From What Paul Meant by Garry Wills:
Paul’s writings were almost always “fired off to deal with local crises”, dictating them to “answer problems or refute opponents”. We see Paul writing and “thinking under pressure” and the outcome is a sort of “lava-flow of heated words”. He is not a cool detached philosopher, but an “embattled messenger” as well as “a mystic and a deep theologian” – a “man busy in many fronts, often harried, sometimes desperate”.
Paul’s letters are the earliest part of the New Testament – all written 25-50 years before any of the gospels. They were probably written about 20 years after the death/resurrection of Jesus. There are 13 letters relating to St. Paul:
Undisputed Letters of Paul:
- 1 Thessalonians
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 2 Thessalonians
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
Paul describes himself as, “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” (Philippians 3:4-6). What is the source of this zeal, which we feel so much in his letters?
From Paul, A Biography by N.T. Wright: Paul was raised studying the Torah, wearing the tefillin on his arms and head. Tefillin were small, leather boxes containing key scripture passages that were strapped on as Moses had commanded all male Jews to do when praying the morning service (p. 27). We lived and breathed his faith, and learned early on that it was God’s people against the rest of the world. Outsiders were considered a threat. One must strive for righteousness. The Hebrew word for righteousness is tzedaqah, or more closely translated as a committed, covenanted relationship. There is a covenant between God and God’s people to be bonded. Zeal was the outward badge of the unbreakable relationship (p. 31).
So when Paul met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, this zeal was challenged AND channeled in a new way.
- Challenged in that ALL people are God’s people now, not just the Jewish people.
- And channeled in that it is ALL for Jesus. Paul is the Messiah Man!
His zeal is read throughout all of his letters.
2nd Reading – Philippians 3: 17 — 4:1
- A prominent town in the Roman province of Macedonia
- The Via Egnatia is the road constructed by the Romans in 2nd Century BC. Paul would have used this road when leaving Philippi to Thessalonica.
- Agricultural plains and gold mines nearby. On those plains Oct 42 BC Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius (slayers of Julius Caesar). Octavian made Philippi a Roman colony.
- Mimicked Rome in having forums, theaters and coinage inscriptions.
- Strategic site in all of Europe. There is a range of hills which divides Europe from Asia, east from west and just at Philippi there is a dip into a pass. That city commands the road (Barclay, p.3)
- First “church” on European soil, birthplace of Western Christianity (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 346).
- 100 years later, Polycarp speaks of the firmly rooted faith of the Philippians (Brown, An Intro to the New Testament, p. 484).
This is written probably when Paul was in prison. How does knowing this affect our understanding of Paul’s words? What meaning does this reading have for you?
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, March 2001 and 2007:
When Paul talks of the “enemies of the cross” he is warning the people of those who would come to take their faith in Christ away – those religious leaders who still insist on being saved by religious, ritual law – dietary laws (“their God is their stomach”) and circumcision (“their glory is in their shame[ful parts]”. They are so caught up in the letter of the law that they miss its spirit – that which gives life. Jesus had said the Sabbath and the laws of religion were created to assist us – to bring life not division.
Today, perhaps, there is another way to understand the ‘god of our stomachs’. Could we see this as a symbol of our yawning hunger for acquisition of every kind? We want, we desire, we wish, and we yearn. We window-shop, surf the Net, and dream of something more . . . greed can often feel like need, but is it? Augustine reminds us that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. May we find ways this Lent to be hungry for the living God, the one who can satisfy us with real food.
Fr. Bob’s homily 1st Sunday of Lent C…
1st Sunday of Lent C 2019
Last week I marveled at how perfectly Jesus understood human nature. This week we meet another character who understands it very well – the devil. He knows what to do to make us succumb to his temptations. The devil goes after Jesus likes he goes after the rest of us. He attacks when Jesus is it at his weakest, when he has been fasting for forty days in the desert. He is hungry, vulnerable and far away from anything or anyone who can help him. But it is not just where and when the devil attacks, but how. He tempts Jesus with those things we all desire – security, power and invulnerability. Give the devil his due, he knows what we want.
