Tuesday, July 29, 2014

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

“God will provide.”  It’s a common response by well meaning people of faith when we’re struggling with a difficult situation and we find ourselves in need.  Be these needs physical or spiritual or both, the phrase “God will provide” can be hard for us to accept, especially when our common human reason would seem to suggest otherwise.  Our readings for this 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time helps us to find faith that God will answer our needs…

The Word for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 55:1-3
Psalm: 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18
Romans 8:35, 37-39
Matthew 14:13-21

Our first reading comes from the book of Isaiah, “Deutero” or “Second” Isaiah to be precise.  This part of Isaiah speaks of redemption for an Israel that finds itself in Exile in Babylon.  The Babylonian’s destruction of Jerusalem and their subsequent Exile was a deeply transformative experience for the Hebrew people, and much of that transformation is seen in our Scriptures.  Yet through that pain, they came to realize that God’s forgiveness is still there for the asking.  The covenant is in fact, everlasting.  In our passage for this Sunday God invites us to “come to the water,”  To drink wine and milk, to eat fine food.  God’s promises are there if we only listen to his life-giving word.  Food and drink are some of our most basic needs, and Isaiah is telling us that the Lord will answer these needs.  A hopeful image of God as the provider of all our needs as echoed by our Psalm.

This theme of God providing for our needs is also seen in our Gospel reading from Matthew with the very real example Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5000.  As our story opens, Jesus is despondent from hearing the news of the death of John the Baptist.  In this moment of personal need, Jesus seeks to get away from the crowds, so he gets in a boat and heads for a distant shore.  But as is typical, the people still find him and follow.  Moved with pity, Jesus cures their sick.  But as the day draws to a close, the Apostles urge Jesus to dismiss the crowd so they can go into town and buy food.  But Jesus doesn’t see any need to send them away.  Instead, he tells the disciples to give them their food… five loaves and 2 fish… barely enough to feed themselves let alone such a large crowd.  Jesus standing before the crowd, takes the food, says the blessing, breaks the bread, and then gives it to the disciples to hand out.  The story tells us that all ate and were satisfied, with twelve baskets of leftovers to spare.

Much has been theorized about this miracle, with many people questioning if it was a miracle at all, suggesting instead that the people were inspired to share what they had stashed.  But those who dwell on how Jesus did this are missing the point.  The point is that “God provides”.  How God does this, through miracle or inspiration isn’t the point.  The point is one of faith in God.  That if we have faith, God will answer our needs.

This idea of “Let Go and Let God” is a difficult thing to put into practice, especially for those of us who like to be in control of our situations.  Indeed, when taken to extremes, this idea of letting God take care of everything is pure folly, and can lead us to not taking responsibility for ourselves or those around us.  On the other hand, there are those times when we must realize that we can’t control everything, and take that “leap of faith” and trust that God will indeed answer.

This level of faith and trust can be hard, but I think our second reading again holds the key… Love.  In our continued study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us that (to borrow an overused phrase) “Love will keep us together.”  Christ’s love does conquer all.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

What is the Kingdom of God?  We hear this term so often it can lose its meaning, assuming we had any clear understanding of this idea to begin with.  The “Kingdom” is what we’ve been promised.  The “Kingdom” is what we struggle to obtain.  The “Kingdom” is why we follow Christ.  But ask your average Catholic what the Kingdom of God is, and you’re likely to get many different answers.  To help us wrap our minds around this concept, we turn our attention to our readings for this 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time…

The Word for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Psalm: 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52

Our first reading comes from the 1st Book of Kings.  King David has died, passing his crown to his son, Solomon.  In this Sunday’s passage, the Lord appears to the young king in a dream, and asks Solomon what he, the Lord, can give him.  Solomon responds humbly, addressing himself as the Lord’s servant, and asks for “an understanding heart.”  God, recognizing that he could have asked for many other things, is pleased with his answer and grants his request.  What does this have to do with the Kingdom of God?  It gives us an important insight into what God expects of us… how his Kingdom operates.  Not by seeking riches for ourselves, not by seeking the lives of our enemies, but by seeking wisdom and understanding.  To take our place as servants, not masters… for there is only one master, the Lord God.  It is his command we follow, a sentiment echoed by our Psalm response.

