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Posted by on Jul 30, 2023

Wisdom – Thinking with the Heart

Wisdom – Thinking with the Heart

“Use your head!” “Don’t be a fool!” “Don’t waste what you’ve got, use it carefully!” “They wouldn’t be in this position if they’d just been more sensible!”

How many times have we all heard these kinds of statements, sometimes addressed directly to us? It’s a common understanding in Western culture that decision making is best done with the mind, a.k.a. the head. We think of the heart as the center of emotions, and emotions are not regarded as the best sources of good decisions.

In ancient Israel, the heart was seen as both the center for emotions and the center for decision-making. When the Lord came to King Solomon in a dream at night and asked what gift Solomon would like to receive, Solomon gave an unusual answer. He had become king at a young age and had to defeat many enemies, including one of his brothers, to establish control over the kingdom. Once that was settled, still a young man, he began to build his own palace and a Temple for worship of the Lord. Up to that point, the tablets of the Law had been kept in the Ark of the Covenant. Now it was time for a permanent home for them and a center for worship and sacrificial offerings.

Solomon recognized his inexperience and the challenges ahead of him in governing a large group of people. So, he asked for “an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” (1 Kings 3:5, 7-12)

This pleased the Lord, who had expected a request for the usual kinds of things people wanted – long life, riches, conquest of enemies and so forth. But Solomon had asked for an understanding heart. The Lord’s response was heartfelt: “I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now…”

Solomon is known to this day as Solomon the Wise. His reputation for wisdom spread throughout the ancient world and people traveled long distances to meet with him. As long as his decisions were based on the wisdom that came from thinking and listening with his heart, they bore good fruit. Later in life, when he forgot some of his earlier experience with the Lord and good decision-making, things didn’t always go so well. But the reputation from his earlier years remains. Solomon the Wise.

St. Paul spoke of something similar in his letter to the Romans. (Rom 8: 28-30) “All things work for good for those who love God.” Paul used a term in his letter that is often misunderstood today. Predestined.

We tend to think the word predestined means that everything is set up firmly and unchangeably ahead of time. Nothing anyone can do will change it. Some will succeed. Some will fail. It’s like a sports activity in which the winner is determined before the match begins and the competitor who may be better will deliberately compete more poorly, to meet the predetermined setup. On the big picture, spiritual side of things, some will go to a heavenly reward and some will go to eternal damnation. This can lead to a belief that we can tell who is going to be rewarded in heaven by how monetarily successful they are here on earth! Entire cultural systems have been set up based on this premise. We do our best and if we are pleasing to God, we will prosper. If we aren’t pleasing, then nothing we can do will help and no matter how hard we are working, we will be eternally punished.

What a terrible way to go through life! Who would want a God who would treat people that way? And yet, if that’s all we’ve ever heard, that’s likely to underlie much of our understanding of life.

Fortunately for all of us, predestined in the sense used by Paul doesn’t mean the same as what we expect. Predestined in this context means that God has decided to call us and help us become like Christ, ready to be in a positive, loving relationship with God both now and into eternity. Paul assures us all that God has chosen us from all eternity to become like his Son, the one firstborn of the many humans who will join together as sisters and brothers in the family of God. This is something worth celebrating and allowing to be a foundation of our lives.

So, what is this family of God, the Kingdom of God to be like? Jesus spent a lot of time trying to explain what the kingdom is. (Mt 13:44-52) “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field.” The kingdom of heaven is like “a pearl of great price.” Those who find the treasure or the pearl put it back where they found it in Jesus’ parables. Then they go and sell everything they have in order to buy the field (and the treasure) or the pearl. They don’t set up a spreadsheet and compare their assets and liabilities and determine whether this new asset will be more beneficial than sticking with their existing plans. No, they simply drop everything and choose the greater prize, the one they have marvelously come upon.

Jesus tells stories of wheat growing alongside weeds and fish, good and bad, swimming in the sea. Life is not set up with only good things happening to the good people and bad things happening to the bad people. There’s a share of good and bad for all. The trick is, how do we respond? And how do we respond to others whose situation may be more difficult than the one in which we find ourselves? Do we use our heads and try to protect what we already have at all cost? Or do we sometimes go out on a limb and saw madly behind us, hoping to help someone who is struggling or in need of a hand?

Wisdom is thinking with our hearts. As our hearts are soft, or softened, they become more pliable, more ready to love as our Lord has loved.

As we move through this week, let’s pray that areas of our hearts that are hardened will be softened, so that we can hear and think with the freedom and abundance of our God.

Readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

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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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