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Posted by on May 8, 2022

A Light to the Gentiles

A Light to the Gentiles

“Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia.” (Acts 13:14) These words describe an event early in the first missionary journey of St. Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus. They caught my attention as I realized I really didn’t know where Perga or Antioch in Pisidia were located. So, I did a little research.

As it turns out, Antioch is the name of at least two cities in the ancient world. One is in what we know today as Syria. This is the Antioch in which followers of the way were first called Christians (Oil Heads). The other Antioch is a city in what is now Turkey, near the southwestern edge of the great central plains in the center of Turkey. This Antioch was known as Antioch in Pisidia (a region of Asia Minor and part of the Roman Empire).

Tarsus, the home city of St. Paul, is also in southern Turkey, but much farther east, closer to Syria. It was to Tarsus that Paul retreated for safety after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus led to his conversion. Following a time of retreat in the desert, he went to Jerusalem and gained acceptance from the community he once had persecuted there. But the authorities were angered by his conversion and he was not safe there, so the community in Jerusalem advised to go back to Tarsus, for everyone’s safety.

About eleven years after his conversion, the community in Antioch (in Syria) sent him on a missionary journey with Barnabas, one of the early followers of Jesus. They traveled to Cyprus and then to Turkey, landing at Perga on the southern coast in a region known as Pamphylia. From there they traveled over the mountains to Antioch in Pisidia.

The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter begin with the story of what happened in Antioch in Pisidia. (Acts 13:14, 43-52) As was their custom, when they first visited a new community, they went to the synagogue on the sabbath to worship. After the initial prayers, they were welcomed as visitors and asked if they would like to share anything with the community gathered there. A major section of the narrative is left out of today’s reading, but it’s good to know what it was. Paul stood up and went through the history of God’s dealings with the Jewish people, from the time of the exodus from Egypt to the present. He reminded them of the prophecies of the coming of a Messiah and of God’s care for them through the centuries. Then he presented the good news that the Messiah had come, had been put to death, and had been raised from the dead. As they left the synagogue that day, they were invited to return again the next week to tell more about these events.

The reading picks up again at this point, noting that many of the Jews and others who were converts to Judaism followed them and were excited to hear this news. Paul and Barnabas continued to speak with them during the week. The next sabbath, when they went to the synagogue, a large crowd, including non-Jews, gathered to hear them speak. Leaders of the synagogue became jealous and argued “with violent abuse” against what they were saying.

Paul and Barnabas did not back down in the face of this opposition. Instead, they boldly stated that although it was essential first to present this news to the Jewish community, they were now going to obey an ancient command of God – to become “a light to the Gentiles” and an “instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” This command is from the Book of Isaiah (49:6). It would have been well known to this community in Antioch.

Non-Jewish residents of Antioch were delighted with the news of salvation extended to them. But opposition from the Jews of the city, including some prominent women, stirred up enough opposition that Paul and Barnabas were tossed out of the territory. So they continued their journey to Iconium, another city to the southeast of Antioch. We are told that they “were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

In this account, we see the beginnings of Paul’s mission to the Gentile world, to all of us who are not genetically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul and Barnabas continued this practice of going first to the synagogue in communities they visited, and then to the Gentiles. They traveled extensively throughout Asia Minor (Turkey) and Greece. Eventually, they even went to Rome. Paul was martyred there in 68 A.D.

The second reading, from Revelation (7:9,14b-17) speaks of a great multitude of people “from every nation, race, people, and tongue” who stood in front of the throne of the Lamb. These people represent the entire world, gathered to praise the Lamb. They have survived a time of great suffering, washing their clothing in the blood of the Lamb, and thus being purified. The Lamb will provide all they need and lead them “to springs of life-giving water) as a shepherd. God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Not long after Jesus described himself as the good shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep follow him, St. John tells us of an encounter between the authorities and Jesus at the Feast of the Dedication (the re-dedication of the altar at the temple in 164 B.C.). The authorities were pressing him to state clearly whether he was the Messiah or not. Jesus refused to say so directly. Instead, he pointed to his works and his teachings. “The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” (Jn10:25) Then he told them the reason they didn’t believe in his teachings was that they were not among his sheep.

John quotes Jesus in the reading today (10:27-30). “My sheep hear my voice …” He describes his followers as his sheep, given to him by the Father. Then he sates, “The Father and I are one.”

The Shepherd, who is also the Lamb, calls people from all the world, Jews and Gentiles alike. He cares for them and provides for all their needs.

This is the great good news which we receive each day as we join in prayer and reflection on the scriptures. Ours is not a faith that excludes anyone. All are welcome. All share in the gift of salvation. All are called to share this good news with everyone we meet by the way we live our lives. We are all the sheep of the Good Shepherd – cared for, protected, and guided by the One who loves us.

Do I really believe this? Do you? Does my life reflect this reality? How does the love of the shepherd/lamb shine through in my life? Do I care for others whom I meet? Am I gentle and loving in my dealings with others? Will others see His love because my life is a window rather than an obscuring wall? Much to consider, both as individuals and as a community of faith.

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Posted by on Mar 27, 2022

Seeing with God’s Eyes

Seeing with God’s Eyes

I’m always intrigued by those puzzles in which there are two pictures that at first glance look the same, but have a caption reading, “Can you spot the differences between these two pictures?” There are small things that differ between the two pictures. One might have a yellow flower and the other a red one. One is missing a beach ball or has a baseball in the same place. I suspect those who develop these puzzles have a good laugh as they do their work. “How long will it take before the kids notice this difference?” Such puzzles help children develop an awareness of detail and subtle differences. They’re good for reminding adults that things are not always what they seem at first glance to be.

