Pages Menu
RssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jun 9, 2024

How Do We Explain What We Experience?

How Do We Explain What We Experience?

Many years ago, I went with a Girl Scout troop to Disneyland. It was a rather unusual trip, because there were only two girls left in the troop and both were graduating Seniors. One girl’s father had passed away and her mother had no one with whom to leave her other child, so the girl’s brother came along too. The other girl’s young nephew came along because her mother, the Scout Leader/Grandmother, was caring for the child.

After a busy and enjoyable day in which the girls and other family enjoyed the more exciting rides and toddler and Grandmother enjoyed the more sedate ones, all joined for dinner. After dinner, there was the usual performance that closes the evening. The toddler played happily as the show unfolded. Music blared over the surrounding area. As the story became more complex, the music became pensive, excited, threatening, suspenseful, foreboding, and so forth. Each time the storyline took a different twist or turn, the music clued in the audience about how they were to feel and what was going on in the narrative.

The only one who clearly was unaffected was the toddler. He simply played happily, climbing up the fence rails, running up and down the sidewalk and otherwise enjoying the world in which he found himself. The music told him nothing. There was no nonverbal explanation of the story for him to experience, because he didn’t have words to put with the music that would tell the meaning without saying them. A frightening story evoked no fear in him. Similarly, when the story’s ending proved to be happy, that also produced no reaction of happy satisfaction for him.

How we explain what we experience depends on our family and cultural stories of how things came to be. The same essential phenomenon may be explained in many different ways. Each culture has its stories to explain “the whys and wherefores” of the world as experienced day to day. We hear those stories and they become our worldview and fundamental explanatory system as we grow from infancy into adulthood.

The Hebrew scriptures begin with stories of how everything came to be the way they are. Two separate stories are told, because there are different questions requiring answers. In the first story, we hear how God created the heavens and the earth and found them all good. In that story, humans were created and given stewardship over creation. Men and women were created as equals and all was pronounced good.

In the second story, humans are formed from the clay of the earth and placed in a beautiful Garden. Again, men and women are created to be equals. The garden is filled with everything the people might want and they are free to explore and take advantage of it all. The only restriction is that they may not eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil or of the Tree of Life. There is an opponent of the Lord God in this story, the Deceiver (aka Satan). This Deceiver enters the garden and starts talking with the woman who becomes mother of all humans, Eve. He asks her about the Lord’s prohibition on eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then convinces her to taste the fruit. Once she tastes it, she encourages her husband, Adam, to taste as well. Once they taste the fruit, they become aware of their difference from the rest of the beings in the garden. They hide from the Lord when He comes to walk with them in the beauty of the evening, noting that they are naked. The Lord realizes that they have taken/received knowledge they previously had never even suspected existed. They had been like the toddler at Disneyland, unaware and gloriously untouched by the pain and suffering of separation from the One who loved and created them. Now they hide from him.

In the Hebrew story, the man and his wife must bear the consequences of their action. The serpent (Satan) also had to experience consequences as he was condemned to travel on his belly for the rest of time. He and humans would become enemies. But for humans, a different kind of consequence resulted. They were escorted out of the Garden in which they had been created and in which they lived closely with the Lord. They could not return there – no turning back time. Now they would live by their work. They would experience hardship and conflict. They would die eventually. (Gen 3:9-15)

Sometimes we hear these stories and think about the consequences as punishment. What would life here have been like if we humans and our ancestors had never disobeyed the Lord by tasting and receiving knowledge of Good and Evil? Would they/we have remained as innocent as young children forever? When a child doesn’t grow past the innocence of early childhood, we protect and care for them, knowing that something is seriously different about their experience of life and the world. Such children may grow in age, but they don’t grow in the way a normal child will mature into adulthood.

An important insight from this second story of creation is that the evil and the conflicts we see and experience in our world are not the result of a creation that is itself a rivalry or duality between forces of good and forces of evil. In this Hebrew explanation of the source of evil in the world, we see human free will as the source of the conflict. Humans can choose how to react to the call of the Lord. They can hear and obey (listen deeply) or they can hear and choose not to live by the rules of the Lord.

Yet, who can know what the world would ever be if humans had remained in the Garden of Eden? Would we be truly human? We certainly would be different. Nowhere nearly as attuned to discord. But would we appreciate beauty and cooperation as well if we had never experienced their absence?

The story of the closing of Eden to humans continues with a brief statement that the Lord made clothing for Adam and Eve and helped them learn how to live on the land and provide for themselves and others. In essence, they now got to learn how to find or grow and prepare food. They got to make clothing and learn how to stay warm and dry at night or on rainy days. They got to have children, not painlessly, but with the promise of others with whom to share love, discovery, and companionship. They became adults, with all the joys and struggles of adulthood. They also still had a great Love underlying this process and supporting them in it.

This theme of responsibility for actions and of the trickery of the Deceiver flows through the Scriptures, both Hebrew and Christian. Jesus is accused of driving out demons by using the power of a demon. He notes that such a reality would be ridiculous and points out that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, helping us to see the difference between good and evil and to choose the good. Our relationships are broader than just our biological and social families. Our families are those with whom we share a common love and faithful obedience to the Lord’s call of us to holiness, to choose the good now that we have seen the contrast between good and evil. (Mk 3:20-35)

St. Paul talks about the spirit of faith that leads us to speak of what we have seen and experienced of the love of the Lord. Opposition will come, but that will pass. It is transitory, not at all comparable with the glory of eternity that will be open to those who, having grown up and tasted the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil now choose the good. Those who follow the wisdom of that tree can be confident that they will live in God’s kingdom when all is said and done. (2 Cor 4:13-5:1)

These early stories are not intended to be scientific explanations of how everything came to be or why things happen the way they do. They are poetic images, music in the night, that help us understand what is going on and where we fit into the picture. They offer hope for us today and into the future. Life is not easy. It’s not always an Eden. But the Lord God didn’t stay in Eden after locking the door as humans moved into the world. The Lord God came with them and remains with all of us as we too make our way through the challenges of life, choosing goodness and accepting the results of our choice to follow.

As we move through our week, may we be open to learn new ways of living from our God. Where will we find him present? What music of life will we hear that tells us we are moving from danger into safety in our stories? What choices will we make this week that lead those who are alone or afraid into a place of acceptance and courage?

The Lord God is with us. May we be always aware of his presence and open to love.

Readings for the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

 

Read More

Posted by on Feb 11, 2024

Touched by a Healing Hand

Touched by a Healing Hand

How many times have we heard, “Don’t touch that, it’s dirty!” “Don’t eat that. It fell on the floor!” “Ten second rule…” In our society, we distinguish between things that are physically dirty and therefore unsafe to touch or eat and those that are physically clean and safe. We don’t tend to think about things as dirty or unsafe by the very nature of their being, though some foods such as grubs are shunned in our typical American diets. But this has not always been the reality of how peoples classify the things with which they come in contact.

The discovery of microbes such as bacteria and viruses changed our understanding of what causes illness or the infections that can follow injuries. Before their discovery and our growth in understanding of how microbes work, when people got sick or had an infected wound, it was not unusual for the blame to be assigned to an angry deity or a sorcerer/witch or the sin of the person or the parent of the person who was born with a handicap. Bad things didn’t happen to good people. People broke the rules of the gods and bad things happened.

Anthropologist, Mary Douglas, in Purity and Danger, wrote a study of the ways in which peoples classify things as safe (pure or clean) or dangerous (unclean). She noted, for example, in the Book of Leviticus (Lv 13:1-2, 44-46) that skin conditions that caused visible differences in the health or appearance of the skin were considered to be leprosy. Since some of these conditions are contagious, those who contracted them were banished from the community. They were classed as “unclean.” Interestingly, however, once the entire body was covered by the sores, the person could again be seen as whole and readmitted to the community. She suggested that the critical issue was whether the condition was whole or affected only a part of the body. Mixing healthy and non-healthy skin on one body was unclean.

The rules set up in the time of Moses were still in force during Jesus’ life. People with skin lesions were required to stay away from others and warn others not to approach them. When a man with leprosy approached Jesus, begging, “If you wish, you can make me clean,” Jesus broke the social and religious rules. He reached out and touched the man, saying, “I will do it. Be made clean.”

The man was healed immediately, we are told. Jesus then sent him to the priest to be examined for any sign of disease. He told the man who was healed to offer the necessary sacrifice of thanksgiving and return to his regular life. Despite Jesus’ order not to tell anyone how he had been healed, the man told everyone he met about it. He was so happy; he couldn’t contain or hide it! Needless to say, people in ever greater numbers hurried to Jesus, asking for healing. (Mk 1:40-45)

We too are called to be channels of healing. Perhaps not the same kinds of physical healing that people received from Jesus’ words or touch. But through our lives and the way we interact with those we meet, healing can and does occur. We don’t always know it has happened. That’s all to the good. Keeps us from getting all puffed up about our good works. But as we reach out in care and respect for others and meet them in their daily joys and struggles, we imitate Christ and bring the Good News to our world. (1 Cor 10:31-11:1)

So, who are the kinds of people we are afraid to touch, whether actually or figuratively? Who do we exclude or require to hide from polite society? Do we welcome children and older people on the autistic spectrum into our gatherings and lives? Do we care for, welcome, and respect children and adults who are not binary in their sexuality, members of the LGBTQ+ community? Do we help new neighbors from other countries to get the services they need and help them get started rebuilding their lives in our communities or do we exclude them? Do we comfort and help those whose loved ones have rejected them? Do we support those whose marriages and families have fallen apart or do we exclude them and their children from our church communities? How do we deal with people who have mental health conditions that affect their daily lives?

