1st Reading – Isaiah 11: 1 – 10
This section is from ‘First Isaiah’ – that part of Isaiah that was written by an 8th century prophet when Assyria was attacking Israel. This was a world in crisis. There are three characteristics emerging from this reading:
- This messianic age will be presided over by a just and God-fearing descendent of David. The shoot coming from the “stump” and “roots” represents the state of the dynasty after the branches (unfaithful kings) have been removed. The ideal king, then is rooted in his earliest forebears.
- This era will be marked by the king’s execution of justice on behalf of his people. Equity and harmony will be re-established.
- There will be a return to the harmony and peace of Eden. Mutually hostile animal species will be able to co-habitate, as it was before sin came to be on the earth (Foley, Footprints on the Mountain, pp. 15-16).
Does it sound a little beyond reach? This Advent, consider living with this unfinished feeling. We know how we wish things would be, and yet we are not there yet. Richard Rohr says, “We need to be reminded that utopia is nonexistent. Utopia, that perfect world in our imagination, is not what we’re waiting for at Christmas. Our task in this world is to live with open hands –with emptiness – so that there’s room for a coming, so that there’s room for something more,” (Catholic Update, Dec 1989).
It’s not that the wolf is suddenly not a wolf anymore, or that the lion is more like the calf. They are still authentically what they are. The difference is that they can be together. They can be who they are, be enemies, and still be neighbors. What can we learn from this?
2nd Reading — Romans (15:4-9):
Christian fellowship should be marked in hope. The Christian is always a realist, but never a pessimist. The Christian hope is not a cheap hope. It is not the immature hope which is optimistic because it does not see the difficulties and has not encountered the experiences of life. The Christian hope has seen everything and endured everything, and still has not despaired, because it believes in God. (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series on Romans, p. 196)
Paul is really furthering the vision of Isaiah here by encouraging us to see how the ‘peaceable kingdom’ has begun in Jesus, the One who welcomed – even sought out – sinners, the afflicted, the lost. We must continue Jesus’ example. No one is excluded from God’s mercy. (Celebration, Dec. 2004).
The Gospel — Matthew (3: 1-12):
John cries out: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Jesus began His ministry with the very same words in Mt.3: 17.) How do the first two readings prepare us for these words? How is this an Advent message? What images of desert and mountains and valleys – of Spirit and fire – of axe and root – of good fruit and wheat and chaff – speak most to you? How can we let this gospel move our hearts this Advent?
John’s entire presence preaches repentance. His ‘dress’ of camel’s hair and leather belt is similar to Elijah, another prophet heralding the end times. He resists the mainstream, living in the desert and eating locust and honey. He is not shy…how often have you been in a group and called a brood of vipers?! What John is challenging is that just because paternity makes the Pharisees and Saducees sons of Abraham, that doesn’t mean the kingdom is theirs. It is by their fruit (what they DO) that matters (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, pp. 4-5).
It is also important to remember when we read about repenting and judgment that we remember that Scripture is meant, first of all, to call ourselves to conversion. We may be tempted, though, to think it is alright to point the finger at others and even practice retribution ourselves. But it is fundamental to recall that God is the one who does the judging. Final judgment is God’s job; ours is repentance. ( Exploring the Sunday Readings, Dec. 9, 2007)
From http://www.usccb.org on Christ the King: On the last Sunday of each liturgical year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, or Christ the King. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 with his encyclical Quas primas (“In the first”) to respond to growing nationalism and secularism. It was named on the 1600th anniversary of the Council of Nicea, 325. He recognized that societal ills would breed increasing hostility against the Church. Today this feast reminds us that while governments and ideologies come and go, Christ reigns as King forever.
During the early twentieth century, in Mexico, Russia, and in many parts of Europe, atheistic regimes threatened not just the Catholic Church and its faithful but civilization itself. Pope Pius XI’s encyclical gave Catholics hope and—while governments around them crumbled—the assurance that Christ the King shall reign forever. Pope Pius XI said that Christ “reign[s] ‘in the hearts of men,’ both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all mankind” (Quas primas, 6).
Quas primas continues to ring true. In recent years, aggressive secularist campaigns have sought to marginalize the Church and other religious institutions. In response to the alienation and loss of solidarity which have accompanied these secularist assaults, racist movements have become more influential in the United States. Now, as always, we must turn and gaze on the face of Christ, who is Lord over all nations.
THE GOSPEL — LUKE 23: 35-45
What two reactions to Jesus are seen here? Who is the only one to call Jesus by name? What does this mean to you? How is this a story of conversion? What kind of Kingship do we see here?