We have reached the Fourth Sunday in Lent, a Sunday known as Laetare Sunday. Laetare is the first word in Latin of the opening antiphon of the Mass, Laetare Jerusalem, Rejoice, O Jerusalem. This Sunday the celebrants will wear rose-colored vestments. (Teasingly, some folks refer to the color as pink, knowing that in our time and culture, pink is a color more commonly associated with women’s styles and fashion than with men’s vestments. The men smile and correct them, “It’s rose.” Another example of different ways of perceiving the same thing….)

Once again, we have two different sets of readings. Cycle A readings are used in communities which are celebrating the Scrutinies with their RCIA candidates. Cycle C readings are used in other communities.

Sometimes the readings have very different themes, but this day there are some common threads.

Cycle C readings begin with a section from the book of Joshua (5:9a, 10-12). It takes place after the people have crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. For forty years, they have been in the desert and eaten manna each day. Now they are in the “Land of Milk and Honey,” a land of great abundance. They celebrate Passover there and eat the unleavened bread and parched grain of that meal. The very next day, the manna does not again fall. The “yield of the land of Canaan” is now theirs to enjoy.

Psalm 34 rejoices: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” The lowly will hear and be glad. “I sought the Lord and he answered me.” The Lord delivered the poor one from distress. So many examples of the goodness of the Lord, a goodness physically tasted by the Israelites in the text from Joshua.

St. Paul explains to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:17-21) that old things have passed away and new things have come into being for those who belong to Christ, those who are members of the Christian community. All are part of Christ’s body and share in the mission of reconciliation between God and humanity. This is not just the calling of the apostles. It is the calling of all Christians. Those outside the community may not perceive this difference, but those who have answered the call will shine forth the righteousness of God in their lives of faith as Christ’s ambassadors to the world.

The Gospel story in Cycle C is from Luke (15:1-3, 11-32). It’s known as the story of the Prodigal Son. A man has two sons. One begs for his share of the inheritance in advance. The other stays home with his father and works on the family land. The first goes off to another land and spends all his money frivolously. Eventually a famine comes. He has fallen to the point of needing to care for pigs, unclean animals, to earn any money at all. He in such a sorry position that he doesn’t even get offered the food fed to the pigs. Coming to his senses, he realizes his error in leaving home. He decides to return and beg his father for a job as a field hand.

As he approaches, his father sees him coming and runs out to meet him. A party and great celebration follow. The brother who remained at home is terribly upset and won’t come into the house to the party. His father begs him to come and celebrate, “because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again.”

The father in this story sees things as God does. We too are called in this parable to see through God’s eyes.

The Cycle A readings start out with the selection of David to be the successor of Saul as King of Israel. The Prophet Samuel (Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a) is called to go to Bethlehem, to the home of a man named Jesse. Jesse has many sons, all of whom appear at first glance to be perfect for becoming king. Yet as each appears, the Lord tells Samuel that this is not the one. Finally, after all the sons at home have been examined, Samuel asks, “Are these all the sons you have?” As it turns out, there is one more, a boy who is out taking care of the sheep. No one even thought of him as a possible option.

Samuel calls for the boy to be summoned. When David appears, the Lord says, “There – anoint him, for this is the one!” When Samuel anointed David, “the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” David grew up to become the second king of Israel.

The Lord’s eyes perceived something in David that was not obvious to the rest of his family.

Psalm 23 follows in this set of readings. In this psalm, the composer declares, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” We are very used to seeing this as a beautiful and comforting sentiment. Traditional pictures show a well-groomed, rather effeminate man, or a healthy young boy, tending a flock of sheep on a beautiful afternoon. But this was not the lived reality of the world of the shepherd. There were wet, rainy days. There were muddy fields and cold nights. There was very low social status as the people moved from being traveling shepherds to having farms, cities, armies, and kingdoms to defend.

There were still a good number of shepherds in the time of David and Jesus, just as today there continue to be shepherds. Shepherds and other pastoralists (such as cowboys) still follow their animals from pasture to pasture. Many farmers also keep sheep and cattle as part of their operations. These animals provide many resources that are useful for the humans who tend them and sell or exchange those products as part of a way of earning their living.

To think of the Lord God as a shepherd brings a multitude of images. The notion of a God who would get his hands dirty, entering into the earthiness of our lives as humans, is striking. The notion that God is like a shepherd who knows what is best for the sheep and will protect them is comforting.

A lot depends on whose eyes are looking and from what perspective. What is different in one picture/scenario than in the other?

In his letter to the people of Ephesus, St. Paul speaks of light and darkness. Those who are not yet followers of Jesus are still living in darkness. Christians are children of light, from which goodness, truth, and righteousness flow. He advises them to bring anything that is not good to the light so it can be healed. The deeds of darkness are shameful and bring harm. Those that are brought into the light become visible and bring honor. In a culture in which honor and shame are shared across an entire family, this is tremendously important. The picture of a life is quite different when lived with honor in the light of Christ.

