Tag Archives: Ezekiel

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading; Ezekiel 18: 25-28

Ezekiel is among the first people of Israel that the Babylonians take captive in 597 B.C. He is well known for his insistence upon individual responsibility for sin. Children are not responsible for what the previous generation did. We are free to turn from wickedness to good at any time; we will then be judged by the new life that we have begun. (Sunday by Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005, vol. 14, #54; “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Ezekiel speaks of metanoia, from the Greek meaning a change of mind.  Even the term, “turning away” gives the feeling of a physical change of direction.  This is not only about our sinful ways.  Believing in God is life-changing.  It is “an interior transformation that comes about when God’s Spirit breaks into our lives with the Good News that God loves us unconditionally,” (Catholic Update on The Sacrament of Reconciliation, 1986).  What is our response to this unconditional love?

2nd Reading: Philippians 2: 1-11

William Barclay makes this important point: Paul is never just interested in intellectual speculation and/or theological guess work. To Paul theology and action are always bound together. Any system of thought must necessarily become a way of life. The purpose of these thoughts on Jesus’ humanity and divinity was to persuade the Philippians to live a life in which disunity, discord, and arrogance had no place. Jesus did not desire to dominate people, but to serve them. So we as followers must have the same desire. And, in the end, the humble service that Christ lived won for him greater glory, even if the glory was not the goal. Jesus gains our hearts not by blasting us with power, but by showing us an irresistible, faithful love. (William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 37-39)

“Emptied himself” suggests humility.  Humility was a big part of what St. Teresa of Avila wrote about in her Interior Castle.  She says, “As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God:  let us think of His greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble,” (p. 38).  She goes on to say, “If, then, you sometimes fall, do not lose heart, or cease striving to make progress, for even out of your fall God will bring good,” (p. 51).  Hope connects with love!

The Gospel: Matthew 21: 28 – 32

Parables can shock us as they can lay bare the truth with great simplicity. We cannot really argue with a parable; we must either accept it or reject it. It is a challenge, but it is also an invitation. Mary Birmingham says that “Living in the reign of God demands that I acknowledge my sinfulness, my reluctance to serve God, and forge ahead anyway.” (M. Birmingham, W&W, Yr.A, 525, 527)

In Jesus’ culture the son who answered yes to his father even though he did not go to work would have been considered the honorable son. His reply was respectful; it was what the father wanted to hear. Obedience was important, but the honorable appearance was more important. Notice: Jesus did not ask which son behaved honorably. He asked: “Which of the two did the will of the father?” Jesus’ own honor is being questioned by the chief priests and elders. But Jesus rubs salt into their wounds with this very counter-cultural parable and its challenge. They recognize this challenge: 1) Jesus is making them family with harlots and tax collectors (sons of the same Father) and 2) the chief priests and elders are the ones who may behave honorably, but they are not the ones who are always seeking to do the will of their Father. They care more about appearing to be honorable than about truly being about the good that God wants.(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Sometimes we can love humanity with great conviction, but find it extraordinarily difficult to love people in particular. For most of us, God is not the problem. The problem is those humans that God created, especially the creeps who don’t seem to deserve to take up our time and patience. When people draw near, they bring trouble. Yet, as Paul was emphasizing in his passage, it is our very relationships to each other that embody our relationship to God. Paul says we will only find joy and peace when we die to ourselves: an unwelcome prospect. Too often we want love, but not its cost. Love is more than logic and practical advice. It is a risk of the ego, an emptying of the self, a desire to serve rather than be served. This is at the heart of the Good News: first, God loved us with utter graciousness; second, we are called to love others with this graciousness. We jabber of love, but the living of it is a great shaking down of our pretense. Love in dreams can be easy; the reality of it can be a dreadful assault . . . (“The Word Embodied”, http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Scripture Commentary for 5th Sunday of Lent, cycle A

1st Reading – Ezekiel 37: 12-14

Ezekiel prophesized just before and during the Babylonian Exile. Both Jewish kingdoms had been devastated and many Jews had been taken to Babylon as slaves. It seemed to them that they were ‘dead’ as a people and as a country. Ezekiel speaks this message to encourage them in the midst of such desperation to still hope in a God who can bring life out of destruction and death. This reading comes from a longer section of Ezekiel called a “Vision of the Dry Bones.

