commissioned by a Christian Community, and must continue to be in touch with that group.
Jesus told the apostles that he was sending them out like lambs among wolves. That wasn't encouraging! His disciples had a choice. They could conform to the world, and preach a message that made people more comfortable in their complacency; or they could preach the message of Jesus, that was bound to be opposed, because it called for fundamental change. Many years later St John wrote in his first letter "The people who belong to this world speak from the world's viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God; that is why those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the spirit of truth or the spirit of deception."
It is encouraging to listen to the enthusiasm of the disciples when they returned. They had obeyed Jesus, and it worked. His promise to them was vindicated. They discovered that the call to mission contained the power to effect that mission. Jesus went even further in assuring them that he had given them full authority over all the power of the evil one, and that their names were registered as citizens of heaven.
The gospel is in between two phrases. The first is "Come and see," and the last is "Go and tell." If I have come and seen, I will want to go and tell. There is a difference between witnessing and evangelising. We are all called to witness, but not all are called to evangelise. Many of us would die a thousand deaths if we were called to stand on a box in Hyde Park, and preach to the passers-by! We can all witness, through the example of our lives. Christianity is about attracting rather than promoting.
To be involved in the work of the Lord is to be involved with others of a similar vision. If there is no involvement, there will be no commitment. I cannot be a member of the Body of Christ, and fly solo. My foot cannot go off for a walk on its own. The whole body must be involved in the exercise. This does not mean that everybody should be doing the same thing, or that all should be involved in each single undertaking. There are ministries and missions; there are gifts, talents, and charisms. The gift of some is in organisation; of others in prayer ministries; of others in ministering to the sick, the marginalised, or the least of the brethren.
The words at the end of today's gospel are addressed to each one of us. Jesus does give us his power. We are empowered to do his work, and to work in his name. His call is an anointing call, and we are sent with his authority. We have the power if we are willing to supply the goodwill. Jesus assures us that we have a passport, visa, and "green card" for heaven. Our names are already registered there. We are saved, and our mission is to proclaim the good news of salvation to others.
Imagine there were only 100 people on this earth, all in one village. On today's facts, 67 of them would be poor, while 33 of them would be comparatively well off. 93 of them would have to watch while 7 of them spend half the money, have half the bathtubs, and eat one third of the food, and have ten times as many doctors looking after them as the other 93 all together. That is not the real problem, though, from our point of view. The real problem is when the 7 have the nerve and the gall to attempt to evangelise the 93! They tell them about the wonderful Saviour they have, who talks about sharing, feeding the hungry, etc., while the 7 throw out more food than would feed all of the 93! They transfer money abroad and open new and better bank accounts, while the 93 find it more and more difficult to get something to eat. The bottom line must surely be this: If the 7 are so stupid and so blind that they cannot see the frightful contradiction of their situation, then, surely, they cannot exp
To God's chosen people the commandments are not a burden but a privelege
Moses said to the people: "When you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
A hymn to Christ, head of the Church, universal mediator and redeemer
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
The parable of the Good Samaritan
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal lie?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
G. K. Chesterton was a journalist, novelist, radio broadcaster, public debater, and theologian. He once wrote that the English secularised culture of his day retained, in spite of everything, values which were deep-rooted in Christianity. One such value must surely be that of the good Samaritan. In fact it was in England that the group called "The Samaritans" originated. The enduring impact of Jesus' parable of the "Good Samaritan" is all the more extraordinary when we remember that for the Jews the Samaritans were anything but good. Instead they looked on them as being despicable renegades from the Jewish faith. They even accused Jesus himself of being a Samaritan and possessed by a devil (Jn 8:48).
It's worth considering the significance of the parable for us here and now. Jesus used this story to bring home to us in a dramatic way the most important, the most all-embracing quality he requires of his followers. The importance of the parable lies in its context. It is the answer to a specific question ?" who is my neighbour to whom I must show as much love as to myself? The answer is brought home forcibly to the Jewish lawyer who put the question. Everyone without exception, even such as the despised Samaritan, must be regarded as a neighbour.
We might wonder what the Samaritan had to gain personally from his act of charity. The answer, in material terms, is precisely nothing. The whole point is that love which is really and truly love, is disinterested. Indeed where is the merit in being good only to friends, who will obviously reward you in return, should the need arise? Christian love must embrace everyone. Secondly, if you do not show love to the neighbour whom you see, then no matter what commandments you keep, what ritual sacrifices you join in, as did the priest and Levite in the parable, you become incapable of loving God, whom you cannot see. This is something which St John reiterates again and again. If you want to join in the Eucharistic banquet and receive God's Son into your heart, then you must first cleanse your heart of all hatred, bitterness, ill-will, because the God we receive in this sacrament is love.
A strong theme integrating these readings is the primacy of Jesus in the Father's communication of the law of love. The passage from Deut. 30 is a fine example of how the people of Israel treasured the Mosaic Law, the Torah, as God's clear and privileged communication of his will. This is a splendid set-up for observing the quantum leap that occurs in Christian consciousness when the post-Easter believers understand the person and the word of Jesus as fulfilling and even supplanting and surpassing the Torah. The gospel text presents a sample of that. Here, as in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:43-48), Jesus begins from, and then deepens profoundly, the Old Testament teaching of love. The Colossian reading ?" with its celebration of Jesus as image of the invisible God, head of the body, the locus of cosmic "fullness," the reconciler of all ?" this supports the idea of Jesus as God's most complete communication of himself.
But all this is in the background. Jesus' teaching itself, the famous parable, will obviously be the centerpiece of any homily this weekend. The best service the preacher can do is to help the worshippers hear the story afresh. The key here is recovering the shock of the identity of the hero, a Samaritan. These people were the outcasts in first-century Palestine. Since they had intermarried with the occupying Assyrians in the 8th century B.C. they were considered a mongrel breed. And because they kept a separate tradition of the Torah and conducted a competing temple worship on Mount Gerizim (see Jn. 4:20-22), theirs was considered a corrupt form of Judaism. (See Sirach 50:25-26 for the traditional Hebrew attitude toward Samaritans.) For a Samaritan, a suspect stranger in Judea, to deal with an injured Jew would have been an act of unexplainable compassion and an unthinkable risk.
Some social analogy may help here. In his Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts: Jesus' Doing and the Happenings, Clarence Jordan sets the scene in southern U.S.A. and retells the story as being about a black man aiding a white victim. Others have compared the situation of the Samaritan carrying the victim to the inn to that of a plains Indian in 1890 riding into a small town with a scalped cowboy on his horse. This catches the element of risk. Another analogy: a pastor working in the Middle East confessed that never once was he even tempted to tell Palestinians a story about a noble Israeli.
The point is to find a social parallel which will bring this story home to one's own congregation. Note the significant shift between the lawyer's question (Who is my neighbour?) and Jesus' question (Which proved neighbour to the victim?). The lawyer wants a definition to comfortably limit his duty. Jesus cuts through word game: our neighbour is any human being in need. How this is specifically to be applied is up to the insight of the homilist and the listeners. Here God's guiding Torah comes through the person and teaching of Jesus.
Our news media often paint a rather depressing picture of human nature, incurably bent on war, destruction, social and political injustice, and on all types and forms of immorality. That, of course, is what is seen as making news. But it should blind none of us from being more aware in our daily lives of the basic goodness of human nature, and of noting the many selfless and quite unnoticed acts of love and charity. And by being positive about our human nature and its capabilities for good, we become more aware of our own potential to love selflessly. This is what Jesus tries to help the lawyer to experience. Instead of giving him a dictionary definition of "neighbour," he presents him with the parable about the Samaritan who acts not out of a sense of duty or of guilt, but out of sheer love and generosity. Though we are not told, we can hope that the lawyer is fired with enthusiasm to live in a similar manner.
We could concentrate on the negative elements of the parable ?" the brigands, the priest and the levite. But this would be to miss the point, and we end up falling into the trap of the press and the media. The emphasis in the parable is on the positive capabilities of human nature ?" even in people not normally expected to display such characteristics. This too is the overall thrust of Deuteronomy. Quite often, as Christians, we approach this book of the Old Testament with a certain lack of enthusiasm, noting its negative stipulations and its prohibitions. Yet to concentrate on this aspect would again lead to distortion. For Deuteronomy, expressed as a summary of Moses" instructions, is God's teaching to Israel on how to live a life of love and charity. Deuteronomy repeatedly emphasises God's undying and unchanging love for his people, and from this perspective urges its hearers to respond in kind, They are to live a life of love for God and for their neighbour, defined above all by the trio of the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. These were the people most in need of charity in the community of Israel, and the idea is that, if one is charitable to them, then one is charitable to all without exception.
Sometimes we Christians get impatient with ourselves that we are not always living out the life of love, feeling that the priest and the levite are still within us. Our impatience is stoked up by the commercialised society we live in, always demanding quick results. We are conditioned by advertising techniques: we expect that fast foods will not only be fast but nutritious, and so on. Perfection in love is usually not so instant. It's well to remember that the guidance in Deuteronomy was given while still on the way to the Promised Land, and that the parable of the Lord is told while the disciples are still making their way with him to Jerusalem. The "journey" element can remind us that love and charity are part of the journey of faith. And, as with many journeys, there are stops and even wrong turnins. It is when we get bogged down at such stages that we lose our sense of direction and our infinite capacity to love.
Welcoming the strangers, Abraham was really in the presence of God
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said."
Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son."
Paul suffers for his converts as part of his ministry of calling them to salvation
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
The welcome offered by the sisters, Martha and Mary, in Bethany
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."
Wouldn't we love if somebody could unearth a whole volume of stories about Martha, Mary and Lazarus; but today's episode and the raising of Lazarus (John 11) are the only ones we have. Still, even these two stories let us see Jesus in a family context, in everyday domestic scenes among people that he loved and who clearly loved him. The parents of Martha and Mary were presumably dead, since we hear nothing about them. The two women were clearly in love with Jesus and he treated them with respect and affection. In this story Jesus is not saying that one should not wait on guests. He is rather saying that more important than waiting on them is enjoying them and loving them. We should never be so busy that we have no time for love.
Our Irish tradition laid great store by hospitality, a practice somewhat harder to keep up in a busy urban setting, but one that we would do well to keep alive, and even revive to a higher level. We are more likely to encounter the grace of God when welcoming visitors to our home, than just by sitting watching television!
"What is man that you care for him," the Psalmist asks God to explain (Ps 4:8), "or mortal man that you keep him in mind?" It has been said that when it comes to discovering the meaning of human life and of our existence in this world, most of us are like pygmies, who travel on the backs of the giants who have gone before us. In other words the number of people who were able to stand back, as it were, and try to see human striving, endeavour, hardship, in meaningful terms, is small indeed. The majority of us are willing to go along in varying degrees with their discoveries, as they filter down to us through different channels.
God's Message, the theme running through today's readings, comes to us in more or less the same way. Some chosen individuals seem able to grasp in a wonderful way God's message for the human race, and have shared that knowledge with the rest of us. So the Word of God came to Abraham, not as something abstract, needing to be found in books; for there were no books then, but rather a tradition of faith handed on orally and finally committed to scrolls. Abraham's encounter with God was on a personal plane. He was the friend of God, the Bible says, and his welcome for the Messengers of God has all the merits of eastern nomadic hospitality.
Abraham is a supreme example of deep-rooted faith and trust in God. Called by God to leave his own clan, he left off worshipping their gods and set out for an unknown destination. In return God promised he would become the father of a new and numerous people. Abraham trusted and followed this call, even when there seemed little hope that this promise would ever be fulfilled. When they had practically given up hope, he again hears that his wife will bear a son, and again he trusts in God's word. And later still, when Isaac was born Abraham was asked to sacrifice this precious son. It he carried out this grim command, how could the promise of God evercome true? But Abraham's trust in God never wavered, and in the end was vindicated. It was for this faith that Abraham was justified in God's sight, and this faith was passed on to his children and to all believers, including ourselves.
As we saw in the gospel, God's Message came in person to Mary, the sister of Martha, and we see her vibrant relationship with God in Christ. On one level, we feel sorry for Martha, being left to do the household work on her own, but the key value here is that our listening to God, our attentiveness to Christ must never be drowned out by the bustle of our everyday lives. Then, in the reading from St Paul we are told how the Word of God, hidden from all mankind for centuries, comes to the gentiles.
Only one thing really matters in the hurly-burly of our modem world, that we always make space for God in our lives, that we reach out and grasp the message which God is continually presenting to us, that we make it our own, and that we allow it to guide and shape us, as we live and as we hope to die, in fulfilment of God's wishes for us.
It is hard not to feel sympathy for Martha. It was her house after all, not Mary's, and she would naturally want to show it at its best. The trouble with her ?" as with over-anxious people in general ?" was that she could view things only from her own angle and became annoyed when others wished to follow a different course. She does not see is that to be a good host, we have to forget ourselves and focus on what our visitor wants from us.