There are so many times and places where we meet God’s dearly loved children (ages newborn to the very old). Let’s pray that we have the courage and wisdom to see each as a sister or brother, dearly loved by God our Father and our brother Jesus. In God’s sight, all are worthy of being touched by the healing hand of love. Will our hands be the ones that begin that loving healing?

Readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

 

Read More

Posted by on Feb 4, 2024

Hard Times Come – Where’s the Lord?

Hard Times Come – Where’s the Lord?

It’s raining again as I write these words. Winter in our area can be very wet or very dry. This year, it’s been relatively dry until recently, but the ground is saturated and water is freely flowing off the coastal mountains and to the ocean. It’s not unusual to get 2 inches or more in 24 hours when the big storms blow in from the ocean. This one is predicted to last 2 or more days, so there will be plenty of runoff!

A song is going through my head as I listen to the rain. “Raindrops keep falling on my head, but that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red…” Blessedly, the rain is not leaking through our roof since we got it repaired a few years ago. But the sense of rain as symbol for hard times which will end is also included in that song and resonates with the story of Job.

Job was a good man. He was married. He had children. His business affairs were successful. He was honest. He fulfilled his religious duties willingly. All should have gone well for him. He was doing everything right. The story tells us that the Lord was very pleased with Job.  But one day, while the Lord was speaking with his angels, Satan came among them too. When the Lord pointed out Job and what a wonderful person he was, Satan objected that it was only because all was going well for Job. It would be a different story if Job lost everything.

The Lord didn’t think it would be, so he gave Satan permission to do whatever he pleased with Job, except to kill him. Satan set to work quickly. The large herds of sheep, donkeys, camels, and other work animals he owned were all killed or stolen. A house fell on top of his children and killed them all. Job was devastated, but he spoke the famous words, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb and naked shall I go back again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Jb 1:21)

This amazed Satan and pleased the Lord. But Satan persisted, noting that Job had not suffered anything physically himself. The Lord gave Satan permission to cause physical pain but not to kill Job. So Job was afflicted with itchy sores all over his body that caused tremendous pain and suffering. His wife and friends all assumed it was because he had committed some terrible sin that he was being punished this way. Sure, some rain falls in every life, but not so much! Only great sinners would be punished so dramatically according to this way of thinking.

Most of the book details the accusations of Job’s friends and his responses defending himself. Job also calls on God to justify having taken everything away and allowed such suffering to befall him. He begs for relief or death. Job reminds God of his own faithfulness and asks God to respond in kind – with faithfulness. (Jb 7:1-4, 6-7)

Finally, God responds. He reminds Job in a series of undeniable images of his power and Job’s lack of power over much of what happens in life and in the world. Job accepts the fact that God is in charge and has the right to do what God pleases. And the Lord relents and restores Job’s good fortune, granting him a double all he had lost and a life twice as long as normal.

In the story, God then turns to the so-called friends and defends Job as a falsely accused innocent man. The false accusers must apologize to Job, who forgives them.

The book of Job is not to be taken literally. It’s a poem intended to teach something important about the relationship between people and God. People go through hard times. God is aware of the suffering. God will reward and somehow restore those who remain faithful.

As Jesus began his ministry of teaching and healing in Galilee, he did not remain in just one place, working with a few friends and their families. He healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law with the touch of his hand. She got up and began to serve her guests. After an evening of healing many people, Jesus went to bed. But in the morning, Jesus took time to get away and pray. While he was away praying that next day, lots of people had gathered, hoping for healing. But Jesus, strengthened by his time in prayer, knew it was time to move on to another place and again share the good news of the kingdom which he had been sent to proclaim. (Mk 1:29-39)

Some folks were healed. Others had to wait. Many who suffered would never receive the miracle of a return to health. But with the coming of Jesus, healing became a possibility, a hope, a promise. It could take many forms, not just physical restoration. Healing was something deeper than the physical. As in the case of Job, healing includes acceptance of God’s place and our place in the grand scheme of things. God can and will bring healing in many forms to those who trust and follow.

Paul traveled widely, sharing the news of the coming of the kingdom. He gave his testimony freely to all those he met. He didn’t ask them to support him. He didn’t charge for his teaching. He gave it freely because he had received it freely. The encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus changed the course of his life. The call he received led to long journeys, with hardships and eventual death. But he rejoiced that he had been called to share the great news of God’s love and reconciliation with all of humanity. His life of prayer and service gave him strength and hope. (1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23)

It’s raining again, and very windy. Some folks are out in the rain yet. They have no homes in which to rest warmly. Many of us are safely sheltered. We can look at our sisters and brothers and judge their worthiness of respect by whether they are sheltered or not. We can look at those who have traveled far from their homes seeking safety from violence and wonder whether they are worth our attention, welcome, and support. Or we can stretch out our hands to offer help and welcome. To help find healthcare and decent housing and food and education for the children. So much depends on how we look at the rain that falls figuratively on the lives we all live.

Let us pray that our eyes be opened to see the Lord’s hand in the hard times we all experience and reach out to each other in practical care and support, sustained by a life of prayer.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

 

Read More

Posted by on Jan 28, 2024

New Ways of Communicating God’s Words

New Ways of Communicating God’s Words

When Moses first met the Lord, it was in the discovery of a bush that was burning but not burning up. The Lord spoke to him from within the burning bush, calling him to return to Egypt where he had been born and lead the Israelites out from slavery there to a new land. Moses, with the help of his brother Aaron, returned to Egypt with the Lord’s message. It took a lot of convincing, but eventually Pharoah allowed them to leave. All of this was accomplished with major signs, including plagues, floods, and the death of the firstborn children of the Egyptians.

When they went out from Egypt, the Lord went with them in a fiery cloud that led them by day and guarded them from behind at night. On Mt. Sinai, the Lord met Moses on the mountain top, again with dramatic weather and signs.

At Horeb, the people finally asked the Lord for less drama. It was frightening to have him always appearing in fire and a thundering voice.

Moses delivered the Lord’s response to them. The Lord promised to send a prophet like himself from among the people, a prophet who would guide them in the future. (Dt 18:15-20)

There were many prophets in the years between Moses and Jesus. These men and women were each called to speak the Lord’s word to their people. In the early years, the prophets were sometimes the leaders of the people. But even after kings had been introduced to rule the nation, prophets were called to speak the Lord’s word, reminding the rulers of the Lord’s ways and calling the people to repentance when they forgot the Lord and followed the gods and traditions of other nations.

Prophets are often described in this general way: The word of the Lord came to the prophet (insert name), saying, “Say to my people, Thus says the Lord…” This fulfilled the promise made by God to the people traveling with Moses in the desert. “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth.”

The role of prophet was well recognized in ancient Israel. Prophets spoke both words of encouragement and words of warning. Whichever it was to be, the Lord was clear about the responsibility of the prophet. Speak. In fact, in Psalm 95, the psalmist reminds us, “Harden not your hearts” as the people did in the desert. Listen to the Lord’s call and obey. (Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9)

When Jesus began teaching in Capernaum after his baptism and the call of his first disciples, he did not follow the typical pattern of a prophet. He spoke with authority, according to Mark. He wasn’t like the scribes who spoke only of what had been taught in and about the Law for centuries. He spoke with authority, from his own experience of God’s love. When one day a man cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Jesus recognized the source of the words as coming from outside the man himself. He ordered the spirit speaking through the man to come out of him. The spirit shook the man and left him, with a loud cry. The man was healed. (Mk 1:21-28)

This authority to command a tormenting spirit to leave a man was new. People had never seen that. Word spread quickly throughout Galilee when this happened. Jesus’ role as a teacher and healer began in earnest. But unlike the earlier prophets, he didn’t begin his teachings with “Thus says the Lord…” He simply said, “The kingdom of heaven is like …” He taught with stories and direct instructions. “Blessed are the peacemakers …” “Blessed are you when…”

Christians recognized that Jesus was more than the prophets who followed Moses as teachers through the centuries. He was a law-giver who spoke God’s word with authority, bringing deeper levels of teaching to those he addressed. In fact, Christians recognize Jesus as the Word of God, speaking with even greater authority than Moses because he is both fully human and fully divine.

After his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven, Jesus’ followers spread the news of his coming and his teachings. His call to serve God above all else and in very practical ways spread throughout the Roman empire.  Those who received his words and became followers of his way of life were challenged to figure out how to do that in their ordinary lives.

They thought that his return would be very soon, of course. Paul was concerned that the regular lives and responsibilities of married men and women might keep them from being focused on serving the Lord. (1 Cor 7:32-35) To a certain extent, this can be the case today as well. However, since the timing of the second coming can’t exactly be predicted, the lesson to be learned is that we include serving and preparing the way of the Lord through our own vocations and lives in our world today. We are still called to be committed to the Lord, first and foremost. For married couples, that includes their commitment to each other and any children entrusted to them. Following the Lord and living a committed relationship with another person are not mutually exclusive.

Today we don’t typically hear prophets speaking to us, “Thus says the Lord…” But we learn from each other, from the insights of men and women through the centuries who have reflected on the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. We share our own experiences with our families and friends. We have the traditions of our faith community and our leaders to help guide our way. We take those traditions and interpret them in new ways as we come to understand human development and the great variety of human experience more deeply.

