Tuesday, July 30, 2013

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

The Word for the 18thof Ordinary Time:
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Luke 12:13-21
Our first reading comes to us from Ecclesiastes (classified as one of the books ofwisdom)… a book ascribed to Qoheleth, who in the text describes himself as the son of David and King of Jerusalem. Now wait a minute… isn’t it Solomon who succeeds David to the throne? Of course it is… so why the pseudonym? It’s not a name, but a title, which means “collector” or “assembler.” In this case, an collector of saying ascribed to Solomon (who didn’t actually write the book). But back to the text…

“Vanity of vanities!” is how the book (and our reading) begins, and is the major theme that runs through this work. In short, the book wants us to answer the question… we toil all day long, both physically and mentally, and to what end? In other words, the author telling us that we need to re-evaluate our priorities. The worries of this life, the work of this life, the wealth of this life, are all vanity. All these worldly troubles are in fact, only temporary. We live our life here on earth but a short time, yet it is so easy to get caught up in our daily lives that we lose sight of the bigger picture – lose sight of God.

To help us put this first reading into perspective, we look to our Gospel. Here Jesus is being asked to arbitrate a dispute about an inheritance. Rather than getting directly involved, Jesus instead asks why he should he be the judge. Then he turns to the crowd, admonishes them about greed and possessions, and proceeds to tell them a parable. Better known as the Parable of the Rich Fool (unique to the Gospel of Luke), Jesus tell the story of a man who, after a bountiful harvest, looks to build a bigger barn in order to store his wealth and have a good life for years to come. But in his merriment, God chastises the man, telling him that “…this very night your life will be demanded of you;” (tonight you are going to die)… what then of all this stored up wealth? In other words, we can spend a lifetime building a fortune here on earth, but we are still “…not rich in what matters to God.”

This story, and it’s associated parable, are very challenging. Challenging to our cultural norms, and challenging to our desire for a quick answer. There is a lot to unpack from this gospel, too much, in fact, to go into here… so let’s look at just a couple key points. First, as our RCIA teaching guide suggests, is reflected in the 10th Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbors goods. Our daily lives are bombarded by advertising that would suggest our lives would be better if we only had [fill in the blank]. We must always be aware of that line that separates “need” from “desire.” Fulfilling one’s physical needs and the needs of one’s family is one thing, but to be desirous and covetous of physical possessions will not lead us to salvation. I think we can also find a lesson of this Gospel reflected in our second reading. In our continuing journey through Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Paul reminds us we need to “seek what is above.” He says “put to death the parts of you that are earthy.” Vanity of vanities! Never lose sight of the fact that our time on this earth is all to brief… don’t squander it on things that, in the end, can’t bring us to Heaven.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

The Word for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
        Genesis 18:20-32
        Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
        Colossians 2:12-14
        Luke 11:1-13

We open with another story from Genesis about Abraham. In a story that follows shortly after our reading from last week, we meet Abraham traveling to the city of Sodom (most likely because his nephew, Lot, and his family live near there). As he is traveling, the Lord comes to Abraham wanting to know if the “outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah” is as great as he has heard. Abraham fears the Lord will “sweep away” the cities as punishment for their sins, so he queries the Lord, asking if he would spare the city if there were 50 innocent people. The Lord relents, so Abraham ups the ante… if there were only 45 innocent people, only 40 innocent people, and so on. With each request, Abraham fears the wrath of God, but he persists… “what if there were only 10 innocent people?” With each request, God continues to relent.

To most Christians, this reading feels awkward. We are taught to love God. We are given the gift of “wonder and awe of the Lord” (what we used to call “fear of the Lord”) as part of our Confirmation Rite. We’re not taught to question God. God’s will be done… not ours, right? Yet here is Abraham, though very humbly, outright challenging God. What gives? Let’s visit our Gospel…

Jesus is still on his long journey of discovery to Jerusalem. Along the way, the Apostles ask Jesus to teach them to pray, whereupon he gives us what we know as the Lord’s prayer. But Jesus doesn’t stop there… he then gives them a story about a friend who wakes you up at midnight for some bread. The friends persistence nets him what he asks. Jesus continues, explaining to the disciples that even the wicked know how to give good gifts, so how could God, who loves you like children, not give you even better. Jesus knows that God will grant whatever he wishes… just as Abraham learned that with persistent righteousness, God will grant his request. Find a copy of the Lord’s prayer and read it… slowly. “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses…”… a prayer of petition. It’s not only OK to ask God for things… it’s expected. It’s our right as the children of God. Is there a catch? Of course… continue with the Lord’s prayer, “… as we forgive those who trespass against us…”. Ah, “…do as I do,” says the Lord. In fact, if we meditate on the Lord’s prayer, it’s easy to see that the whole teaching of the Gospels flows through this prayer.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