After all, who after not having eaten for forty days would not want to point at a rock and turn it…
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Fr. Bob’s homily from 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time…
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
There is a great line in the Gospel of John. “[Jesus] did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” (John 2:25) Stories as in today’s Gospel today prove it. Isn’t it remarkable that Jesus could speak in a time so long ago in a culture so different from ours and the words still ring true and describe us so well? Like a great piece of art, his insight his timeless.
This is apparent in that snippet of a parable of the man with a wooden beam in his eye who attempts to remove a small splinter in the eye of his brother. Now this is understandably hyperbole, for no one walks around with a whole wooden beam in his eye. But in another sense, we know that guy. We know the gravely injured person who walks around…
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Let us pray…
Glorious St. Paul,
most zealous apostle,
martyr for the love of Christ,
give us a deep faith,
a steadfast hope,
a burning love for our Lord,
so that we can proclaim with you,
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Help us to become apostles,
serving the Church with a pure heart,
witnesses to her truth and beauty
amidst the darkness of our days.
With you we praise God our Father:
“To him be the glory, in the Church and in Christ, now and forever.” AMEN
(*dates are educated guesses, approximations taken from The Lost Gospel of Paul and The Word Made Flesh by John C. Dwyer, and N.T. Wright’s Paul, A Biography)
1-10AD: Paul was born, probably in Tarsus to a conservative Jewish family (a strict, committed Jew, but a Jew of the diaspora –meaning outside Jerusalem). He knew and understood Greek culture and philosophy, but was also immersed in Jewish thought and scriptures. He was apprenticed and practiced tent-making. So, he lived when Jesus lived, but he did not “know” him until after the Resurrection.
33AD: Paul “met” the risen Christ on his way to Damascus. Read Galatians 1: 11 – 24 for Paul’s own account of this encounter. To see it today, look up “Straight Street” in Damascus on Google Earth! He stayed in Damascus a short while, and then went into Arabia, the area SE of Damascus – partly desert, partly fertile with some cities. What he did there is unknown, but he may have gone to Mt. Sinai as a calling (like Elijah). He then returned to Damascus
36AD: Paul went to Jerusalem for 15 days where he met Peter (Cephas) and James, the brother of Jesus. Then Paul went back to Tarsus. For the next 10-ish years, we are not sure where Paul was or what exactly he was doing. We might assume he did a lot of praying and reflecting on his theology, and eventually preaching in Antioch. Somewhere in the 40’sAD, Barnabas comes to visit him (maybe to check in on the stir he may have been causing).
46-48AD: 1st Missionary Trip to and from Galatia. Paul writes Galatians.
48-49AD: The “Council of Jerusalem” – read Galatians 2: 1 – 10-Paul and Barnabas present to James, Cephas (Peter) and John, “remuted to be pillars,” the gospel that he preached to the Gentiles – that they were not to be enslaved by the Jewish dietary laws or circumcision. They shook hands and agreed that Paul should “add nothing” to this – thus “faith in Christ Jesus” became definitively open to the Gentile world. However, it did not end nice and neat…Barnabas and Paul return to Antioch-perhaps with Titus-but there were mixed messages being preached. It may have been that the “pillars” felt okay with Paul speaking this way in Antioch, but they still held their Jewish beliefs in Jerusalem (especially Peter).
49-51AD: 2nd Missionary Trip to Greece. Paul writes I Thessalonians and visits Corinth.
52-53AD: Paul in Jerusalem, Antioch; 3rd Missionary Trip to Ephesus. Writes I Corinthians.
53-54AD: Short, painful visit to Corinth.
55-56AD: Imprisonment in Ephesus. Writes Philippians, Philemon.
56-57AD: Released from prison, travel from Ephesus to Corinth, writes 2 Corinthians and Romans.