Many of us can use this reading to be encouraged during difficult times. It can provide potent images for the times when our hearts begin to feel like a mausoleum stacked with failures, broken dreams, and friends we can only think of in the past tense. Besides his words, it is also impressive to consider the behavior of the prophet himself. To be able to say, “You alone are the Lord,” while standing in a field of death, is a marvelous testimony of faith. May we take his words to heart and trust that no matter how much darkness is around us – no matter how many dreams or loved ones have died – that our life and hope are in the God who can bring forth life always. (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.23)

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 8-11

This reading has its problems because of the translation of sarx as flesh and pneuma as spirit.  Think of flesh instead as ‘our sinful nature’ that which leads to death.  Flesh is our ‘small, insecure self’ that does not trust in the goodness and love of God. Spirit is better understood as ‘our life-giving, God-empowered nature’ that leads to full life. This fits better in what Paul is trying to say.

Biblical hope is not a belief in the intrinsic immortality of the human person, as though some part of us, such as the soul or spirit, is in and by itself immortal. The whole person – body, spirit, soul – is subject to decay and death. But the Good News is this: Christ has broken this subjection. He has burst the bonds of decay and death by his resurrection. The crucified/risen Lord is with us to assure us that God’s love – not our own helpless selves – is more powerful than death. God’s love offers us a transformation that can go through death to an eternal life. When we live by and with this indwelling Spirit, we begin to taste in the here and now the beginning of a new life. It will be full and complete when we have passed through death into the marvelous presence of our loving God. The Spirit that we are talking about is the Spirit of Christ.     (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The Gospel — John 11: 1-45

This is a long ‘short  story,’ allegory, with layers of meaning about how Jesus has the fullness of God’s power to bring life from all that brings death. It is told here to prepare us for Jesus’ death and resurrection – to prepare us to celebrate Easter with new understanding. It is told only in John’s Gospel. Where do you see yourself in the story?

Martha and Mary are the voices of all faith-filled people who have suffered loss:  “Where were you? If You had only been here . . .”  Lazarus– “the one whom Jesus loved” is a paradigm of every believer. Just as Jesus calls to Lazarus to “Come out!” so, too, he calls to each of us to come out from whatever entombs us and allow ourselves to be ‘untied’ by his grace and live to ‘go free’.

The disciples are the ones who pretend to be brave and wise, but are often clueless. Jesus cries and is perturbed, also. Why?  No easy answer.

If Jesus reveals to us the invisible God, what does Jesus show us here about God?

What do you think of Thomas’ statement: “Let us go to die with him.” (verse 16)

It is in John 20: 24-29 we also see Thomas after the Resurrection.

From that story he gets the name, doubting Thomas.

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, March 2002:

John 11: 1-45 – “This illness is not to end in death . . .”

Jesus said the illness would not end in death, but it did.  Lazarus died.  And so have our friends and loved ones over the years, some of them great believers in the promises of Jesus.  We’ve all known people who’ve prayed and prayed that the cancer would go away, or the doctors would find a cure for their condition in time.  Sometimes it doesn’t, or they don’t.  And it hurts terribly, for the ones who have to let go of the life they know, the ones who have to say goodbye too soon.

Lazarus dies, and his family grieves.  Even Jesus weeps at the loss.  But then, Lazarus is called out of death to life!  And now we hear what Jesus really said: not that Lazarus wouldn’t die, but that death would not be the end of him.

Death wins the battle, but love wins the war.  So we believe.  So we profess.

Jesus is “the Resurrection and the Life” – but this resurrection is not about restoration of a corpse but rather a transformation of life. This eternal life does not abolish death but transcends it.  Our faith in Jesus is not fully developed until we can face physical death with a firm confidence that the present eternal life that we live with hope is not simply a pledge of resurrection on the last day but is rather a present and continuing participation in the life of the ever-living Jesus now, at this moment. Those who believe in Jesus never truly die. That is our hope, and our faith. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

What can we do as Christians?

Pray for the dead, both those ‘still living’ and those who ‘passed on.’ Recall that they are part of the communion of saints, present always in the assembly of the faithful. Give comfort to those who struggle with illness and disability. Live with hope.

There are more mysteries in this story…why did Jesus wait to go back to Judea?  Why did Mary sit at home at first?  What is it about Lazarus that Jesus chose him to raise?  Spend some time imagining with these thoughts.

