Author Archive: kafesk

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading: Proverbs 9: 1-6

The Book of Proverbs dates back to 3000 BC, and so it is possible that the sayings could have been gathered together during Solomon’s time and put into one collection.  Solomon was believed to have written most of Proverbs as well as The Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes and the book of Wisdom  (Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 607).

 

Today’s pericope (a select text) is a contrast between the personification of Folly and Wisdom.  Folly is trying to coax passersby with “junk food” that will only hurt them in the end.  Wisdom provides more nourishment at her table.  Wisdom offers life…it is up to us to choose.  Doesn’t this sound like an easy choice?  We should eat from Wisdom’s table, right?  But so often we don’t!  What prevents us?  How do we choose the life-giving nourishment that God provides us?  Wisdom is preparing us for the bread and wine of Christ that will always sustain us.

 

The Hebrew meaning behind the word “simple” is open-minded.  How does this change your understanding of the passage?  It frees us from the duality of wise vs. simple.  What does it mean to be wise?

 

2nd Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

What does the writer of Ephesians mean by calling his day ‘evil’? He probably meant that the time was out of step with truth – that it had encouraged a spirit of immorality (behavior that destroys community and treats individuals as objects) – that much of what was seen as ‘good’ was really toxic. True wisdom will lead to a life that is filled with goodness for us and for all others.  (Celebration, August 2006)  What will “watch carefully how you live” help us with?  How do we “sing and play to the Lord in our hearts”?

 

The Gospel: John 6: 51-58

\The language Jesus uses to describe this food – his very own flesh and blood – is reminiscent of sacrificial language with which the crowd would have been familiar. In the temple, the flesh of the sacrifice is roasted and eaten – the blood is poured out. To share in the sacrificial meal by eating the roasted flesh is to become a participant in the sacrifice. The victim’s life is given to God and, in turn, becomes food returned from God to the giver. The mystery of life and death is at the very heart of sacrifice. Jesus’ teaching is hard. It involves self-giving – the self-giving of Jesus and it calls for our own self-giving. When we know and appreciate that we are freely gifted by God, we are more open to sharing. We are called to remain in Jesus. By eating of his very person (flesh and blood), we can become Jesus, the Body of Christ, a nourishment that is the indwelling of divine life – eternal life.  (Living Liturgy, 2003, 192)

 

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

Literally drinking blood (and eating human flesh) was prohibited in Judaism and perhaps early Christianity. Yet, “eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood” became a common way for Christians around the time of John’s Gospel to describe participation in the Eucharist. It is believed that such language served to emphasize the intimacy, the close relationship of Jesus to those who trust him and ‘feed’ on his words and the bread and wine of his table. The Father’s life was and is in Jesus – and so too all believers who share this intimate relationship that is the Eucharist. John’s gospel seems to be viewing the Eucharist not so much as a memorial of Jesus’ death or his many meals with others. Rather, Eucharist is a liturgical extension of Jesus incarnation. The divine/human life of the Risen Lord becomes one with us so we can now be his body and blood in this world today. Maybe that is why John puts this bread of life discourse right in the middle of Jesus’ life and ministry – not at the Last Supper before his death.

 

From https://www.circleofhope.net/blog/bake-bread-follow-jesus/:

This author compares making bread to following Jesus:

  1. Catch the Spirit (or the yeast):  The air caused by the yeast itself contains everything you need to add to your bread to transform it from water and flour into something great. It takes time, feeding, and attention for this to happen, but soon you’ll have caught something amazing. The same is true for our spiritual lives—we need to catch the Spirit and a big part of that is just an open posture. Be available for the Spirit, not stubborn or resolute. We don’t know which way the Spirit chooses to blow.
  2. Make sure you have enough (like sugar or honey) to foster growth:  The bread needs to have some food to grow and develop flavor. It isn’t enough to catch some passion, we have to keep our passion fed.
  3. Get engaged (or knead) in some action:  The doing part of the church is important to being a follow of Jesus. That’s what kneading bread does, too. It agitates the gluten and gets it to create some structure. Not enough kneading and the bread won’t proof, and the crumb won’t be chewy like a nice piece of bread should be.
  4. Rest:  You’re hard to handle without rest. But the resting period also develops depth, both in bread and in Spirit.
  5. Stay alert, but be patient:  Wait, rest, proof. Be filled up with the Spirit and anticipate the right time to act. Be ready, not rushed.  Time, attention and patience.
  6. Get into the oven and be transformed:  At the right time, slide your bread into the oven and watch it transform from a raw, inedible piece of dough into something that is just good to eat. Transformed Christians are visibly different, and usually people notice. They are light but deep. They have substance but aren’t too difficult. They are just like good bread, with its rustic crust and chewy crumb.
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Eucharist: Part 2

