Commentary on the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A

1st Reading; Ezekiel 18: 25-28

 Ezekiel is among the first people of Israel that the Babylonians take captive in 597 B.C. He is well known for his insistence upon individual responsibility for sin. Children are not responsible for what the previous generation did. We are free to turn from wickedness to good at any time; we will then be judged by the new life that we have begun. (Sunday by Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005, vol. 14, #54; “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Ezekiel speaks of metanoia, from the Greek meaning a change of mind.  Even the term, “turning away” gives the feeling of a physical change of direction.  This is not only about our sinful ways.  Believing in God is life-changing.  It is “an interior transformation that comes about when God’s Spirit breaks into our lives with the Good News that God loves us unconditionally,” (Catholic Update on The Sacrament of Reconciliation, 1986).  What is our response to this unconditional love?

2nd Reading: Philippians 2: 1-11

William Barclay makes this important point: Paul is never just interested in intellectual speculation and/or theological guess work. To Paul theology and action are always bound together. Any system of thought must necessarily become a way of life. The purpose of these thoughts on Jesus’ humanity and divinity was to persuade the Philippians to live a life in which disunity, discord, and arrogance had no place. Jesus did not desire to dominate people, but to serve them. So we as followers must have the same desire. And, in the end, the humble service that Christ lived won for him greater glory, even if the glory was not the goal. Jesus gains our hearts not by blasting us with power, but by showing us an irresistible, faithful love. (William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 37-39)

“Emptied himself” suggests humility.  Humility was a big part of what St. Teresa of Avila wrote about in her Interior Castle.  She says, “As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God:  let us think of His greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble,” (p. 38).  She goes on to say, “If, then, you sometimes fall, do not lose heart, or cease striving to make progress, for even out of your fall God will bring good,” (p. 51).  Hope connects with love!

From N.T. Wright’s Paul, A Biography:  Unity and holiness will come, and will only come, as the mind of the community and of the individuals within it are transformed to reflect the mind of the Messiah himself.  The ‘mind of the Messiah’ is then the subject of one of the greatest Jesus-focused poems of all time.  Echoing Genesis, the Psalms, and Isaiah in particular (See Isaiah 45: 23-25), it tells the story of Jesus going down to the lowest depths and then being exalted as Lord of the whole world…it encapsulates exactly what Paul most deeply believed about the gospel.  It is because of the cross – the defeat of the powers – that Jesus has been exalted as Lord and that every knee shall bow at his name,”  (p. 272-274). And to think Paul wrote this in prison in Ephesus, 300 miles away from the people of Philippi, and is feeling JOY there.  What can we learn from him right now, in the midst of the environment we are in?

The Gospel: Matthew 21: 28 – 32

Parables can shock us as they can lay bare the truth with great simplicity. We cannot really argue with a parable; we must either accept it or reject it. It is a challenge, but it is also an invitation. Mary Birmingham says that “Living in the reign of God demands that I acknowledge my sinfulness, my reluctance to serve God, and forge ahead anyway.” (W&W, Yr.A, 525, 527)

In Jesus’ culture the son who answered yes to his father even though he did not go to work would have been considered the honorable son. His reply was respectful; it was what the father wanted to hear. Obedience was important, but the honorable appearance was more important. Notice: Jesus did not ask which son behaved honorably. He asked: “Which of the two did the will of the father?” Jesus’ own honor is being questioned by the chief priests and elders. But Jesus rubs salt into their wounds with this very counter-cultural parable and its challenge. They recognize this challenge: 1) Jesus is making them family with harlots and tax collectors (sons of the same Father) and 2) the chief priests and elders are the ones who may behave honorably, but they are not the ones who are always seeking to do the will of their Father. They care more about appearing to be honorable than about truly being about the good that God wants.(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Sometimes we can love humanity with great conviction, but find it extraordinarily difficult to love people in particular. For most of us, God is not the problem. The problem is those humans that God created, especially the creeps who don’t seem to deserve to take up our time and patience. When people draw near, they bring trouble. Yet, as Paul was emphasizing in his passage, it is our very relationships to each other that embody our relationship to God. Paul says we will only find joy and peace when we die to ourselves: an unwelcome prospect. Too often we want love, but not its cost. Love is more than logic and practical advice. It is a risk of the ego, an emptying of the self, a desire to serve rather than be served. This is at the heart of the Good News: first, God loved us with utter graciousness; second, we are called to love others with this graciousness. We jabber of love, but the living of it is a great shaking down of our pretense. Love in dreams can be easy; the reality of it can be a dreadful assault . . . (“The Word Embodied”, http://liturgy.slu.edu)

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, it is continually stressed how God adapts God’s love to our ways of reception.  Jesus is using a parable to make a teaching point, that of always making loving choices even if we doubt or have bumps along the way.  God labors with us.  God labors around us to reveal God’s will for us. God only wants this then:  that we experience infinite love being revealed within out finite experiences and our reception of that love in our lives, (Retreat in the Real World, p. 13).   Where in your life have you had moments of choice…did you choose the loving way?  If not, did you have a change of heart?  Did you feel God present in that choice?  How did your life story change from that moment?