Jesus chose to exercise his authority as service and forgiveness. He reigns not from a throne, but from the cross. The Jesus who is worshipped today as Lord of lords and King of kings does not lord it over others, but, rather, he loves and leads all who will follow him to the kingdom of eternal life, peace, and glory. (Celebration, Nov. 2001)
The word ‘Paradise’ is a Persian word meaning a walled garden. When a Persian king wished to do one of his subjects a very special honor he made him a companion of the garden, and he was chosen to walk in the garden with the king. It was more than immortality that Jesus promised the penitent thief. He promised him the honored place of a companion of the garden in the courts of heaven. Surely this story tells us above all things that it is never too late to turn to Christ (Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 299-300).
Christ is a different and new kind of king. We normally think of kings as covered in jewels and fine clothes. We imagine them followed by a great entourage. Christ the king is stripped, beaten, and crowned not with jewels and gold, but with thorns. His only attendants are his sorrowing Mother, his young friend, and a few women devoted to him. Christ teaches us that his Kingdom belongs not to those who seem to have power in this world, but to the poor and humble who embrace the cross. It is when we walk with Jesus and when we unite any of our suffering to his that we come to experience his glory and life in resurrection (www.usccb.org).
More Reflection Questions:
- Today marks the end of the liturgical year, as we celebrate the kingship of Christ crucified. Without the humility of the crucifixion there could be no royal celebration. Does the awesomeness of that fact put personal suffering and loss into a different perspective for you?
- We relate to Jesus in many ways, in many roles. He is often consoler, teacher, lover and healer. Today we celebrate “Christ the King.” What does that mean to you?
- With kings come kingdoms. What role do you see the Church playing in God’s kingdom? (When we think of a king, we often think of his “subjects”. Jesus the King offers us a new understanding of this, and we would more likely speak of his “followers.” Jesus was/is a servant king.
1st Reading: Malachi (3:19-20a)
Our spirituality is like fire. We can let it transform us, or we can rest in the coals. St. Ignatius of Loyola is credited for saying, “Go forth and set the world on fire.” How does this sit with you today?
Malachi means “my messenger”. This book was written by an anonymous author about 460-450 BC after the exile. Although the exile was over and the people had been allowed to return home, they were disheartened. The temple had been rebuilt, but it did not guarantee communal, liturgical, or spiritual unity. The people were in disarray. The clergy were negligent, the ritual sloppy, and there was an indifference to the needs of the poor. The rich became richer, and poor became poorer. The prophets used the idea of the “Day of the Lord” to create fear and to motivate people to change. They claimed the day would be a day of judgment – a day of fire when the righteous would be saved, but evil would be destroyed. Because Malachi came up against the leaders, he was a very unpopular prophet. He was also adamant that the people forsake all foreign religious practices – he was even afraid of intermarriage because he thought it would taint Judaism. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 533)
The “Sun of Justice” literally means the ‘sun which is justice’. How does this image speak to you of God? Here we see the Biblical authors applying the symbol of the ‘sun god’ that was used in Persia and Egypt to Yahweh, for to them Yahweh certainly was the source of all light and life. The hot sun could blaze with fire to burn away evil and to heal the righteous. Christians applied this idea later to Jesus calling him the “Son of Justice” – the One who comes as light into the world with the incarnate presence of God. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Wk, 533-534)
2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians (3:7-12)
This letter reflects an example of a group whose apocalyptic fervor has ‘gone amuck.’ They refused to work, and they were beginning to be a burden on the rest of the Christian community. We do need to be careful how we apply this text. We are all capable of being ‘shirkers’ – and we thus need to take the warning seriously. But – as with all scripture – we should not use this passage to criticize the poor who might be faced with unemployment and homelessness beyond their own choice. It may be just as likely to find ‘shirkers’ among the affluent as among the poor. Christianity always demands that we uphold the law of love. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 534)
“Faith cannot stand as an excuse. Faith does not wait for another to work, for another to think, to serve, to pray. Faith plunges the believer into the thick of the human experience with all its pain and struggle even as it realizes and lives in the hope that this life is not forever. Temporal and temporary as it is, however, it is only during THIS life that we have the opportunity to prepare for the life that never ends,” (“Preaching Resources”, Nov’04).
How could we apply the imagery of fire to this scripture passage? Are those living disorderly living with a fire in their belly?
Gospel Reading: Luke (21:5-19)
When Luke writes his Gospel in the latter part of the 1st century, the temple has already been destroyed and Jerusalem sacked. As he includes Jesus’ end-time discourse, Luke makes some important alterations. He combines both the language of the actual experience of the period of persecution and the destruction of the temple and that of the apocalyptic. Luke is as much concerned with the Christian interim as he is with Christ’s return. The message is to stand firm with an unshaken faith, (R. Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 736-738).