The Gospel for today is from St. John (9:1-41), the healing of the man blind from birth. In Jesus’ time, there were no social services for children born with disabilities. To give birth to a child born blind was a great tragedy. There were very few occupations, if any, that welcomed the blind and allowed them to learn a skill and support themselves as adults. Most disabled people found they must become beggars to survive. People passing by might help. More often, they simply pretended not to see or hear the beggar. Most likely, they simply tuned out the voices of the beggars as they themselves went about their day. (We sometimes do the same as we pass the unhoused on our streets, if truth be told.)

Jesus and his friends passed a blind man who was begging. The disciples wondered whose fault it was that the man had been born blind. In their culture, it was assumed that blindness was punishment for sin – whether the sin of the person who had been born blind or the sin of the parents. Jesus replied that no one had sinned and thereby caused this tragedy for the man in question. God’s works would become visible through the blind man and his misfortune.

Jesus spat on the soil, making a mud paste which he smeared on the man’s eyes. Spittle was believed to have healing characteristics in those days. Then he instructed the man to go wash off the mud at the Pool of Siloam. The man didn’t ask to be healed. He could have laughed and remained at his post. But instead, he went to the pool and washed. He played a role in the healing himself by following Jesus’ instructions. When he washed, his blindness was healed and he could see.

He came back from the pool a transformed man. He had been a beggar, dependent on the goodwill of strangers. Now he testified to what had happened. “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”

He did not know where to find Jesus or even what Jesus looked like. He had been healed at the Siloam while Jesus had continued on his way.

St. John tells of the witness of the newly healed man and his courage in speaking the truth of his experience to the religious authorities and teachers in Jerusalem. The authorities did not believe him. His parents testified that he had indeed been born blind. He didn’t back down from his story of the healing received. He argued with those who claimed that Jesus was a sinner, therefore not possibly able to heal. He reminded them that God listens to those who are devout and do his will. He did not back down in his testimony and was eventually tossed out.

Jesus went to find him when he heard of the actions of the authorities. He asked the man whether he believed in the Son of Man. Upon learning that this was Jesus speaking with him, the man professed his faith.

Themes of seeing and blindness run throughout this story. They don’t follow standard patterns. The blind see and the seeing are blind. God’s eyes see differently than do the eyes of those who think they know what is possible, right, and good. God looks at the big picture and sees differences that we might not notice.

Today I ask myself, what is it that I am not seeing? Where are the blind-spots in my life? Do I really want to see? If I see, what will change? Do I want change? Where does God fit into all of this? What does God see that I don’t? Two pictures – Many things basically the same – A few things different.

Open my eyes, Lord. Help me to see your face… Help me to see.

Mass at Resurrection Catholic Community, Aptos, CA – You Tube

Open My Eyes – Jesse Manibusan

 

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Posted by on Nov 7, 2021

Absolute Trust in the Lord

Absolute Trust in the Lord

“There is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug … when we have eaten it, we shall die.”

The prophet Elijah and a widow star in today’s reading from the book of Kings (1 Kg 17:10-16). Elijah has fled the wrath of Jezebel and Ahab, traveling to the city of Zarephath. Jezebel, as you will recall, has sworn to kill Elijah for his opposition to the decision of Ahab to worship the gods of her people and encourage the people of his kingdom to do the same. One would think Elijah would travel far from any lands connected to Jezebel. But the Lord sent him to the land of Sidon, ruled by Jezebel’s father! (Ever heard the phrase, the Lord’s ways are mysterious?)

Elijah arrives in Zaraphath, hungry, tired, and thirsty. A woman is gathering sticks there. Elijah asks her for a cup of water. When she starts off to get it for him, he asks for something more, a bit of something to eat. It is at this point that her situation becomes clear. She is a widow and has a child. In those days, there was no social safety net. No one was there to help her. Her husband was gone. His family was no longer responsible for her care. Her family had long since given up any responsibility for her. She was on her own. There was no way for her to go out and get a job to support herself. Many women in her situation had no option but to become prostitutes. The lives of these women were short and hard. Their children had no future either. They were left to become beggars, servants, thieves, slaves, or worse!

“Do not be afraid,” says Elijah. These words are so often heard in the scriptures. The Lord will take care of it! He assures her that there will be enough flour and oil for him to have a little cake/bread. The flour and oil will not run out until the rains come again. (This was a time of drought and supplies of food were scarce, making her situation even more precarious.)

We remember this woman because, though she was not a Jew, did not worship or know the Lord, and did not know this man who had come asking for her help, she took a chance and trusted him. She made the bread for him and hosted him in her home through the entire time he lived in Zaraphath, until it became time for him to return to his own land. The jar of flour did not go empty, nor did the jug of oil run out for the entire year they lived together.

Another widow caught the attention of Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem. On this Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear the story often known as the widow’s mite. (Mk 12:38-44) As the story begins, Jesus was teaching in the temple. He warned those listening to him to beware of the scribes.

Last week we heard the story of the scribe who was praised by Jesus as a man not far from the Kingdom of God. That scribe had heard Jesus teaching when the widow in today’s story gave her gift to the temple. He asked Jesus the question about the greatest commandment and praised Jesus for his answer to the question. But this story came first.

The scribes to whom Jesus was referring here were educated men who served as recorders and lawyers. They knew the law and were careful to observe the letter of the law. Jesus did not criticize their knowledge or their position as specialists. However, he was incensed at the behavior of those who demanded high fees for their services as lawyers and justified the price by their apparent holiness. They recited elaborate prayers and accepted honors from all, then cheated widows and the poor.