Our Gospel from Matthew continues where the long form of our Gospel from last week leaves off.  Jesus, having told his disciples several parables, now uses some short parables to explain the Kingdom of Heaven.  He explains that the Kingdom is like a treasure buried in a field.  A person finds this treasure, sells all he has, buys the field and reburies the treasure (burying treasure being something of a common practice in ancient Israel).  He continues telling them that the Kingdom is like a pearl of great value where the merchant sells all he has to buy it.  In these two stories, Jesus equates the Kingdom as something so valuable anyone who seeks it must be willing to go “all in” to obtain it.  This same idea is expressed later in chapter 19 of Matthew when the rich man asks Jesus what he needs to do to gain eternal life, and Jesus tells him to sell everything he owns, give it to the poor, and then come follow him.  Following Jesus, living the Christian life, cannot be done part-time.  Why?  Jesus answers that with his next parable in our Gospel.  In the parable Jesus equates the Kingdom to a fishing net.  It captures every kind of fish, but when it’s hauled ashore, the fishermen must sort through the catch… good fish go into buckets while the bad fish is thrown away.  The sentiment is similar to last week’s gospel parable about the weeds in the wheat.  We don’t want to be the weeds that are burned.  We don’t want to be the bad fish that are thrown away.  The Kingdom is there for the taking (and God our Father remains waiting to forgive us our transgressions), but it takes a full commitment.

Our second reading continues our study of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Although our short passage for this week’s study doesn’t relate directly to our first reading and the Gospel, it does give us the keys to the Kingdom… Love.  The keys to the Kingdom are not found by following the letter of The Law, nor are they found through faith or good works alone.  Above all (as Paul reminds us in his 1st letter to the Corinthians) is love, and that love freely given to God and our neighbors is what opens the gates of the Kingdom.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

One of the beauties of Ordinary Time is the opportunity to “play the long game” when it comes understanding Jesus and his teachings. We literally journey with Jesus and the Apostles during his mission to spread the Word, and because many of our readings pick up where we left off the previous week, we have an opportunity to learn as we go, much like the Apostles themselves.

The Word for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm: 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43

Our first reading comes from the Book of Wisdom.  This book, coming about 50 years before Christ (most likely from the Jewish Community of Alexandria) served, like most of the wisdom books, as a kind of “catechism” for the faithful. Our passage this week reminds us that God is both mighty and benevolent.  In fact, the text goes to great lengths to say that this might comes from his benevolence.  Not only has God taught us what good (through The Law), he gives us the opportunity to repent… to change our ways least we be judged by our sins. Our Psalm reflects God’s goodness and forgiveness.

This idea of giving us time to repent is also reflected in our Gospel from Matthew. Picking up where we left off last Sunday (with Jesus teaching us about parables), Jesus tells us the parable of the Weeds Among The Wheat. In a story that is unique to the gospel of Matthew, and enemy has sown weeds among the freshly planted wheat. When the master’s slaves see the weeds growing among the wheat, they ask if they should pull them out, but the master warns them that by doing so, they could uproot the wheat as well.  Instead, he instructs them to let the weeds grow, and come harvest they can separate the wheat from the weeds, gathering the wheat into his barn, and burning the weeds. In the longer version of this week’s gospel, Jesus continues with the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the yeast. Then again like last week’s gospel, we are reminded why Jesus has chosen to teach using parables, and takes this opportunity to explain the parable of the weeds to his disciples (and us).

Jesus’ explanation of the parable is straight forward enough… even we can follow… the weeds are children of evil and are sent to be burned, while the wheat is gathered into God’s kingdom. What Jesus doesn’t explain, however, is why they wait until the harvest to separate the good from the bad… or does he?  The other two parables give us the explanation. The parable of the mustard seed shows us that the least among us can be the greatest, while the parable of the yeast shows us that the yeast can cause the entire loaf to rise. In other words, when good flourishes, it can be an example to others.  As reflected in our passage from the Book of Wisdom, God is merciful, and gives us every opportunity for repentance… but only until the harvest.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Picking up near where we left off last week (that through the Spirit we are redeemed), this week’s short passage, though short, gives us a lot to think about.  According to the text, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness, but we don’t know how to pray as we ought?” Then the text tells us “the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones…” In short, the Spirit knows our needs, even though we may not know them ourselves, and further, the Spirit knows our hearts.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

“Can you tell me a little about yourself?”  It’s a question many of us have had to answer… maybe during a job interview or when meeting someone for the first time.  More often than not our answer to this question will start with talk of family, friends, where you grew up, where you went to school, where you worked.  From the moment we are born we live our lives in the context of our environment.  Put another way, the story of our lives is written within the stories of those around us.  Their stories become our stories, and in turn define who we are.  The same is true for the Church.

The Word for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 55:10-11
Psalm 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

Our first reading for this coming Sunday is from the master story teller of the Hebrew scriptures… Isaiah.  In a short poetic stanza from the time near the end of the Exile from Deutero-Isaiah, the passage paints a picture of the rain and snow giving nourishment to the earth, which then produces nourishment for us.  It then equates that nourishment to God’s word.  Just as the rain brings life, so does the Word of God, through his prophets and thus through the scriptures.  It depicts a God who’s very words can nourish our souls like the rain can nourish a parched earth.  This idea is echoed in our Psalm, but takes it one step further by equating us as the seeds.  Land in good soil with plenty of water, and we are a bountiful harvest.