Human suffering is a mystery we must live with and in – it is a part of everyone’s life eventually. As we head toward Holy Week, it is important to think about how as Christians we view this. What does the cross of Christ tells us about suffering?  The cross does not really tell us the why of suffering, but it offers us instead the where of God’s sharing in it.  When we suffer, God is in the midst of our suffering. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is also Christ on the cross, God-who-suffers-with-us. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are our guarantee that when we reach the limits of our mortality in failure, loss, and pain, we find ourselves on the surprising road to resurrection.    (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.22)

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle B

1st Reading – Ezekiel 2: 2-5

Abraham Heschel describes a prophet as, “a person, not a microphone.  S/He is endowed with a mission, with the power of a word not his own that accounts for his greatness –but also with temperament, concern, character, and individuality.  It is not only what s/he said but also what s/he lived.  The prophet was an individual who said No to his/her society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism,” (The Prophets, p. x-xv).

When have you been obstinate of heart?  Did you wish God set your feet straight?  What prophets are among us now?  How are we prophets?

The daily reflection from http://onlineministries.creighton.edu says, “We are prophets when our lifestyle reflects an alternative to the easy conformities of our cultures.”  We must live as we are meant to live.  But the right way to live isn’t always the easy way.  Ezekiel is trying to convince a people who see God as a tyrant that he is a prophet for them.  Not an easy task.

The term “Son of Man” gives emphasis to the human being who is to be the bearer of the divine message. Ezekiel saw himself as called to this title; so did Jesus.  (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

What do you make of this?  It is questionable what Paul’s burden is, but we all have our own weaknesses and burdens.  Some commentators say he had epilepsy, some an ophthalmic condition or maybe depression.  From http://liturgy.slu.edu, “But if, like him, we learn to be ‘content with our weakness, for the sake of Christ,’ we may one day find ourselves unleashed, our hearts emboldened, our words firm and free.”  Think of St. Kateri and her suffering from small pox and not being able to see well.  She is quoted to have said, “I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus.”  Are you willing to give yourself over completely, weaknesses and all?

But Paul did not use excuses to limit his life. He knew vividly his own problems and difficulties – he even begged many times to be relieved of the ‘thorn in his flesh.’ But perhaps through his prayer he came to realize that none of his ‘work’ was about his weakness – but it was about trusting that God’s grace was sufficient for whatever was necessary. He learned to be content with weakness for the sake of Christ “in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” Like Paul, when we are weak, it is then that we are strong – in and with the Lord.  (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The Gospel —  Mark 6: 1-6

Do you find this true in your own life, when you return to your hometown or see friends and family from your past?  Where are you in this story?

Most scholars think that this passage has a ring of historicity. It is probably unlikely that the early church would have told stories about Jesus being rejected in his own hometown if it were not based on a real event. It was probably a very important story for them because they themselves often experienced rejection of their own when they tried to share ‘the Jesus story’ with their families and close acquaintances. And, of course, as Jesus will soon begin his journey to Jerusalem, this rejection will culminate in the horrible rejection of the cross. But even that horror will not end the truth and power of his life and word.  (R. Fuller, OSB, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

In Jesus’ culture there was no expectation of ‘doing better than one’s parents.’ In fact honor required that a person stay in their inherited status and make no effort to improve on it. Any effort to ‘better oneself’ was seen as a threat to others. So Jesus aroused anxiety on this point alone. Then, craftsmen at this time – especially those who lived in small hamlets like Nazareth – had to leave home to find work. They had to leave their women and children at home without proper male protection. Such craftsmen were, thus, looked upon as ‘without shame.’ How could such a one have such power and wisdom? “And they took offense at him.”  (J. Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”  http://liturgy.slu.edu )

From Jesus:  A Pilgrimage by Fr. J. Martin:

In consulting with 1st century archeologist Jonathan Reed, a Jewish village of that size at the time would not have had a synagogue.  There has been no evidence discovered yet.  People would have most likely gathered outside, like an open space in the village, or maybe the courtyard of a wealthy homeowner (115).  Picture Jesus in that setting.  It is likely that Jesus knew how a message of openness to the Gentiles would be received in his hometown.  Nonetheless he is fearless.  How?  Courage from grace, yes.  But he also had a freedom from any desire for approval from the people in Nazareth.   He needed only to be true to himself.  He loved the people of Nazareth, but he saw beyond that (125).  How often do we worry about what people think of us?  Does it keep us from moving forward?

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Let us prayerfully reflect on this poem by Joyce Kilmer:

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

 

What do you find meaningful – helpful—insightful when it comes to trees?  Have you ever had a favorite tree? Forest?