Watching the people come and go in the temple, Jesus observed that many well-to-do people came and put large amounts of money into the collection boxes, the treasury. Checks were not used in those days, nor paper money or credit cards, so it was obvious when a large amount of money was being deposited. Then a poor widow came along. She gave two very small coins. These were something like giving two pennies. Not much to offer in comparison with the gifts given by most people. Certainly not enough to warrant attention or praise from bystanders. Yet Jesus noticed and praised her. He noted that those who were giving large gifts were not making any real sacrifice or putting any real trust in God. What they gave was what was left over after all their needs had been met. The woman, on the other hand, gave all that she had. There was nothing held back. She was now totally dependent on God. Her gift was much larger than that of the others, despite being such a small amount in absolute terms. With the psalmist, she could sing, “Praise the Lord, my soul!” The Lord who keeps faith, securing justice for the oppressed and food for the hungry (Ps 146): in this Lord she trusted totally.

Jesus sat in the temple and watched. He taught there. He prayed there. Sacrifices had been offered there on his behalf. That day, he would not likely have thought of himself as a High Priest. He was a carpenter who had received a call from God to tell everyone that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He was to bring good news to poor and rich alike. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Be good to each other. After his death and resurrection, the community reflected on what had just happened and tried to explain it in terms of their religious tradition. (Heb 9:24-28) They knew the High Priest offered sacrifices for himself and all the people. Day after day, year after year, sacrifices were offered in the temple. Yet Jesus had given himself and been raised up by the Father. Jesus had offered the perfect sacrifice to reconcile God and humans, giving himself as the faithful witness to God’s Kingdom and Love. This sacrifice would never need to be repeated. Jesus had promised to return to them. They awaited his coming eagerly.

It’s taken a lot more years than the early followers of Jesus thought it would take before his second coming. We’re not there yet, over 2,000 years later. Yet the stories of these two widows and the reflections of the psalmist and the author of the Letter to the Hebrews still speak to us of the call to absolute trust in God’s love and protection. There are times when we too must simply trust that enough material goods will come along to provide for what is needed, especially when we are asked to take precious time away from “earning a living” to help someone who is unable to fend for themselves. Or when we are asked to share the little bit extra we’ve set aside for something we want but don’t absolutely need. We don’t always get exactly what we might think we need, or when we think we must have it, but we get what is really needed, when it is needed, and not a second before then. I like to think of it as “God’s Just-In-Time Financing.” When the chips are down, something or someone comes through with the particular thing that is most needed.

Today I pray for the grace to continue to trust the Lord and the grace to be generous with my time and treasure, just as the two widows so long ago trusted in the Lord’s protection and care.

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Posted by on Oct 10, 2021

Word and Wisdom – The Depths of the Heart

Word and Wisdom – The Depths of the Heart

Suppose God came to you and instructed you to ask for one gift. What gift would you request? You could have anything at all. Lands, power, wealth, recognition, admiration, skill, fame… What would you request?

Solomon, one of the ancient kings of Israel, was confronted with just this dilemma. His response was to request the gift of wisdom and it was granted to him. He has come down in history and tradition as Solomon the Wise.

The author of the book of Wisdom was writing about 100 years before Jesus was born. As is common in Scripture, the author’s words are ascribed to a well-known and respected figure from the past. In the reading today, the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the figure in question is Solomon. Solomon is praising Wisdom and begins with the story of how Wisdom came to him (Wis 7:7-11).

Solomon declares, “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” Solomon could have had greater riches, more lands to govern, heaps and heaps of gold and jewels, but he begged for wisdom. And his request was granted. He was not disappointed, nor did he regret his choice. He tells us, “… the splendor of her never yields to sleep.” Wisdom opens the door to appreciation of countless riches that might otherwise be completely overlooked.

Wisdom is personified as a feminine figure in Jewish tradition and is an attribute of God. Wisdom dwells in the heart of women and men. For Jews of this time, the heart was the center of a person, the very core of one’s being. This is where decisions are made and the place from which actions follow. Wisdom is not based in the head. Reason on its own doesn’t lead to wisdom. Wisdom is born from the heart.

The Psalmist asks, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” (Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17) This isn’t a request to have everything go well as a sign of the Lord’s favor. The very next statement is, “Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!” Clearly, things have not always gone well. Yet hope remains and the psalmist asks the Lord to give what might seem a strange gift, “Make us glad, for the days when you afflicted us, for the years when we saw evil.” How can this be? How does this make sense?

One thing I have noticed in my life is that when all is going well, I don’t learn as much about loving, forgiving, and depending on God as when things have been harder. It’s easy to tell others how to live and what they should do when one has never walked in the same shoes, let alone shoes a couple of sizes smaller and tighter. But once having gone through tough times, it’s much easier to react with compassion to the suffering of others.

God’s work shines through our lives, especially if we keep our eyes open to see it. As the Lord is present and our eyes are open to see, we can notice and rejoice in the gifts received. In times of trouble, we can grow in wisdom if we are open to see.

For the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 4:12-13), the same divine wisdom is described as the word of God, which is living and has an effect, reflecting the inmost thoughts of the heart. Again, the heart is the seat of our humanity. The word is alive and active and it comes from God. Nothing can hide from the word of God. The reading is short, but very powerful.

So how are we called to live? What is necessary to “inherit eternal life?” The young man in today’s Gospel runs up to Jesus and respectfully asks just this question (Mk 10:17-30). Jesus reminds him of the Law that has come down through the ages from Moses. We refer to this particular part of the law as the Ten Commandments. The young man is a bit puzzled. “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus can see his goodness and loves this about him. So he offers him one last challenge, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor… then come, follow me.” This the young man could not do. He had many possessions and they held him bound. Jesus watched sadly as the young man walked away.