The 2nd of Fr. Bob’s homily series…

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18th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
This is the second of our series on the Eucharist as we dive deeply into the sixth chapter of John. Last week we talked of our hungers and the bold proposition that in the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus has given us something that can satisfy those hungers and answer all our needs. Today, let’s look at two of the most prominent hungers in our life – our hunger to belong and our need to know we are beautiful.
They go closely together because both hungers are deeply connected to our security or more accurately, our insecurities. Belonging calms our great fear of being alone, of suffering isolation and not connecting with others. We need people we can identify as our own, a safe place. And we are always searching to know that we are beautiful, that we matter and thought of as precious.

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Eucharist: Part One

1st of Fr. Bob’s Eucharist Homily Series

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17th Sunday of Ordinary Time B
This is an exciting day. This will be the first of a four part homily series on the Eucharist. It will not be so much a test of my theology, but of your endurance. The truth is though that I cannot imagine devoting so much time to any subject other than the Eucharist. It is at the center of our life and the center of the life of the church. As a matter of fact, it is primary to the Church. The Church does make the Eucharist as much as the Eucharist makes the Church. It has always been central to my life. When I was discerning priesthood, my wise friend Alissa gave me a book from the German poet Rainer Marie Rilke and he wrote, “Think of what you would die for and then live for it.” Eucharist was my immediate answer. For…

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July and Jesus’ Parables: The Ten Virgins and The Laborers in the Vineyard

The Ten Virgins  (Matthew 25:  1–13)

From Celebrations, November 2002:  “This parable is clear and simple.  The time for choosing Jesus is now; therefore, the time for preparedness is now; the time for ‘packing’ whatever faith, grace, repentance, conversion of heart, good works, and loving responsiveness to God . . . is now. This parable is “not about mercy but about being decisive and prepared.  God’s gift is offered, but we must take hold of it, do something with it. Even the message of unconditional love does not override our free choice to ignore God’s intentions for us.  Real foolishness is possible . . .” This is not a parable about caring and sharing.  It’s a parable about responsibility; about doing our job of being a Christian . . . no one else can do our job for us.

What does the ‘oil” represent?  William Barclay says that “the oil signifies

1) a relationship with God; a person cannot borrow such a relationship, he/she must cultivate it himself/herself;

2) character, a person cannot borrow character . . .

3) Others simply say that the oil represents the wisdom and preparedness necessary for recognizing and welcoming the coming Christ . . .”  We must be ready “to love the ways and will of God,” (The Gospel of Matthew, Vol II, 320, and Celebration, Nov. 2005)

From Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew:

This parable is found only in Matthew’s gospel although there are ‘hints’ of it in Luke 13:25. It certainly reflects the community’s struggle over Jesus’ delay in not returning in ‘glory’. Matthew does not want the delay to be the cause of the people not truly living their faith in the here and now. “When Jesus calls on his disciples to keep watch, he is calling on them to take the reality of God so seriously that they can come to terms with its sudden appearance at any moment in their own lives . . . (467).”

Some points made by Pheme Perkins in Hearing the Parables of Jesus (104-110):

  • It may be tempting to separate ourselves into the wise and the foolish.  Note that the wise don’t resolve the situation or make a big effort to fix it.  The foolish are simply caught in their habitual type of behavior.
  • The foolish servants do not have any idea of what their real situation is.  They persist in showing their attempts to bail themselves out at the last minute.  Those attempts fail because it really is the last minute.  (And see how Jesus uses humor to portray the wrong way to go about things as opposed to “wailing and gnashing of teeth”.)
  • The foolish are excluded due to their own decisions and actions.  They fall back on their old patterns.  They might have done better to wait outside until morning rather than call attention to themselves by their banging on the door.  Reflect on this situation:  What if they didn’t go get the oil and waited without lit lamps?  Would they have gone to the feast despite their “darkness”?  Perhaps Jesus is calling us to be ready for relationship, not necessarily for perfection.
  • We all know good, responsible employees who seem to waste vast amounts of emotional energy lamenting the behavior of others who are not performing their job as they should.  The parable does not suggest that we should always bail such people out.  It suggests that maybe we should voice ways to them of shouldering their own responsibility.

