Let us pray our 2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-5…
This letter was probably written about 50-51 AD. Paul was a tentmaker who came in contact with many in the Gentile world. A riot broke out in this city among the Jewish population who resented Paul’s successful reaching out to the Gentiles there. Paul and Silvanus had to flee. Because of this hasty departure, Paul soon writes this letter to express his prayerful thoughts and wishes for this new ‘church’ . . . (Birmingham, W & W, p.544-545)
In verse 4 Paul speaks of the Thessalonians as brothers beloved by God. This is a phrase applied by the Jews only to supremely great men like Moses and Solomon, and to the nation of Israel itself. Now the greatest privilege of the greatest men of God’s chosen people has been extended to the humblest of the Gentiles (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 187). How does being loved by God make a difference in your life?
1st Reading — Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6
Cyrus was a Persian of Indo-European descent, who rose to power quickly. In fewer than 20 years, he was victorious over Media (549 BC), then over Lydia (546 BC) and finally over Babylonia (539 BC). This made him the head of the largest empire of the then known world. Because he was tolerant and understanding of differences, his reign was seen as a real turning point in ancient history. He allowed all who had been taken into exile by Babylonia to return to their own lands. The time of exile for the Jews had become a time for rethinking about and deepening their faith, rather than a time for all-out despair. Newly reliant on God, the exiles were eager to discover and welcome those signs of divine involvement that were pointed out to them by the prophets. So while the pagan world saw Cyrus as being taken by the hand of Bel-Marduk, the chief god of Babylonia, the Jews saw Cyrus as being used by Yahweh, the one and only God, to free his people and bring them home. (Celebrations, October, 1999 & 2002)
This 2nd Isaiah proclaims that true reality is a theocracy where God rules. Despite the reality of exile and hardship, God is ultimately in charge. Here we see the prophet giving voice to a rather new insight for the Jews. Their God who had protected them, called them out of slavery, and formed them as a nation also cared about other people. Their God was the God that was over all people guiding and caring for all throughout history. History is a stream in which light and darkness, well-being and evil are constantly mingled. But this prophet would have us trust that God is in the mingling and the flowing stream of life. (Celebration, Oct. 2005)
Again we hear the words that Israel is God’s chosen one, but that God wants all people to know God. We are God’s chosen. Henri Nouwen says, “It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: ‘You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody – unless you can demonstrate the opposite.’ These negative voices are so loud and so persistent that it is easy to believe them. That’s the great trap,” (Life of the Beloved, p. 31). What other words do you associate with CHOSEN?
The Gospel – Matthew 22: 15-21
John Pilch points out that in Jesus’ culture such public questioning was never neutral – it was always seen as challenging to one’s honor. Jesus, too, ‘values’ honor – but his ‘honor’ comes from authentically pleasing God. He shows his questioners to be hypocrites by the very fact that they can present the Roman coin, something very shameful for the Pharisee to even touch much less to have with him or one of ‘his friends,’ the Herodians. These two groups were usually enemies, but they seem willing to ‘swallow’ what seems right in order to ‘get’ Jesus and to shame him. Jesus, nevertheless, exposes their true shame before the people. Jesus would like them to see that they should drop their game playing and do what is pleasing to God. (The Cultural World of Jesus, cycle A, 151-153)
Who are the Herodians? It is much disputed among theologians as to whether they were a religious sect who thought Herod was the Messiah, or perhaps anti-Roman Jews. It is most probable that they were those who favored the house of Herod, supporting Herodian rule and the Roman rule upon which it rested. In other words, they think like Herod (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 357). How did Herod think? Well, he was famously paranoid to the point that he coined the phrase, “Better to be a pig than a son in the house of Herod.” Herod did not eat pork but he did kill three of his children when he suspected them of wanting to usurp his throne,” (Powell’s Introducing the New Testament, p. 27). In other words, he was blinded by power.
St Thomas More (later beheaded by King Henry VIII of England) said that when a person separates their conscience from their public duty, they rush the nation toward chaos. What do you think?
“It is not always easy to know how to apply one’s convictions to particular issues. But we are never excused from doing so. For conscience remains the litmus test of all our behavior. All of us live in the human city, but we are always mindful of our primary citizenship in the city of God,” (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 671).