Our belief in Paschal Mystery can help us. From The Holy Longing (p. 146) by Ronald Rolheiser:
In order to come to fuller life and spirit we must constantly be letting go of present life . . .
Terminal death is a death that ends life and ends possibilities. Paschal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life . . . Jesus did not get his old life back. He received a new life – a richer life, a life that is free of death entirely. What can we learn from the cycle of the paschal mystery?
1. Name your deaths.
2. Claim your births.
3. Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality.
4. Do not cling to the old; let it ascend and give you its blessing.
5. Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living. (148)
“Many will come in my name…do not follow them!” How can we apply this to our life right now? How do we know when something is of God or isn’t? How do we know not to follow?
Jesus is not making this discipleship thing sound like anything enticing! How do you stay a Christian when it gets hard?
Christ’s words are meant to move us, inspire us to set the world on fire. Here are some reflection questions using the image of fire:
- What is blazing in your heart?
- Where in your life do you experience the fire of light, protection and warmth?
- What in your life needs to be refined or purified?
- Where do you experience resistance to the purifying dimensions of fire?
- What keeps you from living your life with an awareness of this holy fire within you?
Reading #1: Sirach35: 12-14, 16-18
Jesus Ben Sirach lived and wrote around 180 BC. He was an educated man whose main writing concerns were reflection on the Torah and practical suggestions for upright living. To live uprightly is to live up to the covenantal relationship one has with God – hesed. Hesed assumes a reciprocity and requires that love of one another flows out of love of God, (W&W, Birmingham, p. 510). Hesed is difficult to translate. No single word in English captures its meaning. Translators use words like “kindness,” “loving-kindness,” “mercy,” “loyalty.” Perhaps “loyal love” is close. Hesed is one of the richest, most powerful words in the Old Testament. It reflects the loyal love that people committed to the God of the Bible should have for one another. It is not a “mood.” Hesed is not primarily something people “feel.” It is something people DO for other people who have no claim on them (www.discovertheword.org). What does this mean to you?
God knows no favorites. There are no prayers better than any others. Sometimes we are afraid to go to God with our small requests. But Sirach says the one who serves God willingly is heard! Pope Francis says, “Today amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds.” The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds!
Reading #2: 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18
Paul’s ‘departure,’ a euphemism for death, uses a Greek word that means to leave, to loosen the bonds or fetters, to relax, to be released from prison – unyoked, free, unfettered. (Celebration, Oct. 1998) This is often a reading at funerals.
From Celebrations Oct. 2004: Scholars suggest that the abandonment that is referred to in this reading happened at the end of Paul’s life, during his second imprisonment in Rome under Nero. Even though there was a sizeable Christian community in Rome, no one appeared at Paul’s preliminary hearing to encourage or to defend him. Paul who had brought countless numbers of people to Christ, found himself alone, with no one other than Christ to strengthen and support him. Paul likens his death to a sacrifice or a libation. Libations of wine and oil were done sometimes by Jews, but even more often by Greeks and Romans. Before meals and, at times, in between courses, as well as at religious ceremonies, a goblet of wine was poured out on the ground as a gesture of homage to the gods.
From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu : Remember, Paul had entered ‘the race’ only after he met the Risen Christ and realized that all his accomplishments were so much rubbish. He gave up the pretense of being a self-made, self-righteous man. In Christ, he learned the freedom and the gift that is God’s grace poured out for us. The mercy of the Lord was his hope, his joy, his faith.
Gospel: Luke 18:9-14
From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu : Prayer, most surely, is not about trying to change God’s mind or heart about anything. It is about changing us. And that is why the Pharisee’s prayer is so meaningless. There is nothing in his life to be changed – no empty spaces to be filled up. Remember Mary’s Magnificat: God fills the hungry and the ‘full’ (the rich) go away empty . . .” (Lk. 1:53) If the cries of the poor are to be heard or the orphan or oppressed are to be cared for, it will not be by some magic changing of God’s mind. They will be heard and served by concerned people who can recognize (be open to) their needs and decide how to respond to them. We need to open a place for God’s entry into our lives. This is true prayer.
From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu : To strike the breast is a Middle-Eastern gesture that was usually used by women. It was used by men only in extreme anguish, so it is touching that this tax collector uses this gesture. The closing phrase (“whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted”) is one of those ‘floating sayings.” It occurs also in Lk 14:11, Mt 18:4: 23:12; James 4:6, 10; 1 Peter 5:6. Most of us go through life tallying successes and failures. God’s ways are not like that. With God’s help, we can discover even in our so-called failures examples of divine reversals, a better plan, a more rewarding venture, new life after hitting a dead-end. What looks like a set-back, can be an opportunity for growth. This is the Paschal Mystery: new life from death.