1st Reading – Ezekiel 17:22-24

Ezekiel’s allegory of the cedar tree is one source for the imagery of the mustard bush in the gospel reading. The cedar stands for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy after the exile. The shoot or twig (see Isaiah 11:1) refers to a descendant of Jehoiachin, the last Davidic king before the exile. The beasts and birds represent the nations of the earth. This indicates that the prophecy expects the kingdom after the return from exile to be more than just the mere restoration of the status quo before the exile; in fact, it is to be the realization of the messianic kingdom. It is therefore legitimate to say that this prophecy finds its ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom of Christ, of which the church on earth is a foretaste. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/11OrdB061712/theword_indepth.html )

The cedar forests of Lebanon enjoy the unique distinction as the oldest documented forests in history.  The cedars made a special contribution to the development of the Phoenician civilization by providing the timbers with which they developed their famous sea-going merchant boats -thus becoming one of the first, if not the first, major sea-going trading nation in the world.  The Phoenicians transported the cedar to Egypt, until Egypt conquered Lebanon and gained direct access to the forests, which were highly prized for building temples and boats.  Later the Babylonians took a similar interest in the cedars and obtained them for use in building the fabled city of Babylon.  The expansion of the Roman Empire into Syria and Lebanon had a detrimental effect on the cedars until the Emperor Hadrian installed markers around the boundary of the remaining forests and declared them as Imperial Domain.  In modern day Lebanon, the legendary cedar is still revered and remains prominent in the minds of all Lebanese. The cedar is featured on the national flag, the national airline, Government logos, the Lebanese currency and innumerable commercial logos. (http://www.shoufcedar.org/)

2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10

For all his yearning for the life to come, Paul does not despise this life.  He is, he says, in good heart.  The reason is that even here and now we possess the Holy Spirit of God, the first installment of the life to come.  It is given to the Christian to be citizen of two worlds; and the result is, not that he despises this world, but that he finds it clad with a sheen of glory which is the reflection of the greater glory to come  (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 205-6).  Isn’t this hopeful?  But then Paul lowers the boom!  He brings up the judgment that will come.  But what he is saying is life is in the decisions we make.  Right now.  We must live in the present, but with a foot in the future, knowing we are accountable for our actions.  What we do makes up who we are, and affects others around us.  Does this stir something up in you?

The Gospel – Mark 4: 26-34

From John Kavanaugh, S.J. — Life is slow and subtle. Love takes time to show and grow. In life, little acts count. In fact, that is what a life is all about, a long parade of moments deceptively inconsequential. Children grow before our eyes. But they age imperceptibly. We recognize growth only after it has happened. The full truth of the child is seen after the child is no more. Life, like faith and love, resists most measurement. As it develops, it is rarely noticed. We seem not to do these things by sight. Our changings are unmarked as they happen.

This is why, perhaps, a daily examination of our awareness can be so life-enhancing. Examination applies the lens of believing to the blur of the daily grind. It is to notice in faith. It is to pay attention lovingly, gratefully. Like sowers, we scatter our activities, our tiny acts of faith, flung out far and extravagantly, some taken by the wind, all landing somewhere. We sleep our nights and do our days, and the growth takes place. We may not even be conscious of the flowering.  But journey outward is not the only way to understand the present. In a journal, we move inward. We penetrate the present with conscious faith and love. We remember our destiny in Christ so that it might inform each present moment and quicken it with slumbering life. The import of life’s every day, as St. Paul suggests, is revealed “at the tribunal of Christ.”  (http://liturgy.slu.edu/11OrdB061712/theword_encountered.html  )

We are small. The movements of the Spirit in us are so modest as to be nearly disregarded. Yet if we are patient, if we watch for growth within us, in winter snow and in spring rain, the Spirit gradually will surge up and will let us together yield much fruit. It is a miracle of growth in plants and trees, but even more in goodness and grace that is God’s kingdom in you.    (http://liturgy.slu.edu/11OrdB061712/reflections_foley.html )

Scripture Commentary for Christ the King, cycle A

1st Reading – Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17

Prophet to his people during their exile in Babylonia, Ezekiel shared their sense of having been failed by their leaders, who, from David onward, had been ideally cast in the role of shepherd of God’s flock, Israel.  As history attests, however, that ideal was not always realized and, as a result, the people of God were left unattended, like sheep left to founder on their own without a shepherd.  Right before this reading, Ezekiel reprimands failed shepherds in the past.  Only God will restore and lead God’s people to wholeness.  It is a message of hope  (Preaching Resources from 11/20/2005).