Martha loved Jesus as much as Mary did, and it is clear that he treasured them both. Her mistake was in not trying to find out how Jesus wanted to be entertained, while visiting her house. Her sister correctly senses that when Jesus comes on a visit the last thing he wants is to have people fussing over how to feed him. So, while Martha makes the greater housekeeping effort, Mary understands better what is expected of her by him. Her contemplative intuition grasps instinctively the real reason for Jesus' visit. He is there not to receive but to give, not to be served but to serve. He has something he needs to say and the one thing necessary is to listen to his voice.
We have here a whole theology of contemplation, of how to receive the Lord's visit. It starts off from the basis that, no matter who our visitors may be, there is always something to be learned, something to be gained from them. The one who comes knocking on our door will have something to tell us, should be listened to and understood. After a demanding and frustrating confrontation with today's scribes and Pharisees, Jesus comes to visit his friends, in an atmosphere of ease. He comes to talk to us in the quiet of the evening or the freshness of the morning, to share with us the Word that brings us to salvation. He comes not because he needs us but because we need him. We too can be "distracted with all the serving;" we too can "worry and fret about so many things." We may, like Martha, miss the better part, the one thing necessary, which is to submit to the Word of Christ.
The world is made up of Martha's and Mary's ?" the doers and the dreamers ?" and it would seem the former are far more numerous than the latter. The industrial and commercial society of today places a huge premium on achievement. It is results that count. Targets are set for production and sales and only those who achieve or surpass them are rewarded. Captains of industry everywhere are pushing hard to have pay related to production. Their message is "shape up or ship out." And those who can't or won't are made redundant. We live in Martha's world.
It is ironic that Christ's followers so seldom show his marked preference for the Marys of this world. They toiled away in their garrets, often in poverty, elaborating their dreams and bringing to birth a better world for future generations. Mercifully, we still have our dreamers. The message of today's gospel is that we, like our Master, should cherish such dreamers. It is the poets and prophets, writers and thinkers, philosophers and mystics, who like Mary, have chosen the better part.
Abraham intercedes and haggles with God to spare the city of Sodom
The Lord said, "How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know." So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord.
Then Abraham came near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the Lord said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake."
Abraham answered, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." Again he spoke to him, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there."
He said, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angy if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it."
Through baptism into his death and resurrection, we rise to a new life
When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.
When asked how we should pray, Jesus teaches the "Our Father."
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."
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!"
Methods and techniques of prayer have always been in demand and the variety on offer has multiplied recently. Yet, when all is said and done, what can compare with the perspicacity of the disciple who, having watched Jesus praying, said, "Lord, teach us to pray." The first step for us too is to ponder on the prayer-life of Jesus and the content of his prayer. Even a cursory glance at St Luke's Gospel would justify our dubbing it the Gospel of Jesus at Prayer. How many times is Jesus found in the Gospels praying ?" alone, on the hills, with his disciples!
Beginning with the prayer of Jesus takes our minds off the techniques and draws us towards that point where we too, like the disciple, will simply and humbly ask, "Lord, teach us to pray." But, before that, we may have to wait for a long time in silence, just observing him and listening to his prayer. Then gradually, like the apprentice learning from the master, or rather, like the soil of the earth becoming fertile from the falling dew his prayer takes root and germinates in our hearts. Slowly, and over and over again, we too begin to repeat that prayer ?" the only one he left us ?" which is a relating of our whole being to him who is his Father and our Father. to him in whom both he and we ?" but we because of him ?" can call, "Abba, Father."
We are not used to praying Luke's wording of the Lord's Prayer. The official version adopted by the Church is Matthew's, which is longer, more solemn, more harmonious in its seven petitions. Luke's is shorter, containing only five petitions, but is more direct, more personal. Instead of "Our Father who art in heaven," as in Matthew, it begins with the simple cry "Father!" It is a way of addressing God that would never have been heard on the lips of anybody except Jesus. It originated in, and revealed, the profound nature of his relationship in the Trinity. He was Son as no other man could know how to be son; he was the unique Son of God.
The early Christians, especially in the communities schooled by St Paul, cherished the moment of Baptism when they became children of God, "sons in the Son." In the depths of their hearts they could hear the voice of the Spirit of Jesus urging them to make their own this word of infinite tenderness, "Abba, Father" (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), a title of familiarity for every child, a title that expressed perfectly the sweet intimacy and total confidence of their new status. Even as it revealed the person of the Son in Jesus, it also brings out for us the dignity of our adoption as sons of the Father. Yes, there could scarcely be any better person to introduce us to prayer than Jesus himself and, of course, his Spirit!
The Old Testament uses "Father" of God as the guardian of the people or of groups within the nation (see Deut 32:6; Ps 68:5; Is 63:16; 64:8; Jer 3:4, Mal l:6,2:10). There is a more personal touch in Sirach 23:1,4, Wisdom 14:3. But neither in the Old Testament nor in the writings of Qumran is there the intimate tone such as one finds in Luke 11:2. The preservation of the word "Abba" in Romans 8:15, Gal 4:6 and Mark 14:36 are memories of Jesus' intimacy with the Father.
Jesus differs in the relative frequency with which he is portrayed as speaking of God as Father. Each stratum of the sources of the Gospels contains a number of examples Matthew alone has 44 references, while John has 120. Surprisingly, there is a general agreement among all the sources that Jesus spoke of this subject only to his disciples but not to the crowds. Apparently, Jesus restricted the right to address God so to those who by their loyalty to himself, had shown themselves entitled to regard themselves as children of the Father. Jesus' view of God was not one far removed from their lives and struggles, but one who could be known intimately like their own parents (10:22,18:15-12.)
The simplicity of Luke's prayer contrasts sharply with many of the quite fulsome formulations used in Jewish and Greco-Roman prayers, not to mention some modern equivalents! Although "abba" can be translated "daddy," one should not think of Jesus' Father as a weakly indulgent "papa," destroying his children by granting every whim and never chastising them. On the contrary, Jesus taught much about our duties to love our enemies and to trust, love and fear the heavenly Father who is the Lord God Almighty.
The need for structured prayer and for set times has come across more and more to us in recent years. In contrast to the rush for personal prayer "at the time when one feels best," it has often been forgotten what a structured prayer-life Jesus himself led ?" regular synagogue and temple-attendance, as well as the daily prayer life of a faithful Jew. Jesus and his family, and the apostles after them, are presented in the New Testament as faithful to the Jewish traditions. The Jerusalem temple was criticised by Jesus for failing to be a house of prayer for the nations of their world.
What about our prayer lives? Do we pray that God's will be done by us, by me? Do we pray that God's name as Father be really respected by all, especially by our Church and State leaders? How can we say it is respected if so many, say, are poor? Do we long and hope for the coming of the Kingdom which means the salvation of all people? Do we pray for so many undergoing trials, tests and sufferings of all kinds?
The Rich Fool is a warning against being rich and comfortable while others starve. The economic model imposed by our capitalist, accumulative society plays a large part in world inequalities and tensions
"Vanity of vanities!" You can't take it with you when you die
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. Even one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
Since Christ has returned to the Father, we must seek the things that are above
Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
The Rich Fool, a warning against greed and selfishness
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."
"What does it profit one to have gained the whole world, and to have lost or ruined his self?" (Lk 9:25). "For our life is not made secure by what we own, even when we have more than we need" (Lk 12:15). The gospel is emphatic that a truly meaningful life cannot be achieved merely by heaping up material goods. The rich man in today's story thought that his future was secure, and that his existence was totally in his own hands. It must have come as quite a shock to him to be reminded that life on earth is God's to give and God's to take away. But maybe many of us feel a certain sneaking admiration and sympathy for this industrious man. Deep in our human nature there is in all of us some streak of greed and covetousness, wanting to own things at all costs.
Perhaps greed is linked to a lack of love, and many people try to fill that voice with all kinds of possessions and celebrity. There is ample evidence of this in today's world which surrounds us on every side with the clamour of the rat-race, an obsessive scramble to get up in the world by fair means or foul, strident demands by some sections of society for greater remuneration for their services, backed by the threat of crippling strikes if these demands are not met. But the message of Jesus calls us to moderate such self-seeking. In his parable he suggests that, at some time or other, each of us must face the question put to the Rich Fool: What are my hopes for the life hereafter?
The rich fool put all his energies into piling riches upon riches. The other extreme is one that sees no value in working at all. "Why bother working when life is so short, and we can be fed at other people's expense"? is the attitude which was found among some communities of the early Church, when people thought that the second coming of Christ was at hand. And on this matter Saint Paul, usually so preoccupied with spiritual matters, shows himself as a realist. "If anyone refuses to work," he told them bluntly, "he should not eat."
Virtue is often the golden mean, the middle path between two extremes. Our attitude to wealth and property must reflect this in some way. On the one hand we have Christ's total giving of himself. He came into the world in a place used to house animals; he departed from the world possessing nothing, having been stripped even of his clothes before his crucifixion. But during our lives we stand in need of worldly goods, a place to live and money to live on. And there are many ways to use money responsibly. A rich person who uses his wealth to provide worthwhile employment for others, is doing better person in the eyes of God than one who claims to believe the gospel message but refuses to use our God-given talents for the welfare of those with whom we finds himself involved.
We lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven, not only through loving God in prayer, but also by love of neighbour. In order to really play our part in life we must be determined, as the second reading urges, and "kill" the vices which are in us, especially greed which is like worshipping a false god. And nothing can better bring us to understand the relativity of money than that stark gospel question, "This pile of yours, when death comes knocking, whose shall it be?'
Has the parable of the rich fool anything to say to us in today's world of economics? Can we afford to ignore the financial advisors and make no provision for the distant future? Indeed, one wonders whether any Christian community has ever put this parable into practice. Even the young Church in Jerusalem, for all its disinterestedness in the goods of this world, had such economic worries that it had to appoint certain people to deal with the distribution of alms, so that others could devote themselves to the ministry of the word.
It is important to understand the parable correctly. The rich man's fault was not in planning ahead; he was perfectly right to provide for what we would call "the rainy day." Where he went wrong was in thinking only of himself, of his personal comfort and well-being. He forgot the responsibility we all have to the community at large, ?" in dealing with property, work and our planning for the future. It is only when we live and work in a kind of social and family solidarity that our life and work fit in with God's plan for us.
The last sentence of the parable conveys the mind of Jesus: one must not store up treasure for oneself, but seek to be rich in the sight of God. What does this mean? Later (Lk 12:31-34) it becomes clear: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be yours as well. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom."
To seek the Kingdom of God means more than just taking part in worship. It includes the service of others. demanded by membership of the Church. By giving of oneself we make treasure in heaven and become rich in the sight of God. The fault in the man who came to Jesus with the grievance against his brother, and likewise in the rich fool, was that they were thinking of nobody hut themselves, whereas the Kingdom of God is reached by sharing one another's burdens. Whatever we give to others is not lost, but becomes treasure for eternity, drawing us forward into the Kingdom.
Poverty breeds its own virtues. "Necessity is the mother of invention." For the generation who grew up after the great depression of the thirties and the rationing of the Second World War, the great virtue was "waste not, want not." Life then seemed to be one great salvage operation. There was a Jacob's biscuit tin on every mantlepiece, where all sorts of bits and pieces were stored, like buttons and safety-pins and pieces of string. It was a holdall wherein was stored the wherewithal to repair the wear and tear of daily life. Hoarding then was a virtuous necessity rather than a vice. Garbage disposal was no problem then. Most things had disintegrated long before they got that far. Even the ashes from the fire were used in the garden to kill slugs and worms in the rhubarb patch. Clothes were patched and woollen socks were darned out of recognition and when they could no longer be worn they began life anew as dusters and mops. Toilet paper had not been invented then; yesterday's newspaper served the purpose moe than adequately. For those who came in the middle of families, most of their clothes were hand-me-downs. Sizes tended to be approximate rather than exact. Hems alternated between being "let down" or "turned up."
Nowadays we are locked into a consumerist society and the era of the disposable. Cities and governments spend millions on the collection and disposal of waste. Garbage bags figure on every shopping list. Television shows us harrowing pictures of children and families, foraging for survival in the public dumps of Rio de Janeiro and Manila. Whole shanty-towns have grown up round them. It is a vivid illustration of the ever-widening gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots', between our avarice and their desti tution.
Governments and businesses vie with each other in promoting avarice in their citizens and customers. It is promoted like one of the civic virtues. The good of the economy depends upon it. The Lotto is a national craze. And lest we might suffer from tweaks of conscience occasionally, we are reassured by the list of hospitals and other charitable institutions who benefit from our avariciousness. But avarice is one of the seven deadly sins, "deadly" because it spawns a host of other sins. No one who reads a newspaper can doubt that. The litany of political scandals make daily headlines. Government ministers in Italy, France and England have recently resigned or been sacked and even arrested for taking bribes. The Mafia and drug-barons are laughing all the way to the bank.
St Paul puts it bluntly in the epistle: "That is why you must kill everything in you that belongs to the earthly life, and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshipping a false god." "You can't take it with you" was a common expression one time in Ireland about money. Which proves, if it proves nothing else, that the Irish knew their gospel. "Fool, this night do I require your soul of thee." For those who seek God, the church has always recommended poverty, chastity and obedience ?" and in that order. The hand that reaches out for God must be empty.