This question keeps popping into my life lately. Kinda like an annoying itch. A lot of people smarter than me have written their theories about it, some adamantly yes and others defiantly no. This tells me we really haven’t got a clue. Maybe? And maybe is an excellent answer. Maybe might be exactly where God would like us to be. A perpetual state of not knowing how God works or why things are the way they are.
I’m not talking about ignorance. I’m not talking about not caring. It’s more like allowing, abiding, trusting. Does God plan to have countries like Ukraine bombed? Or for 2 people to meet and fall in love? For my son to have mental illness? Or to have 2 different species of trees intertwine and grow together? Maybe. I tend to think God isn’t a micro-manager. God gave us these brains to think independently, for good or bad. Yet there does seem to be an underlying thread of good that is woven into all things. Even in the tangles of life, there are moments of pure beauty, wonder, joy. They can’t be explained. An underlying plan of good, of God at work. So curious.
A posture of “maybe” opens us up to this. Maybe helps us get out of the way. Maybe teaches us we are not God. Maybe allows, abides, trusts. It is not always comfortable. It fights with that feeling of wanting to know, wanting to fix. I don’t always like it (Who am I kidding-do I ever?!), but it seems to be a message I continually get: to love, but not to know. Maybe draws us closer to God. It’s like, “I don’t know, God, and maybe You don’t either, but let’s be together in it.” In a way, it’s kinda freeing.
But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” Psalm 31:15
Does God have a plan? Maybe. What do you think?
1st Reading — Exodus 17: 8-13
Amalek incurred God’s wrath for attacking the Israelites when they were faint and weary on their journey out of Egypt. (Just before this passage is the section where God provides food as manna, and drink as water from a rock.) Amalek had set upon the most vulnerable and weak, the stragglers who were too exhausted to keep up with the rest. Amalek did not fear (respect) God. His sin is not unlike that of the corrupt judge who “feared neither God nor humans” who we will hear in the Gospel.
Picture Moses: he is sitting on a rock holding up the staff of God with his tired and aching arms supported by fellow believers. This is not meant to be seen as magic or ritual superstition; it is symbolic of the powerful presence of God in our midst. Remember also, that Joshua, whose name in Latin is Jesus, is the one who defends the people against the aggressors. Who supports you in prayer?
*How do you pray? Do you kneel down? Clasp your hands? Bow your head? Our posture can be a part of our prayer. Being mindful of our body and what it is saying about our attentiveness to God can make our prayer more holistic. We should be in a state of openness. Henri Nouwen says, “Praying demands a relationship in which you allow someone other than yourself to enter into the very center of your person, to see there what you would rather leave in the darkness, and to touch there what you would rather leave untouched. The resistance to praying is like the resistance of tightly clenched fists…When you are invited to pray, you are asked to open your tightly clenched fists…Each time you dare to let go and surrender one of those many fears, your hand opens a little and your palms spread out in a gesture of receiving. You must be patient, of course, very patient until your hands are completely open. It is a long journey of trust…”
2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2
Do you have a favorite Scripture verse or phrase that you find helpful – hopeful – faith-filled?
Again Henri Nouwen says, “Often I have found myself saying: ‘The Gospel that I read this morning was just what I needed today!’ This was much more than a wonderful coincidence. What, in fact, was taking place was not that a Gospel text helped me with a concrete problem, but that the many Gospel passages that I had been contemplating were gradually giving me new eyes and new ears to see and hear what was happening in the world. It wasn’t that the Gospel proved useful for my many worries but that the Gospel proved the uselessness of my worries and so refocused my whole attention, ”Here and Now, p. 127. Does Scripture do this for you?
The Gospel – Luke 18: 1-8
This judge is obviously corrupt – nothing like God. God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures speaks on behalf of the oppressed and the widowed. The word ‘widow’ in Hebrew, admanah, means unable to speak, a silent one. Chera, meaning forsaken or empty, was also often applied to a widow. The prophets always challenged the people and leaders to care for the widow and orphan, those without power. See Isaiah 1:23; 10:2; Malachi 3:5; Jeremiah 49:11; Psalm 68:6; James 1:27, (J Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,”http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Luke’s gospel is often called the gospel of prayer. What does prayer have to do with faith? How do you see prayer as important? How do you keep from ‘’becoming weary’?