The Laborers in the Vineyard  (Matthew 20:  1 – 16)

This parable (again, unique to Matthew) is another illustration of the surprising and unsurpassing goodness of God and His kingdom. It was probably quite a challenge to Matthew’s community, whom no doubt struggled 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. )

In Jesus’ culture, workers had to be invited to work; they could not apply or go looking for work. That was seen as dishonorable since you might be taking what belongs to someone else. To have a ‘patron’ was a particularly great blessing. A patron is someone who freely chooses to treat other people (always of a lower class) ‘as if’ they were family members. This is how God acts in this parable.(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”, 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)

Some questions to reflect upon…

What would be a modern example of the Ten Virgins?  The Laborers?  Why do you think Matthew’s community is so concerned about being prepared?  Both parables seem to play at odds with one another…what are the underlying truths?

July and Jesus’ Parables: The Sower and The Wheat and the Tares

The Sower  (Matthew 13:  1–9, 18–23 but also found in Mark 4: 3-9 and Luke 8: 5-8)

“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).

  1. LITERARY: This is more an allegory than a parable, since it has more than one point of comparison, (Fichtner, p. 15).
  2. 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?

The Wheat and the Tares  (Matthew 13:  24 – 30)

  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.

Some questions to reflect upon…

What do you like about the directness and common touch of Jesus’ preaching?

Is there any connection to be drawn between the gran that grows in abundance and Jesus himself as ‘the bread of life’? 

Why does evil have to exist even when we fight against it?  (It is a truth in life.  There will always be evil.  But it will never have the final answer.)

Considering the wheat and the tares, what did the slaves do when they discovered the weeds?  When they got their answer from the landowner, they still may not have understood the answer but allowed the mystery.  (Perhaps the kingdom of heaven will be like that…a final knowing.)  And note, what do the slaves say about how well the wheat is growing?  We are always quick to see what is going wrong…

Suffering = Dignity

Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…

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14th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Occasionally, there is an idea that I find very bad and I often find it is supported by a short, supposedly pithy statement that infuriates me. And when that happens I feel the need to rant for about eight minutes and that is why I am so happy I have a homily to release that energy. Thank you!
The very bad idea is euthanasia or physician assisted suicide that ends a life before natural death. My opposition to euthanasia, which of course the Church strictly opposes, is based on theological, moral, philosophical and practical grounds. The phrase that upsets me and is used to defend euthanasia is “Death with dignity” and its acceptance is disturbing and underlines a far wider issue.
It has been my responsibility and my honor to stand by many dying people. I have seen people die suddenly and peacefully. I…

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July and Jesus’ Parables: The Good Samaritan

Opening Prayer

Teacher Jesus,

Thank you for this time together.

We gather so we may learn from you,

so that we may practice what you teach.

Help us to hear your words, and hear each other.

Lead us to put your words into action.  AMEN

How do we approach a parable?

  1. HISTORICALLY: What is behind a parable?  How does it fit into the teaching of Jesus and later into the teaching of the early church?
  2. LITERARY: How is the story put together?  Where does it focus our attention?  How does it compare to other stories in Jesus’ time?
  3. AESTHETICALLY: How do we respond to it personally?  Does it evoke conversion in me?

The Good Samaritan  (Luke 10:  25 – 37)

  1. HISTORICAL
  • The lawyer: In the Mediterranean world questions are rarely perceived as requests for information.  The hope is that the person who is asked a question will not know the answer and be shamed by ignorance.  Jesus responds in a consistent way-insulting his questioner!
  • The victim: Since the man is stripped and left half-dead, his ethnicity cannot be identified.  Helping him carries a risk.
  • The priest: If the victim is dead or non-Judean, the priest would be defiled by touching him and have to return to Jerusalem for purification  (Leviticus 21:1-3).
  • The Levite: He may have seen the priest’s reaction and so didn’t want to insult by stopping.  And Sirach 50:  25-26 calls Samaritans degenerates, so perhaps he thinks he’s doing what he’s supposed to do.
  • The Samaritan: Generations of hatred have been built between the Jews and Samaritans.  He is an unlikely character for the story, for the lawyer would have thought the choices would be priest, Levite or Judean lay person.  What do I do with a hated enemy?  The Samaritan takes great risk that the victim may hate him upon wakening; the oil and wine he uses may be considered unclean.  Or if the victim dies, his family may come looking for him  (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, p. 109-111).
  • Consider Luke’s audience too. This is a Christian community that has people from lots of different backgrounds.  They may have lots of questions about who a neighbor is too.
  1. LITERARY

The story is designed to provoke anxiety over whether or not the man will be rescued.  But the long-standing hostility between the two groups might still make it difficult to imagine being aided by a Samaritan.  The reversal in this story’s plot really takes place because of that identification with the victim.  It leaves us with many questions, (Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, p. 120).