In the Synod, the people of the Church have been invited to share their insights and concerns together, to begin to glimpse the way the Holy Spirit is leading us today. We pray for the courage to go where we are being led, ever open to the wonder and diversity of the Lord’s people and creation. The process of the Synod is still on-going. We pray for those who will again meet in person later this year to consider and share what we have together learned of God’s love in our current time.

We don’t usually meet the Lord in a burning bush these days. We don’t expect to hear his voice in thunder or in fiery clouds. We hear his voice in the tender concern of others when we are in need of support and understanding. We hear his voice in requests for help from others. We hear his voice in the cries of the poor. We meet the Lord in each other. May we be open to see and hear and also be Christ present for those we meet each day.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

 

Read More

Posted by on Jan 21, 2024

Diversity – Broader Than We Expect?

Diversity – Broader Than We Expect?

Each month, Pope Francis asks people around the world to join him in prayer for a particular intention. This month, January 2024, he is asking us to pray for the gift of diversity in the Church. Specifically, his prayer is,

“We pray that the Holy Spirit may help us to recognize the gift of different charisms within the Christian community and to discover the richness of different traditions and rituals in the Catholic Church.”

This prayer is focused on diversity within the Christian community, with its varied history, traditions, and rituals. As a worldwide community, people from multiple traditions, cultural understandings, and expectations all share in the same fundamental set of beliefs and practices. However, the ways those beliefs and practices are expressed can vary dramatically.

When my husband and I were first married, for example, we often found that we were divided by the bonds of a common religion. We were both Catholic from birth and grew up in actively Catholic families and communities. But the specifics of which customs, which saints, and which fundamental requirements and expectations of Catholic life were most important differed in many ways. Northern European Irish/German traditions were different from Mexican-American traditions. It took many years to recognize and anticipate the expected practices from our childhood experience and know which ones were going to be more important to each of us. With experience and many years of practice, we mostly have this worked out, but we still trip up from time to time.

As a Church, we have a long way to go, but the reforms of Vatican II have given a great foundation and permission for us to recognize and value the incarnation of our God within the many cultures of our world. We can now pray for diversity and acceptance of the many charisms, the gifts of the Spirit in our daily lives. We no longer need to demand that all peoples around the world understand or celebrate God’s presence in human history in exactly the same way, nor that they live their lives in the same way.

This struck me as an apt insight when I read the story of Jonah and his arrival in the ancient city of Nineveh with a message from God. (Jon 3:1-5, 10) Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire. It was very large – a three day walk to cross from one side of it to the other. The Assyrians were long-time enemies of the Israelites. They had battled more than once. Assyrians had actually destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in battle. Many of the people of northern Israel had been killed, many driven into exile. Jonah and others in his community hated the Assyrians. No love was lost between the people of Assyria and the people of Israel.

Imagine Jonah’s surprise and horror when the Lord told him to go and warn the people of the enemy capital that their city was to be destroyed because of their evil behavior. That was exactly what he would have cheered! Destruction of an enemy’s capital, a warning not to mess with one’s own God – who could ask for more? And for this to happen without any loss of life among one’s own people? Fantabulous!

But no. God wanted the people of Nineveh to be warned, to have a chance to escape this horror. So, he called Jonah. Jonah tried to escape his task, boarding a ship to cross the Mediterranean, but that didn’t work out. He ended up in the belly of a whale for a bit, after having been tossed overboard by the crew and then being deposited back on the shore where he started. At that point, he gave up and headed to Nineveh. Entering the city, he began to proclaim its coming destruction. In only one day, the city and its leaders took heed. They proclaimed a fast, put on simple, uncomfortable, penitential clothing (sackcloth), and changed their behavior. With this quick response, there was no longer any reason to punish the city, so God relented and all was well.

Was Jonah happy? Not at all! He had hoped the city would be destroyed. He went away and pouted for a while. But again, how he got over it is another story for another day.

What strikes me about this story is that God did not pay attention only to the people of one culture, with one set of traditions. God cared about the people of Nineveh too, enough to send an unwilling prophet to call them to repentance. Though not members of the Chosen People, they were also a people about whom God cared enough to call them to reform and live.

The city of Nineveh still exists. It has a different name now. We call it Mosul. And God still cares for the people of Mosul and the rest of the Middle East, with all of their different traditions.

How about Jesus? Were his followers all from the same background or occupation? Not really. Some were fishermen. One was a tax collector. One was involved in politics – on the more revolutionary side. Saul/Paul was called after the resurrection. He was a Pharisee, an educated man, a student of the Law, who was active in persecution of the early followers of Jesus.

Mark tells us about the call of Peter, Andrew, James, and John. (Mk 1:14-20) They were fishermen from two different families who were working with their families along the shore of the Sea of Galilee when they met Jesus. Jesus himself was a carpenter, a tradesman. All were men who were accustomed to working and supporting themselves and their families. When Jesus walked by the boats as they were cleaning up after fishing – repairing nets, getting everything ready for the next day’s work – he called them to follow him. Amazingly, without hesitation, they left their nets and followed him. They didn’t reject their families or communities, but they left the nets and fishing to follow and learn from him. His other followers also left their jobs immediately when he called them. There was something compelling about the man and his invitation. He was open to them, just as they were and with their own particular backgrounds and family stories. Others who followed him but weren’t in the inner circle were also a diverse group. Women, men, well-to-do, middle-class, and poor. All were represented among Jesus’ followers. He was also recognized as a special person by non-Jews. Remember the Roman centurion whose son was healed by Jesus?

The followers of Jesus were a diverse lot. Jesus may initially have thought he was sent only for the Hebrew people, but his encounters with the Samaritan woman at the well and the Syrophoenician woman who begged for healing for her child opened his eyes to the fact that God cares for all people, not just those who worshiped at the temple in Jerusalem. God cares for humans in all our diversity.

That being the case, when do we need to start welcoming and treasuring our diversity? Right now.

St. Paul reminded the folks in Corinth that time is passing quickly. (1 Cor 7:29-31) It is still passing quickly. We don’t know the day or the hour when our time will end. We don’t know when the Lord will come again. We must live the calling of our life now, welcoming the diverse members of the human community whom we meet along the way.

We don’t have time to hold on to old ways or restrictions. The freedom of the children of God allows us to step beyond our regular restrictions and expectations. We can be open to see God’s hand in the lives of others who are not part of our immediate family or community. We can see God’s face in the immigrant, the undocumented, the hungry, the little ones in our churches and schools who are still learning the social rules, the neighbor across the back fence, the person who cuts ahead of us in line at the grocery store, the addict begging on the street. God is present in each one. God loves the diversity of humanity and hopes we are free enough to enjoy it too.

It’s going to take time for all of us to feel comfortable with the myriad forms of diversity among our fellow human sisters and brothers. Our own cultural traditions and explanations of how-things-are will continue to jump to the forefront when we encounter other ways of being and of doing things. I pray that we can become open to listen deeply to those we meet and hear the goodness within each, which is reaching out to meet the goodness within us. When cultural practices diminish the freedom and well-being of others, it’s important to question them. The same is as true for practices in our culture as for those in other cultures. However, we must always remember that God is the creator of all and through all shines forth in marvelous beauty and colorful light.

May the Holy Spirit, still at work in the Church and in the larger Christian community, lead us to newly recognize, cherish, and support the many gifts, talents, and richness of our many world traditions and varied rituals. May we be unafraid to see our expectations of roles and expression of our deepest selves be broadened by exposure to other ways of life. The diversity is greater than we might imagine. The Holy Spirit will lead us as we explore the marvels of God’s human creation. We just need to be willing to open our hearts and see.

Readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

 

Read More

Posted by on Jan 14, 2024

Called by God to be …

Called by God to be …

Members of Christ, Temples of the Holy Spirit, Called by God.

Each of us is especially treasured by God, created to be unique, and given gifts to share freely. Yet, since we are born into families and cultures with characteristics and expectations that are shared by many others, we don’t always recognize our uniqueness or our inherent value. We hear and observe that we are like our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins in many ways. We join together with others of our general age and interests, finding comfort and encouragement from our peers, as well as challenges that make us examine our own values and require us to make choices that are not always easy.

When and how do we hear the Lord’s voice calling us to the unique service only we can give? Sometimes the call is obvious. Often it is a subtle urging and growing sense that a certain path is to be followed or that a particular dream is ours to bring to our world.

Samuel, for example, was still very young when he was called. His mother was already old and barren when during a visit to the temple she asked the Lord for a child. The next year when her son was born, she recognized the great gift she had received. She and her husband consecrated their son to serve the Lord at the temple when he was old enough to leave them. He worked with Eli, a priest who served at the temple, learning how to serve in that role and care for the Ark of the Covenant which was there. God was present among his people where the Ark was present.

One night, Samuel was awakened by a voice calling his name. (1 Sam 3:3b-10, 19) Naturally, he assumed Eli needed something and hurried to him. Eli woke up when Samuel came asking what was needed and sent him back to bed. The same thing happened three times. By the third time, Eli figured out what was going on. He told Samuel that if he heard the voice again, he was to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” When the voice awakened him a fourth time, Samuel did as he had been instructed. The Lord spoke to him directly and called him to service as a prophet, one who would speak the Lord’s words to the people and lead them in the Lord’s service. This was before there were kings in Israel. The prophet’s words were intended to be taken as the Lord’s guidance for what to do as a people, in good times and in bad.