Jesus is in the Hot Mess, By Kris Rooney

Last year, we had a patio put in our backyard.  Digging into the ground to lay a firm foundation, the contractor found a piece of coal.

Coal is formed from trees or plants that get trapped in swamps and accumulate peat.  As these layers multiply and the pressure of being buried underground increases, along with the temperature of the earth, coal is formed.

This living matter from trees or plants gets trapped in a place of incredible pressure.  Does this sound familiar?  Not only do they get trapped, but they get covered in material foreign to them and then pressed deeper into a hole where it’s a hot mess.  The energy of what they were gets packed into a tight, little ball.  It is so much like the pressure cooker we are in now.

I won’t spell it out for you because it’s different for everyone – politics, virus, environmental devastation, racism, regular living.  It is like we as living matter are buried in a hot mess too.  It changes us.  I’ve seen people close to me act and behave differently; but mostly, I see myself react in ways I often don’t like.  The weight of that divisiveness pushes me deeper in.  It is exhausting.

But then there is this:  But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance, (Matthew 13:  23).

As tension in our world rises, let’s be seeds instead of coal.  We can soften and break open, allowing new life to happen within us and around us.  We can embrace the word, who is Jesus, to help us persevere.  My prayer this week is to look for the good thing in every person I encounter.  Maybe these small actions can help us remain living matter and not hard as coal in the hot mess.

Good and Gracious God,

Help us keep our hearts soft and open to you.

We forget we belong to each other.

We don’t want to be coal.

Guide us toward the rich soil,

so we might plant seeds of hope, love and all that is good.

All that is you.  We give thanks.

Amen

Commentary on the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A

1st Reading: Isaiah 55: 6-9

This chapter starts the writings of 3rd Isaiah, a prophet who wishes to encourage his people as they come back from the Exile and face the rebuilding of their country and their faith.  This chapter started with that beautiful image of all being invited to come to the water – come to the feast where there will be rich food and plenty – come without paying and without cost! In light of this vision and the gospel story this reading really says it all: God’s ways are not our ways – alleluia!   What do you think of this reading?  When might God be found?

2nd Reading: Philippians 1:20c – 24, 27a

Remember when Paul talks about Christ being magnified in his body that he also referred to the church as Christ’s body. Paul is such a powerful example of how the grace of God can transform us and renew us, even in the midst of the most difficult situations.

This was probably written by Paul when he was in prison in Ephesus maybe about 52-55 A.D. In this ‘holding tank’ of a place, death was a real possibility. In this case, we know Paul later went free to travel to Rome where eventually he was again imprisoned and killed. So his words are powerful and real, even if at this point he did not face death. Besides this situation, this letter to the Philippians is probably a compilation from two or three short letters written by Paul to the community at Philippi over perhaps many months.  He is in a state of tension, and yet is living the peace that surpasses understanding (4:7) that he talks about in the letter. Paul knows now that “to live is Christ” – it is not about some mystical union, but about trusting that in all his labors and sufferings and work, Christ is at work. That is all that is important. Just like in the gospel, Paul shows us that we are not to be concerned about ‘rewards’ or our ‘pay.’ Rewards are not denied, but they are not the purpose of toiling for Christ and his kingdom. They always come as a surprise. Paul is a profound example of someone who takes the gospel parable to heart – and lives it.  (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )

What Paul speaks of is freedom.  He seems to be okay with living or dying, because either way he is with Christ (like we heard last week).  Margaret Silf says, “Whose kingdom am I serving, my own or God’s?  It takes a lot of courage to recognize the truth that we ourselves are not the fixed center of things but rather that we are beings through whom life flows.  But when we do understand and acknowledge this, we discover that our emptiness will lead us more surely to our true purpose than our imagined fullness ever could, because God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands,” (Inner Compass, p. 110).  We are called to live in a state of:  I don’t mind…

The Gospel: Matthew 20: 1-16a

This parable (unique to Matthew) was probably quite a challenge to Matthew’s community, also. This Christian community was no doubt struggling to understand the place of Gentiles in their community – and God’s kingdom. This was a highly Jewish group of people who were being stretched to accept and welcome ‘the late-comers’, the Gentiles. The ‘same wage’ is extended to all. Of course, it is not about wages at all, but about salvation. No one can get ‘more salvation’ than another. Can there really be ‘higher places’ in heaven, if it is really heaven  (There are many dwelling places…)? All who work in God’s vineyard, God’s kingdom, get the same wage: fullness of life with God for all eternity – incredible generosity = truly Good News! (“Working with the Word”, http://liturgy.slu.edu. )

It is important also to notice that the owner calls the ‘complaining worker’ at the end a friend, even though the worker never even addressed the owner with a customary title of respect. Discipleship is serious business; we need God’s insight and grace. Justice is only possible through love.  This parable is a clear call to conversion for all of us. There is only one God, and we are not it!   There is a place for us in God’s kingdom, but it is not on God’s throne!  Our conversion is about seeing anew, considering a new world view. God is kind and faithful, but also surprising.  We must stay alert and in relationship with our loving Lord if we do not want to miss what God is doing. Prayer and Scripture are ways for us to do just that.  (Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 516-519)

Commentary on 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading – Sirach 27: 30; 28: 7 & The Gospel – Matthew 18: 21-35

Both of these readings this week are about forgiveness: God’s mercy toward us and our mercy toward each other. 