Luke’s writing often features doublets, two passages that match each other and clarify each other.  See verse 28 and 37.  Both are versions of, “Go and do likewise,” (O’Collins, Following the Way, p. 118).  They highlight that Jesus wants us to hear what he says and then do it.

  1. AESTHETICALLY

Personal cost and personal risk belong right in the story Jesus told.  The good Samaritan’s kindness cost him some oil, wine, clothing and money – as well as the loss of time caused by the unforeseen break in his journey.  The bandits could still be around too, so there is the possibility of danger (p.119).  It begs us to consider at what cost are we willing to help?  Are we willing to break down divisions to help our neighbor too?

Who is Jesus in this story?  He is hospitable like the innkeeper, saving others at all costs like the Samaritan and a victim in how he was left to die on a cross (p. 121).

Israel has been anticipating a messiah.  In fact, favor and expectation were at a fever pitch around the time of Christ.  Due to the political and economic difficulties of the times, the messiah became an expectation of their own fashioning.  The awaited messiah had been reduced to hopes for a victorious warrior who would crush their enemies.  Luke’s Jesus shattered this illusion.  Jesus was not that kind of messiah.  Destruction of Israel’s enemies was not part of Jesus’ plan.  In listening to this parable, hearers are forced to ask:  If the old structures are no longer adequate, then, who is in and who is out?  Who is first in God’s reign?  Who is my neighbor?  All are equal before the eyes of God.  All are deserving of the same love that God gives to all people  (Birmingham, Word & Worship-Cycle C, p. 424).

Some questions to reflect upon…

Is this a criticism against the clerical? 

What do you think the victim did when he got well enough to realize what had happened?  Did he leave and go on his way to Jericho?  Did he wait until the Samaritan returned in order to thank him?  What did he tell his friends?  Did the incident have any effect on his views of Samaritans later?

What can be said of the innkeeper?  He trusts the Samaritan and follows his request despite being a hated outsider

What Good Samaritan stories do you have to share?

Closing Prayer.

O God,

To love you is our destiny and life itself.

Open our hearts to all who need our concern and help.

Help us to minister to those who do not belong to ‘our’ group,

And make us always compassionate

to the wounded and suffering.  AMEN

What is in a name?

Fr. Bob’s homily June 24…

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Nativity of John the Baptist 2018
“What is in a name?” Shakespeare wistfully wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Of course the irony is that these are the words of Juliet and it turns out that if the names are Montague and Capulet, a name means everything. So it is in the story of John the Baptist.
Think of all the startling events that make up the birth of Jon the Baptist. The archangel Gabriel visits Elizabeth and tells the barren older woman that she will give birth to a son. Her husband Zechariah is struck mute for not believing this word. The Virgin Mary comes for a visit and John leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth at the presence of Jesus in Mary. Yet, what really knocks their socks off is that John’s parents agreed on a name?
Names meant more then…

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Name, By MariAN Brinker

“It’s spelled M-a-r-i-A-N because I’m a girl.”

“What? Marion’s a boy’s name?”

“Yep. It’s John Wayne’s real first name as a matter of fact.”

For millennials I should name Suge Knight, founder of Death Row Records. For the evangelicals I could name Pat Robertson, whose given name is Marion. Most male Marions are from two to three generations before myself like Mr. Robertson and Mr. Wayne.

What I leave out is that modern day preference for spelling seems to be “O-N” no matter one’s gender.

So goes my usual explanation of my name.

Marian is an adjective that stands for all things relating to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Raised a Roman Catholic, my name could have inspired me to Marian Devotions but, alas, my prayer life
is more spontaneous conversations in my head or pleading for answers or outcomes while attending mass. I wish I could have stuck with the rosary. I said many decades and visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio several times while waiting for the birth parents of both my children to select Adam and I as parents. I got the children, but raising them often means needing stress relief—something the rosary recitation could bring. I’m not a
believer in miracles per se, but I believe the more petitions one sends heavenward, whether personally or intercessory, leads to what our predominantly secular society deems as “good karma” happening.