57AD: Travels from Corinth to Jerusalem. Riots and prison.
From here, he may have gone to Rome, maybe shipwrecked in Malta on the way. There could have been further travels in Spain or to the east. Early tradition holds that both Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome under the Nero persecution of Christians in the early 60s.
A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (10: 8 – 13)
Faith needs to be both deep within our hearts AND spoken out loud by our lips. What did this mean to these early Christians?
To be ‘justified’ means to be in right relationship with God. To trust that our God claims us as his own. This free gift of God’s acceptance is just that – free, un-won, unmerited. In Jesus we find a God who assures us that his justice is filled with love. It is in responding to this love and acceptance – faith – that we find true life and power – a power that can live even beyond our own handicaps and deaths. (John C. Dwyer, The Lost Gospel of Paul, 43+)
Paul’s message is clear: in order to become transformed, all one needed to do was embrace the message of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit, then would slowly begin the process of transformation. (W&W, Birmingham, 126)
Paul insisted that Jesus died once and for all people. It was a complete act of gratuitous, unmerited, unconditional love. The response to such love can be nothing less than the complete offering of one’s entire life to the God who loves so greatly. Human beings are justified by faith, not by observance of the law or by their own merits. It was a difficult message to accept. Justification through the law was ingrained in the people’s consciousness and history.
This is seen in Vatican II! “Following the desire and command of Christ, the Church makes a serious effort to present the Gospel to the whole world so that people can share in God’s love. Everyone who is baptized is charged with this mission. The Church works and prays diligently with great hope that everyone in the whole world will ultimately join together as the People of God, “ (Vat II in Plain English: The Constitutions, p. 38).
1ST READING — SIRACH 27: 4-7
“Better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Abraham Lincoln
Sirach is one of those books that you will not find in a Protestant Bible, except in the Apocrypha, because it was written in Greek. Ben Sira as author identifies himself as “Jesus son of Eleazar son of Sirach of Jerusalem” (50:27b) and operated a school for young Jewish men. His grandson was responsible (c.132BC) for the Greek translation which made its way into the Septuagint, the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures used by Catholics. Ben Sira was influenced by many cultures, but he is most concerned with Jewish theology and morality. This is wisdom literature, so the book is primarily snippets of advice and wise adages and no formal structure. Biblical scholars have tried to divide the text into related segments with a prologue and conclusion to give us the Book of Sirach that we have today (“The Timeless Wisdom of Sirach” in Scripture from Scratch, 8/2004)
Despite it being written well over 2000 years ago, much of Ben Sira’s wisdom holds true today. How does it speak to you?
2ND READING — 1CORINTHIANS 15: 54-58
Wherein lies the fear of death? Partly it comes from fear of the unknown. But still more it comes from the sense of sin. If we felt that we could meet God easily then to die would be only, as Peter Pan said, a great adventure. But where does that sense of sin come from? It comes from a sense of being under the law. So long as we see in God only the law of righteousness, we will be in the position of a criminal before the bar with no hope of acquittal. This is precisely what Jesus came to abolish. He came to tell us that God is not law, but love, that we go out, not to a judge, but to a Father who awaits his children coming home. Because of that Jesus gave us the victory over death, its fear banished in the wonder of God’s love (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 160).
This is good news as we enter Lent! How does this resonate with you? This is a deep wisdom from Paul, who originally was a great stickler of the law and radically shifted over time after meeting the risen Christ. When he says “be steadfast…your labor is not in vain”, it is coming from his own experience.
THE GOSPEL — LUKE 6: 39-45
Disciple = one capable of learning
Rotten fruit = rotten tree / Good fruit = healthy tree
Jesus, like all good teachers, uses humor to make a point –What is the wisdom of Jesus’ humor here?