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series on Mathew:

It is Rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive his brother 3 times.  The 4th time they do not forgive.  This is based on a Biblical truth in Amos where there were a series of condemnations on various nations; God forgave 3 times and then punished the sinner in the 4th.  Since we are not to be more gracious than God, forgiveness was limited to 3 times.  Peter thought he was being generous by saying 7 times, but Jesus says 70 x 7, which really means unlimited.

From Living Liturgy, Year A, 236-237:

The ‘large amount’ in the gospel is literally 10,000 talents or 100,000,000 days’ wages, an unthinkably large amount.  (John Pilch says that 10,000 talents would require more than 164,000 years of work, seven days a week.) The smaller amount is 100 denarii or 100 days wages. The exaggeration is meant to remind us how much we should be in awe of God’s gracious forgiveness.

The Hebrew word for forgiveness means to lift and carry away (nasa); the Greek word means to send forth (aphiemi).  Both words tell us that forgiveness puts transgressions and their hurt at a distance – or out of our mind and focus.  We put the hurt at a distance so we can get on with healing and life-giving relationships.

Pheme Perkins reflects like this:  God’s forgiveness of us is not primarily concerned with getting himself loved, a two-party reciprocal relationship.  The parable is not meant to imply that I have some set of obligations to God . . . rather, it suggests that the experiences we have of compassion, forgiveness, mercy, extra assistance, and so on are meant to be directed outward. They are not relationships to be shaped solely on the legal model . . . the first servant’s experience of forgiveness should have changed his own behavior . . . divine forgiveness is like that – it is so unequal that it must be applied in transitive fashion to other relationships. And, the issue is how I treat the other, not how I feel about the other.

JC Arnold’s Why Forgive?:  Certainly forgiveness is sometimes given and received lightly, or used to whitewash the ugly underside of life.  But such forgiveness has no staying power.  Even the most genuine declaration of forgiveness will wear thin if it is not accompanied by a change of heart (see end of Gospel reading), both in the forgiver and the forgiven.  In other words, it must cost something if it is to have any lasting effect.  There is, moreover, little value in seeking forgiveness if we let it touch us only momentarily and then slide back into the same behavior that required an apology in the first place.  It is true that forgiveness is a gift and that it comes with no strings attached.  But it is a useless one unless we let it change us for the better  (p. 131-132).  

The 2nd Reading – Romans 14:  7-9

This reading from the letter of Paul speaks to the heart of what kind of relationship Christ wants with us and our own restlessness of wanting this relationship with Christ (which Christ puts in us).  So we should not be afraid to open ourselves completely to this… 

From: “Feeling and Pain and Prayer” by Margaret Bullitt-Jones

The question is whether we are willing to let God in on the depth of our anger and sorrow and anxiety and shame. Are we willing to disclose these parts of ourselves to God? What if God yearns to know and to enter not only our warm and loving feelings, but the depth of our anger and sadness and fear and doubt? What if God not only tolerates, but actually welcomes, the expression in prayer of our true selves, including those feelings that we tend to hide away and repudiate and despise?

C.S. Lewis once observed that “the prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’” If this is so, then our intention in prayer is to be our real selves and to encounter the real God. As Hart pointedly puts it, “The first principle of prayer is to be yourself. Prayer is being yourself before God.” Getting real involves opening to the truth of what we feel.

 

Commentary for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading: Ezekiel 33: 7-9

Ezekiel understood his role as prophet to be that of watchman who discerns the moral pulse of the culture, and who also watches for and announces to the people any impending disasters.  (Birmingham, W&W Workbook for Year A, 499)  You can hear the weight of responsibility he feels in this role, and it challenges us to speak out against what we see is wrong in the world too.  We all do this in our own way.  How have you had to do it in your life?

During the day, some people who lived in a fortified city worked outside the city gates.  So that they could go about their work without worry, a guard stood on the city wall scanning the horizon for any sign of an approaching enemy.  When the watchman spied hostile forces, he gave a signal to the townspeople in the fields.  It was their responsibility to leave their work to return to safety behind the city walls.  Both the watchman and the people had clear responsibilities, (Vawter&Hoppe, Ezekiel:  A New Heart, 148).  Do you have someone that watches over you?  Are you a watchman?

There is reference in this passage of sins by omission, sin for what we fail to do as opposed to sin for doing.  R. Gula, S.S. says this type of mortal sin, “comes as a result of frequent failures to love and to do the good within one’s reach.  This increasing laxity deadens the person’s sensitivity to the good and responsibility to others,” (Reason Informed by Faith, p. 111).  Perhaps we don’t notice this way of sinning until we start to see a pattern developing, or an uncomfortable feeling in our heart over time about something.  We will continue to see how this author can help us with this in our next readings.

2nd Reading: Romans 13: 8-10

Paul gives us the “how” in handling the social responsibility that Ezekiel charges:  with love.

