1st Reading – Isaiah 66: 10-14c
From “Working with the Word,” www.liturgy.slu.edu :
This is from the last chapter of the Book of Isaiah. It is written after the Exile when Jerusalem was being rebuilt. This book is in many ways a story of Jerusalem. At times Jerusalem has been a place of unspeakable sin and injustice (for example, 1:21-26; 3: 8-12; 5: 7). Yet, Jerusalem (Zion) also stands for the very center (the “mountain’ – the heights) of the Lord’s glorious sovereignty and rule (2:1-4; 24:23; 27:13; 52: 1-2; 60:14). Even though Jerusalem often fails to live up to the grace that the Lord showers on her, she is still the place the Lord has chosen for divine dwelling. The term ‘Kingdom of God’ that Jesus uses captures many of these aspects of the ideal Jerusalem. This passage uses images that earlier in the book have been used for destruction. The “overflowing torrent” had been the relentless army of Assyria which had ‘punished’ and defeated them (8:7-8; 28:2, 15, 18). Now it is a “torrent” of wealth and prosperity from God: shalom. Before, grass had been an image of what was impermanent and worthless (5:24; 15:6; 30:33; 40:8), but now the flourishing grass is an image of growth, health, and vitality for God’s people. When have you felt such comfort from God?
2nd Reading – Galatians 6: 14-18 (Paul’s closing remarks to this letter)
From John Kavanaugh, “The Word Engaged,” www.liturgy.slu.edu :
In the first reading, God’s love was imaged as a mother’s love, a tender, nursing mother. But Paul shows us just how ‘tough’ a love this is. The cross of Christ reveals God’s undying bond of love with us. Because of this cross, Paul is utterly rooted in trust, the blessed assurance in a God who bears and nourishes us, who wants only our life and flourishing, who would die for love of us. If, with Paul, we truly believe this truth of God’s love, we will find peace and mercy. Paul bore the marks of Jesus on his body: he had scars from his sufferings for the gospel’s sake. But he had gained a peace that was beyond understanding – a peace that let him live a life ‘in Christ’ – in the freedom that last week’s reading had declared was for all who are in Christ Jesus.
From Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” www.liturgy.slu.edu :
Paul ‘glories’ not in the circumcision or any other religious ritual: he glories in the cross. For it is at the cross that we can be transformed, recreated into children of God, trusting and knowing a love that is there to heal and give life, even in the midst of hardship and troubles. The marks of his apostolic sufferings are evidence of his faith in that love. With that faith, nothing can really bother Paul – or us if we learn to let such a faith grow in us.
There is a balance between living a life detached and living life fully immersed in love. Detachment is approaching life freely. You are okay with however things work out. This is hard because we want our own way! And culture encourages decision-making or choosing sides. It is also hard because we love. We want things to work out well for those we love and we cling to what we achieve. But God is here to help us with this balance. This is why Paul says no one will make trouble for him again, because he bears the marks of Christ. It is through Christ that we receive consolation. Can you think of a time when you detached from something, trusted in the Lord and it worked out?
The Gospel – Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20
Only Luke uses this story of Jesus sending out 72 (or 70) to go ‘ahead of him in pairs.” What do you make of this gospel story as Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem? Do you think any of the appointed were women?
From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” www.liturgy.slu.edu
In Jesus’ culture, goodness to a family member was considered ‘steadfast love.’ Hospitality was something given to strangers, usually by males. Travel was a very dangerous activity. Death was a constant threat once a person left their family village. Jesus is perhaps just uttering a cultural truism when he says that “I am sending you as lambs into the midst of wolves” – strangers among nonrelatives. Thus, hospitality was of vital importance in this culture. Jesus warns them to accept gratefully any hospitality that is offered, but to leave even the dust behind if they are rejected. They were not to be weighed down with disappointment. Remember also that the people at this time ‘saw’ demons everywhere. Today we might not personify evil in the same way. But evil is just as real. And, Jesus can still help us overcome it.
From William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, 137-138:
When Jesus said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from Heaven,” it is a difficult phrase to understand. It may mean that he saw evil being overcome by their proclaiming God’s kingdom. But it could also be a warning against pride. The legend was that it was pride that caused Satan to rebel against God; it was Satan’s pride that cast him out of heaven. Jesus may be telling them to be careful of the same pride and overconfidence. They had been given great power, but it was a gift. Our greatest glory is not what we can do, but what God has done for us – ‘our names written in heaven’ – sinners who are saved by God’s free gift of grace.
