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 flow out of love of God, (W&W, Birmingham, p. 510). Hesed is difficult to translate. No single word in English captures its meanings. 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 their needs and decide how to respond to them. Prayers can indeed be answered by a God who can ‘get through’ to prayerful people. 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.
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, who’s 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 verse or phrase that you find helpful – hopeful – faith-filled?
This reading reminds us that as long as we are laboring at faith, faith is winning. We just need to stay at the task, living with trust in God’s love and doing as God would have us do — when it is easy and convenient — and when it is not. (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
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
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 ‘losing heart’ about problems?
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.
If you are feeling like your prayers are not being heard, don’t give up. Don’t despair. Don’t relent to your fears. It is in the persistence. “Perseverance in prayer is more than true grit that will never quit; it is trust in a God who will never abandon or ignore those who entrust themselves to the divine power, care and mercy in prayer. With this assurance, perseverance in prayer without losing heart becomes not only possible but a permanent practice in the life of the believer.” (Celebration, 10/21/01)
1st Reading — 2 Kings 5: 14-17
Some talking points to this story:
- It is a small Jewish girl that suggest 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.
“The Bible is not a book to be read,
but a drama in which to participate.” Abraham Heschel
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).
Margaret Silf says, “God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands, “(Inner Compass, p. 110). How do we DO that? Perhaps the leper teaches us…
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).
The ten lepers asked Jesus to have pity on them. Pity, or mercy, in the Mediterranean world, means to motivate someone to meet his or her interpersonal obligation. In effect, the ten people in Luke are asking Jesus to give them what he owes them!
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?
For further reflection on being grateful now, consider Rabbi Kenneth R. Berger’s 1986 sermon on “Five Minutes to Live” which can be found at:
He talks about the discovery that the astronauts had five minutes in the Challenger before their death and wondered what they thought about. Here’s an exerpt:
You are here: I know for some its aches and pains, physical and emotional, but you are here. Be grateful for that. I don’t mean to be so blunt, but you are not in a grave, you are not in intensive care, you are not bed-ridden, you are in Shul welcoming in another New Year, and that sounds okay to me, and it should to you.
In short, say to yourself, Boy, I am blessed, with being alive, with having family and friends, with the ability to be in Shul welcoming in a New Year.
In only I appreciated what I had when I had it. . . . .appreciate it now. . . . my friends, when you have it.
Yes, If only I had known. . . . If only I had realized and appreciated what I had: and as the shuttle falls through the sky, the third possibility: “If only I had other chance, I would do things differently.”