How tightly do things hold us bound? Jesus speaks of entering the Kingdom of God as being as hard for the rich as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. This was a reference to a very small gate into the city of Jerusalem. Camels were too tall to enter through the gate without getting on their knees and essentially crawling through. The followers of Jesus rightly noted that such conditions for entry to the Kingdom were pretty much impossible to meet. Jesus agreed that in human terms it would be impossible. This is the reason that God’s help is necessary and wisdom springs from the heart. To the extent that we can hold on to things lightly, letting them go and sharing them whenever the need arises, we can become more like generous children and able to see the Kingdom as it is present around us.

Through the eyes of the heart and wisdom, we approach the Kingdom. How do we, you and I, open our eyes, our hearts, and our hands to allow Wisdom, the Word of God, to fill our being and overflow into our world today?

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Posted by on Oct 3, 2021

In God’s Image and Equal

In God’s Image and Equal

The readings from the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time are frequently misunderstood or misinterpreted. They deal with the relationship between men and women, as well as the question of marriage and divorce. Little, unimportant topics, to be sure…

Let’s take a look at them in their context and see what they are really saying to us.

The first reading is from the second chapter of Genesis. It’s from the second creation story, which addresses different questions than does the first. In the first creation story, everything comes into being in response to God’s word of command, with humans being formed by God in God’s own image – male and female they were created from the start. They represent the culmination of creation, after which God rests.

The order and manner of creation differs in the second story. In the second story, God made the earth and the heavens, but there was no grass nor were there shrubs, because there had been no rain and there were no humans to till the soil. In this story, God takes the clay mud that is found beside a stream welling up out of the earth. From this mud, God forms a man. The Hebrew words include a bit of a pun. “Man” is adam and “mud” is adama. Into this individual, God breathes some of God’s own breath of life and the adam becomes a living person.

After creating the Adam, God planted a garden in a fertile plain (eden) and placed the Adam there. Plants, trees, and all sorts of wonderful things grew in the garden and the Adam was free to eat of them. The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil also grew in the heart of the garden, and of them it was forbidden to eat.

The Lord God realized that the Adam would be lonesome without a companion, so other creatures were created. This is where our reading today picks up (Gen 2:18-24). Many animals were created, and all were given names by the Adam. But none of them was a suitable companion to him. He remained unique and lonely.

So the Lord made him sleep deeply. While he slept, the Lord took a rib from his side and formed it into another person, this one female. It is absolutely significant that the woman was formed from the side of the adam. If she had been formed from his head, it would mean she was superior to him. If from his feet, she would be inferior to him. But from his side, she was his equal.

When Adam awoke, the Lord brought the new being to him. Adam rejoiced because at last, here was a being that would be his equal and partner. He gave her a name too, again a pun. She would be known as Ishsha (woman) because she had been taken from Ishah (her man or her husband). We know her as Eve. Together they would become one unit, one body, and form new families of humans.

Psalm 128 reminds us of the great gift of husbands and wives living together in peace and raising their families. This is a great blessing bestowed on those who walk in the ways of the Lord. The text includes the notion of fear of the Lord. That doesn’t mean fear in the sense of being afraid of the Lord or of being punished for angering the Lord. Fear in this sense is more a question of the awe that comes from something too wonderful to comprehend or take for granted.

During the time of Jesus, there was a controversy in the Jewish community over whether divorce was lawful. Mosaic law allowed a man to divorce his wife, but the grounds for divorce varied, depending on which group of scholars was looking at the question. A member of one of these groups, a Pharisee, asked Jesus his opinion on the topic (Mk 10:2-16). By this time in history, women had very few rights. A man could divorce his wife. A woman had no such option. If she were divorced by her husband, she was returned to her family in disgrace and most likely would never again be married. Her status in society was completely ruined. Who would take a “used woman” for a wife? Without a man, a woman had no social standing and no rights.

Jesus goes back to before Moses for his response. He reminds his listeners that God created humans as men and women and intended them to become one unit, one body. No other human being should come between them.

In saying this, Jesus sort of side-stepped the issue raised by the Pharisee in public. However, his disciples were not satisfied and questioned him later in private. With them, he was much more direct. Divorcing a spouse and marrying another means committing adultery against that spouse. Very importantly here, Jesus places women on an equal footing with the men on this question. He assumes that a woman might also divorce her husband. The caveat is that if she remarries, she too is committing adultery against her former husband!

This is a hard thing. It’s very important today to remember that a wedding ceremony does not necessarily mean a couple are actually married in the deeper sense of becoming a creative, blessing, unit. That’s why the Church is so careful about marriages and the process for entering into a sacramental union. In a true marriage, there is a recognition that God is present in the relationship and the couple minister the presence of God to each other. Shot-gun marriages are not sacramental. Marriage just because a woman is pregnant is often not free enough to qualify. Marriage because a bride-price or dowry has been exchanged already, if one or the other partner is unwilling to enter the union, would not qualify. A marriage in which there is violence or a partner under the influence of drugs or alcohol does not qualify. When these circumstances can be identified, it is ruled that there was no marriage in the first place and the individuals are both free to marry at a later time.

Our understanding of marriage has grown and deepened through the centuries, but many challenges still arise for any couple who commit to living together as a unit, with a bond created by God. Fortunately, we have a much better understanding of human psychology today and a willingness to look deeper at the underpinnings of relationships among men and women of good will.