No one expected Samuel to become a prophet. He was not in any sort of training program for this role. He was still very young. No one would have thought to listen to his words as those of the Lord. Yet that is what happened when the Lord chose him for the role. He served for many years as the Lord’s prophet. Eventually, when the people were determined to have a king like the neighboring peoples did, he voiced the Lord’s warning that kings were over-rated and would not be a great idea for them. True as this turned out to be, the people were determined, so with the Lord’s help, Samuel selected and anointed Israel’s first king. When that one didn’t work out well, the Lord sent Samuel to anoint David as successor to Saul. But that’s another story.

Bottom line, the Lord called Samuel. Samuel didn’t go looking for the job!

Two of John the Baptist’s disciples were standing with him one day when Jesus walked by them. (Jn 1:35-42) John commented, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” What a strange thing to say about a person, but John had never pretended that his role was to do anything other than to call people to repentance and to prepare the community for the coming of the Anointed One, the one sent by God to restore the ancient relationship between God and humans. By John’s time, most expected someone who would lead the country to freedom from domination by foreign powers, but still, he recognized Jesus and pointed him out to his own followers.

Andrew and the other disciple followed Jesus. He noticed them and asked them, “What are you looking for?” Notice that he spoke first. When they asked where he was staying, he invited them to come and see. After a few hours of conversation, Andrew left and got his brother Simon. He told Simon they had found the Messiah and brought him to Jesus. Again, Jesus took the initiative. He greeted Simon by giving him a new name, Peter, the rock.

These three men heard the call of the Lord when they met Jesus. At least two of them had been looking for the Messiah whom John had foretold, but they had no idea he would show up the way he did in their lives, inviting them to come and have a chat. Simon had no idea his future would be completely changed when his brother urged him to come and visit with Jesus.

Many, many other people have heard the Lord’s call through the centuries. The traditions and expectations of their cultures have shaped their understanding and practices when interacting with the Lord. Sometimes the cultural patterns and behaviors have not been compatible with their new life as sisters and brothers of the Lord, children of God. This was the case in Corinth, where St. Paul admonished the new Christians to recognize and remember that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20) They are not to behave as if there were nothing special or sacred about them.  God has loved them and claimed them at a high price, the sacrifice of his Son.

God calls each of us too. Some have said that God doesn’t call people directly anymore, but in my experience, that is incorrect. God does call people. Sometimes the call is subtle. Sometimes it’s more direct. Sometimes we say no. We’re always free to do that.  When we do, God has been known to chuckle and say, “OK, do it your way!” If you ever hear God say this, do yourself a favor, try it his way! It’s sure to work out better in the long run.

We are called – to be members of Christ’s body, temples of the Holy Spirit, and bearers of the love of God into our world here and now. It can be a daunting challenge. But when the chips are down, none of us is alone. The Lord is always with us, inviting us to stop by and have a chat or to join him on the road for a chat. On we go… together!

Readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

 

Read More

Posted by on Nov 24, 2023

Sheep and Goats – Which?

Sheep and Goats – Which?

Sheep and goats represent a frequently recurring image in both Hebrew and Christian scriptures. I don’t know about you, but I have not personally had a great deal of experience with either sheep or goats outside of petting zoos.

Given my great lack of knowledge of either sheep or goats, I asked my sister, who raises alpacas and has a sheep as well, to help me understand how sheep and goats are similar and how they are different. Her daughter-in-law, my niece, raises goats, so my sister also got feedback from her. It made for a very enjoyable afternoon’s texting.

Here’s what I learned.

  • Goats are smarter than sheep and can figure out puzzles, “like how to open a gate.”
  • “Goats are leaders, sheep are followers.”
  • “Goats are hardier and easier to take care of than sheep, in my experience…”
  • Both have similarities regarding food and other animal habits, but there are differences.
  • Sheep will knock over anything or anyone, including the shepherd, who is in the way of where they want to go, especially if they are frightened or in a hurry.
  • Sheep are very food and instinct oriented and will ask for food and water even when they already have them.
  • “Sheep are complete idiots and rude,” quoth the goat herder in a short text.
  • Endearing qualities of goats? “They love treats and are a lot hardier.” Again from the goat herder.
  • Goats will come up to a person and wait to be petted. If they think they are being ignored, “they will stick their heads over the fence so you can scratch their nose or between their horns.”
  • Both sheep and goats can be sources of milk and fiber/wool. Some types are more suited to one or another product.
  • Goats can be used to pull carts. Their horns make it easier to keep a halter on those with smaller ears.
  • Sheep can sleep outside in the snow – their wool keeps them warm under the snowy blanket. When they wake, they can eat snow rather than needing to drink water.
  • Sheep will ‘Pogo’ when they are happy or in a hurry to get somewhere – “hop, hop, hopping … their little feet hitting the ground.”

Many thanks to these two lovely ladies for their insights.

These exchanges left me wondering why it’s the sheep who get the good press in the Bible.

In the Book of Ezekiel, the king and religious leaders of Israel get the blame for having caused the great troubles of defeat and exile of the nation under their leadership. Ezekiel, in a passage before the one we see this day, decried the fact that they had taken advantage of the poor, the sick, the injured, and those who were lost souls among the people. The job of the King and religious leaders, in God’s view as expressed by Ezekiel, is to look out for those who can’t take care of themselves and need help.

Speaking through Ezekiel, God proclaims, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” (Ez 34:11-12, 15-17) God promised to rescue these sheep from everywhere they have been scattered and bring them to a safe pasture. This shepherd will go out and find those who are lost, tend the wounds of those who are injured, and heal the sick ones. But “the sleek and the strong” will be destroyed – those who did not use their strength to help and protect the others.

On a final note, the prophecy declares, “As for you, my sheep, … I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” (Rams are unaltered male sheep.)

There we go again. Sheep versus goats? There must be something else beneath the surface that a non-shepherding culture doesn’t notice.

It is possible to have both sheep and goats in a herd. Goats can help protect the sheep from predators, because they tend to be more aggressive. They’re not going to turn and run away in panic when they perceive a threat. They eat different plants than the sheep, so the pasture can support more animals.

Ezekiel is not the only one to speak of sheep and goats. In Jesus’ description of the end of times when he will return in glory with the angels and sit in judgement over all the nations, he speaks of sheep and goats as well. Matthew’s narration of this event is the only version of this that we see in the Gospels. (Mt 25:31-46)

People will be divided into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be gathered at Jesus’ right hand and the goats at his left. Then he will tell those on the right, “Come … inherit the kingdom prepared for you… For I was hungry and you gave me food…” These were the ones who took care of the hungry, the thirsty, newcomers, those without adequate clothing, the ill, the imprisoned. They are surprised to be singled out for this, especially since they didn’t recall ever doing any of this to/for Jesus personally. He explains that doing it for “one of the least brothers of mine” was the same as doing it for him.

Those on the left-hand side are chided for not caring for the hungry, thirsty, naked, and so forth. Again, they don’t recall ever seeing Jesus needing these things. Yet Jesus applies the same logic to them. What was not done for the little ones, the least of God’s people, Jesus’ brothers and sisters, was not done for him.

Here we still are, with the sheep getting the good press and the goats getting the bad.

I think part of what we are seeing is that the ancient Hebrews started as shepherds, so there’s a long history with these animals and their care. Abraham was a shepherd. He probably had both sheep and goats in his herds. Both species have useful qualities and together they can provide a more complete set of products for supporting a household, especially a group of herders who travel from place to place with their animals. Goats, with their intelligence and tendency to be more aggressive, might be a bit more challenging at times. But these same qualities would make them a useful addition to the mix. The shepherds and their dogs could use the help of other animals in protecting the entire herd. Still, if there are too many goats, it could also be a problem, especially when it comes to growing the herd and mating time. Intermixing the species is not a successful strategy in such instances.

Another thought that comes to mind is that sometimes, it’s best just to follow the rules and do what is the right thing, even if it’s not the most clever or flashy. When we get too clever and try to outfox the rules to get a better deal for ourselves, it’s not going to lead to our serving the poor or those who can’t get a leg up in life on their own. We too easily get focused on our own needs and wants and find ways to justify meeting those first. God, the shepherd, wants us to look out for each other and will support us as we do. We don’t have to go running off slyly on our own like the goats, figuring out how to unlock the gate to have a good life.

One other thought, which comes from Catherine Cory in the Workbook for Lectors that we use in our parish, is that the words translated as sheep and goat do not necessarily refer only to the animals we categorize by that name. She suggests that the term translated as sheep refers to small grazing animals, not just sheep. The term translated as goats refers to small creatures that are “woolly.” She suggests that those Jesus called sheep are the mature ones who are ready to enter the kingdom of God. The others are unready to enter. They have not matured properly and become ready for the kingdom. The way to become ready, is to serve the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, the sick, and so forth. We call these tasks the Corporal Acts of Mercy and we are all called to this service.

As we end our liturgical year with this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, let’s pray that we have grown in maturity this past year and will continue to grow in the year to come. It’s not just the sheep in my sister’s yard who should go hop, hop, hopping quickly towards a special treat or person. We, the sheep of our Lord and God, need to hop, hop, hop along together in joyful service, meeting our Savior in all those we encounter.

Readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Nov 19, 2023

Worthy Wife, Worthy Husband & Talents

Worthy Wife, Worthy Husband & Talents

Literature written thousands of years ago sometimes presents us with images that seem unnecessarily limited in our times. This is particularly true when we look at gender roles and expectations.

The Book of Proverbs includes many sayings and images that can be taken individually and used to guide one’s actions. It also presents a picture of Lady Wisdom, an ever-present manifestation of God’s powerful presence in our world. One section is written as an acrostic poem. Each line begins with a word from the Hebrew alphabet. The lines begin with the first letter, alef, and the poem’s last line begins with the letter tav, the last letter of that alphabet. (As an aside, the alphabet can be known as the Alef-Bet – the A, B – and as we would add – Cs.)

This poem speaks of the qualities of the ideal wife in the world of that day. (Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31) Women in those days were primarily responsible for management of the home, raising of the children, and support of their husbands in their activities. They did not have careers outside the home. It was a full-time job to handle the household.

Many years ago, the teacher of a class dedicated to study of Wisdom literature assigned his students the task of writing a “newly discovered” extra chapter for each book studied. It was a way of seeing what the student understood about the book being studied. One student decided to write a parallel chapter for the book of Proverbs, describing the husband, also in an acrostic poem.

The section about the wife begins, “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.” Her skills are praised, her outreach and compassion to the poor are noted, her dedication to the Lord is admired, and she is described as meriting praise for her labors at the city gates. It is truly a work of praise and love.

Here’s the missing chapter about the worthy husband, as imagined by a woman in the late 20th century.

A Modern Parallel to Proverbs 31:10-31

A worthy husband, who might find him? He is more precious than gold.
Bountiful is the harvest of his labors.
Confidence in his abilities guides his actions.
Defending the poor, he dares oppose oppression.
Eager for life, he embraces it joyfully, yet
Fails not to recognize physical death as its goal.
Gentle concern endears him to his family and friends.
Humbly he acknowledges his strengths and weaknesses.
Innocently he walks in the midst of intrigues.
Joyfully he provides physical and spiritual support for his wife and children.
Kites he flies with his children and he kisses them freely each day,
Loving them and their mother as himself.
Manager of his earnings, he generously shares whatever he has.
Nature is his ally, she abundantly rewards his good deeds.
Optimistically he faces the future with assurance as he
Prayerfully begins, lives, and ends his day.
Queen of his heart, the wife he has chosen he makes his partner.
Respectfully dealing with all he meets, he is loved in return.
Smiles are his trademark, even during times of trouble.
Truthfully he expresses his thoughts.
Unusually curious, he is continuously questioning,
Vigorously seeking truth.
Wisely guarding his inner privacy, his
“X” or unknown qualities continually surprise his friends.
Youthfully he goes about his work,
Zestfully living each day, he wins praise from all.

We each have talents received from God, who hopes we will use them wisely to spread the kingdom of love and mercy, just as the master Jesus described did when he gave his servants huge sums of money to invest on his behalf. Two of the servants took the money and used it to earn an equal amount. One was afraid that he might lose it and the master would be angry, so that servant buried the money to protect it until the return of the master. Only those who took and used the money were pleasing to the master when he returned. (Mt 25:14-30)

The parable ends with the statement that those who use their gifts, who spend them freely, will be rewarded with more of the gifts they need. Those who hold on tightly to what they have will lose them instead.

The gifts we receive from our Father are to be put to work. Just as the worthy wife buys flax and wool to spin thread and weave fabric for making clothing for her family in the poem, we are to take the talents we have and share them freely. This may be something as simple as sharing a smile with a passing stranger, or patiently waiting in line while a checker helps the customer ahead of us sort out which card to use to pay for the groceries. Sometimes we are asked to share a bit more. A child needs a new coat for the winter. Will we help fund that for a low income family? A family doesn’t have extra money to buy a doll for a child for Christmas. Will we be the ones who help that child receive a precious gift? An older person waits hopefully for a visit from a neighbor. Will we be the ones who stop by to say hello and share a few minutes of friendship? Our church community needs helpers to share our faith with the children and youth. Will we take the time to be with them as they learn of God’s love? Will we share what we have seen?

We all have received many gifts and talents. Men and women, husbands and wives, adults and children – all have something received and something to give. As we approach the end of our Church year in another week, may we be open to hearing the voice of the Lord and growing into the role we are to play in the community of faith.

Readings for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

 

Read More

Posted by on Nov 12, 2023

The Lady Wisdom at the Gate

The Lady Wisdom at the Gate

Come with me for a little walk today. It’s a walk through our daily life. We’re going to visit some old friends and some new ones too. Along the way, we’ll see some people we don’t know. One person in particular whom we hope to see will be a model and guide for our journey, the Lady Wisdom.

This Lady whom we hope to see is described in the Book of Wisdom. She is “resplendent and unfading … readily perceived by those who seek her.” This gives us hope for our journey. If we are seeking her, we will see her.

So where do we look for her? And when are we likely to see her? Will she be found in gatherings of teachers and students who are seeking the mysteries of the universe? Will she be present at fine restaurants and banquets where leaders of industry and government meet and share a meal? Will she be at department stores, among the fine clothing and perfumes? How about in the kitchen as we sit and visit after dinner and then clean up the dishes?

Wisdom herself tells us that she will help us find her. (Wis 6:12-16) She will sit outside our door in the early morning, waiting for us to get up and venture out into the world. We might not see her though. We must be looking for her if we hope to see her, keeping our eyes open. What will we see as we go on our way? The homes of our neighbors. The trees and flowers in the gardens. The people getting ready to go to work and school. Those coming home after working through the night. Will we see their joys and sorrows too? Will we notice their hopes and the places they are in need of encouragement and healing?

This Lady Wisdom meets all who seek her as they travel through the day. She makes her rounds and visits all, bringing love and hope and joy with her as her gift. In the process, she opens our eyes to see the needs of others and their joy and gifts as well.

We don’t generally think of wisdom as being masculine or feminine in our daily lives. We think of wise people as those who know many things and make good choices that lead to happy, successful lives. But in scripture, particularly in the Books of Wisdom and Proverbs, Wisdom is more than that. Wisdom is feminine and intimate. There are at least three words that are translated as Wisdom in the Scriptures, but the one in question here is characterized by a sense of intimacy with God. Wisdom is connected with the divine. She is radiant, reflecting the Lord’s light. Wisdom leads us to union with God through our connection with all of creation and all of God’s people.

Wisdom helps us see hope in difficult times. When people we love become ill or die, Wisdom helps us trust that they will rise through the gift of the Lord. (1 Thes 4:13-18) When we meet others who are having hard times financially or personally, Wisdom helps us walk with them, sharing their burden and helping to make it easier. We won’t always be able to resolve the problem or make it go away, but being present can be the most important gift we can give. Moral support in hard times cannot be purchased.

Wisdom also helps keep us on our toes, ready to meet the Lord when he comes. When we have met him in our daily lives, in our contacts with folks who may need a help to support their families, with those who are seeking a safe place to live and raise their children, with those who hope to go to school and enter a career, with those who are sick or dying, and so many, many more, we will be more like the wise virgins of Jesus’ story, who had the oil they needed to keep their lamps burning late into the night. (Mt 25:1-13)

Many years ago, a group called the Medical Missionary Sisters produced an album called “Joy is Like the Rain.” One of the songs was titled, “It’s a Long Road to Freedom.” It is ringing in my head this day. “It’s a long road to freedom, a winding steep and high, but when you walk in love with the wind on your wings, and cover the earth with the songs you sing, the miles fly by.”

When we walk with Wisdom on our journey, we walk in love and the miles do fly by. The Lady Wisdom sits at the gate waiting for each of us to notice her and journey with her through our days. May we be blessed with open eyes to recognize her.

Readings for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

Read More

Posted by on Nov 5, 2023

Covenants and Family

Covenants and Family

The time spent nursing a child is some of the most precious time ever in the lives of mothers and children. Not all children nurse easily from the beginning of their lives, but once they and their mothers figure out how they can do it, the time together and the sharing become unforgettable – a deep, pre-verbal connection is formed that can last for decades. As a mother myself, who was nursed as a child and watched my siblings nursing as well, I was delighted to have the chance to do so too. Those years with my children were very special, filled with funny happenings, some frustrating times, and many simply peaceful, routine times.

St. Paul speaks of his time with the community in Thessalonika as one in which he and his companions were “gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.” (1 Thes 2: 7b-9, 13) They shared the amazing, wonderfully good news of God’s coming among us and loving each of us as parents love their children. The response of the people among whom they toiled was a source of great joy to them. He speaks of his gratitude to God for their openness and acceptance of the teaching, which shows forth in their lives. Though Paul doesn’t say it in so many words, in their lives they are examples of the contentment of the weaned child on it’s mother’s lap, happily experiencing the presence of a parent’s love and protection in life of which the Psalmist speaks. (Ps 131: 1, 2, 3)

Both the prophet Malachi and Jesus speak of family ties too when addressing the challenges of their times.

Malachi speaks at a time after the Babylonian Exile. (Mal 1:14b-2:2b-8, 10) He proclaims that the Lord is a great King, with power feared among the nations. Yet the priests who are responsible to lead the people in worship have not lived up to their calling. They have turned away from the covenant, the agreement God made with Levi, their ancestor. Malachi cries out, “Have we not all the one father? Has not the one God created us?” The covenant of the ancient fathers of the community with their God has been broken. This is a great tragedy. Israel is a family, the children of God, yet the priests have not lived up to their part in the relationship. As a result, their family connection as a community with God has been broken and so has their relationship as sisters and brothers in one family. When this happens, community strength is lost and mutual respect is gone.