The Word for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Genesis 18:1-10a
        Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
        Colossians 1:24-28
        Luke 10:38-42

Hospitality is one of the running themes through our readings this 16th week of Ordinary Time. First is a reading from Genesis, in which Abraham (no longer just Abram) has an encounter with... well, who? The text isn't clear... first calling it a visitation from the Lord, but then a visit from three men who were traveling through the area. While the likely interpretation is that Abraham didn't realize it was a visitation from the Lord until after the events of the story came to fruition, it is clear that Abraham takes his job as host to these travelers very seriously. In fact, it would not be wrong to connect this story with last week's Gospel of the Good Samaritan, with Abraham showing us a true expression of the teaching of "love thy neighbor". What makes this reading special, however, is not so much the hospitality shown by Abraham, but in the message of the travelers... that Abraham and Sarah will have a son (a prophecy that has Sarah laughing in the passages that follow this reading).

Our second reading continues our journey through Paul's letter to the Colossians (which was introduced last week). At his best, Paul's words can rouse a nation to cheer, or make a man weep with compassion. Other times, however, with his run-on sentences, and changing trains of thought, you can read a passage and find yourself more confused than before. Today's reading is a classic example of this latter.... so let's see if we can unpack it. First, it is helpful to recognize that we are still in the opening "greeting" part of the letter. Paul's greetings, and many of his salutations are elaborate prose, especially for today's email culture where "Hi" is sometimes too long of a greeting. In this particular opening, Paul is establishing his credentials. As of this writing, Paul is in prison... "suffering' on their behalf. Paul is the keeper of the Word... and he wants to make sure it is passed on for all to hear... that Christ brings fulfillment God's promises, even to the Gentiles. Paul uses is suffering for Christ as an example to be followed, and for the Colossians hearing this letter, trying to correct some misinterpretations by other illegitimate teachers.

Our Gospel from Luke picks up where we left off last week. After telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus continues his journey to the home of Mary and Martha. Martha, taking her queue from Abraham in our first reading, is busy playing host to Jesus and his followers. Mary, on the other hand, has abandoned her position as co-host in order to sit and listen to Jesus. Not only does Martha feel burdened, but Jesus, who should feel insulted by her lack of hospitality, rather enjoins her to listen, and instead chastises Martha. Does that seem right? Martha is only trying to do what is right, by custom, to care for her guests. Isn't that what God wants? Of course God wants us to be of service, but Jesus also doesn't want us loosing sight of the bigger picture. By saying that Mary has chosen the better course of action, Jesus is teaching Martha, and the rest of us, to recognize what is really important... both at the moment, and in the larger context. At this moment, listening to Jesus' teaching (in essence, listening to the Word of God), is more important, particularly because Jesus knows that once he gets to Jerusalem, his journey (and life) will be at an end.

So what's our lesson this week? Stop. Look. Listen. We can't hear the Word of God if we're too busy doing other things. We can't serve God if we're too busy to look and see what is genuinely important at the moment. Jesus doesn't want mindless followers, following the rubrics of custom with no regard for their meaning... because in the end who does this serve? Jesus isn't concerned so much with the "letter of the Law" as he is with the "Spirit of the Law". It's easy to follow rules and regulations, but as Christians we need to go beyond that and do what is right, taking into account the full context of a given situation. In today's Gospel, what seem right is wrong.

Was Abraham wrong then to put so much effort into being a good host to his visiting travelers? It might seem that way... but in the context of the situation, this is what God was looking for. With Abraham, he was looking for someone whom he could trust to follow his instructions. After all, it was Adam and Eve who broke their promise to God by picking the fruit of the one tree he asked them not to. God wanted to see if Abraham was a man of his word... someone who could listen to what God wanted and follow through... and he proved it time and again. Jesus, when spending time with Mary and Martha, also wanted someone who could listen to what God wanted. Stop. Look. Listen. And follow through... using that great gift from God, our minds, our intellect, and our reason, to figure out with what is important both in the big picture and the context of the moment. It's not always easy to figure out, which is why we need each other as Church to help guide us as the Spirit intends.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

I hope everyone had a good Independence Day holiday. It’s a great time to gather with friends and family and enjoy the color, light, and sound of the fireworks as we celebrate the birth of our nation. Oddly enough, this holiday also reminds me of the birth of our Church. Just as the members of the Continental Congress sought freedom from the taxes and burdens of the British Crown, Jesus and his disciples sought the freedom to engage in relationship with God without the taxes and burdens of the Sanhedrin and the Temple hierarchy. Just as the British Crown had grown bloated and complacent to the colonists, the Temple had grown bloated and complacent to the followers entrusted to their care.