The Gospel reading continues with a new topic as well – children. People brought their children to Jesus to be blessed. The grown-ups thought that was not OK. Children were to be seen and not heard. They had no real rights and should not be bothering the master. But Jesus thought differently. Jesus welcomed the children and reproached those who tried to keep them away. Children are the model for all who want to enter the Kingdom of God. All must approach God with the openness and joy of a child.

In fact, according to the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 2:9-11), all who are brought to glory through the leadership of Jesus are children of the Father. Jesus, “lower than the angels” for a brief time, became perfect through suffering, and brought humans with him back to the Father. Jesus calls all of us brothers and sisters.

Created in God’s image and equal, what is our response? How do we react to one another? Whose love do we respect and support? How do we reach out to those whose lives and ways of understanding are different than ours? Are we open to hear of the ways God’s love shines in the lives of non-binary people? Do we respect people of other cultures whose traditions differ from ours? How do we model loving relationships among our peers and with our children and grandchildren?

In October we are reminded to Respect Life. Life in its many stages and forms. Life before and after birth. From womb to tomb. May we accept the challenges of supporting women, children, immigrants, refugees, old people and young people, binary people and non-binary people, and all those in-between.

We are created in God’s image and we are all equal in God’s sight.

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Posted by on Aug 22, 2021

Decisions and Commitments

Decisions and Commitments

Readings for the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time tell the story of commitments made long ago and the decisions that accompany the commitments.

We begin once again with the ancient Hebrew people. They have left Egypt, traveled through the Sinai Peninsula’s arid lands for 40 years, and now, under the leadership of Joshua, have entered into the Promised Land. Was the land empty and in need of a large community of people to enter and settle there? No. Were the peoples already living there happy to welcome newcomers? No. Did the peoples living there worship just one deity? No. Might there be some problems? Yes. Yes. Yes!

The Hebrew people were descendants of a few people who had left Ur (in modern day Iraq) many centuries earlier. They had lived in Canaanite lands before moving to Egypt during a great famine. They stayed in Egypt for a long time, growing from the families of the twelve original sons of Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) to be a very large group of people. To prevent their developing an alliance with potential invaders from the east, Egyptian rulers enslaved the Hebrews. Moses, an Israelite child raised by an Egyptian princess, under the inspiration and guidance of God, eventually led the people to freedom and began the 40-year sojourn in the Sinai. In the Sinai, the covenant agreement established with Abraham, from whom they all descended, was re-established. Now, as they at last enter again the land where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had lived, it’s time to reconfirm their agreement.

Joshua (Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b) reminds them of their history and of all God has done for them. Will they remain true to God in this land to which they have come. Will they remember to worship only God, not the gods of the people living there, nor the gods they or their ancestors might have worshipped in the past? Will they obey the Law given to them in the desert, the instructions about how to live in peace and justice with each other and with those non-Hebrews who live among them? Joshua declares that he and his family will do so. The rest of the people respond that they also will do so.

It was a big commitment, especially since they would be living among many other peoples. Through the centuries that followed, there were times when they were faithful and times when they were not. Sometimes they lived in peace with their neighbors. Sometimes they were conquered. They explained these experiences in terms of whether they had been faithful to their Lord God or had not. When they were faithful, things went well. When they were not, things did not. Did God really turn away from them? No, God doesn’t do that. But there are consequences of decisions made and sometimes those consequences are not what we would prefer.

A commitment was made by the Hebrew people that day at Shechem. The decision to abide by that commitment had to be made again and again.

Many of the people who were disciples/followers of Jesus also had to make a commitment/decision after they had seen him feed a large crowd in an arid countryside. They had come to him back in town, wanting to see more miracles. Jesus didn’t give them more miracles. They spoke of the manna in the desert given by Moses. He reminded them that God had provided the manna. He then spoke of bread from heaven that would give the fullness of life to the world. As the conversation continued, he shocked all by declaring that he himself was the bread of life. His body and blood would bring life to the world. And, most shocking of all, they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have this fullness of life. That would be absolutely unthinkable for a good Jew or for members of most other human societies. In cultures that allowed consumption of human flesh, it was often done as a form of respect for the courage or strength of the one who had been killed (if an enemy), but that is not the case for the Hebrew people. Blood was never to be consumed because that was something associated with sacrifice of animals and children to the gods in the surrounding countries. It was forbidden absolutely in the Law. To this day, meat is koshered to remove any blood from it.

Jesus watched as most of his former followers walked away from him and returned to their prior way of life (Jn 6:60-69). He turned to his twelve closest friends and asked them bluntly, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter responded with a great statement and commitment, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” For better or for worse, this Jesus is different and special from all others. For John, this is another statement that Jesus is Divine Wisdom in the flesh.

A commitment was made by Peter and the others that day in Capernaum. This decision led to following Jesus through his life, death, and Resurrection – then out to the rest of the Roman Empire, announcing the good news of God’s love for all of us.

Lastly, we look at St. Paul and his instructions to the Ephesians (Eph 5:21-32) about the relationship between husbands and wives. This is one of the most misunderstood readings in the Bible. Paul does not think in terms of body and soul as making up the human being. For Jews of his time, the human being is something of a flesh/spirit union, not divisible – a whole human being. Paul writes about the relationship between husbands and wives in a style familiar to the Greco-Roman world. This type of instruction typically includes the expectations of children and parents, as well as of masters and slaves.