How and when will the covenant be renewed? Only when the people turn again to God, their father, the one father of all.

Jesus spoke of the Pharisees, who were students and teachers of the Law, and the Scribes, who were advisors, leaders, and teachers entrusted with reading and writing the traditions and teachings that guided the community. He criticized them because they did not live what they taught. To follow all the details of the Law as they taught it was very difficult. They themselves did not follow the rules they made for ordinary people to follow. Yet Jesus did not tell people to ignore the teachings. Instead, he told people to follow the Law, but not to follow the examples of these teachers who were more interested in being seen and honored for their pretended observance of the Law than in actually living according to the Law. The fundamentals of living humbly, serving others, and recognizing all others as brothers and sisters of the one Father in heaven are the critical, essential actions. (Mt 23:1-12)

In a community and culture in which corporate families were the norm, one statement in particular is striking: “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.” In corporate families, the leadership of the family is vested in one parent. In Israel of that time, the parent was the father of the extended family. Children and grandchildren and their families were all under the leadership and authority of that one parent. Individual families did not really exist in the sense we experience them. Family identity passes through the male or female line in corporate families. In patriarchal Israel, the line went through the males – from father to son. Women married into the family, leaving their own family behind. The “Father” in this large extended family made the decisions about who would do what and who would marry whom. Jesus says, only God is the Father. The earthly parents of each person are not the ultimate authority.

The bottom line for Jesus was the importance of humble service. “The greatest among you must be your servant.” Only those who serve humbly will ultimately be recognized for their greatness.

The nursing mother, the humble servant, the God who is Father. The ones who make life easier and better for others, especially the others who are poor, or of lower social status, or strangers/newcomers in the land, or who suffer illness or injury are the ones who will be exalted. These are the ones pleasing to the Father. It was thus in the time of Malachi. It was thus in the time of Jesus. It was thus in the time of St. Paul. Nothing has changed. It is still thus in our days.

May we this week be aware of the needs of others and quietly offer a hand where needed. Maybe we pick up a bit of litter in a parking lot. Maybe we smile at a neighbor. Maybe we are patient in line at the grocery store. Maybe we read a story for the umpteenth time to a small child. Maybe we sit down with a nursing child and simply allow the child to eat and rest, basking in our love. Whatever we do, when we do it in love, we do it for and with our Father in Heaven. And the Father is pleased…

Readings for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

Read More

Posted by on Oct 29, 2023

Just Two Fundamental Principles

Just Two Fundamental Principles

Differences of opinion among groups of people are nothing new, though sometimes we despair of the possibility of ever reaching agreement on how to move forward and address common challenges. Disputes can take the form of physical violence. They can remain in the realm of words, though words can cause great pain and harm. They may even remain unspoken yet provoke ongoing stress and anger in relationships.

Another way to deal with differences of opinion about how to move forward is to talk calmly about the options. It’s not uncommon for individuals moving from childhood to adulthood to become very argumentative with the adults in their lives. The approval of their peers becomes very important as they grow towards adulthood. The study of rhetoric, logic, and reasoning is quite appropriate during this time of transition. In Language Arts classes, students may learn how to write essays presenting an opinion and backing it up. Sometimes these are described simply as Five Paragraph Essays.

While these essays may not be the best approach for very complex topics, the basic format is helpful to understand. An essay begins with the statement of an issue about which there may be some difference of opinion. The author takes a stand and states their position on the topic. The next paragraphs each have one point in support of the author’s position. Explanations and examples in support of the author’s position are presented here. After the points in favor of the stated position are presented, the contrary position may also be stated, along with points made in its support. Finally, the author restates the original position, along with a brief restatement of the reasons for its validity in contrast to the opinion of those who disagree.

This basic outline is not limited to five paragraph essays. It can be expanded to entire books, theses, and dissertations. It is used in speeches as well. It also helps in the everyday interactions of people with differing opinions. Learning to state clearly what the issues are opens the door to improved communication for all.

This same basic structure is useful in conversations between people who disagree with each other about how to dealt with fundamental differences of opinion. It can help make clear what the most important issues are and how they are perceived by each side.

When Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem, two groups of powerful teachers were listening with concern. What he was saying had implications for the future of their society and their security under Roman rule.

One group, the Sadducees, were quite conservative and did not believe in life after death. Furthermore, they had come to an arrangement with the Roman rulers and did not want to lose their power or position. The other group, the Pharisees, were students and teachers of the Law. They focused on strict  adherence to the teachings and traditions of the Law handed down on Mt. Sinai to Moses and developed in the years following to deal with the multitude of possible situations that might arise in everyday life.

Both Pharisees and Sadducees had questions for Jesus. One day, a Pharisee came to Jesus and asked a tricky question. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” We tend to think of the commandments as being a collection of just ten rules. However, there were many, many more commandments and rules as part of the law. If Jesus chose any specific one as being the most important, they could come down on him like a ton of bricks. Why this one and not this other one? Who are you to decide what rule God would say is more important? How dare you teach this falsehood? All of the laws are equally important!

Jesus recognized their intention and answered directly, though not in the way they expected. He didn’t select one specific law – “Thou shalt not kill” – for example. Instead, he summarized the underlying meaning of the law. First, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart…soul…and mind.” Secondly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:34-40)

He went on to explain that the entire Law and all the teachings of the Prophets – the entire foundation of Jewish life and tradition – boiled down to these two principles. Love God above all things. Love other people as you love yourself.

Was this something new with Jesus? Not at all. It was spelled out in great detail in the Book of Exodus and the Book of Leviticus. Case by case, example by example, the behavior desired by God was described, as well as the consequences for disobedience. You must not harm a stranger or a person from another nation. You were strangers in another country at one time yourselves. Do not harm widows and orphans. I the Lord will hear their cries for help. Aliens in the land, as well as widows, orphans, and others who did not have a man or a tribal family to protect them were the most vulnerable persons in society. Anyone could treat them badly and they had no legal recourse. But the Lord cared: “I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up… your own wives will be widows…”

Similarly, if someone needs a loan, the terms of the loan must not put the person’s very survival at risk. No charging high interest is allowed. If a person gives something as security for the loan, that security item must be returned in a timely fashion. If it happens to be a person’s cloak, the cloak must be returned before sunset, so the person is not left to suffer or die in the cold of the night. Again, the Lord cares what happens to the poor – “If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.” (Ex 22:20-26)

The basic principles are the same. The Lord is to be loved and obeyed. The neighbor is to be treated with fairness and compassion. The most vulnerable are to receive unconditional support and care, so they have a chance to live in dignity and safety.

When people live by these principles – love of God and love of neighbors – we see their example and find it attractive. St. Paul remarked on this in his letter to the Thessalonians – “you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” because of the way they lived the Good News they were proclaiming. More people come to a life of faith as believers model a life of faithful love. (1 Thes 1:5c-10)

What, you may ask, does this have to do with anything in our lives today? Jesus’ insight and the words from the Book of Exodus are pointed reminders that our actions matter. It doesn’t have to be something great, or public, or even of particular importance. What matters is that our actions reflect the reality that for us, love of God is central to our lives and from that flows our love and care for the vulnerable among us.

Today, caring for the vulnerable among us means looking out for refugees, documented and undocumented immigrants, children born into poverty, non-binary folks who are not accepted by family or friends, working class men and women who aren’t earning enough to support their families, individuals who get sick and miss the paycheck needed to pay the rent, and many others. So many, many people in our world need to experience God’s love through the actions of God’s people.

This week let’s pray that through our loving kindness and openness to help those among us who are most in need of a hand, they will experience the presence and love of God too. And as we meet those whose paths cross our own, may we see God’s presence as well.

And while we’re at it, let’s remember to pray for peace and justice in war-torn areas of our world.

Readings for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

Read More

Posted by on Oct 22, 2023

Beyond Tribal Boundaries

Beyond Tribal Boundaries

When the Jewish people returned from Egypt and moved into the land west of the Jordan River, they were organized into communities descended from Jacob, who was also known as Israel. These communities were called tribes. According to tradition, there were twelve tribes or very large extended families, each with land assigned to its members. 

The tribes mostly got along with each other, but not with outside peoples. During the years described in the Hebrew Scriptures, there were many wars with neighboring peoples. Eventually, only a couple of the original tribes remained. Those were conquered by the Babylonians and carried off into exile. 

Babylon was a powerful nation, but there was another powerful nation to the east – Persia. When Cyrus II, King of Persia, came to power and conquered Babylon, he ordered the release of the Hebrew people, allowing them to return to their land, the territory around Jerusalem in 538 BCE. 

Cyrus ruled an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River by the time of his death. He is recognized as the founder of a great line of kings of Persia. His rule was characterized by a willingness to allow conquered peoples to continue some self-governance and maintain their own traditions. 

We hear of Cyrus’ role in the history of Israel through the prophet Isaiah. “Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus…” The Lord has chosen Cyrus to subdue many nations for the sake of Israel, the Lord’s “chosen one.” Note that Cyrus is called the anointed by God in this prophecy. This term used for anointed is the Hebrew word we translate as Messiah – one chosen and anointed for a particular role. (Is 45:1, 4-6)

God has chosen Cyrus for a specific mission in Salvation History – to return the Hebrew people to their own land. God is not limited by the categories or boundaries of human societies. God works in many cultures and through the interactions of many nations and peoples. As humans, we don’t always see the presence of God in our world and in the events that are taking place. Which of the Israelites in exile in Babylon would have guessed that Cyrus would be the one who would order their return home? Yet, the Lord called him for this purpose, according to Isaiah. 