From The Word into Life, Cycle A, 122:

Usually we reserve the title, “pastor” for the leader of a religious community.  The pastor is to shepherd . . . But perhaps we fail to recognize that every believer is also commissioned, through baptism, to look to the needs of others. We are a priestly peopleand priestly people “pastor.” Ezekiel responded to the needs of his despondent exiled community in the early sixth century BC. To encourage them, he presented God as a shepherd. Yahweh would focus attention on the lost, the strayed, the injured, and the sick. Later, in today’s gospel we find Jesus who fulfills this image and also identifies with all those who suffer.

Ezekiel’s vision of a new beginning under leadership may seem to be slightly diminished by the ominous parenthetical phrase included in verse 16:  “but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.”  Some scholars suggest that this phrase is a gloss, later interpolated into the text and, as such, should be omitted.  Certainly, it seems unlikely that God would shepherd the people lovingly with one hand and strike them down with the other.  Others may be more correct in pointing out that this surprising phrase may be the result of a copyist’s error. Only a yod (smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet) differentiates the Hebrew text (I will destroy) from the Greek (Septuagint), Syrian and Vulgate translations, which read: “I will strengthen the fat and the strong.”

What other meanings do you ‘get’ from all this? What if the fat and strong were fat and strong because they took too much for themselves?  (Celebration, Nov. 1999)

What of the reference to goats?  Why are goats generally seen as bad in scripture?  Goats were often used for sin and guilt offerings.  Most Palestinian goats were black (vs the white sheep).  Goats often lead the flock, so they can be associated with political leaders; perhaps Ezekiel was comparing the goats to the failed shepherds (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 315).

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28

In the Jewish tradition, offering the ‘first-fruits’ of a harvest was a way to bless the entire harvest – a way to consecrate the entire harvest. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, the ‘first-fruits’ of God’s Kingdom, we have the promise and blessing of abundant life in this Kingdom. So death is an enemy that has been overcome!

(Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year A, 581)

When Paul talks about Adam, he talking about all of us when we choose that which is bad for us. It is our ‘false-self’ – our deeply insecure self that does not trust that God has created us to be God’s image. As Adam, we reject living in a loving, trusting relationship with our creator. In other words, ‘being Adam’ is being in sin. It is giving into our endless capacity to destroy ourselves. As ‘Adams and Eves’, we are faced with death – with the fact that someday the world will have no time or place for us. It is only our faith in the God that Christ Jesus brings us that saves us from this terrible predicament. In Jesus we find a God who loves us despite our insecurities and wishes to show us the way beyond this death sentence. (Thoughts from John Dwyer, “A Retreat with Paul,” Part 2)

What does Paul mean by Christ’s delivery of the kingdom to the Father and his subjection to him? What Paul seems to be saying is that all the ways that God has acted toward the world is revealed and upheld in the history of Jesus of Nazareth. After all has been redeemed (set free), we will be able to know God directly. For now Christ is the visible face of the invisible God. Jesus leads us to and involves us with this God of love. When we are brought fully into God’s loving presence we will be enjoying the Beatific Vision; God will be all in all, not only in Christians but in the whole world that Christ restores fully in God’s love. All death will finally and forever be destroyed. That is the Good News of Jesus Christ!(Scripture In Depth,Reginald Fuller,http://liturgy.slu.edu

The Gospel – Matthew 25: 31-46

This is an apocalyptic parable. It is about the ‘end-times’the ultimate outcome of history. It attempts to give a view of history and humans from God’s point of view.

It is about the end times as it challenges us in living as a Christian here and now.

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Nov.2002:

As Jesus explains it, there is only one way to exercise power in this world: for the sake of the powerless.  Those with food and drink, should share it.  Those who are on the inside should be hospitable to those on the outside.  If someone is cold, someone with clothes should keep him or her warm.  If someone is sick, those who are well should be attending.  If people are oppressed, those who have their liberty should look to their needs. If you want to inherit the kingdom, you can do so right now: Put your hat on and go visit the sick Christ.  Set a place at your table for the lonely Christ.  Forgive, support, or lift up the burdened Christ.  Then, the kingdom begins to grow within us – and among us.