Paul begins with an amazing statement: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” To be subordinate does not mean to obey blindly or slavishly. Even the word obey doesn’t carry the same meaning we typically give it – that of doing exactly what one is told to do. The idea here is to “listen deeply” to what is being said. This requires a commitment to respect and care for the other person. To listen not just to the words, but also to the feelings and experiences of the other, to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Paul instructs women to respect their husbands as they would respect Christ. Then he puts forward the idea that women are like the church, which he describes as subordinate to Christ. He tells the men that they are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, not to lord it over them. This wasn’t the norm in a time of arranged marriages in which a bride price had to be paid and women could be returned in disgrace to their families if their husbands grew angry with them or tired of them. Husbands are to love their wives as much as Christ loves all of us – to the extreme of giving his own life for us. Husbands and wives – wives and husbands, become one body as the church is the Body of Christ. Our marriages are to be as sacred as the relationship between Christ and humankind. It is a great mystery, as Paul notes. Two become one, not just in the beginning of their marriage, but as they grow together through the years.

A commitment is made, followed by many decisions to love.

What commitments have we made? What decisions follow those commitments? It takes a lifetime to discover the answers.

See you at Mass.

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Posted by on Jun 15, 2021

A Mustard Seed Story

A Mustard Seed Story

Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed in the gospel of Mark always brings a smile to my face.

When I was a girl, my mother always made dill pickles. She used the same recipe her mother, grandmother, sisters, and brothers used. But each family’s pickles tasted a bit different.

No one knew why that should be until one of my aunts, who was a home economics teacher, decided to experiment with the ingredients. She made pickles one day using the same batch of cucumbers and dill from the garden, and the same brine. Then she put identical amounts of all but one ingredient into the jars. Each jar had one ingredient in a larger amount than the other jars did. Several months later, when the cucumbers had matured into dill pickles, she tasted them. The key to the spiciness of her pickles in comparison with those of all the rest of the family turned out to be the amount of mustard seed she put in the jars. She used a heaping measure of the seed. Others used a level one.

The mustard seed we all use(d) for pickles is a relatively large seed. It’s far from being “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth” as is the seed described by Jesus in St. Mark’s gospel. However, these mustard seeds were the only ones I had ever seen.

When I began teaching fifth and sixth grade religious education classes, I included this parable among the ones I shared with the children. I brought some of the seeds with me to class and asked them to glue them into their books on the page on which they had written a bit of the parable and drawn a picture of a tree with birds in it. I always cautioned them not to eat any of the seeds. Invariably, one of the boys would taste one anyway. He would then need to race from the room to get a drink of water! They asked why I had given them something so spicy and I would remind them that I had told them not to taste them.

Still, I wondered about the description of these seeds as being the smallest on earth. I knew that lettuce seeds and snapdragon flower seeds were much smaller.

Then I met Paul. Paul was from India and came to live with us for a while. He introduced me to South Asian foods, including curries, chapattis, and other delights. One of the ingredients he used was mustard seed. This was a tiny brown seed, not much bigger than the period at the end of a sentence. It was not the big yellowish one we used for pickles. It gave a lovely richly spicy flavor to the food, though it was subtle when used appropriately in the recipes.

When I met this variety of mustard, I began to understand the parable of the mustard seed. A tiny little seed could indeed make a big difference in the flavor of a food. It could grow into a much larger plant as well. Birds and other animals could thrive in its shelter.

Was the mustard seed of which Jesus spoke really the same as these mustard seeds used in cooking? Maybe not. There is a plant known as a mustard tree that grows in the Middle East. It has yellow flowers and tiny seeds. It’s more of a shrub than a tree, but it can grow to be up to 20 feet tall

Whether or not the seeds we identify as mustard seeds for cooking are the same ones Jesus mentioned is really not the important thing. What matters is that very small things can grow into much larger ones and have an effect far greater than their size.

The kingdom of God is truly like the mustard seed. It appears in very small and unobtrusive ways. No one would think twice about it or about the prospect that it could be important in any way. Yet as the poor receive food, clothing, shelter, opportunities, respect, health care, and other necessities of life, as justice (the right order of things) is restored, the kingdom begins to blossom and grow. God works with tiny things to bring about great wonders. A shoot from a tree can grow into a massive new tree high upon a mountain. A tiny seed can grow to be a beautiful flower or a tall tree sheltering birds and other creatures. And the harvest of justice marks the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

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Posted by on Oct 20, 2017

God’s Relentless Pursuit of Humanity

God’s Relentless Pursuit of Humanity

Jesus began to address them, once more using parables. “The reign of God may be likened to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the wedding, but they refused to come. … Then he said to his servants: ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were unfit to come. That is why you must to out into the byroads and invite to the wedding anyone you come upon.’ The servants then went out into the byroads and rounded up everyone they met, bad as well as good. This filled the wedding hall with banqueters …” (Mt 22:1-14)

Today’s parable is a potent reminder of God’s relentless pursuit of humanity. A King prepared a banquet for the wedding of his son. Take note: It was the King who invited. When he invites, you are mandated to go. People were invited but they refused. Almost begging, the King sent another invitation and each had their own petty excuses.

Religion, they say, is man’s search for God. But the biblical God is different. He searches for man. He longs for him. He initiates. One of the very first words God said to man in the Scriptures are: “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). Those are not words looking for location and direction, but the words of a lover luring his unfaithful beloved back into the right relationship.