In classical and Hellenistic Greek, the word “hypocrite” meant “interpreter”, “expounder”, “orator”, even “stage actor”. In theater, this is an award-winning skill, but not so much for life. Whom can you trust? Jesus is imploring his audience in the Sermon on the Plain to practice self-examination and authenticity to improve themselves before attempting to help others improve. Otherwise, they are just acting! (Pilch’s The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle C, p. 41).
To us this reads like a disconnected series of separate sayings. Maybe Luke is collecting together sayings of Jesus which were spoken on different occasions and is giving us a kind of compendium of rules for life and living (not unlike Ben Sira). Or, this may be an instance of the Jewish method of preaching called Charaz, meaning “stringing beads”. The Rabbis held that the preacher must never linger more than a few moments on any topic but, in order to maintain interest, must move quickly from one topic to another (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 79).
Considering the acts of clergy sexual abuse (see Pell case from Australia) and how it has been handled in the past, Jesus words are very relevant in our church today. Our church leaders have not always been authentic as Jesus teaches us all to be. How should we move forward? Just something for reflection, not necessarily for debate.
Fr. Bob’s most recent homily…
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
So how do you love your enemy? Well first you have to define the terms. Love in “Love your enemies” is clearly a verb. You won’t get noun love with your enemies – that sense of comfort, trust and delight we have with our loved ones. Our enemies are not going to suddenly appear on our Christmas cards. [Here are the kids, the dogs, and my greatest enemy.] I believe what Jesus is calling us to is to apply the principles we use in loving one another even to our enemy. A good, classical definition of love is to “will and do good for someone.” Love is s decision. It is what we do every day. It is what we decide to do after our parents have been completely unreasonable; when someone is aloof and distant. We renew our decision to love.
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Fr. Bob’s most recent homily…
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
The other night I went out to dinner with two friends. They mentioned that they went out all the time which surprised me because they are very fit. Then they asked me if I liked leftovers. I said I do and love to eat anything. It was a great meal because it was Ferrari’s and I devoured everything before me. Then I noticed they each took a small, reasonable and satisfying portion and kept the rest for leftovers they would eat for the rest of the weekend. This I promise you, is a thought that has never, ever, occurred to me. The leftover conversation made more sense now but I realized that while I am a consumer of leftovers, I am not a creator of leftovers.
This applies to the Gospel where we hear, “Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will…
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1st Reading: 1 Samuel 26: 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
Why does David spare Saul’s life?
How does Saul represent those who do not follow God’s ways?
How will this connect with the gospel message?
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15: 42-49
From Celebration, February, 2007:
Paul is here contrasting Adam, the human that initiates all decay and death, with Christ, who by his resurrection becomes the life-giving Spirit and the initiator of a new order of humanity. Where Adam does not listen to or trust God’s Word, Christ listens to that Word, enfleshes that Word, in his very life and death. The body associated with Adam is mortal and bound to the earth from which it came; but the body associated with the risen Christ is immortal and stamped with his image. What Paul is emphasizing here is the need for transformation. “We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed.” This transformation is moved forward when the mind and heart and spirit of Jesus Christ finds a home in us and thereby empowers us to live, in thought, word, and deed, the challenge of the good news . . . But we are not alone with this challenge – we have yokemate in Jesus.
The Gospel: Luke 6: 27-38.
What is your favorite line here? What is the most difficult line? What do you think is the main idea or ideal with which Jesus is challenging us in this gospel?
From Celebrations, Feb. 2001:
We are accustomed to a very personal relationship with God, even daring to approach God as our Father. That is a good thing. But God has many other daughters and sons – including those whom we do not consider our sisters and brothers. This can be startling, if we ever dare to let its truth touch us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that “simple surrender and obedience are the only way to hear and heed these words of Jesus.” Jesus truly asks us to do to others what we would have them do to us. How are we to do this? Do good, bless, give, and pray. Henry Nouwen says that “Love of one’s enemies is the touchstone of being a Christian.” Walter Burghardt adds that we can only learn this kind of love as we stand beneath the cross and hear Jesus say, “Father, forgive them.” We, too, at times have not lived according to Jesus’ words; “the enemy is not always out there, over there or back in ancient Palestine. We are the enemy” . . .