From Richard Rohr, The Good News According to Luke, 137-142:
Luke’s Jesus sends the disciples out in two’s. By doing so, Luke is telling us that the gospel happens between people – it doesn’t happen in your mind. It is through a sacrificial love – being in right relationship with at least with one other person (the only real ‘test’ of God’s Spirit being present). Only then do we begin to understand ‘salvation.’ Salvation is not antiseptic, unreal and sterile. “Person-to-person is the way the gospel was originally communicated. Person-in-love-with-person, person-respecting-person, person-forgiving-person, person-crying-with-person, person-hugging-person: that’s where the Spirit is so beautifully present . . . Restraint and passion – that is the paradoxical experience of the Holy.” We grow into our ability “to love another in a way that totally gives” ourselves and entrusts ourselves to another while respecting the other person and standing back in honor of them. Jesus is also trying to console them even as he is ‘toughening them up’ for the job. He warns them not to feel defeated when rejected. If they do not accept your peace, it will return to you. If they accept you, then let your presence as another Christ bring God’s goodness to them.
The cross is a symbol of our salvation. Each time we look upon and venerate the cross; each time we cross ourselves in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, we profess our willingness to take Jesus seriously, to live the radical Gospel fully, and to die for our beliefs, our values and commitment to God, to Jesus and one another (Sanchez, PD, NCR for 8/29-9/11).
1st Reading – Numbers 21:4b-9
What logic is behind this reading and command? Why should a victim have to look at that which can kill them? The reason becomes a bit clearer if we look at the meaning of the snakebites which is the same thing as looking at the nature of sin, since the people had revolted against God and Moses. They were not even grateful any longer for the free bread that came to them from heaven. God sent the snakebites to punish them – not vindictively but as a ‘reality-check’ –considering how their sin and ingratitude had distanced them from God, the source of life – discovering later in their pain that they were suffering, lonely and God-forsaken. The only answer is to open the door again, and so they do that. They own up to their sin and ask for God’s help once again. Moses is told to make a serpent out of bronze, and so he does. This serpent has no sting; they can look on it without fear and without death. They can face their wrong-doing knowing that it has been taken up into the splendor of God’s on-going love which has brought them out of slavery to new life – a love that will continue to lead them if they but follow. (Fr. John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings, http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
2nd Reading – Philippians 2: 6-11
This early Christian hymn that Paul is using should help us to appreciate how freely God gives his love to us and how completely this love is revealed in Christ Jesus, our Lord – the only one that is worthy and safe to be called Lord.
This is the Paschal Mystery: that by emptying ourselves, we may rise to new life. Ronald Rolheiser in the Holy Longing says, “Like all things temporal, our understanding of God and the church too must constantly die and be raised to new life. Our intentions may be sincere and noble, but so too were Mary Magdala’s on Easter morning when she tried to ignore the new reality of Jesus so as to cling to what had previously been, “ (p. 162). What needs to be emptied in you to bring about new life?
In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he talks a lot about this emptying as a way of detachment. In making personal decisions, we should pray to get to the point where we could go either way in deciding (emptying ourselves). That way, we are truly leaving it in God’s hands to make the decision, and thus doing God’s will. He says, “One strives earnestly not to desire that money or anything else, except when one is motivated solely by the service of God our Lord; in such a way that the desire to be able to serve God our Lord better is what moves one to take or reject any object whatsoever,” (#155).
The Gospel – John 3: 13-17
God: all life begins with God; it is God who sent Jesus.
Loved the world: Here is the motive for all of God’s activity – God is love!
Gave his only Son: God gave in two senses – first, in the Incarnation God’s Word, God’s Message became flesh in the world; second, this Son in whom God is perfectly present endured death, the ‘lifting up’ on the cross.
Believes: God asks us to respond to his love – believe in Jesus. This believing in John’s gospel is always an entering into a deep and abiding personal relationship with Jesus.
Not perish/eternal life: God’s plan is NOT for human destruction, condemnation, or punishment. God wishes us to trust his love so that this love can lead us to an eternal life where death is destroyed, wrong is righted, and peace/shalom is established forever. This is the Good News we exalt on today’s feast.
(“Working with the Word”, http://liturgy.slu.edu)
In Elizabeth Johnson’s Consider Jesus, she compares 2 theologians’ views on the cross. Jurgen Moltmann, a German Reformed theologian, was a prisoner of war during WWII and wrote The Crucified God. His view of salvation is that out of love, God freely chooses to be affected by what affects others, so that when people sin and suffer this influences the divine being. He saw the cross as an event between God and God. While Jesus suffers on the cross, both Father and Son are suffering, though in different ways. Each suffers the loss of the other, yet they have never been so deeply united in one love. In their common loving will to save the world, regardless of the cost, what is revealed is the Holy Spirit, who is the Love of the Father and Son. At Jesus’ death his Spirit, God’s Love, is let loose on the world. Only if all disaster is within God can God affect salvation. (Think of all the current disasters today and how God may reveal Godself in them.)