Indeed, Paul’s words from 1 Corinthian 13 are very close.  It also aligns well with Jesus’ preaching as we find it in the synoptic gospels, especially passages like Luke 10: 25+ — here Jesus lists love as the essence of the law and tells the story of the Good Samaritan. These words of Paul predate the gospels. His experience of the Risen Lord taught him the same truth that we find later recorded by others in the gospels — a great testimony to the ‘unity’ of mind and heart that comes from knowing Jesus. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 500)

The Gospel — Matthew 18: 15-20

Here we see Matthew applying Jesus’ wisdom and advice to his own community and its needs. He is trying to fashion his ‘church’ on the teaching of Jesus.  (Birmingham, 501)

Also remember, Matthew’s community was a highly Jewish/Christian group.  Eduard Schweizer asks us to notice these things in connection with this gospel: In Judaism, at least 10 males must be present for corporate worship. For the disciples of Jesus, such rules are no longer needed: even 2 who pray together are heard.  Also, the authority of the community is the authority they gain through prayer. It is assumed, of course, that the community prays according to God’s will as Jesus taught his disciples to do in the Lord’s Prayer (See Mt. 6: 9-13.)  The promise of Jesus’ presence speaks with a strong ‘taste’ of resurrection faith. When we come together in Jesus’ name we come together under Jesus’ authority and teaching.  It is this presence of love that confers the presence and power of Christ on the community.  Prayer and love are central: “the presence of the God who is unknown has been replaced by the presence of the man who is known, who can be called by name, the presence of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus now takes the place of the Law, as described by this Jewish saying: “When two men sit together and words of the Law are between them, then the presence of God is dwelling among them.”    (The Good News According to Matthew, 374-375)

But then we come to the most difficult part. We are told if the person will not repent we are to treat that one like a Gentile or tax-collector. But Jesus never set limits to forgiveness. In fact in the very next passage in Matthew’s gospel (18: 21-35) Peter is told that we must forgive the one who wrongs us as often as necessary: 7 x 70! And, when Jesus ‘deals with’ tax-collectors or Gentiles in the gospels he does so with sympathy, gentleness, and an appreciation of their good qualities. In fact, Matthew for whom this very gospel is named was a tax-collector. Jesus found no one hopeless; neither must we. Maybe Jesus is telling us that even if the stubborn sinner is like a tax-collector or a Gentile, we may still win him over in the end as He did.

Getting back to R. Gula from Reason Informed by Faith:  He describes 3 senses of conscience which he borrowed from Timothy O’Connell that might be helpful in our own discernment as to how to act when faced with a moral dilemma:

  1. Capacity – Everyone has a general awareness of right and wrong. This capacity highlights our basic orientation towards the good.
  2. Process – To know right and avoid evil requires active interaction. Each situation requires us to act according to our conscience. We have to question our actions and respond according to the information we gather. Our guidelines are based on personal experiences, moral theologians, sciences, scriptures and Church tradition.
  3. Judgment – Conscience is incomplete until you act on it. After examining all the factors, you commit to an action. An action that you believe is right, (p. 132).

Commentary on the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading: 1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12

What is wisdom – or an understanding heart? It is the God-given gift of knowing how to live, how to distinguish between good and bad, what is beneficial from what is harmful, what is authentic from what is false. Wise people are aware that the true value of everything and everyone is measured rightly – only in terms of eternity. In other words: what will this person, this experience, this joy or suffering mean to us in the end? What value will be there on the other side of death?   (Celebration, July, 2002)

In light of all this, what do you think of Solomon’s request?  Solomon (known also as Jedidiah, Hebrew for ‘the beloved of God’) succeeded his father David as king reigning for about 40 years during the 2nd third of the 10th century B.C E. He was a talented and charismatic leader who was able to keep the tribal alliance together that his father, David, had begun. He also established trade routes linking his country to Africa, Asia, Arabia and Asia Minor. He was a ‘lover of women’ with 700 wives and 300 concubines – or so the story goes! But this talent was more than just sensuality, because these connections also brought close political and cultural ties. Yet, some of these connections also brought corruption, diluting and perverting Israel’s faith. Besides all this, Solomon’s numerous building projects brought great hardship to his people through high taxes and forced labor. (7 years were spent building the Temple and 13 years building his palace complex! Then outside of Jerusalem, Solomon built fortifications and ‘chariot cities’ to protect the trade routes.) This reading shows us the ideal Solomon—the real Solomon was not always so ideal! — and the goodness that God wishes to offer all of us – not just Solomon. (Celebration, July 2005;  Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 143-145)

2nd Reading: Romans 8: 28-30

What does Paul mean by predestined?  Raymond Brown describes it as proorizein, “to decide before”.  This passage has fed into important debates about God’s predestining those who would be saved.  Brown cautions that a specific problem of the time was that most of the Jews who had been confronted with the revelation in Christ had rejected him (An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 582).  So Paul may be saying that salvation may be theirs too.  That salvation is God’s first thought. Sr. Kitty Hanley says, “God won’t let us screw it up!”  God continually works in us when we let God.