Many centuries later, another one called Messiah was asked a question intended to trick him into taking a position that would either get him in trouble with the people or with the Romans who had conquered his country. The questioners were Pharisees, teachers of the Law. The question was, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Caesar was ruler of Rome and by extension of the land of Israel. If Jesus said the tax was legal, the people would be upset with him. If he said the tax should not be paid, the Romans would have grounds to arrest him. 

Jesus could see what they were up to. “Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” The coin was a Roman one, with a picture of the emperor on it. Jews were not allowed to make pictures of people or animals, so there would not be any worship of idols. Yet one of those who questioned him pulled out one of the coins and handed it to him. There were other forms of money used among the people. This coin was not typically used in daily life. It was a Roman coin. Jesus asked whose image was on the coin and what was the name written on it. They replied that it was Caesar.  

Jesus knew who it was and what it said, but he asked the question to make it clear that other forces are at play in societies and in world affairs. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  (Mt 22:15-21)

The presence of the Romans in Israel, the status of the Jewish people as subjects of Rome, and the laws governing this small, conquered country all played a role in the way the proclamation of the Good News by Jesus and later by his followers led to the events of his life, including his death and resurrection. The spread of the news of his coming and of the reconciliation between humans and God that he brought was made far easier by the fact that Rome ruled so much of the world at that time. Travel was common, roads had been built and maintained, trade was flourishing, and the world was mostly at peace. 

The growth of the community was not unopposed. Difficulties were common. But the word was received and communities of faith grew. Paul and the others who carried the Good News through the surrounding countries and even to Rome rejoiced in the growth in the numbers of believers. They reminded those new sisters and brothers of God’s love for them and the power of the Holy Spirit, who had come to them and given them strength to live this new way of life. (1 Thes 1:1-5b)

God’s presence and action in the world reaches beyond all boundaries of human communities and traditions. God works to bring good from all that happens. Doors open. Opportunities appear for healing and peace-making. Boundaries break down.

As wars continue in our world today, let’s pray for those in a position to work for international peace, especially for peace between nations that are neighbors and may share some common history. We pray that the Lord will touch the hearts of all involved and help them to see a way forward that allows peoples to live in peace and to grow in wisdom and justice and mercy.  

Come, Holy Spirit. Breathe into our hearts the fire of love, that we may be peacemakers in our own small worlds. Then take that power of peace and move it to the larger stages of life in this world of yours. Surprise us again with the blessings of your love. 

Readings for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Oct 15, 2023

On this Mountain

On this Mountain

On this mountain, the mountain of the Lord, all will share in rich food and choice drinks, death will be destroyed, tears will be wiped away from every face, and the reproach of his people will be removed from the whole earth. All will rejoice in the salvation that comes from the Lord, on this mountain.

What beautiful hopes and dreams are expressed in this reading from the prophet Isaiah. (Is 25:6-10a) It was a time of impending conflict in Israel. Defeat and exile awaited the people. Destruction of the temple on the mountain in Jerusalem was coming. All seemed hopeless. Yet, Isaiah promised that all would end well, because “the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.”

The Mountain of the Lord, the Temple Mount, in the city known as Jerusalem, is described in this passage from Isaiah. It is named often in the scriptures of Jews, Christians, and Muslims and is revered as a holy place of encounter with the Most High. When the nation of Israel was again established following the Second World War, Jerusalem was to belong to no nation. It was to be a place open to the faithful of all faiths. The name of the city itself identifies it as a place of completeness and holiness, because the Lord dwells there.

An ancient land

Today we witness once again war in the land of Israel/Palestine. The same geographic area has been known by many names throughout history. The father of both Jews and Arabs came to this land from Ur of the Chaldees over 4,000 years ago. The land belonged to others when he arrived. He and his family were foreigners, shepherds, whose God had promised them he would be with them. Against all odds, it turned out to be the case that this God was not one local to Mesopotamia. This God was present everywhere they traveled, including for a time into Egypt.

Abraham settled in the land. He and his wife did not have children and it seemed they never would. But they welcomed visitors one day and the visitors promised that they would have a child. Abraham had despaired of receiving an heir through his wife, so he had a child with her servant. This child, who was named Ishmael, Abraham believed would be his heir. However, the visitors’ promise was kept and a year later, Sarah bore a son for her husband Abraham. This was the child of the promise and he was named Isaac. Ishmael and his mother were sent away.

Thus were sown the seeds of the conflict we see continuing today.

When the descendants of Abraham moved to Egypt during a time of famine, others remained in the land they left behind. Many generations later, these descendants had grown to be a large nation. They left slavery in Egypt, with the help of their God, traveled through the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years and eventually re-entered the land of Abraham and their ancestors. Once again, the land was filled with people. It was not open for a large new group of people to move in without conflict. The newly arrived battled the existing residents and took for themselves most of the land, including the mountain on which the temple was built in Jerusalem.

As we have been hearing in the readings from Isaiah and Ezekiel, conflict continued with surrounding countries, Babylon (Iraq), Persia (Iran), Greece, and others. Sometimes the children of Israel (another name for Jacob, one of the sons of Isaac) won these conflicts. Sometimes they were defeated and the people taken into exile. Always they returned, until the Romans destroyed the temple in the year 70 CE. At that time, most of the people were killed or driven into exile.

Again, non-Jewish people, including the descendants of Ishmael, many of whom had never completely left, moved back into the area and prospered.

It was an on-going cycle of hope and disappointment, building and destruction. This cycle was not unique to this land. It was a cycle we have seen throughout history and in many areas around the world. Peoples come into a new area. Those who were living there previously are defeated. New nations rise, others come later and again war ensues. People are killed. Revenge is taken. Wars continue and hatreds grow ever more deeply rooted.

Is there any cause for hope? Will the cycle never end?

Another perspective

Jesus told a story that sheds a bit of light on this issue. (Mt 22:1-14) It seems there was a king whose son was getting married. The marriage of a royal prince is always a big deal. Invitations to the ceremony and the festivities are generally highly desired. But in this case, when the wedding feast began, none of the guests arrived. The food was ready. The tables were set. Everyone was all dressed up. And no one came.

Well, this would never do. The King sent out his servants to remind those who had been invited. But the guests refused to come to the party. There must have been some mistake, perhaps they didn’t get the date right? So he sent out the servants again with an urgent message. “I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.” The food is going to spoil. We can’t just put it into the freezer for another day! This is the day…

But the guests still didn’t come. Instead, they mistreated and killed the king’s servants.

The king was furious. He sent out his soldiers and killed those who had refused his invitation and killed his servants. He burned their city to the ground.

Still, the food was waiting and there were no guests.

This did not stop the king. He had the servants go out to the main roads and invite anyone they met there to come to the feast. Fine clothes were provided for everyone. It would still be a party worthy of the son of a king.

When the king arrived at the party, one guest stood out. This person had refused the offer of new clothes to wear for the party. He was still in his everyday traveling or work clothes.

This puzzled the king. Why haven’t you put on the wedding clothes that were provided for you? The man had nothing to say for himself. So the king ordered that he be tied up and thrown out of the banquet hall. Jesus finished his story with the words, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Wedding Garments and War?

What does this have to do with the current war between Israel and Hamas?

It seems to me that the critical piece that is missing is something like that wedding garment. What does the wedding garment in the story represent? What does refusing to wear one that has been provided for the guest mean?

We are continually offered gifts by the Holy Spirit, including wisdom, understanding, and courage. These gifts allow us to bear fruit. The fruit we are to bear might be likened to the wedding garments of Jesus’ story. These garments are made of characteristics such as patience, kindness, goodness, joy, gentleness, faithfulness, peace, self-control, and love.

When we are invited to the wedding feast for the King’s son, we wear those characteristics as part of our identity and history. If we appear before the King refusing to wear these lovely garments, we won’t fit in. We will have chosen exclusion.

A change of heart is essential for inclusion at the king’s banquet. Similarly it is essential to the creation of peace in the Middle East and around the world. As long as the children of Israel and the children of Ishmael see each other as enemies who are taking each other’s land, there can never be peace. As long as revenge for injuries and massive destruction of life is the response in difficult relationships, the pogroms, massacres, and the Holocaust that were inflicted on the children of Isaac for so many centuries, and the never-ending cycles of violence over which of his descendants will own and control the land originally settled by Abraham will beset the world.

When the agendas of surrounding countries and peoples also enter into the equation, things get even more complicated. Just as in the past, other nations also played a role in whether there was peace or war in the area, larger forces complicate the realities of today and don’t help bring a peaceful resolution to modern conflicts.

Hopeful prayer

Is there hope? I believe there is always hope. I don’t know what it will take, but somehow, when the original guests don’t come to the wedding feast, there will be a way for the feast to happen anyway. Some will put on the wedding garments and lead the way. The prophet tells us that on the mountain of the Lord there will be peace and abundance. People from all nations will come together to share in the blessings and joy of God’s saving work, the defeat of evil and death. People will learn to forgive. Not necessarily to forget. But to forgive and decide to work together for the common good – that would be a critical place to start. And to trust that together they could all live and prosper. Not an easy step by any stretch of the imagination after so much hurt and anger. But essential.