Today Jesus speaks of the riches of heaven, as compared to earthly riches. "There's no pocket in the shroud" is a good old Irish saying. As with the Beatitudes, he is speaking about the poor in spirit. In other words, I could have a lot of wealth, but it does not possess me, nor am I enslaved by it. He tells us about something we all know too well. The first million will never satisfy! It may be the most difficult to make, but it can generate a compulsion to accumulate more, driven with the desire to go one better. We really should distinguish between wealth and riches. Some of the richest people I know have little of this world's goods. There are no greater riches than a loving, kind heart. Money couldn't buy the gifts that bring happiness.
It is such a simple lesson, but one we will never learn it if we refuse to open our heart to it. When we die, we have to let go of everything. I was at the bedside of a wealthy woman when she died, a person with a reputation for minding the pennies. She had no family of her own, so there was no shortage of interest as to where her wealth was going to go. ("Where there's a will, there are relatives!'). One of her staff whispered "I wonder how much did she leave?," and another quietly replied, "She left everything."
Theme: As we admire our ancestors in the faith, we hope to imitate their persevering conviction about God's direction of our lives
A lesson from the Exodus: whoever trusts in the Lord will not be disappointed
That night was made known beforehand to our ancestors, so that they might rejoice in sure knowledge of the oaths in which they trusted. The deliverance of the righteous and the destruction of their enemies were expected by your people. For by the same means by which you punished our enemies, you called us to yourself and glorified us.
For in secret the holy children of good people offered sacrifices, and with one accord agreed to the divine law, so that the saints would share alike the same things, both blessings and dangers; and already they were singing the praises of the ancestors.
In praise of faith, and of Abraham, our father in faith
(or, shorter version: 11:1-2. 8-12, omitting the text in italics)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old, and Sarah herself was barren ?" because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore."
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, "It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you." He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
Fear not, little flock. But be vigilant, faithful
[or, shorter version: 12:35-40, the text in italics]
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
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. 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 slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you,he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one o whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
There is fairly widespread evidence of a crisis in the life of faith of many Catholics, even in what once was too complacently called "Holy Ireland." It can be sparked off by different things, like the past cruelties of an unjust system, a disastrous love-relationship, family tensions, the tragic injury or death of friends. Sometimes religious feeling can wither as financial prosperity grows, and our need for God is stifled by feelings of self-sufficiency. Or new friendships that we make with nice people who hold no religious beliefs can make us feel that God really does not matter after all. On school retreats we used to hear that going through a questioning phase does not mean we have lost the faith. Questioning of faith can also be a growth point. A faith which is challenged can emerge as fuller and more genuine. It can mark the change from the comfort of childhood certainties to new horizons, when the young adult is searching for a deeper experience.
Faith is neither a purely intellectual nor a purely emotional attitude. It has an intellectual side, professing what we judge to be true; and in part it is a matter of responding to feelings; but these are a gift of the Spirit which moves us to give ourselves over to One greater than ourselves. If we hand ourselves over to this sense of God and let go of the illusion of being only for ourselves, it can bring us inner, spiritual growth.
Faith is a special form of knowing, as when we know a friend. It touches an awareness deep within us, an awareness of God's presence guiding and helping us. It is the experience described about Abraham, Jesus and other great figures in the Bible. Faith is an on-going process, growing as we grow, changing as we change, maturing and we mature. Our childhood faith cannot sustain us in adulthood, though it can develope into one that stays with us through life.
Experiences of faith will be sporadic, and cannot be precisely programmed. We must be grateful if, at priveleged moments we feel God's special presence, but at other times life will be confusing, full of darkness and doubt, with God silent and seemingly absent. And yet, even in times of confusion and loneliness, God really is there. This world is God's and God really does know what is going on in it; other people are God's people and when we dig deep enough, we can find God in them.
The story of Abraham proposes that faith in God can give our life serenity, security and deep joy. The great patriarch had such trust in God's promise that it kept him going through life. We are impressed at how Abraham obeyed when God asked him to leave the past behind and launch out into an unknown future.
The Gospel reaffirms that a whoever belongs to Jesus need have no fear. People who makes God their treasure, and commit to Christ as our guide to living, see life as a journey leading to our true home where a loving Father is there to welcome us. If we can keep our eyes fixed on the vision that God has promised and attune our ears to the voice of God in the scriptures and in the events of daily life, we can live with confidence in his presence.
The same Gospel suggests that God also makes demands of us. If the saints in Scripture had many proofs of God's love, they also experienced suffering both as individuals and as a race. Often their faith was seriously put to the test, like that of Abraham and his wife Sarah, when it seemed that the promise of children could never be realized. The spirituality of Abraham ruggedly trying out to follow God's call in the obscurity of faith remains a template for Christian faith.
We don't know in advance how God's demanding love may make demands will clash with our selfish plans. We cannot know when personal illness, bereavement or some other trying experience will put us to the test. But we do know that our life will be a success if we set our hearts on values that go beyond all the transitory goods of this world. Our faith, like Abraham's, is leading us onward, always pointing to something still to come, and at the end of our pilgrimage, like his, all God's promises will be fulfilled.
Theme: Moral courage is always in short supply. It is the fashion to keep our heads down and go with the herd; but this is not the way to follow Christ
Jeremiah is dropped into a well to die, but is saved by a foreigner
The officials said to the king, "This Jeremiah ought to be put to death, because he is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm." King Zedekiah said, "Here he is; he is in your hands; for the king is powerless against you." So they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king's son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. Now there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.
Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch in the king's house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. The king happened to be sitting at the Benjamin Gate, So Ebed-melech left the king's house and spoke to the king, "My lord king, these men have acted wickedly in all they did to the prophet Jeremiah by throwing him into the cistern to die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city." Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, "Take three men with you from here, and pull the prophet Jeremiah up from the cistern before he dies."
Persevere, for we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Christ calls for total loyalty, even if it causes severe dissension
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."
"Oh all you who pass by, see if there is any sorrow like unto my sorrow." These words are often applied to Jesus, but they were not said BY him. They are from the Lamentations of Jeremiah (1:12), an Old Testament prophet whose life bears close resemblance to that of Jesus. Jeremiah lived in the 6th century B.C., an age of great upheaval which saw the collapse of the Assyrian empire, and the emergence of an even greater one in Babylon. After being subject to Assyria for some time, the Israelites' faith in God and their forms of worship were tainted by pagan practices.
Jeremiah's role was to condemn idolatry and help his people rebuild their faith. But the ruling elite blocked all his efforts and even wanted to kill him, trying to make it seem that he died of the general famine afflicting the country. As a shy young man, Jeremiah's whole being shuddered before the vocation he felt, which was "to tear up and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow" (1:10). In his own descriptions we see him on the verge of despair. "The word of the Lord has brought on me insult and derision all day long" (20:8).
Jeremiah inner struggle was intense. "Why is my suffering endless, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?" (15:18). He even goes so far as to say, "Cursed be the day when I was born" (20:18). He was going through what St John of the Cross would later call "the dark night of the soul," when someone specially chosen by God seems abandoned by him. By such suffering the heart of Jeremiah was purified, making him a mighty prophet.
Instead of preaching externals like Law, circumcision, sacrifice andTemple, Jeremiah preached a religion that was inward, a more personal relationship with God. Deep within his people's psyche God would plant his Law, writing it on their hearts (Jer 31:33). A thousand years later, St Augustine was of similar mind. "Seek God within" was his motto. "Enter into yourselves, for truth dwells within you." The focus on interior, personal religion is what makes Jeremiah dear to so many Christians. He foresaw a new covenant between God and the people, the first time such an idea is found in Judaism. The consecration over the chalice in every Mass mentions "the new and everlasting covenant."
Both Jesus and Jeremiah had obvious love for the common people, and a burning desire for their welfare, and both were rejected by the powers-that-be of their time. What Caiphas said of Jesus, "It is better for one man to die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed" (Jn 11:50) echoes what the leading men in Jerusalem said of the prophet Jeremiah, "This fellow does not have the welfare of the people at heart, but its ruin". When they plotted to kill Jeremiah, he was only saved by an Egyptian, who helped draw him out of the muddy well into which he had been thrown. The only person to help Jesus on his way to Calvary, Simon of Cyrene, was also a foreigner, a Libyan. In God's wise providence, help can come from the most unexpected quarters.
"Do you think that I am come to bring peace on earth?" Quite honestly, we would hope so. We've come to equate Jesus with peace; is he not the Prince of Peace? The Communion Rite links him with peace; the discourse at the Last Supper is peppered with the word. Yet, when he answers his own question, he confuses us. "No. I tell you, but rather division."
We look at the life of Jesus for clues as to how "peace" and "division" can be reconciled. One approach is to find Jesus exercising options in his life; facing moments when he has a choice of two roads ?" the easy pliant one of the prevailing culture or the lonely reforming one. His decisions cause divisions. Some of the division and turmoil is within himself (the garden scene.) some between himself and others ?" his mother and relatives. Peter on the road to Jerusalem, the final divisiveness of the cross of scandal.
Each time Jesus decides to follow the Father's will, that has two effects. It divides him off from those who won't take the step with him, and it moves him deeper into the peace that comes from being true to who you are. The peace Jesus talks about has a shape to it. It is not the wishy-washy, compromising, anything-for-a-quiet-life kind of peace we often settle for. When he mentions "division" in the same breath, we begin to see division as almost the price of authentic peace. We could spend time going through the decisions of Jesus. He reached out; he had compassion; he suffered along with people; he understood their pain; he broke bread with the hungry; he befriended the poor and sinners; he was at ease with the little, working poor people who lived in the shadow of the powerful elite.
The problem is that while we've read and heard these scenes a thousand times, we've lost sight of how disruptive and unconventional Jesus was. He talked of Samaritans saving Jewish lives! He praised the father who embraced the son who shamed him! You were to share your cloak and tunic, all you wore, literally! The soldier in the occupying army was to be accompanied not just the one mile but another mile, unbidden.
Jesus parted company the self-centred behind, not because he wished to but because they did. His open-handed approach to others provoked a clench-fisted reaction in them. They would have to be rid of this challenging presence. The crucifixion was meant to silence him for good. Instead, it gave him the final, supreme option. It not only capped his life of sacrifice but raised up a symbol to disturb us over the centuries. The sacrificed life of Jesus indicates the price to be paid if we are to reach the peace he calls us to.
Today's Scriptures speak of an orderly, disciplined life, a topic little mentioned in a permissive society. We could reflect on this theme as part of the overall scheme of divine justice in history
The returning Jews bring non-Jews to join in the worship of God
The Lord Says: "I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. From them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud ?" which draw the bow ?" to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.
They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and on mules, and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring a grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. And I will also take some of them as priests and as Levites, says the Lord.
As a father disciplines his children, so our God trains us
You have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children: "My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts."
Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
People from every nation can enter in by the "narrow door"
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."
Responding to the beauty of a spring morning, Robert Browning wrote, "The lark's on the wing, the snail's on the thorn; God's in his heaven, all's right with the world." While the thought is beautiful, the poem suggests a misleading concept of God, which maybe most of us entertain from time to time . "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world." How often we imagine God as "away up there, somewhere," while the world goes its separate way, with the events of every day independent of God. If the Gospel shows God in the person of Jesus Christ intervening in human affairs, combatting the evil forces at work in mankind, at the back of our minds we suspect that the battle against evil is not going God's way.
This kind of Deism seldom bothered his chosen people, Israel, in the Old Testament. For them God was not remote, away up there. They felt a divine presence in the events, good or evil, of everyday existence. Everything in history was somehow God's doing. Even when the cream of the nation were exiled to Babylon and their monarchy was utterly destroyed, they continued to search for the hand of God in this tragedy. Out their shattered hopes there emerged a purer, more spiritual vision of what God meant them to be. Eventually they saw their exile as the means God used to bring salvation to the pagans. They saw their destiny as still being glorious, but now from a more spiritual perspective. As stated in Isaiah, all nations would come to worship the true God in Jerusalem. God would bring good out of the catastrophe they had endured, and this would have an effect as well on nations apart from their own.
Constantly at the back of our minds we carry on, as it were, a conversation with ourselves ?" talking to ourselves, processing our hopes and fears, making plans. Relating to God means not leaving him on the fringe of all this consciousness, but making him part of it, discussing it with him, asking his guidance, his assistance, expressing to him our gratitude. All day long he is with you, and you can walk with God, you can talk with God, you can discern his loving purpose for you in every passing moment, you can rest in his presence, even while you go about your business. Gd, however, will not posses your soul unless you sincerely want him to.
So many of us remain "unconverted Christians," without a vision of the meaning of our lives. We remain on a material plane, like the people in the gospel who ate and drank with Jesus and heard him preaching in their streets, but with never a change in their lives. The Gospel warns that people will come from the east and west, from the north and south, and take the places at the feast in God's kingdom meant for those who were called originally. So we go on asking God to help us to enter by that narrow door, to win the inheritance set aside for us from the beginning, and not to be found wanting but rather persevere to the end.