What does Paul mean by justified?  By NT Wright:  “God will put the whole world right at the last.  He has accomplished the main work of that in Jesus and his death and resurrection.  And, through gospel and spirit, God is now putting people right, so that they can be both examples of what the gospel does and agents of further transformation in God’s world.  This is the heart of Paul’s doctrine of justification…It isn’t about a moralistic framework in which the only question that matters is whether we humans have behaved ourselves and so amassed a store of merit (“righteousness”) and, if not, where we can find such a store, amassed by someone else on our behalf.  It is about the VOCATIONAL framework in which humans are called to reflect God’s image in the world and about the rescue operation whereby God has, through Jesus, set humans free to do exactly that, (Paul, A Biography, p. 407-408).

Because of his own profound life experiences, Paul knew that he was not saved by the law or by his scrupulous, self-righteous fulfillment of the Law.  He found in Jesus Christ a God who accepted him and called him while he was yet a sinner – and empowered him to live an entirely new life – a life in Christ Jesus.  For Paul, faith is that response to this free gift offered to us by God.  Like all gifts it cannot be forced.  It is a matter of life for those who now live in Christ.  It reconciles us with God by accepting his love and trusting it with our lives.  And it empowers us to be reconciled to each other – and to be ambassadors of reconciliation for others.

The Gospel: Matthew 13: 44-53

What is the Kingdom of Heaven?  There are no boundaries to God’s Kingdom.  Not just for the future… God is PRESENT and AT WORK right now.  From Vat II:

  • “In Christ’s word, in his works, and in his presence this Kingdom reveals itself to us…”
  • “…the mission of the church has a single intention; that God’s Kingdom may come.” Has ALREADY come through Jesus Christ.

From Larry Gillick, S.J.:  We have three  parables to ponder in our Gospel for today. The kingdom of heaven is a kind of treasure which a person, just digging around, happened to find among the other “stuff” buried in the field. Some questions arise in my mind. What was the person looking for in the first place, and what was the treasure? Why did he bury it again and go to buy the whole field? The finding is one thing, but buying the whole field is the center meaning for me. No matter what we are searching for, if we keep digging we will find God. Buying into God’s being God and all that this relationship invites us to, is buying the whole field including those things we do not understand or want. The person bought the field for what he believed to be treasure and later could have found other things which time revealed to him as perhaps even more a treasure.                                                                                                 The second parable pictures a merchant who knows what he wants – a pearl – and he finds it and the other possessions he sells off to buy the pearl. My question of this parable is about what the merchant was going to do with the newly-purchased pearl. I suspect he will gain something even more important to him by selling. . . The kingdom of heaven, that is, the ways of Jesus required for entering, a letting go or selling off of the importance of “pearls” for the great pearl of allowing Jesus to be Savior and Lord.                                                                             The Gospel ends, as a professor might end his/her semester. Jesus asks if the disciples understand these teachings, even the last parable about the net’s catching all kinds of good fish and less good. They answer they do. They do for now, but will learn the deeper realities as they walk along with the Master. He tells them that like a good storekeeper, He brings out the good of the old and the good of the new. Jesus is not negating the former revelations, but building on them and the disciples will be the scribes of the new who cherished the old. So the question for the last parable is about the ultimate worry. Is each of us a “good” or a “bad”? Do we get placed in the heavenly “bucket” or thrown into the fiery ocean and grind our teeth for eternity without any Novocain? The net is the words of Jesus, but who are the bad? Can anything be bad that God made? Parables are meant to help us ask questions and try to come up with answers based on the call of Jesus to allow Him to be our Savior, Instructor, and priceless pearl, treasure and bucket.                  http://www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistries/online.html)

Commentary on 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading – Wisdom 12: 13, 16-19

The Book of Wisdom is known only in Greek and may be the last book of the Old Testament to be written.  It makes use of the philosophical arguments found in Philo of Alexandria, Egypt in the first century BC, and employs many Greek oratorical devices of the same period.  Chapter 12 in particular is a long review of the history of Israel up to the exodus as evidence of God’s mercy on Israel, (Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, p. 488).

According to LR Farnell, The Attributes of God p. 174:  Plato’s theory of human punishment had the intention of reformation and remediation only.  In Homer’s Odyssey (1, 31), the gods send no evil to men either in this life or in the next; however, the purpose of punishment is retributive and deterrent.  For the Greeks, justice was the retribution that countered wrongdoing.  Thus, justice and revenge are not very different.  Applying this to the text, words like “condemned”, “might”, “mastery”, “judge” make more sense.  But the author also describes a God of leniency, caring, kind and full of hope.  What do you make of “repentence for their sins”?

“History is not a blind alley, and guilt is not an abyss.  There is always a way that leads out of guilt:  repentence, turning to God.  The prophet is a person who, living in dismay, has the power to transcend his dismay.  Over all the darkness of experience hovers the vision of a different day,”  A. Heschel’s The Prophets, p. 185.  How can this help us now?