As for following in the footsteps of the Virgin Mary, I fall way short. If, at 14ish, God had told me to bear his son, I’d say Yes out of fear of lifelong reparations for a negative response rather than faith. The trip to Bethlehem literally carrying Jesus on a donkey would have resulted in poor Joseph spending the trip home a victim of passive aggressiveness. If my adolescent son had stayed back at the Temple in Jerusalem while I commenced traveling on quite a way home
to Nazareth…. I would have been visibly fuming mad even after he told me he was doing his father’s work. Jesus would get an ear full all the way home. It would have been all about my feelings rather than his awakening to his call. I think, the closest I’d come to Mary is at the Wedding in Cana… I’d definitely request his miraculous powers to refill the pitchers with wine; I’d think of how much money the guests spent on gifts and not want to disappoint. I don’t
know how she bore witnessing her son’s crucifixion. That would break me. No, I don’t think being named Marian inspired me to be anything close to Mary.

I know my dad wanted me named after his mother. I have many qualities in common with my Nana. But my mother only relented to my name because it actually was her aunt’s name too, and she got Carroll as my middle name—another nod to her family lineage. I never knew my great aunt well, but I knew of her. She was the polar opposite of her sister, my grandmother.  And, the most we have in common is similar tensions between sisters.

Are name choices really reflections of parents whims more than what we become? I liked that my name made me unique in my generation. There was never another Marian in my class—
possibly none in any of my many schools. My first job at the local nursing home serving up pureed food on trays was the first institution that had FOUR Marians including my boss and myself. Marian was so old fashion, it worked as labels often do. That is, I tended to appreciate learning from the past and having old fashion values. I was never in a rush to take on most fads, quite content with what life had given me.

When the Atari craze broke in the 80’s, I played maybe three games of asteroids, found it utterly confounding, moved to pong, found it utterly mind numbing, and crawled back up on the couch with a book under an afghan crocheted by my Nana. She’d given me a historical novel based on the life of Sacajawea. I savored all 1000 plus pages of details, especially when ask to dust. To my mother’s disdain, I’d point out the fact that Native Americans found white
settlers obsession with cleaning absurd. “Dust returns.”

Despite being a buser, I’d choose to walk home from school in the two weeks at the start of school and end of the school year. (Those being the only two one wasn’t risking dying of frost bite in Vermont.) When given the chance to exercise, one should always keep mind and body sound. The worst word I ever used in my house was “sucks.” My mother relentlessly tried to rid me of this vulgar habit. We said “number one” or “number two” in our house if we needed to discuss our bathroom feats. My physics teacher was forever unable to praise my knowledge of his subject area, but in the class of nearly all smart aleck boys, he said he really admired that I never resorted to coarse language; I used witty zingers to deflect their verbal exasperation at my mindless questions or ignorant guesses at his questions directed at my eyes lower, hand not raised personae. Coarse language is a sign of a lack of vocabulary development was my mantra.

When it was time to drive at age 16, I bid my time making sure I mastered hill starts, two point turns, and lane changing on that one major highway 10 miles up Mill Hill from our village. I was to be a proficient Vermont driver, not an eager one. I was a bit naive. When I still hadn’t bought my first beer two months after turning 18, I huffed at my neighbor’s exasperation, carefully drove down to the convenience store with his money, bought a six pack, handed him
his change, the beer, and sent him on his way home. “Now can you just leave me alone?” I proclaimed before doing what was more important in life. I probably went back to studying for my finals for some time before I realized he didn’t turn 18 until November.

Uniquely Marian or not, you’re more than just your name.

July and Jesus’ Parables: An Intro and The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Opening Prayer

Teacher Jesus,

Thank you for this time together.

We gather so we may learn from you,

so that we may practice what you teach.

Help us to hear your words, and hear each other.

Lead us to put your words into action.  AMEN

What is a parable?

  • Greek parabolē, meaning set aside, parallel with or compare with one another (Young, Jesus and His Jewish Parables)
  • Stories and sayings of Jesus, whether they are allegories, anecdotes or riddles
  • A sort of code language for speaking of divine matters in terms that the unenlightened may not always comprehend (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, Powell, p. 87)
  • Jesus calls our attention to details of human life and behavior that we often overlook.
  • Jesus’ teachings were not recorded. They were passed on by telling and re-telling until they were finally put into written collections  (see the chart on “Parables in the Gospels”).  Oral transmission of stories characteristically adapts the story to the changing circumstances of the audience.  Important to keep in mind!
  • Guidelines for our own attempts to live out Jesus’ vision (Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, p. 2-3)
  • They are often incomplete, allowing us to fill in the blanks and live out the story.
  • They can apply to everyone.
  • Most of his stories reflected himself, his character, his life and work. He uses pastoral and rural imagery because that’s what he saw and knew.  Parables are word-pictures  (Fichter, Many Things in Parables, IX-X).