In reaction to a bad policy pursued by the king, Isaiah urged the people of Jerusalem "Do not let Hezekiah mislead you". Then Jesus invites us to realise the hard truth that our personal actions will determine our eternal destiny. These readings could prompt a homily on dedication to the truth, beginning with the power of language, which affects our whole human experience of life.
The ability to speak is the most important skill we ever acquire, putting us into intimate communication with other persons. Among grown-ups, words can build confidence, inspire idealism, stimulate creativity; but they can also break a reputation, undermine a project, or alienate a community. In every newspaper we find concrete evidence of the power of language to build up or tear down. In our own lives we have experienced for good or ill the dynamism of the living word.
Telling the truth is not merely saying what is one one's mind, which could be subjective; it goes further and communicates things as they really are, or as they actually look place. Truthfulness places an obligation on all to learn to experience life as it really is, not dressed up in flights of imagination. When we communicate we talk about real people and real events; we share, as objectively as we can, our insights about life and about the things of the spirit.
The Hebrews had a deep respect for truth, not so much in the theoretic but in the practical sense. The Hebrew word emeth expressed the basic idea of truth as firm, steady, trustworthy and faithful. The person of truth was one who was reliable, and spoke with dignity and assurance. In the New Testament the Greek word aletheia also has an important place. It is the truth of Christ, the truth that saves.
We need to promote respect for truth as a deep value, needing much revival today. Telling the truth is not merely saying what one feels, since this can be subjective, but it goes deeper and first tries to see things as they really are or as they actually happened. Only such truth is worthy of communicating. Truthfulness urges us to see and experience life as it really is, and to distinguish this from those flights of imagination that also have a place in entertaining each other. People need to know whether we are communicating about real events; we need to share, as truly as we can, our insights about life and about the things of the spirit.
Lying is the opposite of truth; when it become habitual, it distorts reality, goes directly against the virtue of thinking honestly, breaks down trust and destroys integrity. Children may tell lies, often more out of fear or an inability to cope with a difficult situation than out of a deliberate intention to deceive. Truthfulness requires many qualities but especially courage and maturity, it is an adult virtue. The adult who tells lies loses in stature. It is sad to meet with grown-up people who live in a dream world and paint a false picture of themselves. This is a sickness from which a person can be healed only by re-discovering the value and the beauty of truth.
A four-year-old was sulking under the table. He had been refused a second helping of ice-cream. His mother ordered him out, but the boy wouldn't budge. She fried coaxing, but nothing doing. When finally she promised him the ice-cream, he trotted out triumphantly and they both went out to get his reward from the fridge. The visitor was left alone with the other witness of this little domestic scene, the little boy's grandmother. While mother and son were being reunited over a dish of ice-cream in the kitchen, the old lady said to her visitor, "She isn't fair to that boy; he doesn't know any better. She should have punished him." The visitor had never heard it put that way before: Punishment as a service due to a child. It underlined an important change in attitude between the two generations.
This change was confirmed by a survey once carried out on the religious attitudes among Irish university students. That boy might have been one of those questioned then. While 56% said they believed in heaven, only half that number, 28%, believed in hell. The ice-cream approach to wrongdoing won hands down. Reward as an incentive rather than punishment as a deterrent, was easily the more acceptable answer to wrongdoers. Incidently, 58% of those interviewed believed in wrongdoing, i.e. sin. Why should not reward and punishment both be acceptable responses to behaviour. This was the received wisdom, where both the stick and the carrot had a role in the formation of the people of God. While our first parents were expelled from the Garden of Eden as punishment for eating the forbidden fruit, the complaining followers of Moses were rewarded with manna to encourage them on their difficult way through the desert.
Political scandals involving corruption and bribery among highly-paid public figures should give us reason to reflect. It is tempting to speculate that as children they picked their mother's purse or otherwise misbehaved, secure in the belief that they would not be caught or, at that if caught, they would go unpunished. Our present culture of impunity among the elite gets no support from today's 2nd Reading. The author has no doubt that proportionate punishment is part of a wise Providence.
For the Lord trains the ones he loves and punishes all those that he acknowledges as his sons. Suffering is part of your training; God is treating you as his sons. Has there ever been any son whose father did not train him? Of course, any punishment is most painful at the time, and far from pleasant; but later, in those on whom it has been used, it bears fruit in peace and goodness.
A person attentive to God will never reject wisdom
My child, perform your tasks with humility; then you will be loved by those whom God accepts. The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord. For great is the might of the Lord; but by the humble he is glorified.
When calamity befalls the proud, there is no healing, for an evil plant has taken root in him. The mind of the intelligent appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the desire of the wise.
Mount Sinai prefigures our destiny, in the future, glorious Zion
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear.")
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.
Place-seeking at a wedding banquet: Jesus urges us to act from unselfish motives
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, 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 honored 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."
He 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."
Psalm 15 praises the person "who takes no interest on a loan / Such a one will stand firm for ever." Back in the Middle Ages, our Church interpreted that verse to mean that taking interest on a loan was morally wrong. However, it is clear from other biblical passages that this applied only to making a profit from the financial misfortunes of other members of the community. To quote one example, "You may demand interest on a loan to a foreigner, but you must not demand interest from your brother" (Deut 23:21).
All this is a far cry from today's globalised capitalism, where the law of supply and demand is supreme: the greater the demand for services or goods, the more we can charge for them. In the one-sided capitalist system the motto seems to be, "Get as much as profit possible from every transaction, and if there is no profit from it, have nothing to do with it." To the business mind, payment in the next life for the good deeds of this one has little attraction. And let's face it, this attitude can also infect the spiritual sphere, if we attempt to become masters of our own destiny. The great idolatry of our time is the belief that we can save ourselves. We are tempted to think like this: "I'm saving my soul; I'm winning a place for myself in heaven." We store up credits and merits, towards the day when we can present them before God, and claim our reward on the basis of strict justice, rather like a business transaction.
But if this in any way is a true reflection of our attitude, then we are living an illusion. The problem underlying this is one which is touched upon in the readings of today, namely the problem of pharisaism, the idea of self-sufficiency, the absence of true humility. In other words we do not understand the truth about ourselves, and how we stand in regard to God. The Pharisees in the gospel parable picked the places of honour, which they regarded as being theirs by right, because they observed the Law. We, too, fail to recognise the common lot of humankind, its complete dependence on God's mercy, freely offered and not merited. The idea of giving a party, not for our friends and relations, but for the poor and the crippled and the blind, does not particularly appeal to us.
Remember that this is a parable, and what Christ is saying is, "Accept others; be open to others. Don't put up barriers between yourselves and others, as did the Pharisees." Another possible interpretation is that we ourselves are the poor, the lame and the blind. And God has invited us to the heavenly banquet, precisely because, for himself, there is no possibility of gain or interest by so doing. He has invited us so that his mercy and his bountiful goodness may be shown before all the world. The only way we can deny this goodness of a merciful God is by declaring it to be unnecessary. And this we do whenever we show a lack of humility, a misunderstanding of the role God wants to play in our lives, whenever we say secretly, at the back of our minds, "Lord, I'm a pretty good Catholic. I go to Mass on Sundays. I contribute to collections. I don't criticise people behind their backs, even though I know a lot of others who do. Actually, Lord, I'm pretty good all round." But Jesus rejects this attitude, because it is a violation of the truth. It fails to see that salvation cannot be deserved, cannot be claimed, that salvation is a pure gift.
The true Christian spirit is to come as a beggar before God, and make this basic request: "Lord, please help me." It is being true to Christian practice to face honestly our emptiness and limitations, to realise the need we have for Christ's redeeming power in our lives, to glory in our infirmities, because the power of God is more evident when the recipient of it is weak. As St Paul himself stated it, "I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:9f) in Christ Jesus, my Lord.
We are invited to consider what true wisdom means, according to the mind of Jesus Christ. The gospel sets this challenge within the context of controversy and dispute. We are told that the disciple must stand out against prevailing social mores based on class, status, aggression and dominance. The woman or man who, as a believing Christian, is in genuine relationship with God lives according to a different vision.
If one is truly attempting to follow Jesus, then gentleness, compassion, concern, acceptance of the other, must become guiding values, core values in that person's way of life. In a society based on ambition, aggression, "going for it" regardless of consequences, being meek and humble can seem like a recipe for social disaster. But this is the point. What the Gospel presents the direction we must take in order to build a just society with room in it for all. Violence of whatever kind is a recipe for disaster for humanity. Yet this is a hard lesson to learn. We are afraid to lose face or status. We connive in an unjust status quo, while pretending to be Christian.
Jesus wants us to experience life to the full, wants us to hear truth that carries freedom as its gift. Humility is not weakness, meekness and gentleness have nothing to do with cowardice. Humility is the fruit of self-awareness, meekness and gentleness the best expressions of strong compassion. We need these qualities if we are to respect each other, we need these qualities if we are to help each other and be helped, we need these qualities if we are serious about changing the world and orienting all life, all of creation towards the Divine.
In our era of assertiveness training, aggressive marketing and general one-up-manship the call of today's readings for self-effacement, gentleness and a true concern for non-influencial people seems like nostalgia for a more gentle age, or a romantic picture of a bygone world. Signs of pride are all round us and within us. Pride of place, be it in Church or State, at work or recreation, is jealously guarded. As in Luke's Gospel, seating positions are carefully arranged and the pecking order carefully observed. If arrangements go awry we feel offended, even slighted. Are these ceremonial positions, then, matters of true significance or are we merely conditioned from within by viewing our gifts as if they were our own, or from without by viewing our temporary achievements or positions of superiority as of truly lasting worth?
In the opening prayer we ask God to bring to perfection our gifts. Whatever we have, talent, wealth or the ambition which enables us to achieve, we have it from God. If "a generous rain" has been poured on us, if we have been given a home to live in, if we are in apposition to exalt and enhance then we hold these things as gifts of God and we should praise and thank him for them.
If pride flourishes in our hearts we insult the gifts of God. We are watchful of our positions, we dine in high places with the right people to enjoy the illusory joy of celebrity. How vain are such concerns with the passing glory of the hour! Side by side with such posturing, others live in want and anxiety. We may pass them by daily as we rush to some urgent insignificance or other, and our hearts do not go out to them.
But in the city of the living God everyone has the status of a firstborn child. Can we reshape our values in the light of this? We are not asked to deny our gifts, just to acknowledge them as being from God and to act responsibly towards those less gifted or otherwise gifted.
Theme: Jesus warns that people cannot share his vision unless they have a very loose hold on their possessions. Without a real spirit of detachment we cannot become full disciples of Christ
God gives us all the knowledge we need to be saved
For who can learn the counsel of God?
Or who can discern what the Lord wills?
For the reasoning of mortals is worthless,
and our designs are likely to fail;
for a perishable body weighs down the soul,
and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful mind.
We can hardly guess at what is on earth,
and what is at hand we find with labor;
but who has traced out what is in the heavens?
Who has learned your counsel,
unless you have given wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from on high?
And thus the paths of those on earth were set right,
and people were taught what pleases you,
and were saved by wisdom."
Paul appeals to a wealthy convert, for the runaway slave Onesimus
I would rather appeal to you (Philemon) 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. 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.
Jesus teaches self-renunciation, by two short parables
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus; 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 poses a problem for the homilist. The listeners will not need anything explained, but they will need some convincing. One of the following experiences might help.
(I) A priest went to Taizé with a group of young people. Among the many tales he brought back was this. One evening as the English language visitors gathered together for a general meeting he was asked to hold on to two seats beside him. After repeatedly telling others that those seats were occupied he finally gave in and told the next pair: "Yes, these seats are free. Take them away with you," which they did. From that moment he had peace. Eventually his companions returned to find their places vacant but without seats. They had no bother finding seats for themselves and returning to their reserved places. Everybody was happy with this arrangement. Sometimes we are so concerned with holding on to what we might want that we fail to see other's needs and our opportunity to help.
(2) Another afternoon at Taizé the whole group had planned an outing. The rain poured all that day and there were many glum faces looking out from the various tents. Making the most of the situation, they decided to come together for an extra session of prayer and discussion. This turned out to be the most memorable evening of the whole trip. Learning how to adjust to unfulfilled plans, waning strength, failing health and uncertain fortunes, is a key to happiness and contentment. We are not masters of all we possess, e.g., talents, health and even life itself.
(3) Again at Taizé, two of the group were deaf. Not being able to hear is a great handicap, a barrier to be overcome. These two could have missed so much of the experience at Taizé, the music, the bells, the prayers, the sincerity of the group discussions. However, for the whole week they were able to participate through the help of their friends who relayed everything to them through signs and lipreading. There was a modern miracle of the deaf hearing, and the others discovered so much about themselves in the process.
(4) Many of the great christians discovered their true freedom in the practice of voluntary poverty. Francis of Assisi comes to mind as the example par excellence. By renouncing all earthly possessions he discovered how much he possessed and shared with all of God's creatures. All the teaching of Jesus is marked by this same spirit of freedom. Like prayer, voluntary poverty is a gift to be savoured and then treasured.