More thoughts from John Pilch: The word that is translated, ‘strike me’ literally meant to “give a black eye.” It was used also to imply a public shaming. In other words, this pestering widow puts the ‘fear of the Lord’ back in this awful judge due to her persistence and public pressure! The point of this story is that if a helpless widow can get what is needed from a shameless judge, how much more can we trust that our ever-loving, honor-sensitive God will be with us to help us.
The audience knows that God is not an unjust judge. God will not require such lengths of persistence before responding to the needs of God’s people. This parable does not claim that God responds immediately to individual petitions, nor does it suggest that God will suddenly shift the way in which God deals with God’s people. But it assures the righteous that God does hear, that their suffering does not pass for nothing, and that God’s “invisible” action and persistent appeal to God’s people to repent does not imply that God’s justice is weak. Violence and injustice are still the objects of divine judgment, (P. Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, p. 195.
In and through the person of Jesus himself the reality of the kingdom is already present and available. When we recall how Jesus presents himself constantly, if indirectly, as the Son of Man, we catch the sharp bite in the question: ‘When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ The Son of Man has come and is there, right in front of his audience. What does he find on earth – faith or a terrible lack of faith? We don’t have to wait for his final coming to put the question, but must ask now: What does Jesus find on earth today? (Following the Way, G. O’Collins SJ, p. 137.
1st Reading — 2 Kings 5: 14-17
Some talking points to this story:
- It is a small Jewish girl that suggests to Naaman (head general) to go see Elisha. She is a slave from a country they have raided. This is a story, like so many others in the Bible, of the underdog.
- The king of Aram wrote to the king of Israel that he was sending Naaman, who laughed and thought it was a trick. When Elisha overheard, he intervened and said to send him to me.
- When Naaman first arrives to see Elisha, Elisha doesn’t even come outside to greet him. Naaman at first gets angry and turns to leave, but the servants (again) convince him to stay and give Elisha’s suggestion of dousing in the river a try.
- In this time period, there were localized deities. Each tribe had land and they had a god. So if you were traveling or at war, you had to think about how that god would react. The idea of the Jewish people that we all come from 1 God, that we are all brothers and sisters and we could actually live in peace was BIG.
- Notice in the last line that Naaman now refers to himself as servant. All power is temporary. Why does he want Israel’s dirt? Because Israel dirt = Yahweh dirt and that is what he wants to worship on. Naaman is enlightened by being healed, but he is still using his old, familiar categories (Don’t we all do this?).
Continue reading the next 2 lines of this passage (2 Kings 5:18-19) Elisha is concerned about what’s going to happen when he returns home and has to worship his tribal god again, Rimmon. Rather than admonish him, Elisha tells him to go in peace. God is with us in the complexity of life. To reflect on this further, listen to Rob Bell’s Podcast #34:
2nd Reading — 2 Timothy 2: 8 –13
This letter in the name of Paul assures us that though he was ‘chained’ and eventually killed, “the Word of God is not chained” and that the God we find in Jesus Christ will be forever faithful – even when we are not. God continues to work and inspire even our stage of reading and interpreting – helping these words live for us – enfleshing His love and presence in us.
How can the word of God free you? William Barclay says, “Jesus must always be our own personal discovery. Our religion can never be a carried tale. Christianity does not mean reciting a creed; it means knowing a person,” (The Gospel of Luke, p. 121).
The Gospel – Luke 17: 11-19
The leper was healed while ‘Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem.” This is what happens to us when we walk with Jesus even to and through the difficult times and places of our lives. We are healed each time we come to Eucharist praising God and becoming more perfectly a part of Christ’s body. We are healed each time we put others ahead of ourselves. We are healed each time we choose to forgive those who wrong us, even as we try to overcome the evil. We are healed each time we pause a few seconds to ‘give thanks to God’ for the many blessings of each day. Such gratitude makes our faith a vibrant and growing reality: we owe all to God who gives us everything that is good. Faithfulness and thankfulness go (grow?) together (Living Liturgy, Cycle C, p.224-227).
Jesus as healer was constantly challenging existing boundaries and pushing them ever outward. Sinners, the blind, the lame and lepers were welcome within the boundaries of the holy community Jesus was forming. Now that the lepers were healed, they are restored to their communities. The nine that left may have gone to the priests to thank God there. The Samaritan leper could not enter Jerusalem, so he couldn’t do that. He recognized Jesus as being one with God, and so he thanked him personally. The other nine lepers may actually bump into Jesus again…do you think they might thank him later? The Samaritan grabbed his opportunity while he had it, (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle C, p. 150). What opportunities do you have to thank God?