Paul says that “while we were still enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of Jesus (Romans 5:10). In Jesus, the compassionate and loving God who “does not deal with us according to our sins” (Psalm 103) has become “God-with-us and God-within –us. That presence of God, with and within, makes available the grace to love” . . . We need to allow God’s Spirit in us to bring these ideals to life – transforming these slogans into verbs that we live in our everyday lives: in our offices, in our own back yard, in our homes, in our classrooms, in our parishes and dioceses – wherever we live and move and breathe. Love is an action, not a feeling. (Celebrations, February, 2004)
From The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser;
On the idea of being church, Rolheiser says it is a common misunderstanding that “church has little or nothing to do with liking each other or finding others with whom we are mutually compatible. The group of disciples that first gathered around Jesus were not individuals who were mutually compatible at all. They came from very different backgrounds and temperaments, had different visions of what Jesus was all about, were jealous of each other and were . . . occasionally furious with each other. They loved each other, in the biblical meaning of that phase, but they did not necessarily like each other . . . [sometimes not unlike those of us today!] Too often we are disappointed in church because we find there such a diverse and motley collection of persons, some of whom do not like us and whom we would never pick to be our friends . . . To be in apostolic community, church, is not necessarily to be with others with whom we are emotionally, ideologically, and otherwise compatible. Rather it is to stand, shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand, precisely with people who are very different from ourselves and, with them, hear a common word, say a common creed, so as, in that way, to bridge our differences and become a common heart — it is about millions and millions of different kinds of persons transcending their differences so as to become a community beyond temperament, race, ideology, gender, language, and background. (114-115) What do you think of this and this week’s gospel?
From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”:
Luke’s Jesus is directing his words to the elite; only they would have the luxury of two coats. Jesus is asking the elite to behave toward strangers just as they would behave toward members of their own household. He is urging the haves to treat the have-nots as if they were family. He is also speaking against the common cultural trait of stereotyping and generalizing that too often judged (condemned unjustly) by outward appearances. Labels were pasted on others – sinner, tax collector, carpenter, adulteress, Samaritans – as a means of controlling and restricting relationships and interactions. (http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Fr Bob’s homily for 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time…
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Let me be clear. There was a miracle on the Lake of Genneserat (aka Galilee) where the remarkable catch of fish was made. The newly called disciples needed that kind of encouragement. But it is a miracle born of common and valuable sense. Jesus tells them to, “Put out into deep water.” Simon Peter is skeptical. After all, they had been working hard and caught nothing. Besides, why should a carpenter tell fishermen how to fish? But Jesus is telling them more than to try again. He is asking them to try something new. To take a risk in trusting him. It is a risk for the deep water is more dangerous than the shallow. The waves are harsher and the safety of the shoreline is further away.