(5) One of the two parables in the gospel, found only in Luke, might provide the basis for a homily. Building a tower is not a useless exercise in vanity. It had a practical use in the vineyard. A modern parallel might be a grain silo or shed. It is ironic that Luke and Jesus pick an example of progressive investment in farming to illustrate a lesson on detachment from property. Obviously, they approve of the venture as it shows where half measures will not do. Half-hearted Christianity is not a profitable affair either.
The ways of God are mysterious, and our inability to understand them is stressed in Today's reading from the book of Wisdom, and were we seriously to consider the message of the other two readings we should perhaps find ourselves asking the question, why should St Paul, having devoted most of his life to the spread of the gospel of Christ, end up a prisoner in chains, with death by violence to follow. Or indeed, why should it be, as stated in the gospel reading, that in order to be a disciple of his Christ says we should carry a cross. Again and again, on our journey through life, we come up against the mystery of suffering, the mystery of the path of the cross which Christ calls us to tread.
One of the saints who suffered all her days, and despite this led a most active life, never allowing herself to be overcome by her troubles, was St Teresa of Avila, foundress of the Discalced Carmelite Sisters. She was an extraordinary person, uniting sublime and mystical holiness with practical good sense and humour. When she heard that her close associate, St John of the Cross, was imprisoned, and being punished as a renegade from the Carmelite Order, she wrote, "God has a terrible way of treating his friends, and in truth he does them no wrong, since that was the way he treated his own Son, Jesus Christ." If Christ then, the all-holy Son of God, submitted to suffering and death, then we his servants cannot expect to be treated any differently from our Master. And this he states for us quite categorically. "Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple."
But we should not picture God as being one who takes an unholy delight in seeing his children suffer. If no earthly father worthy of the name would adopt such an attitude, then how much more so our heavenly Father, who sent his Son to show his love for us, to the extent of sacrificing himself for us. This raises the question, why did Christ, in compliance with the Father's will, have to suffer? Indeed, why should any of us have to suffer? We can approach the problem differently by saying that all sufferings, especially those associated with death, are concrete evidence of the mystery of evil, our tendency to upset God's purpose, in other words to commit sin. At the end of the creation story in Genesis (1:31), we are told that "God saw all he had made and indeed it was good." We can therefore say that everything is truly good in so far as it serves God's purpose. But here and now it is obvious that, both physically and morally, the world is not all good. The culprit is sin, which is not only the root of all evl, but tends to blind people's awareness of this fact.
Evil entered the world because of a human will which opposed the will of God. "Through one man, sin came into the world," St Paul says, "and through sin death. And so death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned" (Rom 5:12). But, he adds, our Saviour Christ Jesus, abolished death and gained life and immortality, because of his utter and absolute dedication to the will of the Father. "If you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved" (Rom 10:9). Note Paul does not say if you believe in your mind, but if you believe in your heart. The heart we associate with emotions, love, trust, confidence. These are the things which give rise to faith, and not intellectual arguments. After the example of Christ we are called to abandon ourselves to the will of God, to take up our daily cross, and to identify with Christ suffering.
But this also means identifying with Christ loving, Christ accepting all the evil that the sinful will of mankind could subject him to. There is nothing in the gospels to suggest that Christ liked suffering. On the contrary, his prayer in Gethsemane was, "Father if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me" (Mt 26:39). But the example of Jesus, as well as that of his sinless mother, shows us that it is impossible, even for the just and virtuous person, to avoid suffering and the effects of the evil power which humanity has unleashed on the world. When St Paul besought God three times to cure him of a certain ailment, the answer he got was, "My grace is all you need; for my power is strongest when you are weak" (2 Cor 12:9f). Paul learned his lesson. "It makes me happy to suffer for you, and in my body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church" (Col 1:24).
When the people turned aside to idols, Moses begs God's pardon for them
The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!' I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation."
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, 'I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Paul's own conversion is a living proof of the mercy of God
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
The parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son
[or shorter version 15:1-10, the text in italics]
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 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."
Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' So he set off and went to his father.
But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe-the best one-and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'
Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"
Most people find it hard to let go of wrongs done to them. Sometimes the incident was deliberate, sometimes unintentional. But some go through life harbouring grudges, making themselves miserable because they will not let bygones be bygones, and will not consign to the past things which happened years ago and are over and done with.
Because we feel like this, we can imagine a God like this too. We picture God as waiting to settle accounts with us some day. Because we can be vindictive, we project this attitude onto God. But isn't this the kind of God put before us today in the Moses story? It sounds from this story as if Moses is more merciful than God, when the people fell into idolatry and worshipped the Golden Calf. Only because of the prayer of Moses did God turn aside from his anger and give his people another chance to reach the Promised Land.
How different is the picture of God that Jesus presents in the gospel today, not an angry God who is not waiting to judge us harshly, but rather a God who wants to be close to us, and wants us to be close to him. The true God is like the loving parent who has lost a child, and cannot rest until the child is safely back in the house.
In our world today we see many proofs that the spirit of hatred, anger and revenge is alive and well. Not only in the tragic civil war raging in Syria, but in other places too, there are guns and weapons of mass destruction waiting to be used on those regarded as enemies. Some have stockpiled chemical weapons while others have stocks of nuclear deterrent enough to destroy the whole planet. How conflicted are the views of politicians who talk of spreading democracy, but are prepared to rain down destruction from the safe shelter of drones, high in the atmosphere.
Forgiveness is all very well when we ask for it for ourselves. But how do we react when forgiveness is extended to others? The father in the parable throws such a big party that the noise can be heard out in the fields. Are we prepared to join in the celebration, if peace can be reached without invoking revenge or punitive strikes? Or are we like the sullen elder brother who resents the party to mark the return of his irresponsible younger brother? Do we find it difficult to accept that God offers the same mercy to everyone, no matter what their past life? What the gospel says today is that even if we might think like that, God never does, and that if we are to be truly Christian, we have to change our attitudes to other people, and to see them as God does, with eyes of understanding and of mercy.
The story of the Prodigal Son actually has no clear ending. We don't know if the elder brother went into the house to join in the celebrations, or whether he stayed outside, seething with self-righteousness. There is no ending, because it is not just a story, it is a challenge, to each one of us. How would you end the story? Would you go in or stay outside?
God loves the just but does not ignore the sinner, for whom there is always a place in his kingdom. The church is not an exclusive club. The Pharisees resent God's mercy. The parable of the lost sheep does not deny the goodness of the virtuous majority but makes the point that there's a special place for the repentant sinner. The lost coin is important to the careful housewife, and her joy at its recovery is shared because it is deeply felt. The sum may be modest but it's sentimental value matters a lot to her. All are V.I.P.s in God's eyes, and especially what was lost and found.
But there is another side to this story: the Prodigal Son "came to his senses." He opened his eyes to see, his ears to hear; he reached out for help, and got in touch with reality. The father's welcome was extraordinary, but it could only happen because the son came back home. Are we willing to let the Father embrace us, and are we prepared to come to our senses too? His mercy is there for any of us who turn to him with all our hearts.
The parable of the prodigal son is a classic of narrative skill that is timelessly relevant. We need to know that a loving Father awaits our return home. We also need the reminder that the same loving God expects us to forgive one another and to keep in touch with one another. The joy of a son's homecoming was spoiled for the father by the sulking of the elder brother.
Was it a mistaken brand of domestic virtue which blocked the elder brother against sympathy for his brother, the foolish waster? God cares and wants us all to care like him, and leaving people in isolation is no part of his plan. The elder son was estranged from his father in spite of living under the same roof. Focussed on his own rights and needs, he did not share his father's concern for his brother's safe return to the family. His scornful reference to "this son of yours" shows how estranged he was from his own flesh and blood. He grieved his father by his jealousy and priggishness preoccupied only with his own interests. Jesus here asks the steady and dutiful to be open to welcome home the wild ones and even the apparent wasters, for that is how things are done above. If good people cannot rise above self-interest, they are strangers to God who keeps open house for us all, and especially for the repentant sinner.
A warning that God is concerned for justice and fair play
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, "When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat." The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
We pray for everyone, including public officials, hoping that all will be saved
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all-this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;
You cannot serve God and wealth
[ or, shorter version: 16:10-13]
Then 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; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And 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."
When I was at school, we were asked to write an essay entitled, "The adventures of a pound note." Nowadays what a TV series could be made tracing the history of a fifty euro note in these times. The average banknote has a life-span of just over twelve months, they say. After being well used and passing through many hands, they are recalled and incinerated. It would be fascinating to follow its story from the moment the fresh crisp note comes off the mint to its burning in the incinerator, some twelve months later. Every crease on it, every stain on it, would have its own story to tell. God only knows where it has been and what it has been spent on, good or for bad. It has its joyful mysteries and its sorrowful mysteries. It might even have its glorious mysteries. Its last owner could have used it to buy a fix of heroin or cocaine, or bribe someone to secure a contract, or buy an official's silence. It could have been picked from a pensioner's pocket, or paid a prostitute for her services. It could also have bought medicine for a sick child or education for a gifted one from a deprived background. And all the countless presents it might have bought to bring some joy into otherwise bleak lives. It could have been an anonymous donation to a worthy cause. It could have been a poor person's gift to someone more needy than themselves. It could have been to the Third World and back. It could have fed a whole family there for a week.
Many people worry about devaluation. They complain about the shrinking purchasing power of their money and they about what their notes could have bought, when they were young. But in a sense money is only devalued by the use we make of it. "Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends," Christ told his disciples, "and so make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity." We may well be depressed at how little it can buy on High Street, but in the poor back streets of this world, it's a precious and elusive thing.
Oscar Wilde described a cynic as "one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." A Christian should be the reverse: one who has less interest in the price of a thing than in its true value.
It was an age when the rich amassed wealth by ruthlessly exploiting and cheating the poor, when fraud and deception were normal in business and banking, when the lawyers were working for the vested interests of the wealthy rather than for justice, when city life had grown corrupt, and when religion had become empty and insincere, mere outward compliance with social custom. No, I'm not listing the ailments of society today; these were the ethical standards in Israel in the days of the prophet Amos, almost 3,000 years ago.
Amos has a sharper message for modern day social behaviour than that of any other Old Testament prophet. He lived in a prosperous period when the threat of war was small, and Israel was enjoying a cultural and economic revival. Expanding trade and commerce brought a steady drift from the country to the cities. But alongside this new prosperity was a new degree of social degradation. The fall away from true religion soon led to a corruption of justice, to wanton and decadent living and the break-up of social cohesion. Amos warned that his would be punished for these wrongs, that her wealth would vanish, her ornate houses would be torn down, and all this was to come true within a generation, when Israel was ruled by the Assyrians, the most hated and feared race in the history of the Middle East.
St Paul once wrote that "The love of money is the root of all evil." He does not say that money itself is the root of all evil, but rather the love of money . Of course money is needed as a means of exchanging goods in every organised society. But a person can become its slave through excessive love of money. It can become a substitute for God in one's life. In George Bernard Shaw's play, Major Barbara, when the rich industrialist was asked what was his religion he answered, "Why, I'm a millionaire. That's my religion!" but life is far more precious than the money we have, the food we eat or the clothes we wear. Possessions are only on loan to us, and in time we must leave them all behind. "Naked I came from my mother's womb," (Job 1:21), "and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away."
Why was the parable of the Unjust Steward included in the gospel, we might wonder. Surely it was because of the Church's concern about the proper use of goods from earliest times. Great personal wealth is rarely acquired without some sharp practice, and so Christ refers to money as somehow tainted. By and large our own society, like that of ancient Israel, is organised not so much for the common good, for the welfare of ordinary people of the working class, but for maximum gain for the wealthy and the priveleged few.
In our attitude to money and property we must keep in mind the words of Jesus, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the merciful, blessed are those who strive for justice." Such people will find true self-fulfilment and the greatest reward of all, of possessing God himself for all eternity, or rather of being possessed by God for all eternity.
Amos laments the wealthy who care nothing for the poor
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.
Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.
Christians should keep the faith they have professed
As for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time-he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
From Hades Mr. Rich (Dives) sees Mr. Poor (Lazarus) sitting at Abraham's side
(Jesus said to the Pharisees): "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.'
He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house- for I have five brothers-that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
An approach in preaching this gospel would be to open out some of the details of the parable; one could open by telling a modern story of such a change of fortune. Cinderella is a common fairy tale that has the same basic plot. She is poor and oppressed, but her state is changed by her fairy godmother and then she is enthroned as the Princess. Jesus used such a story to get home his message. Then the story could be expanded upon, bringing some details that the 21st century listener might not notice. The beggar's name gives us a hint as to his inner attitude. He is called Lazarus, or Eliezer, God will help. The beggar is the man who puts his trust in the Lord and longs for him. The rich man is nameless. He is everyone who closes his heart in the face of the human misery that confrots us daily. The rich man has sumptious food and is clothed in unusually elaborate garments. But his guilt is not mentioned. He did not refuse the poor man anything. He just ignored him. The poor man longed to be filled, but his desire was not fulfilled. The bread that fell was the bread that the guests of the wealthy man used to wipe their fingers clean. It was not even being served to them to be consumed.