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 26-27

From R Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu./16OrdA071711/theword_indepth.html :  The inward groaning of those who possess the first fruits of the Spirit is assisted by the Spirit, who intercedes for us “with sighs too deep for words” (v. 26; the word for “sighs” is akin to “groanings”). Herein lies the clue to Paul’s meaning. It is not that the speech of the Holy Spirit is in itself encompassed with infirmity and therefore itself groans or sighs in an unintelligible fashion (in glossolalia, for instance); rather, Paul’s thought is that the Spirit condescends to take up our infirm prayers and to bear them up to God and to present them before God in the form of intelligible speech. Here the Spirit acts as a Paraclete or Advocate, as in the Fourth Gospel, although Paul does not actually use the word.

From J. Finley’s podcast, “Turning to the Mystics:  Theresa of Avila, Session 1”:  It’s a sacrament that God sees you, that you’re God’s beloved, that God sees in you the God-given, Godly preciousness of you in which the very depths of God by the generosity of  God has been given to you as the very depths and reality of the mystery of your own soul in the presence of God.  God sees that.”  This is a mouthful, but it relates to this important passage on prayer.  God-within-us can pray the prayers of our deepest desires for us to the God-outside-of-us, because God knows us so well and loves us so.

The Gospel – Matthew 13: 24-43

  1. HISTORICAL: The weeds, or tares, were known as bearded darnel.  When it is sprouting, it looks very much like wheat.  It does not look different until it is at a more advanced stage.  At that point, it is too late to pull it out because the roots have intertwined with each other.  A grain of darnel was slightly poisonous, caused dizziness and sickness and was bitter in taste.  Because of all the problems with the darnel, it was against Roman law to sow it with wheat, (Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 72-74).  The landowner knows the wheat will tolerate the weeds and so he is willing to be patient; but this is not to be underestimated.  Everyone would be able to see that he had weeds in his field.  What shame!  BUT, the landowner would have the last laugh.  Not only would the wheat still be collected, but also the weeds would be burned as fuel.  In a sense, the weeds would be put to good use too.  There is no retaliation toward the enemy in this story.  There is only satisfaction in the goodness that resulted from the situation (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 113).
  2. LITERARY: There is an irony in this story that makes the listener pay closer attention.  It is unexpected that the landowner would allow the weeds.
  3. AESTHETICALLY
    • There will always be weeds. Evil exists and so we must stay alert.
    • It is hard to know who the weeds are and who the wheat is. It is easy for us to judge first and ask questions later.
    • God judges people on their whole life, not an individual act. Leave the judging to God.
    • Judgment will come for all of us in the end.
    • Let God be God, (Barclay, p. 73-75).

On this earth, there is good and evil.  Both are present among all people and within all people.  Wheat and weeds grow together.  There is a sense of hope in this.  Richard Rohr says, “If we have to eliminate the weeds before we can love the field, you know what?  You’ll never love anything!”  Although we have sin, all are welcome to be part of the kingdom that is God.  It is not a select group of ideal people that are called.  It Is up to us to see God’s grace in our lives and know God means for us to choose the good.  Just like the landowner, we must be patient with each other and ourselves.

How does the mustard seed and the yeast or leaven speak to you of God’s kingdom and power?

Wonderful and Awful by Kris Rooney

Woodcock Preserve, Clifton Park

Have you thought about how these states of being can exist at the same time, wonderful and awful?  They seem like they should be at odds with each other, but so often they happen at the same time.  Here’s what I mean.

Corona-mania is awful.  There has been so much death, so much change, so much fear and for so long.  Awfulness.  There have also been new ways of being (live-streaming Mass), time for reflection (while doing puzzles:  who knew?), and wonderful discoveries that may not have been found otherwise.

You may have heard by now that the previous pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, Fr. Alan Jupin, has been added to the List of Offenders.  Awfulness.*  Yet, I have heard from others and experienced myself good moments with him, like the baptism of my son Nolan.  Terrible awfulness that sits with a wonderfulness.

My son Matthew was born too soon and died 3 minutes after life.  He would have been 21 this year, so my husband and I went to his grave to share a drink with him.  Awful.  Yet in his 3 minutes of life he blinked at me.  I felt God in that moment of wonder, and it brought me to ministry today.

I could keep going but you get the point.  I’m sure you can reflect on your life and find the wonderful and the awful (and please do take that time).  It is a deeply-rooted teaching from Jesus that it will never be all roses and sunshine.  It is the path of discipleship.  There will always be a dying with the rising.  It’s what life is.  But what do we do with that?

Fr. Richard Rohr says that, “…it is a holding of a real tension, and not necessarily a balancing act, a closure, or any full resolution.  It is an agreeing to live without resolution, at least for a while.”  He goes on to say it is the very name and description of faith.  We must, “open up (faith), hold on (hope), and allow an infilling from another source (love),”  (The Naked Now, p. 107).

I interpret that as just continuing to breathe, knowing God is here.  How else do we get through the awful except through the wonderfulness of God?  Even if you can’t see the wonderful yet because of all the awful – and I know this is where many parishioners are right now – please trust and know that grace is there for you.  For all of us.

Listen for it in the 2nd reading this Sunday by St. Paul to the Romans:  We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (8:23).