When the English poet Francis Thompson described God as the “Hound of Heaven” (a hound is a dog breed with a strong sense of smell, relentless in pursuing subjects), many were scandalized. But he was right. God is a Divine “hound” whose search for His beloved humanity is relentless and constant.

If the image of God as a hound in pursuit is scandalous, what more is God’s courtesy in His pursuit? He is God. He doesn’t need to ask. Instead, He invites, asks, and proposes. God risks the embarrassment of rejection. If you were in God’s place, I’m sure you would not take that risk.

I once saw a Korean guy who went to the flight attendants, asked for the microphone, and publicly proposed marriage to his girlfriend on the plane. The guy said, “I have something to ask you and you’re free to choose from the four possible answers. You can either say “Yes,” “Of Course,” “Why Not,” and “Absolutely.” So much for freedom, huh? The choices left no room for the possibility of rejection. God took the risk of rejection because that is the way of genuine love. If we were created in a way that we could not say “No” to God, then our “Yes” to Him would be of no value. God longs for our free and genuine “Yes.” For that, He is willing to suffer the embarrassment of an ignorant “No” from a worthless yet arrogant humanity.

God continues to invite us today, through the Holy Eucharist. This is God’s banquet, his wedding reception. That is why all the elements of a party are present in the Eucharist…

For all the beauty of the Eucharist, how many people truly understand the Eucharist so as to be excited to partake of it every week? How many of us who attend are always motivated with real rejoicing in being here?

October 15, 2017

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Posted by on Apr 24, 2008

God’s Relentless Pursuit of Humanity

St. Mark the Evangelist – Following the Lord’s Call Doesn’t Always Happen the Way Others Expect

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St. Mark was a young man in the earliest days of the church and by the end of his life had played an important role in spreading the Good News of Jesus in Asia and North Africa. He even touches us as well, through the Gospel which bears his name.

We first hear of Mark in the Acts of the Apostles on the day Peter was released miraculously from prison. Peter returned in the night to the home of Mark’s mother, a gathering place of the community in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12).

Mark may have been the young man in the Garden of Gethsemane who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested, but the young man is not named, so we don’t know for sure (Mark 14:50-52).

Later we hear of Mark traveling with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Early in that journey, Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). No explanation is given for his departure from the mission. Paul was very unhappy about it and later refused to take Mark along on his second journey. As a result, Barnabas did not travel with Paul on the second trip, going instead with Mark to Cyprus (Acts 15:37-39).

Mark spent many years with Peter. He is mentioned in various contexts in later chapters of Acts and in the first letter of Peter, always in terms of his faithfulness in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus.

The thing that really strikes me about Mark, though, is that he didn’t follow the path that had originally been set for him – that first journey with Paul and Barnabas. Something was not right. He left, despite the knowledge that the older adults in the community might not understand and be angry with him, thinking him a failure or a quitter. He returned home to Jerusalem.

If he had not followed that sense (or quiet voice) that told him that going with Paul and Barnabas might be the wrong thing for him to do, it’s entirely possible that Mark would not have been the one to accompany Peter in his work and journeys. The Gospel According to Mark might never have been written. It is generally understood to be the one that tells the story of Jesus based more on the memories of St. Peter. It was most probably the first of the Gospels written, maybe even before 70 A.D. Our understanding of how the early Christians had experienced the life, death and resurrection of Jesus would be different.

As an older adult now, seeing young people struggling to find their way in faith, to find the Lord’s path for them (regardless of how they phrase it), I find great comfort in the story of Mark. It’s OK to change course on one’s life journey, to try one path, find it’s not quite the right one, and move to another one. It’s OK not to follow the career for which one studied – or the one chosen by someone else. It’s OK to ask embarassing questions of leaders in our community. It’s OK to insist on justice and compassion. It’s not only OK, it’s essential to listen to the quiet voice and follow the Lord as He calls each one of us. We are all richer for it.

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Posted by on Oct 18, 2007

God’s Relentless Pursuit of Humanity

Saint of the Day – St. Luke

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“In my first account, Theophilus…” (Acts 1:1) St. Luke begins his second volume with an introduction only slightly less formal than the elegant opening lines of his gospel. These introductions to the two volume work of the deeds of Christ and the Holy Spirit reveal a sophisticated Greek far removed from the marketplace and dockside everyday, or Koine, Greek that characterizes so much of the New Testament.

Without St. Luke we wouldn’t really the know the depths of Jesus the storyteller. We wouldn’t know much about His relationships with women. Without the Acts of the Apostles we wouldn’t have any idea about the formation and expansion of the church after the Resurrection. In fact, we wouldn’t have a window on the controversy between St. Peter and St. Paul over whether Christians needed to observe the Mosaic Law. The creation of the Church and her institutions are shown to be the work of the Holy Spirit in the early Christian community and not necessarily the direct creation of Christ during his earthly ministry. (In fact, is interesting to note the Pope Benedict XVI, as the young theologian, Joseph Ratzinger, raised several eyebrows by affirming this view of the centrality of the Holy Spirit in the creation and development of the assembly of the baptized faithful.)

In Luke and Acts, we see the movement of salvation history, beginning in Jerusalem and ending in Rome. The saving message given to Jews now becomes the property of the Gentile world. The result today is a worldwide community of faith, incarnated in countless cultures and languages.

St. Luke, along with St. Paul, gave us a freedom from the Law of Moses to live in the freedom of Christ and to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

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