Lazarus goes to heaven and basks in the company of Abraham, to whom God's brightest promises were made. The poor wretch, whose poverty on earth was misinterpreted as punishment for his sins, is welcomed by the angels of God. The rich man descends into the darkness and emptiness of the grave. The sermon could focus on the ultimate settling of accounts, to level off all social injustices. It could stress the need to be aware of the poor on our own doorsteps, who are lacking of the necessities for a decent life? The rich man did not really deny the existence of Lazarus, he just ignored it, or felt it was in the normal scheme of things. In the richer countries, kept aware by the media of their domestic economic problems, there can be an ostrich mentality that ignores the dire needs of the outside world. The promise of life after death should not be used as an anaesthetic to dull the need to work for justice in the real world.
Another option is to start with the state of the rich man in Hades. He has fallen from his real privileged position as a son of Abraham. The rich man did not really listen to the message of the prophets. Abraham says that the five brothers will not be able to change their way of life if they do not do so through listening to God's word. The sermon could tackle the falseness of ethereal devotions that stress the extraordinary but ignore the social implications of the real gospel. The circumstances of each community will be important in how this gospel of justice in faith is to be preached.
The parable of "Mr. Rich and Mr. Poor" is a warning for prosperous people in our prosperous countries. Indifference to the needs of the poor is against the gospel. The gospel contrasts the two attitudes, that of Lazarus, the image of the poor, the downtrodden, those left penniless by the greed of the wealthy and the tax-collectors, and whose only hope was in the mercy of God, and on the other hand that of the rich man, clothed extravagantly, and feasting magnificently every day, self-sufficient, not seeing any need whatsoever to beg for God's mercy.
Help is at hand for the poor, who for a short while share in Christ's sufferings so as to share in his glory. For as St Paul tells us, "What we suffer in this life can't be compared to the glory which is awaiting us." But for anyone who stores up treasure in this world instead of becoming rich in the sight of God, death brings the realisation that his life was wasted, that his spirit wants to be possessed by God, but cannot do so because it has become fixed in its ways. As a man lives, so shall he die.
How should we set about ensuring that we are on the way to heaven? Firstly, desire it above all else. "There is one thing I ask of the Lord; for this I long; to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life" (Ps 26). Secondly, to try to bear life's crosses with patience and faith. Thirdly, to use this world without becoming engrossed in it, as St Paul says, "because the world as we know it is passing away." (1 Cor 7:31). Take each day as a gift and try to live it well. The closer we live to God in our daily lives the more intense will be our longing to see him face to face. With the Psalmist we will find ourselves saying, "my soul thirsts for God, the God of my life. When can I enter and see the face of God" (Ps 42).
As respect for religion diminishes the secular calendar grows. We are all aware now of Father's Day and Mother's Day and all the other days designated for certain dates. We shouldn't really complain, as many of our religious feasts were originally pagan festivals that we baptised. Now it would seem the process is being reversed. The latest addition to our secular calendar is Animal Day early in October. While we don't begrudge our fur and feathered friends a little bit of special attention the annual expenditure on pet animals is now enormous. Dogs and other household pets are no longer fed on the scraps that fall from our tables, as they were in former times. Advertising for dog-food and cat-food gives an indication of how dramatically our pets' eating habits have changed. With what we spend on them, we could feed all of the poor people who are dying of starvation.
If when we listen to today's gospel about Lazarus and the rich man, we tend to identify with Lazarus, we miss the whole point of the story. We, collectively, are the rich man. In Europe we have a mountain of beef, a mountain of cereals, a mountain of butter, a lake of wine and a lake of milk, that cost us a fortune to maintain. These are only the crumbs that fall from our table. Amos" warning is aimed directly at us: "Woe to those ensconced snugly in Zion." The problem about being collectively responsible for the world's starving masses is that we can so easily shrug off our personal responsibility. You may be living in a bed-sitter with few comforts or struggling to meet the mortgage repayments on your home. Yet all the services we benefit from, our public transport system, our education, our health services etc. derive from the rich man's club to which we belong. We dine at the rich man's table.
Much of our wealth derives from the natural resources our forefathers looted from the Third World. We still take their primary resources for a pittance, like the tea and coffee we drink, and sell it back to them at exorbitant prices. And now, adding insult to injury, our ships are plying the seas in search of a Third World country willing to accept our toxic waste. Having robbed them of their riches we are now returning our rubbish to them.
If we are beginning to wake up to the danger it not because our conscience has finally got to us, but because we realise that we are spoiling our own world. Our revelry is coming home to roost. In that memorable phrase of Amos, "the revelry is over." Our world is too small to bear such inequalities. Unless we share our table with the world's hungry, we will all end up in a hell of our own creation.
When the prophet mourns injustice, God promises a day of justice
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
Like his teacher Paul, Timothy must make sacrifices for his ministry
For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God.
Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Faith the size of a mustard seed can achieve great things
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.
"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing 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!'"
"Lord increase our faith," the apostles asked Jesus. Elsewhere they requested, "Lord teach us how to pray" (Lk 11:1). In essence the two requests were the same. For to pray is to focus the heart on God, to love and trust God, to have faith in God's concern for us. Every prayer is an act of faith in God, and conversely every we turn to God in faith, we are praying. It is no more possible to have faith without prayer than to swim without water. But we must try to pray to God in the right spirit. For often we are trying to bring God around to our way of thinking rather than putting our thoughts under God's guidance.
Sometimes perhaps, we regard prayer as a kind of magical last resort, worth a try when all else fails. There is a story about a lawyer walking along a street with a friend who was something of a scholar. When they came to a ladder leaning over the sidewalk and against a house which was being painted, the friend refused to pass under it. "Surely you don't believe in that superstition, said the lawyer. "No, I don't exactly believe in it," was the reply, "but I never waste a chance of avoiding an accident." Well, maybe that's how some of us approach prayer. We don't strongly believe in it, but we admit the possibility that it might work, as a last resort. So we could join in that request, "Lord, increase our faith; Lord, teach us how to pray."
Jesus did not just teach his friends how to pray, he showed them how, bhis own y example. Never did any human being pray as he did. Even in the middle of a sermon he would turn to God and address him as Father. Early in the morning he would steal away to the hillside, his favourite place for quiet prayer. It was his custom, whenever he visited Jerusalem, to pray at night in the Garden of Gethsemane, so his being there on the night of his arrest was not unusual. On that occasion we know that "being in anguish he prayed the longer." What he prayed that night is clearly reported. "Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will, not mine be done" (Lk 22:42f). Well, the Father did not take away the cup of suffering from Jesus. But by embracing the will of God, something greater was to follow for Jesus, his resurrection from the dead. "Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain" (Jn 12:24).
The letter to the Hebrews sums it up: "During his life on earth, he offered prayer and petition, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to raise him from the dead, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard." May God grant that our prayer may be heard also, and that being guided through life by the spirit of Jesus we may be in his company for ever in heaven.
If they could see me now, I've often found myself wondering what my parents or friends would think of me if they were present at this or that encounter, whether generous or mean. Many feel this need to be seen by others, especially for appreciation or praise. It can reach the stage when no worthy action is done for its own sake; unless there's an audience of some kind to give us credit, we hardly think it worthwhile. How easy it is to dress up things with a superficial cosmetic of virtue, "in order to be seen by men?" Yet only God sees the heart and knows the motive.
Certainly the opinions of others matter. But what counts in the long run is how our God sees us, not mere "opinion," but God's unerring vision, compassionate yet total. Nothing compares with that judgment. The basic question is this: have you been faithful in serving? Because of fidelity, the righteous will live. Life in God's friendship, the state of grace, does not depend on social stature or reputation, but on a secret, inner quality. As St. Paul says, one cannot even fully judge oneself. Upon this profound question of righteousness, we can only trust in God's mercy, while making an honest effort to serve Him. Then the principle will apply: for the one who loves God, all things work together unto good.
Unprofitable servants? A better word might be ordinary. The servants had done their duty, which was what could be expected of them. Too often we Christians take a casual attitude towards the service of God. We treat prayer as a casual option, the commandments as a burden and restriction to be periodically neglected, and works of charity as a rare event for which should expect congratulations. But if we take the words of Christ to heart, we would regard all these things as normal service. The standards he sets are much higher than those we habitually live by. What a new complexion things would have if we all became willing servants towards God, doing each ordinary thing according to His will.
But who will get us started? If I decided to do things simply for God's approval, would I not be exploited and despised by others? So, while I'm taken by the ideal, I won't commit until others adopt the same spirit of social responsibility. The rat-race is nobody's fault, and yet it's everybody's. The change to a new spirit of mutual service can only begin when individuals embrace this ideal for its own sake. "Ask not what your country can do for you,
Ultimately, this is the way to salvation. The just person shall live by fidelity. When all of life's days have been lived, and the Master comes to judge our individual performance, only those who have given generous service will feel at home in his company. And then we will realize that this was the right way to live in God's sight "Well done good and faithful servant," God will say; and we will answer simply it was no more than our duty."
When Naaman heeds Elisha and washes in the Jordan he is cured
Naaman the leper went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy and he was clean.
Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant." But he said, "As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!" He urged him to accept, but he refused. Then Naaman said, "If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.
Preaching is a hard vocation; but we will also reign with Christ
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David-that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful-for he cannot deny himself.
Of the ten lepers cured, only one returned to express 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."
A friend was once rushed to hospital with a serious pain in his back, the result of an old football injury. He was successfully operated and began to make rapid recovery. In fact, so relieved was he at the result of his operation, that he could hardly say enough in praise of his surgeon, the nurses and the whole hospital. I never again heard him complain about our health services.
At such a time of recovery, it is normal to feel a sense of gratitude for those looking after us. We tend to feel a new joy in living and thank God for being spared from the worse ailments we saw around us in the hospital. My friend even dropped into a chapel on his way home, to say a prayer of thanks, a man that's usually careful not to show any outward signs of piety! However, the real test of gratitude comes later when the sense of relief has worn off. Do we remember then what people did for us? Do we still say thanks to God, who saved our life?
There's an old custom of saying "Thank God" after remarking about fine weather, success in business or at school, the safe arrival of a child or a recovery from illness. It's a good custom, built on a long tradition of faith and prayer. Sometimes we might wonder whether it comes merely from the lips and not from the heart; whether a people truly grateful to God would not show it more in their way of life. A grateful people would show more signs of sharing what they have with the less fortunate. They would hardly be as concerned as we seem to be with private gain, while so many are unemployed and the continuing politics of austerity threatens the survival of elderly people and the chronically ill.
One of the most satisfying feelings is to receive a sincere "Thank you" for a service rendered and appreciated. We may not always be able to cope gracefully with the situation; we might even be embarrassed by the warmth of another's gratitude for something that didn't cost us any great inconvenience; but still there's joy in being thanked for things we've done. The contrary also holds, of course: nothing is quite so hurtful as to be consistently taken for granted, without ever a word of thanks or praise. One out of ten was a fairly poor proportion; but then, truly appreciative people, willing to make sacrifice to show their thanks, are rare enough.
After Mass, we will bring this thankful spirit into practical social expression in our treatment of others; seeing our life as gift, we should be better able to accept the realities of daily living and share our blessings with others in a generous spirit.
We in the developed world pride ourselves in having the best democratic system in human history, a claim which indeed is debatable. We rightly individual freedom and liberty, the right to choose freely. Yet how often people are swayed by pressure groups and show no scruples about inflicting hardship and curtailment of their liberties on others, in order to gain our own ends. We do not suffer dictators gladly but sometimes we want to dictate to God, make God do things our way, acquiesce to our wishes or leave us masters of our own destiny. There are some who abandon faith and prayer, because God has not granted their requests.
This was the inclination of Naaman the leper, the army commander of the King of Syria, as he bargained with God. Hoping to be cured of his leprosy by prophet Elisha, Naaman arrived laden with gifts of silver and gold, to pay for his cure. The prophet did not even come out to meet him, but only sent a message telling him to wash seven times in the river Jordan. This left Naaman deeply offended and disappointed and he prepared to return to Syria, raging. Why wash in this particular river, when there were so many bigger and cleaner rivers at home? "Here was I thinking Elisha would cure the leprous part," he said, fuming.
Things had not gone as he had planned. It was only when his servants pointed out how simple was the prophet's request that he was persuaded to try it and so was cured. Come to think of it, how often do we behave like Naaman. "Why do I have to go to church, when I can worship God out in the open air on Sundays?" "Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest, when I can tell them directly to God?" "Why does God send me the cross of sickness, when I could do so much good if I were healthy?" We even find such attitudes among our Lord's disciples. "Why do you not show us the Father?" Philip said to him. Some complained, "He says intolerable things and how could anyone accept it?" and they walked with him no more. This reaction of unbelief is often found. But it stands to Naaman's credit that he thought again, was cured and then returned to thank Elisha.