So we groan with all creation.  But we also wait (in hope!) for the wonder of good that God so wants us to see and feel and know in our hearts.  Wonderful and awful.  We can do this.

*Note:  Father Bob and I will be available this Monday and Tuesday 5-6pm in the Rosa Road Church to meet (socially but not compassionately distant) with anyone who wants a listening ear.

Commentary on the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading – Isaiah 55: 10-11

In the biblical world rain was precious. The total rainfall averaged 20-24 inches (Mobile, Alabama, gets about 65 inches.) Certainly then rain was eagerly awaited as a vitally necessary commodity. It was seen as a ‘gift of God.’  Isaiah saw the idea of rain as a far greater reality, as an image of the loving, creative, redeeming Word of God whose utterances could transform even the most hardened heart. The rain of grace could soften and bring life. (Celebration, July 14, 2002)  We must be open to receive this grace so that it can transform our life.  How do you know and feel this to be true in your life?  How important is your word?  How does God work through our words? 

Thomas Merton had no religion growing up.  His father was an artist that travelled extensively, although a spiritual man.  His mother was a Quaker who died when he was still little.  He lived for himself, had fun…yet little nudgings from God would occur in him.  He finally made a decision to go to a Catholic church, began spiritual reading, spoke to Catholics about their faith and before you know it-he wanted to be baptized into the faith.  It was only a couple years after that he wanted to become a priest.  In his book, The Seven Storey Mountain, he speaks of the peace that came over him as he got to know the Lord.  This is ‘giving seed to the one who sows’.  Not that we should all become priests, but what is it that God is planting in YOU?

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 18-23

Paul is not a ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die’ kind of guy. On the contrary, Paul regarded the struggles of Christian living as productive, necessary and inherent part of the process whereby we are saved and even all creation is transformed. We are a part of the struggle, but we are also people of hope who live with a joy-filled anticipation of the fullness of life to come. Even in the world of nature we see transformation and struggle as part of the whole process: Butterflies strain to use their new wings as they emerge from their tomb-like cocoons. Salmon swim incredibly long distances in order to spawn and bring forth life. Seeds must crack open and trust the ‘earth-grave’ around them to sprout forth with growth. (Celebration, July 14, 2002)  Brene Brown says hope is a function of struggle.

“Hope is realistic…Hope simply does its thing, like that spider in the corner of my bookshelf.  She will make a new web again and again, as often as my feather duster swooshes it away – without self-pity, without self-congratulations, without expectations, without fear…On my level the stakes are higher.  But I bow to that spider,”  said by Brother David Steindl-Rast.  To learn a little more about this hope and being open to the unimaginable, watch this 6 minute clip of him:   Spirituality for the Future series.

“Eager expectation” is from the word apokaradokia, meaning the attitude of a person who scans the horizon with head thrust forward, searching the distance for the first signs of the dawn break of glory.  The Christian does not see only the world; s/he looks beyond it to God.  The Christian waits, not for death, but for life (Wm. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 110-111).

The Gospel – Matthew 13: 1-23

When we hear this parable, we often focus on ourselves as the various types of soil. Are we rocky, hard soil? Are we choked by the weeds of our life? How do we become good soil, receptive to God’s planting and bountiful care? Things to think about . . .

  • What if we focus on ourselves as the sower?  As the seed?
  • Parables are certainly open-ended. They invite us to sit with mystery awhile – to allow time for its secrets and power to penetrate our minds and hearts. Isn’t it true that sometimes we are not sure we have much – or even that there isn’t much there? As Louie Armstrong said once: “There are some people that if they don’t know, you can’t tell ‘em.”  Perhaps, Jesus was trying to say something similar:  “To anyone who has, more will be given . . . from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  (Exploring the Sunday Readings, July, 2011, & Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p. 197)
  • Imagine! Our God is willing to put up with a 75% failure rate! This parable certainly asserts that the kingdom will not be found by those who are afraid to waste – to ‘waste’ their time, energy, and love. God’s reign is fostered not by carefulness but by openhandedness – not by scrupulously measuring but by generously giving – not by the small gesture of micro-management but by large motion which allows seed to fly from our hands and to land where it will. If we give freely and love generously, a lot of our effort will be wasted. But the few things that do work will more than compensate for our losses. The harvest is worth the waste! God assures us. Jesus promises us that the growing seed will produce a harvest of 30, 60, and a 100 fold.  (Living w/ Christ, 7/11, p. 4-5)

“We come from the earth and return to it, and so we live in agriculture as we live in flesh.  While we live our bodies are moving particles of the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living creatures.”  Wendell Barry