From A. Gittins’ Encountering Jesus: Poor people and sick people are often overlooked or forever pushed around, sent here and there with vague promises of redress or assistance. Theirs is a never-ending round of deferrals and dead-ends. They become used to excuses or prevarication from bureaucrats or people without compassion. We have to wonder what these ten lepers must have felt when Jesus appeared to dismiss them and send them on their way without really having encountered them. Did they set off with a spring in their step, or simply accept another rebuff, and go their way with no intention of heading for the priests? We cannot know, but we can imagine (p. 66)…According to Luke’s story, all 10 lepers were cured of their condition. And, only one was also truly healed: restored to a full relationship with God through both divine initiative and human response (p. 67).
1st Reading — Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
From Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament, p. 358-9: Habakkuk lived shortly after Nahum and describes a time when Babylon was taking over the Near East from the fallen Assyrians. He describes Babylon as the scourge of God causing terror everywhere. But in the end, Habakkuk climbs his watchtower to wait for a word from the Lord. God sends the word that is to be declared clearly and plainly to all even if it is very slow in coming about: the righteous who believe will live, the wicked will not succeed. Together with Zephaniah and Nahum, these prophetic books represent a resurgence of trust in the might power of God to turn the tide of world tyrants. May we continue to have this kind of trust!
Br. David Steindl-Rast’s gratefulness, the heart of prayer:
How difficult it is to live in the creative tension of hope, the tension between not-yet and already!…Some people imagine that hope is the highest degree of optimism, a kind of super-optimism. I get the image of someone climbing higher and higher to the most fanciful pinnacle of optimism, there to wave the little flag of hope. A far more accurate picture would be that hope happens when the bottom drops out of our pessimism. We have nowhere to fall but into the ultimate reality of God’s motherly caring (p. 126, 136) Can you go to that difficult place inside of you and feel the same lament as Habakkuk? Have you sensed God there too? How does faith help us in these moments?
2nd Reading – 2 Timothy 1: 6-8, 13-14
We hear Paul telling Timothy to seek God’s help through “the imposition of my hands” and “the sound words that you heard from me”. In other words, Timothy should feel hope in the Lord because of how the Lord works through Paul. Don’t we often find hope in the Lord through each other too? The warmth of a loving touch and comforting words can be all we need to get through a really hard day. It gives a whole new meaning to “being there” for someone. We bring God into that accompaniment when we have faith.
What does “stir into flame” conjure up for you? Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God, It will flame out like shining from shook
foil.” Some reflection questions around fire:
- What is the invitation of fire for you this day?
- What is blazing in your heart?
- Where do you need the fire of courage in your life?
- What keeps you from living your life with an awareness of this holy fire within you?
- What ignites you with sacred passion for the world? (Questions taken from C. Paintner’s water, wind, earth & fire, p. 61)
R. Rolheiser in The Holy Longing describes spirituality as, “about what we do with the fire inside of us, about how we channel our eros…It is the principle of energy. Life is energy. There is only one body that does not have any energy or tension within it, a dead one. The soul is what gives life. Inside it, lies the fire, the eros, the energy that drives us,” (p. 11-12).
The Gospel – Luke 17: 5-10
This whole chapter in Luke’s gospel is about “the decisiveness and urgency of discipleship.” We cannot just wait (or even pray) until we have enough faith, for then we may never begin living as the servants we are called to be. A seed is small, but it is filled with potential ‘power’ for growth. Jesus wants to convince us that our faith is like this. We must ‘burst open’ like a planted seed allowing growth and new life to begin.
From Pilch’s The Cultural World of Jesus, p. 146-147: In the ancient Middle-Eastern world every family, even relatively poor ones, had at least one servant. The very poorest families gave some of their children to other families as servants to ensure that they would be fed. The master in this parable apparently has only one servant who both tends the fields and does the cooking. The thrust of the story is clear and straightforward. Good servants do what they are told. A master never has to thank a servant for doing what was expected.
Literally, the Greek adjective for “unprofitable” is “without need.” The New English Bible captures this sense in its rendition: “We are servants and deserve no credit.” Jesus’ demands of forgiveness, loyalty, and the surrendering of an entitlement mentality still challenge us today.
From Fichtner’s Many Things in Parables, p. 101: As the people of God, we never earn a covenantal relationship to him, nor is he ever indebted to us. He sets up a covenant of love with us freely, of his own initiative, out of the superabundance of his heart. His goodness is diffusive pf itself. Whatever our good works, whatever our sacrifices, whatever our achievements in life, whatever the long years of faithful service to him and his people, we have neither claim not right to reward. Because all is gift from him, all is grace, we remain “unprofitable servants.”