How do we approach a parable?

  1. HISTORICALLY: What is behind a parable?  How does it fit into the teaching of Jesus and later into the teaching of the early church?
  2. LITERARY: How is the story put together?  Where does it focus our attention?  How does it compare to other stories in Jesus’ time?
  3. AESTHETICALLY: How do we respond to it personally?  Does it evoke conversion in me?

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector  (Luke 18:  10 – 14)

  1. HISTORICAL

Tax collectors were contemptible at the time.  As they collaborated with the authorities of the Roman Empire, they were considered disloyal traitors.  They often extorted more than was legally due  (O’Collins, Following the Way, p. 139).  Who might be an appropriate replacement today?  The setting is the temple, the common place of worship.  Perhaps Jesus himself came upon a similar situation and is using it to tell this story.  A Pharisee is a prominent position and prays in a stance of eyes and hands toward heaven.  His practice is to pray at mid-morning and mid-afternoon.  The Hebraic law orders a fast only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, but, supposedly for the conversion of sinners, the Pharisee fasts twice a week, customarily on Mondays and Thursdays.  His fast is rather strict, from food and drink  (Fichtner, Many Things in Parables, p. 127-128).

  1. LITERARY

Notice the parallelism:

  Pharisee Tax Collector
Posture Standing before him Standing at a distance, would not lift up his eyes to heaven but beat his breast
Prayer God, I give you thanks that I am not like the rest of men, thieves, unjust, adulterers, or like this tax-collector.  I sat twice a week, and pay tithes on all that I own. God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

  1. AESTHETICALLY

Jesus is friends to all.  At first glance, it may seem Jesus is always “hanging out” with sinners and tax collectors (i.e. Zacchaeus).  But Jesus also hangs with Pharisees (i.e. Simon).  Perhaps we can see ourselves in both of these men?  Let’s look at each of them:

The Pharisee has vested interests in the inferiority of others.  He stands, not with others but by himself to pray.  He never gets around to admitting that he needs anything – even from God.  He has tight control over everything.

The Tax Collector implores for divine mercy and finds acceptance from God.  His stance assumes that he feels he barely has a right to be there.  He hopes God will hear his prayer despite his sins.  He is an illustration of humility  (We will come back to this word!).

Some questions to reflect upon…

Is the Pharisee harsh and lacking in compassion, or is he a product of what society has taught him?

The Pharisee says he is grateful to God…is he?  Is the Tax Collector?  How might gratitude be a factor in this parable?

If someone were to listen in to your prayer, what would they hear?

What might this parable teach us about God’s judgment?

What might this parable teach us about labels?

Being right with God is a matter of justification in this parable.  Is the Tax Collector justified simply because he puts faith in prayer?  What about the restitution to all the tax payers he defrauded? 

Is it true, as is often said, that God answers all prayers, though not always in the way we hope for?  (Perhaps we ARE our prayer.  Prayer before God, in the house of God, is revealing of our true selves.  Whatever there is of fakery, hypocrisy, pride of life, self-reliance, it emerges in prayer.  Every true prayer requires something of the Tax Collector spirit, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” (p. 130).

**Here is what Joan Chittister has to say about humility  (Illuminated Life, p. 55 – 58):

Humility enables me to stand before the world in awe, to receive its gifts and to learn from its lessons.  But to be humble is not to be diminished.  Indeed, humility and humiliations are not the same thing.  Humiliations degrade me as a human being.  Humility is the ability to recognize my right place in the universe…I am not everything I could be.  I am not the fullness of myself…I am only me.  I am weak often, struggling always, arrogant sometimes, hiding from myself most of the time, an always in some kind of need.  I cover my limitations with flourish, of course, but down deep, where the soul is forced to confront itself, I know who I really am and what, on the other hand, however fine the image, I really am not.  Then, the Rule of Benedict says, we are ready for union with God.  The Rule of Benedict has 4 dimensions of humility:

  1. Recognize the presence of God in our lives.
  2. Recognize the presence of God in others.
  3. Let go of false expectations in daily life.
  4. Receive others kindly.

Once realistic about the self, the mind is free to become full of God.

Closing Prayer.

O merciful God,

Take from us all self-serving vanity

and self-congratulatory pride.

Give us the courage to face our sins and our daily need

for your compassion.

Make us cry our constantly,

“Be merciful to me, a sinner.”  AMEN