  1. HISTORICAL:  Consider other scripture passages and compare:  Isaiah 55:  10-11, 1 Corinthians 3:  6-9, Sirach 6:  18-21.  In Palestine, the field is unplowed, people have trod a path or paths through it, here and there rocky ground or limestone rises through, and thorns and stubble have been growing out of it.  The farmer broadcasts the seed atop the earth before he plows it under.  Planting proceeds plowing.  That’s why seed sprays on pathways, rocky ground, among thorns and on good earth, (Fichtner, Many Things in Parables, p. 15)  Considering the audience of this story, these early Christians were a persecuted people.  The oppression they experience and the cares of the world are not to be allowed to dampen their faith, (Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, p. 81).
  2. LITERARY:  This is more an allegory than a parable, since it has more than one point of comparison, (Fichtner, p. 15).
  3. AESTHETICALLY:  There will be severe problems:  frustrated starts, failures, smothering opposition and trials galore.  Yet, despite all the obstacles met in sowing the seed on various kinds of soil, the farmer’s work will succeed,”  (O’Collins, Following the Way, p. 88).  The emphasis on our response to that seems to be the point of the parable.  It is the SEED that has to deal with what it is given, not the sower.  Consider this quote from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”  What kind of seed are you?  Perhaps circumstances have changed you as a seed over time?  What are other influences in your seed life?  Do the various soils bring other examples of people (seeds) to mind?

Commentary on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading – Zechariah 9:9-10

Thus says the LORD:  Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

This reading is often associated with Palm Sunday. What meaning does it have for you during this time of summer?

From M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 442:  Scholars tell us that this book was probably written over a period of a few centuries by at least two authors. Chapters 1-8 were most likely written following the Babylonian exile. This section is a word of hope and reassurance to the returning exiles. Chapters 9 to 14 were perhaps written by disciples of Zechariah and possibly composed during the time of Alexander the Great. Persian rule was replaced by Greek domination. People were tired of foreign control. Hopes for a messiah had all but vanished. This writer took it upon himself to try to restore this lost vision.

Also the word ‘meek’ comes from the Greek and means ‘not easily provoked’. The Greeks understood meekness to be a balance between extreme anger and the total absence of anger. A meek person is in full control, not acting out of weakness, but out of controlled power. It is a power that is receptive to knowledge and to God. Those who are arrogant are incapable of learning.  Discipleship requires this virtue.  What does this mean to you?

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 9, 11-13

Brothers and sisters:  You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you. Consequently, brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

The word sarx, “flesh,” does not indicate the same reality as soma, “body.” Soma is far more integrative and unifying than sarx. But the human body (person), soma, can be jailed in the prison of mere flesh if it is without the liberty of the spirit. Sarx is the debased, sin-ruled body; it is earth-bound human existence left to itself. It is thus dominated by the ‘natural’ drive for self-maintenance and enhancement, even at the expense of others. Paul’s psychology is fully enhanced by his belief in the Spirit of Jesus. Read all of Chapter 8 and rejoice that the Spirit makes us adopted children of God and that all creation is in birthing pangs of love and eager expectation. Nothing then can separate us from the eternal love of God we find in Christ Jesus. With Spirit, sarx becomes the soma, a body inspirited temple – it can sing of love, play in joy, console with gentle compassion, touch with kindness. With the Spirit our very bodies can be revelatory of God. (John Kavanaugh, http://liturgy.slu.edu./14OrdA070311/theword_embodied.html ).

In other words:

For Paul the words ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ did not designate two distinct aspects of human nature, but two ways of living. Flesh is turned in on self; self becomes the center of all wants, decisions, and values. To live according to the Spirit is to live free from this bondage to self and sin. Paul’s life is an example of one who lives by the Spirit as an adopted child of God, living with joy, commitment, and love. Rather than self-centered, Paul becomes Christ-centered, even anticipating eternity in the here and now. Thus, he could face even death with joy and peace.             (Preaching Resources, July 3, 2005)

“Holiness rests in becoming persons conformed to the image of God in us, being toward and for another, for others, and for God…authentic Christian holiness is realized by living in communion as Christ’s Body through the Spirit amidst the vicissitudes and interruptions of life in a highly complex and fragmented world,”  Michael Downey’s Altogether Gift, p. 106-107.

The Gospel – Matthew 11: 25-30

At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Jesus promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. The yoke that Jesus imposes is one he wears himself. In Jesus’ day, a yoke was a common wooden device that paired two oxen and made them a team. The ever-approachable Jesus invites us to become his ‘yoke-mate’ — and with him and in him, to find our burdens lessened and our sorrows shared. The One who called us into being wants to shoulder our troubles as his own. (Preaching Resources, July 3, 2005)

From John Pilch’s The Cultural World of Jesus, p. 106:  Jesus reminds us that his Father is like a Mediterranean patron, a godfather.  This is the meaning behind the title, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth,” which tells us that Jesus’ Father is truly in charge of human existence, of all creation.  Jesus is his broker, who mediates between the patron and the clients.  As everyone in the Mediterranean world knows, a patron is someone who freely selects clients and then decides to treat the clients “as if” they were family…What is peculiar about this patron?  Who are his “favorites”?  The simple or powerless people, those unable to do or obtain anything for themselves.

Jesus teaches and demonstrates a way of life, a yoke, that differs markedly from the one other Judean leaders taught.  He promises a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.  The peasants found this enormously appealing.  Peasants always had a yoke.  Their lives as tenant farmers were governed by the wills and whims of the landowners.  Religious leaders grew fat on tithes that they hoarded in the Temple instead of redistributing to the needy, (p. 107-108).  Jesus offers a whole new way.