The 1st Reading — Amos 6: 1, 4-7
Amos is continuing to lament and grow weary of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. The rich are basking in the glow of their wealth, even drinking wine out of bowls! Scholars think the reference to David is trying to be ironic. Unlike David who used his musical talents for praising God, the wealthy of Israel were dabbling in the art simply for their own entertainment and enjoyment. The prophecy of the rich going into exile first does occur. In 722BC Assyria attacks the northern Kingdom (Celebration, Sept. 1998). Their complacency did not benefit them in the end. What happens when we become complacent and take for granted what we have?
Contrast this image with St. Teresa of Calcutta. In a general letter she wrote to her sisters in July 1961: My dear children, without our suffering, our work would just be social work, very good and helpful, but it would not be the work of Jesus Christ, not part of the redemption. Jesus wanted to help us by sharing our life, our loneliness, our agony and death…Only by being one with us He has redeemed us. We are allowed to do the same: All the desolation of the poor people, not only their material poverty, but their spiritual destitution must be redeemed, and we must have our share in it. Pray thus when you find it hard – “I wish to live in this world which is so far from God, which has turned so much from the light of Jesus, to help them – to take upon me something of their suffering.” Yes, my dear children – let us share the sufferings – of our Poor – for only by being one with them – we can redeem them, that is, bringing God into their lives and bringing them to God.
The 2nd Reading – 1 Timothy 6: 11-16
This passage tells us clearly how and what we are to be. It is an exhortation not just for Timothy, but for every baptized person. Our faith is a living relationship of love – with God and with others (Celebration, Sept. 2001). What wisdom do you find in this passage? What do you make of the writer saying we should, “Compete well for the faith,”?
Paul bases his moral motivation on belief in eternal life. Upright conduct springs from a belief in life which will not end, (R. Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 639). We often reverse this. We “try to be good in order to go to heaven”. Paul is telling us to remember that we are called to heaven, and that belief helps us be good. This is a profound shift!
The Gospel — Luke 16: 19 – 31
This gospel reading is challenging us to open our eyes and minds and hearts to those around us. Let not our possessions and comforts blind us and deaden us. Perhaps the saddest aspect of this parable comes when the rich man, suffering now himself, raised his eyes and saw Lazarus. But even then, he only saw him as someone who could meet his needs — not as a person in his own right with needs. The rich man has no name (although he is sometimes called Dives, a Latin word for rich); the poor man is given a name and an identity: Lazarus, which means the one God helps or loves. (Celebration, Sept. 2001)
From William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, 221-222: The details in this parable are very important. The rich man had great luxury: garments of purple and fine linen. The word that is used for feasting is one that is used for a glutton who feeds on exotic and costly dishes – everyday. His self-indulgence seemed to give him no time for work while his servants must have slaved to keep him fed. Also, in those days’ food was eaten with the hands. In very wealthy houses, the hands were cleaned by wiping them on chunks of bread. The bread was then thrown away. These were the ‘crumbs’ that Lazarus longed to be allowed to eat. The rich man was not deliberately cruel; nor was he accused of being the reason for Lazarus’ poverty. His sin is his blindness – his lack of even noticing another’s need. That lack of human concern for anyone outside of himself was a great chasm that separated him from love, life.
From Richard Rohr, The Good News According to Luke, 169-170: Hades (netherworld) is the abode of the dead. It does not necessarily coincide with our term of hell. In this story there is a big chasm separating those who respond to and with God’s love and those who do not. The ‘hell side’ is the state of being where you don’t love – where you find yourself cut off and where non-life is chosen. This parable is not supposed to convince us that God’s justice is served by physically punishing people. The story is supposed to open us to the true way of life – listening to God’s Word and letting it guide our life and our choices. We are to choose life – love – sharing – communion. We need to choose the good because it is good – it leads to life. Such choice leads to dignity and goodness. There is, as Abraham says in the story, a ‘great chasm’ between heaven and hell – between fear and faith, between death and life. This story was meant to help us overcome the chasm – not to deepen it. Notice Jesus’ audience…
1st Reading – Amos 8: 4-7
Amos was a native of the village of Tekoa located 6 miles south of Bethlehem on the edge of the Judean wilderness. He made his living as a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees. What is translated as sycamore is probably a type of mulberry that produced a type of fig-like fruit. They had to be punctured or pinched at exactly the right moment in its growth cycle so as to release the insects that infested it. Insect-free fruit would then grow to ripeness so that the poor, for whom the fruit provided some meager sustenance, could gather it up and be fed. Although Amos thought he was not suitable to be the prophet God called him to be, perhaps his job with these trees had actually prepared him well to pinch and puncture the greed and dishonesty that infested the hearts of some of the rich at that time. The greedy rich did not even like the Sabbath rest, for it kept them from their unscrupulous business practices. These heartless and disreputable merchants actually sold the poor into lives of slavery because of their greed. Amos understood the lives of the poor; he spoke out vehemently with condemnation toward those whose greed continued to force the poor into more and more difficulties. We need to allow Amos’ words to pinch and puncture us so we too are open to God’s ways of love and truth, not selfish greed. God still hears the cry of the poor; he is not fooled by superficial piety. (Celebration, Sept. 2001 and Exploring the Sunday Readings, Sept. 1998)
According to a quick Google search, an ephah is about a bushel, and a shekel is worth about $.28.