The way we think is often not God's way. Things happen in God's own time and way. We need to make an act of faith God's conditions, not on ours. We must cease regarding God as a kind of super-puppet who will react in the desired way when we pull the right strings. When we need a favour, the Gospel reminds us to ask with prayer and thanksgiving, because God answers every prayer for help, even if not precisely in the way we imagine, since God only grants what is for our good. Our habit should be to thank God from the heart, like Naaman after his cure, like the grateful leper who returned to express appreciation of God's gift. There is a sadness in the failure of the other nine to say a personal "thank you," for what Jesus had done for them.
As Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." The Eucharist we celebrate here is a reminder never to forget God's greatest gift to us, his own Son, our Saviour. If we concentrate too much on asking for things, there is a danger that we may reduce our Mass to the level of magical thinking, a way of turning God to our way of thinking. How much better if we can open our hearts and our lives to whatever God wants for us, which is sure to be the best that can happen to us in the long run.
When Moses prays with arms outstretched, God gives victory to his people
Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand." So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.
Timothy stays with the sound doctrine he has been taught since childhood
As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
Like the persevering widow calling for justice, we are never to grow discouraged
Then 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.'"
And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
Rome was not built in a day: No great work can ever be achieved without long and patients effort. Look at the art of Michaelangelo, the Beethoven concertos, the cathedral of Notre Dame (How many chisel-strokes to release the Pieta from its marble shroud? How many brush-strokes to transfer the Last Judgment from Michaelangelo's teeming imagination to the sanctuary wall of the Sistine?.) Not just the world's teeming artists and leaders, but everyman, are/is involved in a work of great significance, needing persevering courage to see it through to a successful conclusion; and that work is our salvation. To achieve it, we must co-operate vigorously with God, and in a sense struggle with Him. Today's liturgy invites us to consider two picturesque examples of perseverance in prayer, and the final success that this achieves.
Moses with upraised arms: Moses, the man of God, stands on the hilltop interceding for his people who are struggling for their survival in the valley below, attacked by the violent tribe of Amalek. His arms are raised in the classic gesture of intercession (later immortalized in the Cross of Christ, and still used by the celebrant at Mass.) When, out of sheer weariness, his arms begin to droop, Israel fares badly in the battle. With the help of friends he manages to persevere in his mediating prayer, until victory is won. A beautiful prophetic image for Christ, whose prayer continued even when his soul was sorrowful, even unto death. It supports the ideal of intercessory prayer on behalf of others-not, however, in a superficial way or for petty requests; but for matters of life and death, for salvation, release from sin, recovery from depression, strength to cope with problems, perseverance. And when we pray these things for others, we must do so seriously, with a love that is ready for practical service too.
The widow who would not quit: This quality of dogged perseverance in order to gain an important target is by no means limited to men. History-and our own experience-shows many examples of obstinate struggle by women to achieve particular aims (Joan of Arc; suffragettes; mothers overcoming all bureaucratic barriers on behalf of family.) The style of campaign may be different; but the perseverance and the courage are just as valuable. Today we have the story of the widow, who kept up her petition until finally she forced the judge to try her case and give her justice. Her situation was that of a poor person under threat, but with the law firmly on her side. There was no doubt about the justice of her case, but the problem was to have it taken into court at all. She stands for the need to pray constantly on our own behalf, as well as on behalf of others. We must recognize the depth of our need (especially for peace, love, grace and salvation), and turn to God in a continual petition to answer our needs. Of course, God is not unheeding-like the slothful judge of the parable-but often seems to leave our prayers unanswered for a long while. His will, according to Our Blessed Lord, is that we persevere in prayer and never abandon hope. Persevering In Catholic Practise: More than most other societies, our Catholic Church has urged, and continues to urge, the value of remaining faithful to Certain practises: in our case, personal prayer and the community sacrifice of Sunday Mass. Styles of prayer may change, and there may be improvements in the form of our liturgy; but the basic call of the Church remains the same: to keep up the practise of prayer, both public and private; not to let laziness hold us back, or discouragement cause us to lose confidence in the value of speaking with God. Then with persevering prayer as a fountainhead will flow the strength of faith, and continual renewal of charity that we need for conducting daily life in the proper spirit. So, over a long period, and after many failures followed by sincere renewals, we will make a success of the one great project God has set for our lives. Into his presence we will come, a people who have kept faith with Him across the years in the wilderness, and who finally come to rest in the Kingdom which Christ has promised.
There is a way to pray with the heart, which God cannot but hear, and he cannot but answer. To speak from the heart is to speak to the heart. God can read the human heart, and that is more important than any words I might say.
It is early October, and the family were sitting around eating their dinner. For whatever reason, Christmas came into the conversation. In the course of the conversation, the mother asked young John what he wanted for Christmas, and, after a long pause, he said "A bicycle." The months went by, and the word "bicycle" was never mentioned again. Not even when the mother bought roller blades for John at Christmas, with which he was delighted. She had decided that, if he really wanted a bicycle, she would have heard about nothing else for all the weeks coming up to Christmas,
There was something that the widow wanted, and, despite all his toughness, the judge just had to give in to her eventually, because she had no intention of letting go, or giving up. If I met an alcoholic who wants to get sober, my initial question is "How badly do you want it? Do you want it bad enough that you are prepared to do what it takes to achieve sobriety?" I knew a young lad who wanted to work for a particular firm, and they had no vacancies. So we went back there eleven times in one month, until the personnel officer threw his hands in the air, and gave him a job!
After speaking about the evil judge Jesus speaks about his Father. If even the judge gave in, how much more certainly will our heavenly Father respond to our prayers? As I said earlier, God can read the heart, and he knows whether I really want what I ask. I don't pretend to understand this, because I know parents who, at this moment, are begging for the life of their daughter, and it is not likely that their prayers will be answered. I like to think that God gives us what we ask for, unless he has something better to give us. For these parents, they cannot possibly see how God could have something better to give them than a daughter whom they dearly love.
The prayer in today's gospel is the prayer of petition. It is an important form of prayer, of course, but not the most important. Prayer of praise is the highest form of prayer; but, of course, that is greatly augmented, when my prayers of petition are granted. There can be some confusion around the whole area of prayer. If my prayers are always prayers of petition, I run the risk of being selfish and self-centred; except, of course, when the prayers of petition are for others. Like one of the ten lepers, I can ask, and, when my prayer is answered, I can return to give thanks.
The prayer of the humble will reach to the clouds
The Lord is the judge,
and with him there is no partiality.
He will not show partiality to the poor;
but he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged.
He will not ignore the supplication of the orphan,
or the widow when she pours out her complaint.
Do not the tears of the widow run down her cheek
as she cries out against the one who causes them to fall?
The one whose service is pleasing to the Lord will be accepted,
and his prayer will reach to the clouds.
The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds,
and it will not rest until it reaches its goal;
it will not desist until the Most High responds
and does justice for the righteous and executes judgment.
Indeed, the Lord will not delay,
Paul has fought the good fight and will receive the crown of glory
I am already being poured out as a libation and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Two men went up to the temple to pray; two contrasting approaches to God
Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."
Opposites Attract: In marriage and other human relationships we often notice how two unlike personalities complement each other, like the positive and negative sides of a magnetic field. One partner shows a natural flair for leadership and the other is happy to follow that lead, at least in many areas. Among ourselves, the taking of initiatives will be shared back and forth of course, neither partner being fully passive with respect to the other; but with God there is only one proper relationship: he is the powerful giver and we the dependent receivers.
This weakness on our side, this dependency towards our Creator and Father, is in fact our way to peace. As Paul so clearly saw: "when I am weak, then am I strong; I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (2 Cor. 12:10; Phil. 4:13.) The apostles attributed all their abilities and successes (cures, conversions) to the power of God, working through them. Only when we are humble in God's presence can he do great things in us, as Our Lady so well declares, "He casts the mighty from their thrones and exalts the lowly."
Why Humility? People often feel awkward about regarding humility as a virtue at all. Is it really a good thing to feel small? Or does it harm our ego and our self-confidence. Perhaps the word "humble" is too often misused, applied without much thought to dwellings that are shoddy or neglected, to efforts that are half-hearted failures and to characters who adopt a pose of false modesty in order to win approval.
Genuine humillity is nothing more nor less than recognizing our inward truth. It is seeing ourselves at a profound level, in God's presence, with no pretences and no poses. Every individual in the presence of the All-Holy, All-Powerful God comes to recognize himself/herself as weak, imperfect and indeed sinful; and with this comes a deep sense of our need for mercy. In this situation, there is no bribe that we can offer, to distract God's attention from our guilt. There is no pressure we can exert (as we might among ourselves) in order to gain a credit we do not deserve. The only resource that really helps is a humble spirit; only this incentive draws down on us divine mercy and the grace we need for good living. The Publican felt this need for complete honesty, as he stood in the Temple of God. "Lord, be merciful," he said; and went home with his sins forgiven and with relief in his heart.
Virtue Spoilt By Pride: But tell me, what's wrong with this Pharisee, if anything? In many ways he leads an admirable life and gives good example within the Jewish tradition. If we accept his own version of himself, he kept all the rules, from fasting and almsgiving to honesty and purity. There was real effort there, an admirable commitment to holiness, within his tradition. But this all caused him to forget that he remained weak and sinful, like other people. His reputed holiness becomes the centre of his prayer. He goes so far as to despise others, while giving thanks for his own good qualities. And by this attitude, he spoils the effect of his other virtues. Pride is like a worm, destroying the apple at its core. Indeed, it turns him from speaking to God, to talking about himself. His prayer dies.
Collective Pharisaism? Can we apply this warning to our personal attitude, towards God and towards others? Do we Catholics sometimes take a stance of collective pride, towards those who don't belong to our Church. Of course, we rightly regard ours as the fullest expression of Christ's Church and maintain that Catholicism defends moral standards, a vigorous liturgical life and a visible world-wide unity among believers. And we should be thankful for these things and want to share them with all who are searching for the truth. But isn't there also a niggling temptation to look down on other churches, to disparage their values or under-rate the sincerity of their members? We must guard against any narrow, self-righteous Catholicism and keep up that respect for other Christian communities that was promoted by our last Church Council. Leave God to judge the merits of other persons and their faiths. It is enough for us to trust in his mercy, recognise our own imperfections and place our hope in the merits of Crist, applied to us through his holy sacrifice.
The Great Achievers: There is a tradition in rural Ireland for men to congregate at the back of the church during Sunday Mass. In the recent past, it was customary for them to take off their caps, place them on the floor and kneel on them on one knee. Generations of peevish parish priests thundered at them from the altar, in an effort to eradicate the custom. But this was one battle the parish priests of Ireland lost. I don't know when it originated. It has been suggested, with some plausibility, that it derived from the penal times when there were no churches. The Mass-houses and cabin-chapels were small primitive buildings, providing shelter only for the priest and a handful of the faithful. The men remained outside, exposed to the elements, leaving to women and children whatever shelter was available.
If we could get this story into my heart, we would be helped enormously in our grasp and practice of the gospel. It spells out how to come before God and how not to come before God.
A newly commissioned colonel had just moved into his office, when a private entered with a toolbox. To impress the private, the colonel said "be with you in a moment, soldier! I just got a call as you were knocking." Picking up the phone, the colonel said "General, it's you! How can I help you?" A dramatic pause followed. Then the colonel said "No problem. I'll phone Washington and speak to the President about it." Putting down the phone, the colonel said to the private "Now, what can I do for you?" The private shuffled his feet and said sheepishly, "Oh, just a little thing, sir. They sent me to hook up your phone'!
My generation were given all the rules and regulations and we were told to remain faithful to those and not deviate in any way and that we would so merit heaven. The religion I had growing up was to keep people from going to hell. Spirituality, on the other hand, is the only thing that frees those who have already been in hell., Ask anybody in recovery from addictions, compulsions, etc. Religion is about externals, it's what we do and it's about control. Spirituality, on the other hand, is what God does, it is internal and it's about surrender.
But the way to holiness is to discover that I'm a bigger sinner than I ever thought I was! The closer I come to God, the more obvious the sin is. It is a long journey from the Pharisee at the front to the Publican at the back. It is a journey of repentance and of facing up to the truth. It is a journey that Life will provide if I have the courage and honesty to find it. If I still think that I should be still up at the front with the Pharisee, then my life will be riddled with guilt and I will never find peace.
The Publican knew his place before God. God is the Creator, I am the creature. I am a sinner, Jesus is Saviour. Unlike the Pharisee, I have no right to compare myself to anyone else. All judgement is to be left to God. I can look at the most hardened criminal and say "There, but for the grace of God, go I." I have no reason to boast whatever. I could have been born to any parents, in any country, at any time. I did not select my sexuality, the colour of my skin, or my religious beliefs. With total conviction, I can stand before God and pray "Oh, God, be merciful to me a sinner."
Check your own attitude before God. It is like going out into the back garden on a warm sunny day, lying back in a deckchair and getting a suntan. The only thing you did was to make yourself available; the sun did all the rest. Don't ever over-emphasise the importance of your contribution when you stand before God.