“If the symbols used to express the nature and actions of God do not find confirmation in and through one’s own experiences, then we should not be surprised to find that the reasons for being moral, the principles and values inferred from these symbols, and the actions required by them will have no persuasive power over one’s life,” (Gula’s Reason Informed by Faith, p. 55). Knowing God is a lived experience! We aren’t motivated to do something if we don’t understand why we’re doing it. Let’s look at the life of St. Augustine:
“For there was nothing I could reply when you called me: Rise, thou that sleepest and arise from the dead: and Christ shall enlighten thee; and whereas You showed me by every evidence that Your words were true, there was simply nothing I could answer save only laggard lazy words: ‘Soon,’ ‘Quite soon,’ ‘Give me just a little while.”…”How long, how long shall I go on saying tomorrow and again tomorrow? Why not now, why not have an end to my uncleanness this very hour?”…(and after reading scripture and experiencing conversion)…”You, Lord, alone have made me dwell in hope,” (Confessions, p. 165, 178, 191).
This story can provoke questions in us: Do I get distracted by things in life so as not to follow where God is leading me? Do I (or someone I know) create drama in life rather than live in an honest way? Where do I put my energy? To what extent do I let my conscience help me make my decisions? How do I live a CHOSEN life?
1st Reading: Acts 1: 15-17, 20a, 20c-26
The line in Acts that comes just before this passage states: “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”So what goes on in this upper room is not just a ‘male thing.’ It is a gathering of those who have known and loved Jesus in life and now through death and into the resurrection. It is a community that has grown out of this lived experience of Jesus. (Preaching Resources, 5/28/06) How might our church be like them and “be a witness to his resurrection”?
It is also important to remember that the number twelve was symbolic of Israel, the twelve tribes of Israel, representing the fullness of the ‘people of God.’ So these Twelve had been appointed by Jesus to be a sign of this ‘eschatological community.’ That is why it was important to select another one to replace Judas who had died. These twelve must also be witnesses to the original saving history of both the earthly Jesus and his resurrection. They become this bridge between the earthly Jesus and the mission of the Church as a whole. The circle of the Twelve and the circle of the apostles (those sent out) sort of overlap. For all disciples are apostles – called to be sent out by Jesus to bring the Good News to the needy – and sometimes hostile – world. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy/slu.edu )
It feels good to be picked out, chosen. Imagine what Matthias may have experienced when he heard the lot fell to him. But we aren’t always picked. Poor Barsabbas. What do you think became of him? Can you think of times when you were like Matthias and Barsabbas? How did it affect your life after?
2nd Reading – 1 John 4: 11-16 and the Gospel – John 17: 11b-19
Let’s look at these readings together for they come out of the same author and community. What do you find important here?
God’s love for us and others compel us to also love one another. This is possible as God abides in those who love. God’s Spirit empowers them — lives in them. This is one of the main themes of the Johannine tradition. It is constantly being repeated. But let not its repetition deaden our ears and hearts to its truth. This mutual indwelling of this God of love is the essence of the saving event we call the Good News of Jesus Christ. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy/slu.edu)
Too often don’t we prefer to ‘earn’ our gifts and grace? Too often don’t we mistrust the ways of love? Freud said that this notion of loving another as we love ourselves is nonsensical and absurd. Anyone who does this will put “himself at a disadvantage.” Often we ourselves fear that if we really love in this way we might become a doormat – or worse. Just take a look at Jesus. “God so loved the world” to give us Jesus – yet the world did and does reject the Word-made-flesh. It happened in the Rome of the Caesars, in the Florence of the Medicis, in the Communism of Russia, in the oppression of military El Salvador – and in our secular culture today. But despite the rejection and threat we as Christians have been entrusted with this Good and Dangerous Word of Love. We are sent into this ‘hostile’ world just as Christ was sent. We share in the same Spirit. (J Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy/slu.edu )
We see Spirit as work through its fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Take time to consider where you see these fruits in your life. Take comfort in knowing Spirit is gifted to us so that God, and God’s love, remains with us.
We are consecrated with God’s truth. What does that mean to you? How does this relate to Mass? It is not only the bread and wine that are consecrated at the table. We are all made holy through the grace of God. We stand in truth, open to that consecration, knowing that we are being strengthened and nourished…so we can be sent forth into the world.
From Karl Rahner:
“Only the one who can be still and pray; only the one who is patient and does not drown out the frightening silence in which God dwells, and which comes to us, with the racket of everyday life . . . only that one can hear with ease and discretely appreciate something of the eternal life that is already inwardly given to us as the indwelling of God in us.”