In the meanwhile, we join together in prayer for peace and reconciliation. Violence does not result in peace. It only leads to more violence.

May the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Ishmael be with their descendants around the world and especially in Israel and Gaza today. May peace and justice begin to sprout and bear fruit in the land that is their common inheritance.

Readings for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Special thanks to Deacon Patrick Conway of Resurrection Catholic Community in Aptos for his insight into the meaning of the wedding garment in today’s parable.

Read More

Posted by on Oct 8, 2023

Not All Grapes are Grapes

Not All Grapes are Grapes

In one corner of our back yard when I was growing up there was a plant whose leaves were sharp like those of holly. The bush had small flowers in the spring and blue berries in summer and fall. We were used to picking and eating huckleberries in the fall. They looked a lot like the fruit on this plant, though the leaves were different. But this plant was called Oregon Grape, and we never ate the “grapes” that grew on it. We might have tried the berries, but my mother cautioned us that they really didn’t taste good, despite being called grapes and looking like grapes. The bushes just grew in the corner of the garden as a part of the unchanging shrubbery. Not grapes at all, it seems.

The grapes we hear Isaiah describe in his story of the vineyard remind me of the Oregon Grapes in our back yard. However, in Isaiah’s story, the owner of the vineyard was expecting real grapes, ones that could be eaten or made into wine. (Is 5:-7) He cleared the land, planted high quality vines, took good care of the plants. He even prepared a wine press – all with the expectation that a good harvest would follow in the fall.

Imagine the disappointment of the owner of the vineyard when the fruit appeared on the vines. Instead of plump, sweet grapes, he found small wild grapes that could never be made into wine or other good foods for the family or community. It was like finding Oregon Grapes growing on his vines. This fruit was unusable. The vineyard was a total failure. A waste of time and money. What a terrible disappointment.

The owner of the vineyard responded by breaking down the protective walls of the vineyard and letting it be returned to an untended state. The vines were useless, except as food for wild animals.

Isaiah here reminds the people of his time that the Lord’s vineyard is the people of Judah, the house of Israel. If this vineyard of the Lord is not producing good fruit, it will suffer the same fate as the vineyard which produced wild grapes rather than the rich, plump, domestic grapes that the owner had expected. The Lord will stop protecting the nation from their foes. Their land will be destroyed and they will be scattered.

The image of the Lord’s people as a vineyard is ancient. We see it in the psalms, including Psalm 80. “A vine from Egypt you transplanted; you drove away the nations and planted it. It put forth its foliage to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River.” In other words, the people have increased in numbers and filled the new land into which they moved after their time in Egypt and wandering in the desert. Yet they have not always remained faithful and at times it’s as if the walls of the vineyard have been broken down and passersby have taken its fruits. Wild animals have eaten the plants. Nevertheless, the psalmist calls on the Lord to rescue and protect the vineyard and the vines planted there once again. When the vineyard has been restored, the people will remain faithful, the Lord’s face will shine on them, and all will be saved.

Jesus also described a vineyard. (Mt 21:33-43) In this case, the landowner leased out the vineyard he had planted to tenants. The tenants would receive a part of the harvest as payment for their labor. The rest would go to the landowner, as a return on the investment in the land and the vineyard.

When the time came for the harvest, the landowner was away. He sent his servants to collect his share of the harvest. The tenants beat and killed the servants rather than give them the grapes for which they had come. The landowner sent more servants, but the tenants killed them too. Finally, the landowner’s own son was sent to collect the harvest from the tenants. The greedy tenants killed the landlord’s son rather than send the harvest to him.

Jesus asked those with whom he was speaking what the landlord would do in such a situation. (Always good to include your listeners in figuring out what comes next in a story or lesson.) They answered quickly that the tenants would be killed and new ones entrusted with the vineyard.

Then Jesus reminded them that just as the stone the builders had rejected became the cornerstone of the Lord’s building, the kingdom of God would be passed to other people if the people to whom it had originally been entrusted did not care for it and produce good fruit.

So what kind of grapes (or behavior) is the Lord hoping will be harvested? What are the good grapes?

St. Paul tells us that whatever we need, we can ask of God. (Phil 4:6-9) The peace of God will fill our hearts and minds, guarding and guiding them. The grapes we will see in such situations are truth, honorable behavior, justice, purity, beauty, graciousness, excellence, and actions worthy of praise. These are the kinds of grapes our landlord, the owner of the vineyard of the Lord, is hoping to receive. As long as our lives are producing these good fruits, these true “grapes,” the God of peace will be with us.

It’s still harvest time in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern, spring is bringing the hope and promise of a rich harvest. But for us, the harvest is on. The race to finish all that needs to be done before winter storms begin is in full swing. Grapes are being harvested. Will we and our lives be seen as sweet, rich grapes, filled with love and kindness? The Oregon Grapes are ripe too, but once again this year, they will remain on the shrub in the back yard for the birds and other animals to eat. Not all grapes are grapes!

May we bear rich fruit this week, reflecting the loving work of our Father, the vineyard owner.

Readings for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Read More

Posted by on Oct 1, 2023

Not too late to change

Not too late to change

I attended a play recently in which the world and all within it was beautiful and peaceful until spirits of anger, fear, doubt, distrust, and other negative emotions began to surround and disable the healthy functioning of the people. Eventually a wise old man went into the forest alone to seek wisdom and a solution for this terrible problem. He was advised to seek the solution through the air, the water, the earth, and fire. The wise ones of the mountain told him the people would need to pass through trials involving these forces and elements in order for life to return to the peaceful state that had existed before the coming of those evil forces. The people passed through these challenges and emerged into a community, singing of the wonders of life.

This play took the place of the more traditional ones for the festival in which it was performed. In those traditional plays, there is a dragon (from one or another of the world’s traditions) that somehow is threatening the people. With the help and guidance of angelic or spiritual forces, specifically Michael the archangel in some stories, brave people are able to tame the dragon. The dragon then provides power and help to the community to support life for all.

I have been reflecting on the difference in these stories. The first left me and many others with a sense of incompleteness. The forces that had upset the lives of the people had not really been addressed. They had not been transformed in any meaningful way. There was no reason to assume they would not return at a future date to cause even more harm. Anger was not transformed into forgiveness. Fear did not give way to courage. Doubt did not grow into a readiness to explore deeply and find inner, hidden truths. Distrust didn’t grow into a willingness to take a chance on reconciliation and healing. There was no redemption or transformation of the deep, and often fearful powers that can cause such pain and suffering in human life and damage to our ecosystem. The dragon-powers within each of us that can cause such hurt and suffering in human life did not receive the gift of transforming grace. In the traditional stories, the dragon-forces are brought under control and improve life for all. A much more satisfying result.

These thoughts fit into my reflection on the readings this week. The prophet Ezekiel spoke to the Jewish people in exile in Babylon. Prior to his time, the assumption had been that God’s judgement and any punishments for wrongdoing were communal. If others in a family or a community had broken the law, everyone would have to suffer the punishment. God was seen as a judge whose decisions affected all, whether guilty or not. So the sins of the parents were punished in the lives of their children too. If a child was born blind, for example, the question might be asked, as it was yet in Jesus’ time, “Whose sin was it that caused this”– the child’s or the parents’?

Through Ezekiel the Lord asks, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” The Lord reminds them that if a good person turns from doing good things and chooses evil, that person will bear the guilt. But if a person who has been doing evil things turns away from evil and begins to do the right thing, that person will live rather than die. It’s never too late to turn away from evil. It’s a question of individual decisions and actions. God will always give life to the one who chooses to do the right thing. (Ez 18:25-28)

And what is the right thing? St. Paul reminds the Philippians that humble, loving service to each other in the community and beyond is the calling of Christians. We are to be humble as Christ was humble. To make his point even more clear, he quoted an early hymn in which we are reminded that “though he was in the form of God … he emptied himself … coming in human likeness…” Jesus even accepted death on a cross – a shameful, humiliating death. (Phil 2:1-11)

In his teaching, Jesus made the same point about our choices as individuals, by telling a story. “A man had two sons…” He asked each of them to do some work in the family vineyard. One son refused, but later changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard. The other son said, “Sure, Dad.” But he never quite got around to going into the vineyard and doing what his father had asked him to do. Jesus posed the question to the religious leaders who were questioning him, “Which of the two did his father’s will?” Of course, the answer was clear. The one who initially refused, but then changed his mind and did what had been requested.

Jesus made it clear that the ones whose actions, professions, or status in society made them the least likely to be counted among those pleasing to God, would be welcomed into the kingdom because they heard and believed his message. Those whose positions seemed to make them more likely to be pleasing would find themselves excluded because of their failure to believe it and change their lives. (Mt 21:28-32)

We each must decide, again and again it seems. How do we live out our calling to service? Where are our talents needed? Where is a kind word, or a smile, or a simple act of forgiveness going to be the key that helps another person to hope and continue onward on their journey? How do we help to bring reconciliation and transformation of the dragons within ourselves and in our society to build a better world?

As we enter into a new month and a new season, may we be ready to listen and to allow ourselves to be transformed into sources of healing and reconciliation in our families, our workplaces, our communities, our nation, and our world. It’s a beautiful world, just waiting for us to wake up and grow together in love.

Readings for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

Read More