But something new is needed. I am no fisherman but I am pretty sure that you…
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1st Reading — Jeremiah 17: 5-8
Jeremiah has prophesied doom for those who trust in human ways rather than in divine will. Some scholars suggest that this message was delivered during the 1st Babylonian invasion of Judah about 597 BC. Jeremiah might have been confronting King Zedekiah. This weak, puppet leader had ignored the prophet’s advice and made an alliance with Egypt against the Babylonians. Jeremiah tried to convince Zedekiah to forego all other alliances except their alliance with God. When his advice was ignored, Jeremiah used the image of the barren bush in the desert to portray the folly and futility of trusting in human allies. In the end, Jerusalem was destroyed and the king was put to death. Jeremiah lived among the ruins until forced into exile. It was only after his death that Jeremiah’s work bore fruit. His messages were scattered about like the captives in exile. Shortly after their return to rebuild Jerusalem, these messages began to be put together. (Celebration, Feb. 1998)
What do you think of Jeremiah’s caution that “cursed is anyone who trusts in human beings”? Is this just an outrageous statement that we can ignore or decide is outdated? Or – could it be that our sane, human ways of thinking may not always be God’s way? We often try to enlist God in the respectable ranks of human nature, the best, highest, and brightest of us. But God is not us. God is utterly beyond our words and concepts. Jeremiah certainly knew this in his own life and sufferings. As we’ll see in the gospel, even Jesus, who is God with us, has a view of human affairs thoroughly at odds with our own. Perhaps there is a higher wisdom that confounds all our categories. Paul in the next reading tries to give us hope and strength beyond our own flesh and wisdom. For Paul the new life of resurrection is the one indication of the unsearchable and incomprehensible ways of God. Here is the mystery of God’s creative love that saves us and can bring life out of death. God-in-Christ transforms all nature and earth. His message is that there is more than our humanity – otherwise the gospel we hear makes no sense. As we conform our lives to Christ, the mighty work of God becomes present in and with us. (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu/6OrdC021410/theword_engaged.html )
2nd Reading — I Corinthians 15: 12, 16-20
Paul vehemently claims that Jesus is more than just a ‘wisdom teacher’. Jesus rescues us from death, “the last enemy to be overcome”. The resurrection is not a fable; Paul insisted that it is a real historical event. It is not an illusion; it assures us that we are not living lives headed into nothingness or despair. That nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus – not hardships, persecutions or even death itself. (Celebration, Feb. 11, 2007)
Reginald Fuller says this: Our hope in resurrection is not a philosophical opinion but an inference from present Christian experience. We are forgiven sinners. We have been brought into a new relationship with God through Christ, a relationship that, if it is real, must issue in an ultimate consummation beyond this present existence. Because God has shown us – revealed – given us his forgiving love in Christ nothing, not even death itself, can deprive us of that new life. (http://liturgy.slu.edu./6OrdC021410/theword_indepth.html )
The Gospel – Luke 6: 17, 20-26
“The Sermon on the Plain” — Compare with Matthew 5, “The Sermon on the Mount”
Just before this in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man with a paralyzed hand on the Sabbath and chooses the Twelve. Jesus LIVES what he teaches.
Mary in the beginning of Luke’s gospel (1:51-53) sing of God’s wisdom and goodness by claiming that “the hungry he has filled with good things, while the rich he has sent away empty.” Here in this gospel section, Jesus is furthering this major theme of Luke’s gospel: God’s ways are filled with surprise and reversals. God’s wisdom reverses, even subverts, human wisdom and expectations. Hardship, mourning, even persecution are no longer signs of God’s absence, but a way for God to break into our very lives. (Celebration, 2/98)
Remember when we read ‘rich’ in Luke, it really means ‘greedy’. In antiquity, a person became rich because that individual had power to take wealth from those who were weaker and unable to defend themselves. In this ancient world power was the means for acquiring wealth. To be poor was to be powerless. Culturally, a more appropriate translation of “rich” and “poor” in the Bible, therefore, would be “greedy” and “socially unfortunate.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus promises a reward from God for those who suffer these shameful experiences. The vast majority of people in the ancient world were poor — a condition brought about by greedy folk not by economic problems or laziness or bad luck. Jesus reminds us that God is the ultimate arbiter of what is true honor. God-given honor is the only honor that counts . . . (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
From John Foley, S.J.: We need to be open and empty in order to let God and others come in. If we want to love and be loved we need to have a space at the center of who we are. Jesus’ principle seems to run like this: you are blessed if you don’t cram yourself full . . . blessed are you if you stay empty, if you become a spacious home for God, for other human beings, for the long-suffering earth. We are built to be quiet receivers, people who know they are empty and yet patient. There is only one Being who can satisfy our deep capacity for love – only One who can feed us with the bread of life . . . blessed are you if you let go into his arms . . . (http://liturgy.slu.edu./6OrdC021410/reflections_foley.html )