There is a sense that nothing is hidden from the Lord. All of our actions are noticed and have meaning. Sometimes we don’t even give thought to how our actions have impact on others, such as the food or clothing we buy from a company that doesn’t practice fair wages. In what ways can you be more mindful of your actions?
2nd Reading — 1 Timothy2: 1-8
Some in this community were succumbing to Gnosticism, and so the letter is countering that. Gnosis is Greek for knowledge. Gnostics thought they possessed special, mystical knowledge that they received because they were an elite group. They believed all matter is evil, so our bodies are evil and our spirits must escape them. In order to be liberated from our bodies, a spiritual messenger must come and awaken us from our sleep. This messenger brings gnosis. For Christian Gnostics, that messenger was Jesus. But because they believed bodies were evil, they rejected the idea that Christ had a body like ours (appeared to be human but not). So there were theories about Jesus’ birth, incarnation and resurrection that threatened Christian doctrine (Gonzalez, JL, The Story of Christianity Vol I, pgs 58-61). In this letter to Timothy, “Paul” writes how EVERYONE is to be saved, there is ONE mediator and he is a ransom for ALL. What do you make of this in our world today?
The Gospel – Luke 16: 1-13
This whole section is tied together by the theme of wealth and the danger it poses for discipleship.
Luke is always very concerned about this problem. Don’t you wonder why Jesus advises that we
should make friends with dishonest wealth?
Jesus’ audience (and Luke’s) would have expected the steward to be jailed immediately. When this didn’t happen in the parable, their imagination was captured. The underdog seems to be getting the better of the person in power! In actuality, the master is a man of mercy. The steward knew that, since he wasn’t jailed, and decided to capitalize on that. When he lowered the renters’ ransom notes (connect this ransom with the one in the previous reading!), the renters believed it was with the master’s approval and so he is a hero. It would look bad if the master changed this. The steward hoped that even if the master did not reinstate him, he would be welcomed and employed by others in the community. The steward relies heavily on the fact that the master is generous and merciful. God is the master, and we are God’s stewards. We are completely dependent on God for life itself. Only God can save (Birmingham, M, Word and Worship, p. 481).
As disciples, we need prudent decisiveness. We must take our identity so seriously that it defines how we live. We are not going to live in this world forever. We or our profits are not the source and security of our lives; God is. We had better take God’s priorities seriously. We need to realize that all our choices in daily living are actually choices for eternal life. And, our Christian way of living – our Paschal Mystery living – isn’t simply a matter of surrendering to the self-sacrificing possibilities that come our way in the normal course of living. We must be clever and smart about searching out such opportunities to live Jesus’ proactive way of love. This passage in Luke’s gospel is really challenging us with the question: How smart are you? We need to know who and what we are. We need to face our gifts and shortcomings honestly. It does not do ourselves or anyone else any good to live in fantasy. We need to face our abilities and the real situation with clarity. Such realism is an asset in many a crisis. It enables us to come up with real solutions to the problems. It is only practical, real-life wisdom that brings true insight. (Pheme Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, 165-171, & Living Liturgy, Cycle C, 2004)
Being double-minded is not having a singleness of purpose. It is as if we are at war with ourselves. We cannot serve two masters, as the Gospel says. Soren Kierkegaard reflected on this idea. He said, “If it is possible that a [wo]man can will only one thing then he must will the good. For as the Good is only a single thing, so all ways lead to the Good, even the false ones – when the repentant one follows the same way back…let your heart in truth will only one thing, for therein is the heart’s purity,” (From his essay on “Purity of Heart Edifying Discourses in Various Spirits” in A Kierkegaard Anthology, p. 271-272). For Kierkegaard, even when we choose wrong, we can follow our way back to the good. This is singularity of thought. This is living authentically. It is behaving as true to ourselves as we are able. Can you recall a time when you were divided in either making a decision or applying your time? How could this Gospel message and commentary help?