We are all the same when we stand before God!
Wisdom makes us humble in God's presence
In your sight, Lord, the whole world is like a grain of dust that tips the scales, like a drop of morning dew falling on the ground. Yet you are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook men's sins so that they can repent. Yes, you love all that exists, you hold nothing of what made in abhorrence, for had you hated anything, you would not have formed it. And how, had you not willed it, could a thing persist, how be conserved if not called forth by you? You spare all things because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life, you whose imperishable sprit is in all. Little by little, therefore, you correct those who offend, you admonish and remind them of how they have sinned so that they may abstain from evil and trust in you Lord.
Warning against being too alarmed about the Day of the Lord
We always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.
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."
The final verse in today's Gospel can help us interpret many other stories about Jesus. His key mission was "to seek out and save what was lost." Perhaps his words can be turned around paradoxically, and rephrased to read: we cannot be found unless we lose ourselves; unless we are found by Jesus, we cannot be saved.
To be found by Jesus meant that Zacchaeus had to give up and lose much of himself. He set aside his dignity by climbing up the sycamore tree, and then promised much of his wealth would go in paying back those he had defrauded. We should not how Jesus also set aside his dignity as a man of God by going to dine at the home of such a notorious sinner. Zacchaeus, after all, was chief tax collector in the city of Jericho, through which many pilgrims passed on their way to festivals at Jerusalem. This city funneled all the wealth of the East towards the capital.
When Jesus came to where Zacchaeus sat up in the sycamore tree, he looked up and called him, "Hurry on down!" — for he had seen a spirit of repentance in Zacchaeus’ heart. Indeed, "the Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost."
In Eleazar’s case, he was called not just to a change of lifestyle but to hand over his life by martyrdom. Again, by losing, he gained much, for while dying, he expressed an inner joy because of his devotion to the Lord God. Eleazar’s martyrdom brought a blessing for the entire Jewish nation, leaving such an unforgettable example of loyalty to God.
Whatever else about Zacchaeus, he certainly was a seeker, a searcher. The text says that "he was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was." In his search to know Jesus, he was prepared, quite literally, to go out on a limb, the limb of a tree. This would have been considered a rather undignified place to be for a man of his status. Zaccaeus does something extravagant in order to see Jesus, to come to know him. In the course of his search he discovered that the one he was searching for was also searching for him. "I must stay at your house today," said Jesus who came to seek out and to save the lost. Zacchaeus who was searching discovered that he was the object of a greater search. When Zacchaeus then offered Jesus hospitality, he also discovered that a greater hospitality was being offered to him, the hospitality of God through Jesus. "Today, salvation has come to his house, because this man too is a son of Abraham." Jesus declared that this man belonged to God’s people; there was room for him at God’s table, in spite of the murmuring of the crowd. The story we have just heard reminds us all that our movement towards God is always overshadowed by God’s movement towards us. When we take a small step towards the Lord, we discover that he has already taken a giant step towards us.
Martyrdom of the brothers and their mother: faith in the resurrection
It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine's flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, "What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors." And when he was at his last breath, he said, "You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws."
After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands and said nobly, "I got these from Heaven and because of his laws I disdain them and from him I hope to get them back again."
As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man's spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing. After he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way. When he was near death, he said, "One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!"
May the Lord direct your hearts!" Paul prays for their fidelity in the faith
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.
And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
Jesus teaches resurrection, because God is truly a God of the living
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."
We would regard it as foolish to set out on a journey without considering where we are going. In a broad sense, of course, our pilgrimage through life is largely a journey into the unknown, a journey towards the destiny God sets for us. However, a hope which is already visible is not hope any longer; for how can one hope for what one already sees? Much of our traditional images of heaven and hell stems from a section of Jewish writings, the Apocalyptic literature (which is not in the Hebrew canon of scripture) and also from writings and paintings of the Middle Ages, for example Dante's Inferno and Michelangelo's paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. During this month of the Holy Souls, it is good to recall the sober teaching of the Church about the condition of those who have gone before us and what kind of assistance we can hope to give them.
The teaching of the Church says that for all those who die without having properly repented their sins, there is a purification in the next life; also, that these departed souls can be helped by the prayers of the faithful still in this life, and especially through offering the Mass on their behalf. The Church teaches nothing about the nature of this purification, or its duration. It is purely popular imagination which imagines Purgatory as a kind of hell with a lower temperature. Most of our thinking about future existence is pure guesswork. The Cure of Ars, the mystic St John Vianney, when once asked about the life hereafter simply said, "I know nothing of to-morrow, except that the love of God will rise before the sun."
The important thing is that we have Christ's word of promise that he made at the Last Supper. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me. In my Father's house there are many rooms and I am going to prepare a place for you". But these words, however consoling, should not make us complacent, for we are continually being challenged to choose between the grace of God and our own selfish cravings. If we do not respond to the love of God we experience a sense of profound unrest and loneliness.
John Henry Newman in his long poem "The Dream of Gerontius" wrote of the healing process of Purgatory ridding of the last traces of selfishness and so preparing us to live for ever in God's presence, face to face. To be confronted with the perfection of the glorified person of Christ can at first cause anguish to the souls of the departed. But the Lord is there to heal that soul and draw it to heaven. And this is what we pray for the Holy Souls in this month of November.
The riddle the Sadducees use in today's gospel is exaggerated and humorous; but it was their way of setting the question about whether there is an afterlife, and see how Jesus would respond. In the afterlife, we will presumably be free of the bodily constraints and appetites that are part of our present experience. We will all be like children in God's presence, fully complete in love, no longer needing what we need in this world.
Somehow, there is an inherent resurrection-hope within the human heart. But nobody comes back to tell us the details about the afterlife. It is what Shakespeare so memorably called "The undiscovered country from which no traveller returns." And yet we can look at it more hopefully through the eyes of the great apostle Paul who said: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of any person to imagine what God has in store for those who love him."
Theme: In this final portion of the church's year, the liturgy reminds us of the 'last things' and today, in particular, the end of the world. We should live our lives in the light of eternity.
The Day of the Lord will bring condemnation or salvation
See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
All should try to earn their own living and not be burden to others
You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.
For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
Jesus warns his disciples to beware of false prophets
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"
And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them. "When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately."
Then he aid to them, "Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
"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.
As we draw near to the end of the liturgical year we may wonder, how seriously should we take the gospel predictions about the end of this world and the day of judgment?" In reflecting on this, we should keep in mind life's one great certainty, that one day we will die. The moment of death will put an end, absolutely and beyond recall, to all our works, all our plans, all the seemingly vital concerns which lend a certain purpose to our daily involvement. Every human soul that has cast off this worldly body goes forth into the unknown like a traveller entering into unexplored territory. Cardinal Newman once wrote about the hereafter, "Do not fear that your life shall come to an end, but rather that it shall never have a beginning." It is when our new life begins that understanding of our present life will be clear to us, how we carried out our role in the spread of God's kingdom.
In these final Sundays of our church year the liturgy invites us to look beyond our immediate worries, troubles, interests and largely selfish concerns. It confronts us with the four last things death, judgment, heaven and hell. People who never look beyond the immediate here-and-now may resent the idea of asking us to think on these things, but there is nothing morbid about it. For if we are exiles and wayfarers on this earth, we are drawing ever nearer to our ultimate home in heaven, a thought that need not fill us with sorrow, but with a longing to be with Christ in the life to come.
It is useless speculating about time of the second coming of Christ, even although many of the early Christians expected it in their own lifetime. But the message in this Gospel is to be watchful, to let the thought of what is to come guide our present life, since the trials of this life are small compared with the glory to come. Nor should we be alarmed by the imagery of wars, earthquakes, famines, stars falling from the heavens. These are Jewish apocalyptic terms employed by the early Church to denote their hope for some radical changes at the second coming of Christ.
If we love God we need never be alarmed, for perfect love casts out all fear. But until the day when the Lord calls us, we must try to be ready and prepared to meet him. This after all is what he taught us: We must watch and we must pray.
We have a growing realisation as we get older that life is short and that each of us will face the moment of death, within a limited number of days and years, and indeed of heartbeats. Last Sunday, we thought about the after-life and about entrusting our future into God's hands. But how seriously should we take the words of today's Gospel about the end of the world and the day of judgement? It is difficult to know what to believe about the Last Day. There are sects and groups who claim to know the exact date of the Lord's coming, and the failure of various previous predictions does not appear to unduly discourage them from setting yet another date for Armageddon.
People have every right to be wary of street-corner orators who seem to delight in uttering threats and warnings in God's name, about catastrophes about to befall the world. We notice how Jesus warns against believing too readily in such predictions. Even though he himself used the idea of the coming day of judgement as a motive to turn people's hearts back to God, he also said that about the day and the time of this event, "no man knows, not even the Son, but the Father only."
There are too many references to the Final Judgement in our Scripture for us to easily dismiss it as just a figure of speech. And indeed, spiritual people have found important benefits in keeping the Judgement-Day as part of the horizon against which we look at things and assess them at their real value. Seeing our problems, our successes and our wishes in the light of eternity, sub specie aeternitatis, often puts them into a new and different light and one which helps us to judge as God sees things.
Could we follow the classic devotional advice once favoured by preachers, to "always live as though each day may be your last?" For most people, it is probably neither possible nor desirable to regularly centre that much attention on the final things. Sobering and spiritually purifying on occasion, yes; but most days, one must be like Martha in the Gospel story who was fully occupied with her daily work, busy with many things. That's also the practical advice given by St Paul to people in his day who spent their time excitably looking out for the Lord's return and gave up caring about such ordinary tasks as planting and harvesting the crops, keeping up with their business or doing the housework. "Go on quietly minding your own affairs. And if anyone will not work, neither let him eat!"
David of Bethlehem becomes king of a united country
All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, "Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel."
So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord and they anointed David king over Israel.
A hymn to Jesus as the living head of the Church
We give thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
The crucified Jesus is the King who leads into paradise
And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
While Jesus hung on the cross, he was mocked as "the king of the Jews." The inscription on the cross over him calling him by that title was meant to be ironic. And yet Jesus had told Pontius Pilate, "I am a king. I was born for this. I came into the world for this" but he also declared that his kingship was not of this world. Today it is only with difficulty that we can empathise with kingship. To the mind of most people in the modern world the concept of kingly rule has echoes of authoritarianism, class distinction and a world of unjust, unearned privilege, but this is far from the biblical notion. The kingship of Christ is non-political, universalist and non-national. Its core is a special kind of justice, not based on fallible human laws, but with help and protection for the weak, the poor and the helpless. If the justice of God really operated in our world it would bring peace between nations, and between individuals.
It is interesting how people vested with royal and imperial power were at a loss when confronted with the moral power of Christ. Their reaction was to strike out blindly, to use violence against his threat to their power. For power is often recognised only by winning in a contest. In Jesus' time, justice in many ways trampled underfoot by the rule of the powerful in the days of the Roman empire. To remedy this a completely fresh start was necessary, something that he alone could initiate, ultimately through the complete sacrifice of himself. Although Christ died in apparent powerlessness, nevertheless he holds real, spiritual power, which will be revealed at the end of time. The repentant thief caught a glimpse of this when he called out, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God in parables, in every one of which a mystery lies hidden. For example, to Jews the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds, the most insignificant of all things. Yet out of it comes a huge tree. God's kingdom comes in a hidden way, even in spite of seeming failure. But, as with the mustard seed, this small beginning holds the promise of a magnificent ending. "I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us," St Paul wrote (Rom 8:18). At first sight there seems to be a contradiction between the present and the future in Jesus' references to the kingdom. The kingdom is here and now, we are told and yet we are asked to look forward and in the Our Father pray, "Thy kingdom come." Jesus gives the answer to this. "The kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, "Look here it is," or, "There it is," because the kingdom of God is within you" (Lk 17:20f).
Paul speaks of Jesus Christ at the end of time handing over the kingdom to God the Father. Today's Preface repeats this, describing Christ's kingdom as one of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice. love and peace. This ideal is not to be merely a future hope but is to be worked for in the present. The kingdom is our hope, but somehow it is also in our midst, in the process of becoming. The gospel tells us how we are to promote the fuller coming of God's kingdom among us. It comes whenever justice is done for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the oppressed. To behave in this way is to imitate the Shepherd-King himself who is presented in our Gospels as one who rescues from situations of alienation, who feeds, gives rest, heals and makes strong. Among his final words was a promise to the thief being crucified at his side, that he would be enfolded by the eternal love of God, in paradise.
The way to serve Christ our King is to work for the coming of his kingdom. In working for the relief of the deprived, the oppressed and the outcast we are serving Christ in person, because he fully identifies himself with all those in need, right up to his final moment in this life. The disciple of Christ the King cannot afford the luxury of comfortably "keeping myself to myself" or "Well anyway, I do nobody any harm." To be deaf to the cries of the neighbour in need is to be deaf to Christ. To be blind to the anguish of the dying is to be blind to Christ. To take Jesus Christ as our Shepherd-king involves becoming shepherds in some way ourselves; for the work goes on.