Our Gospel from Matthew picks up this theme with the Parable of the Sower, where Jesus is facing a large crowed on the shore, gets into a boat and explains how seeds that fall on rich soil can produce in great abundance.  This is actually the first parable in the Gospel of Matthew, and the disciples appear a little confused, so they ask Jesus, “why do you speak to them in Parables?”  Jesus then explains why he is teaching this way (whit a reference to fulfilling a prophecy from Isaiah), and then goes on to explain the meaning of the parable.  Jesus, schooled by the master story tellers of the Hebrew Scriptures, is a master storyteller himself, using simple, relatable stories to explain sometimes difficult theological concepts.  Not only is this an important moment for the disciples, but we too, by putting ourselves into the story, gain an understanding of what Jesus is teaching.

Our second reading comes from our continued study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Picking up a few passages from where we left off last week (living in the Spirit and not the flesh), Paul is acknowledging that there is suffering in our current state… not just because of Roman oppression, but also the suffering we face as part of our regular earthly existence.  But Paul teaches us that whatever suffering we may face now, that we can look forward to that much more glory as children of God.

Scripture is an integral part of our lives as Christians.  Scripture and Tradition are the two “pillars of the Church,” that which holds us up, and gives us support.  One of the best analogies I’ve heard for the Bible is that it is, “the story of our relationship with God.”  The story of God creating and getting to know us, and of us getting to know Him.  How is it that we can know so much about our family history?  Especially that history from the time before we were born?  It comes from the stories of our older family members.  My parents giving me their stories and the stories of their parents.  Those stories, through my connections with these people, become my stories, adding depth and context to who I am… my own story.  The same is true for scripture.. the Word of God… the water nourishing the earth… the seed falling on fertile soil.  We are a “people of the book.” meant not only to learn from these stories, but to make them our own and pass them on.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014

With our special celebrations and feast days behind us, the Church now enters a long stretch of Ordinary Time.  This also means that our lectionary – the order of our readings for Mass – falls back to some basic patterns for the cycle and the season, and our themes become more varied.

The Word for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Zechariah 9:9-10
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30

We open with a reading from the book of the prophet Zechariah.  It is helpful to remember that Zechariah’s prophecy comes from the early post-exile era, around 520 BCE, around the same time as Ezekiel and Ezra, and is attributed to two different authors (1st Zechariah forming Chapters 1-8, 2nd Zechariah forming chapters 9-14).  Our passage for this Sunday comes from 2nd Zechariah with a vision of a restored Jerusalem with a new king.  This vision of a new King should sound very familiar, because to our Christian ears this sounds very much like Jesus.  While Jesus wouldn’t be coming for another 500 years, Zechariah’s vision for a restored Jerusalem is typical of the post-exilic era, during a time where the Jewish people see a future for themselves.  The joy Zechariah feels is the same joy we find in Christ… a joy and praise echoed in our Psalm.

This Sunday we also resume our Cycle A schedule with our emphasis on the Gospel of Matthew.  Matthew’s Gospel, as you may recall, addresses a primarily Jewish audience, placing Jesus in the sandals of Moses as part of a “new covenant” between God and his people.  Just as Moses was the intermediary between God and His people, our Gospel today has Jesus embracing this roll as intermediary.  It is through Jesus that the Father is revealed.  Not only that, Jesus tells us that his “yoke is easy and his burden light.”  Up to this point, the intermediaries for the people were the Temple priests, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Scribes and other Temple hierarchy who in Jesus’ eyes had failed in this roll of intermediary by putting up any number of barriers between God and His people.  Jesus is telling us that it doesn’t need to be that way… that we shouldn't be burdened by the Letter of the Law, but instead need to be embraced by the Spirit of the Law.  The meek and humble king prophesied by Zechariah in our first reading is answered by Jesus in this Gospel.

Our second reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Here it is important to remind ourselves that during Ordinary Time, our second reading isn’t necessarily meant to compliment our first reading and the Gospel, but instead give us an opportunity to cover major sections of important Epistles.  At this point in Ordinary time, and for the next 10 weeks, that focus will be on the major teachings from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  This week, Paul teaches us that we, “are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.”  This separation of “flesh” and “Spirit” is a common theme with Paul, and when addressed to his Roman audience, takes aim at their hedonistic traditions in favor of a higher, spiritual purpose.  That life in the "Spirit" leads to life everlasting.