Compare Moltmann with Edward Schillebeeckx, a Belgian Roman Catholic who is a Dominican and contributed greatly to Vatican II. He says God wills life and not death, joy and not suffering, both for Jesus and for everyone else. The cross reveals the tension between God and sinful humanity. God, as pure positivity, enter into compassionate solidarity with Jesus on the cross, keeping faith with him, not abandoning him. God is present in the mode of absence. He keeps vigil until human freedom has played itself out and Jesus is destroyed. Then God overcomes the evil of death through the act of resurrection, conquering and undoing the negativity wrought by human sinfulness. We are saved not by the cross but despite it
Neither theologian is right or wrong…it is all just thinking aloud about knowing God. Jesus is the Compassion of God. Jesus is in solidarity with us, and we are all united with God in Jesus by being in compassionate solidarity with all those who suffer.
1st Reading: Isaiah 49:14-15
One can only imagine Israel’s hopelessness. There is nothing harder to bear than to have the one you counted on the most desert you in the midst of despair. Because of what Israel perceived to be God’s non-action in their Babylonian captivity, they felt they had been completely abandoned by their God. But today’s word of the Lord has spoken. Human beings are a part of God – the womb of God – never to be forsaken or abandoned. God always forgives, invites, and tenderly caresses those who are God’s children, God’s own (Birmingham, W&W, p. 403).
Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” This is not the life God wants for us! God’s loving grace is a free gift for us…poured out in abundant supply. God wants us to know we belong to God, never to be forgotten. Have you ever felt forsaken? Can you think of others out there who do? Bring this to the Lord.
2nd Reading; I Corinthians 4:1-5
You can almost hear in this reading how Paul is trying to defend himself and who he stands for (who, of course, is Jesus Christ). He is humbling himself. He explains that we are meant to be servants and stewards of God, despite not even completely understanding God’s mysteries. He was not concerned about how he might be judged because he felt his conscience was clear. His actions were between him and God.
St Augustine of Hippo said in explaining his role as bishop, “For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian. The first is an office accepted; the second is a gift received. One is danger; the other is safety. If I am happier to be redeemed with you than to be placed over you, then I shall, as the Lord commanded, be more fully your servant.” We have to learn how to sink the roots of servanthood deep into the soil of our character (habits) so that our commitment holds up in the face of life’s inevitable challenges (Phelps, Leading Like Jesus, p. 71)
St. John Neumann reminded us that our conscience is the highest moral indicator. We are to follow our conscience above all else. Human beings have the right to act in freedom according to their conscience. They may not be forced to act contrary to their conscience, especially when it comes to religious issues (CCC, #1782). Faith, prayer, and the word of God enlighten our conscience. “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a [person]. There s/he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his/her depths. By conscience, in a wonderful way, that law is made known which is fulfilled in the love of God and one’s neighbor.” (Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes] ,16).
Gospel Reading: Matthew 6: 24-34
“No one can serve two masters.” Soren Kierkegaard reflected on this idea. He said, “If it is possible that a man can will only one thing then he must will the good,” (A Kierkegaard Anthology, p. 271). This is a singularity of thought. This is living authentically. It is not living with two masters. It is behaving as true to ourselves as we are able. Yet even when we fail, we can turn back again. Kierkegaard continues in hope, “For as the Good is only a single thing, so all ways lead to the Good, even the false ones – when the repentant one follows the same way back…let your heart in truth will only one thing, for therein is the heart’s purity,” (p. 272). Even when we choose wrong, we can follow our way back to the good.
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than than, it is cooperation in violence.” Thomas Merton
Jesus is not insensitive to the needs of the peasants. Like all human beings, they were anxious about the basics of life. Given the subsistence economy in which they lived, the unpredictability of nature, and the voracious taxes they were forced to pay, how could they think of anything but survival? Jesus’ advice is simple yet cleverly delivered. Without pointing his finger or naming names, he selects a masculine Aramaic noun (birds, associating men’s work like sowing, reaping, harvesting) and a feminine Aramaic noun (anemones, or lilies of the field, associating women’s work like spinning yarn, making clothes) and urges men and women not to worry. One must trust in God the heavenly patron who knows our basic needs and will meet them (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 41-42).
Ignatian Spirituality encourages a life of detachment to help us worry less. Whose kingdom am I serving, my own or God’s It takes a lot of courage to recognize the truth that we ourselves are not the fixed center of things but rather that we are beings through whom life flows. But when we do understand and acknowledge this, we discover that our emptiness will lead us more surely to our true purpose than our imagined fullness ever could, because God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands (Silf, Inner Compass, p. 110).