Monthly Archives: September, 2022

Commentary on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

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.”   

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Commentary on 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

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 blindnesshis 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…

Commentary on the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

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?

Commentary on 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading – Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14

In this story we find Moses foreshadowing the role of Jesus as a mediator before God on our behalf. Jesus like Moses prays on the cross: “Father, forgive them.” Here is a God who is willing to forgive even though his anger is great at the evil that has been done. And, of course, we believe that Jesus shows us the fullness of the real God – the visible image of the invisible God.  (Reginald Fuller, “ Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

This event is an example of how religions can confuse the voice of the people with the voice of God.  Any religion has the capacity to produce a “calf” to meet the needs of the people who are in opposition to the will of God.  Need does not create religion.  Although Aaron had ordered the making of the calf in a dubious effort to salvage the faith of his people, all that resulted was a compromise that threatened the integrity of their relationship with God, (Word & Worship, Birmingham, p. 472).  How often do we place our needs in the way of God’s will?  Maybe more often than we think.  Yet our God listens to us.  Moses intercedes for his people, and God hears. Compare this dubious effort with the effort of the prodigal son in the Gospel we will soon hear.

Notice too how God tells Moses they are “your people”, like an angry mother telling a father what happened with the children while he was away at work.  Does the angry mother’s love ever diminish for her children?  She is there for them anyway and loves them completely, no matter what they do.  How much more God is. 

2nd Reading – 1 Timothy 1: 12-17

The Pauline authorship of this letter and the rest of the so-called pastoral letters (2 Timothy, Titus) have been disputed since the 19th century. Regardless, the letter is emphasizing that Saul-Paul was like the elder brother of the gospel story who had been desirous of punishing the ‘brothers’ he deemed to be unfaithful and heretical. By the glorious grace of the God he found in the Risen Christ, he recognized the error of his ways. He began knowing God in an entirely new way, a way that leads to new life, not judgment and death.  (Celebration, Sept. 2001)

How does this passage lead us into the parables of lost sheep, lost coin, lost son?

“There is something good in the worst of us and something bad in the best of us.” We may not be Paul, a former blasphemer and ‘thug’ – we may not be worshipping molten calves in a frenzy – but we can all be overwhelmingly grateful for the merciful love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  Repentance is always the start of good news.  (Kavanaugh, “The Word Engaged” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

St. Therese of Lisieux, “The one thing which is not open to envy is the lowest place.  Here alone, therefore, there is neither vanity nor affliction of spirit.  Yet sometimes we find ourselves wishing for what dazzles.  In that hour let us in all humility take our place among the imperfect, and look upon ourselves as little souls who at every instant need to be upheld by the goodness of God.”

The Gospel – Luke 15: 1-32

Here is the whole chapter from Luke on the ‘lost and found’. It is sometimes called ‘the gospel within the gospel’ because it so profoundly shows us the essence of the good news we find in Christ Jesus.  What do we find good in these parables? What do you find challenging?

From Living Liturgy, 2004: This parable reveals the dying and rising of the paschal mystery at work.  The prodigal son is brought to repentance because he is in dire need; he is “dying from hunger.” There is nothing he does to deserve the father’s response except return. Yet, his decision to repent (turn from death) is met with warm, welcoming love and feasting – at least from the father. For all of us, the invitation to repent is always there – to turn from dying-ways to new life and feasting.  What can bring us – and the elder son – to the feasting?

Notice also, that sin is ‘going away to a distant land’ – it is about losing who and where we are called to be. Repentance is about ‘coming back to our senses.’  Sin is an alienation from ourselves, like the son who no longer deserves to be called his father’s son.  Sin affects our relationships – with the father – and with others (the elder son). But in the father, we find a love that bridges the gap.  

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”, http://liturgy.slu.edu:  In this culture fathers were greatly discouraged from distributing inheritance before their death. The younger son acts very shamefully by effectively wishing his father dead. The elder son is no better. He makes no effort to reconcile his father and brother as the culture demanded. When he ‘comes back to himself’ and repents, the younger son is willing to become a servant and take the rejection and physical abuse that the village will heap on him for his shameful behavior. In this, he does show some measure of honor. But then the father acts totally out of cultural character. He runs (very inappropriate for an elder) the village gauntlet to meet the boy. He publicly forgives the son by kissing him, giving him the best robe (which certainly would be the father’s), putting a ring on his finger (a sign of trust), and sandals on his feet (a sign of a free man not a slave). Killing the fatted calf means that the whole village will be invited to come and accept this son and celebrate. (This size calf could feed 100 people.) And then, what does the elder son do? Instead of honoring his father’s wishes, he publicly insults and humiliates his father. Yet, the father also goes out to him (another shameful thing for the father to do). The parable ends here with the father pleading with his son . . . what did the elder son do? What would you do?