July is the month of new beginnings. For many, July marks the beginning of the new fiscal year. July is also when many pastors and administrators start their new assignments in the Archdiocese (as we celebrate the 5th anniversary of Fr. Ray coming back to OLR as her pastor). This theme of new beginnings also threads its way through our readings for this 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37 (or Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11)
Colossians 1:15-20
Luke 10:25-37

We open with a reading from the Book of Deuteronomy.  Here Moses is presenting the people of Israel with an opportunity to start over… and the path is simple:  Just follow God’s Commandments (the Law).  This isn’t anything great or mysterious… for as Jesus taught, the core of the Law is based on loving one another.  Curious too how this book of Deuteronomy was “discovered” by King Josiah at a time when he was looking for a new beginning, seeking a renewal of the people to this same Mosaic covenant with God.

Our second reading begins a four week study of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  Here the new Church was struggling with Jesus' role within the cosmos (not surprising given the pagan practices of this region in the heart of modern day Turkey), which in Paul’s mind was keeping them from the real work of the Gospel:  to love one another.  In this introductory excerpt, Paul addresses these issues up front in an effort to put them to rest… quite simply, that Jesus is at the center of everything.  From there, he is now free to explore what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ.

Our gospel from Luke gives us our major theme:  Love thy neighbor. Jesus is confronted by a “scholar of the Law” asking what is important to gain salvation.  Jesus, knowing that the man is a scholar of the Law, asks him to summarize the Law, which he rightly answers as (and I paraphrase), “to love God… and love your neighbor…”  But the scholar presses Jesus further by asking “who is my neighbor,” Jesus gives us the parable of the good Samaritan – a biblical gem unique to Luke’s gospel, and breaking open for us what it means to love your neighbor.  While this broader definition can challenge us, we also know that by following the Law, by following Christ, we can always take advantage of that new beginning, a chance to start over and try again.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

Looking towards 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, our theme is evangelization.  In fact, the church’s primary mission is to spread the Gospel, to share the joy of God’s love with everyone willing to listen.

The Word for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Isaiah 66:10-14c
        Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
        Galatians 6:14-18
        Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

That joy could hardly be expressed more passionately than in our first reading from the closing chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah.  Here the Babylonian exile is over, and Jerusalem is again the center of God’s people, a beacon for the nations.  The sheer joy expressed by the prophet has us looking to the Lord as a mother to her children.  For through the Lord we shall “flourish like the grass.”  In other words, as servants of the Lord, we thrive.

Our second reading concludes our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians by giving us his closing words… that we are a new creation.  It matters not who we were before.  The Galatians were ancient Celts who settled in the territory of what is modern day Ancyra in Turkey.  They were mostly converts from paganism, with no connection to Judaism.  He therefore used himself as an example, how he was one way before following Christ, but now a new person, a new creation, after having become one of his followers.  He equated his scars (from various floggings, stoning, and beatings) as a symbol of his devotion to Christ, just as the “brands” many ancient pagans carried to honor their gods.  It didn’t matter who you were, what you looked like, or what you believed before… because once you commit to Christ, you become something new.

Our Gospel from Luke supports both these readings in their joy of being followers and their enthusiastic acceptance of the gospel way of life.  Here we have Jesus commissioning the Seventy-two.  We are already familiar with Jesus commissioning the 12 Apostles, but here in a story unique to Luke, we have Jesus commissioning an additional seventy-two disciples, to go out just as the twelve did, without money or personal belongings, to heal the sick and preach the gospel.  The commissioning of this larger group reminds us that as a follower of Christ, we too much go out and preach the Gospel, and like the Jews returning to Jerusalem, and the disciples returning from their mission, we will be filled with joy.  Joy not necessarily for ourselves, but for others, as is a servant’s roll.  Jesus did not mean for his message, his death, and his resurrection to be exclusive to just a few… he meant it to be for everyone, and we must continue to spread that message, if through nothing else, through our actions in our love for God and for one another.