From The Cultural World of Jesus by John Pilch — On Sheep and Goats:

Sheep came to symbolize honor, virility, and strength.  Goats were considered lustful and lecherous animals.  Unlike rams, goats allow other males access to their females. Also, goats were associated with sin, for example, the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:21-11) Even in Greek culture, the ram was associated with honorable Greek gods like Zeus, Apollo, and Poseidon, while the goat was associated with Greek gods known for shameful and unrestrained behavior like Pan, Bacchus, and Aphrodite. What is the basis for Jesus’ final, definite determination of in-group (sheep) and outgroup (goats)? Hospitality! The kindness and steadfast love that one owed one’s family was to be extended to others, especially those in need.

From Living Liturgy, Year A:

What’s surprising about the judgment (in Matthew 25) is that neither the good nor the wicked knew that what they were doing or not doing was for Christ. It was just true empathy – feeling with the one in need. Another point about Christ’s judgment — growth in discipleship and living the paschal mystery is measured by the extent to which we look upon the other as Christ, loving the other as Christ, doing for the other as Christ.  This is how we come to eschatological joy.  This is how we “share in the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world.” Think about it: from the first moment of creation, God planned for us to share in this everlasting joy!

Scripture Commentary: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

The Basilica of St John Lateran was dedicated by Pope Sylvester on November 9, 324.  For nearly 1700 years, it has been the place of numerous worshiping communities, church councils, Bishops of Rome (Popes), fires, earthquakes, wars, barbarians, neglect, and reconstructions!  It also has a “holy door” which is opened every 25 years to mark the beginning of the celebration of a jubilee year.  It was originally known as the Church of Our Savior. Later it was renamed for the large baptistery in honor of St. John the Baptist that is also located there. It is called the “Mother-Church” because it was the first Christian church to be publicly dedicated.  Before this, for almost 300 years, the Roman Empire had tried to wipe out Christianity through many severe persecutions. Then, in 324, Emperor Constantine granted Christians the right to worship publicly. After, Constantine’s conversion, the land and palace of the Laterini family owned by his wife, Fausta, was donated to the Bishop of Rome as his residence.  This basilica was then built and dedicated. It became the first official Christian church building. Thus, it is a fitting symbol of our freedom as Christians and the abiding presence of God’s Spirit within the Church, God’s People.

We know the church is not the building, but there is something about a holy place that draws us in, helps us feel at home and gives a sense of belonging and unity.  What do our church buildings mean to you?

1st Reading – Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12

Ezekiel was a priest, prophet, mystic, poet, visionary and – some feel – a bit deranged.  He certainly had his times of hallucinations. Yet, he was also attuned to the needs of the people of his time.  He tried to help them face their failings and sins; then he tried to shore up their hopes when despair was near.   (Celebrations, Nov. 1997, and 2003)

This is the hopeful side of Ezekiel that we see here. Although Ezekiel and his people are in exile, he offers them this vision of the temple, an idealized blueprint for the later rebuilding. Not only will this temple be filled with new life, but the river that flows from will heal the land and even turn salty ‘dead sea’ into fresh, living waters. The ‘sea’ was a symbol of chaos and evil . . . but this river of God’s presence can bring healing to all. (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu.)

God is a river, not just a stone

God is a wild, raging rapids

And a slow,  meandering flow

God is a deep and narrow passage

And a peaceful, sandy shoal

God is the river, swimmer

So let go.                                 ~Peter Mayer

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 3: 9-11

With no temple or synagogue in which to convene, the early Christians met together in their homes for prayer and Eucharist.  Since most homes became too small, ‘house churches’ began to exist.  In Corinth, for example, there were at least four different house churches which Paul addressed in his letters (see I Cor. 1: 10-16).  Sometimes rivalry sprang up among these churches.  Paul‘s letters are often a call for unity, around Jesus Christ, the only foundation.  (Celebrations, Nov. 1997)

The temple imagery is pointing primarily to the place of the indwelling Spirit, not a place of worship. Christ is not only present in the reserved sacrament, but is to be vibrantly present through the Spirit in his body, the Church. Here the emphasis is on Jesus as the foundation. A foundation marks out the shape of the building to be erected. It is the task of all who come after Christ to see to it that the church keeps the shape of its original foundation. (“Scripture in Depth, http://liturgy.slu.edu.)

The Gospel — John (2: 13-22)

Here in John’s gospel right after the Wedding Feast at Cana, Jesus

‘cleanses’ the temple at Passover time.  Both Malachi (3:14) and Zechariah (14:1-21) picture the time of the Messiah beginning with the Lord “suddenly coming to his temple to purify and to cleanse.”  Jesus obviously knew his own Jewish Scriptures; so did the writer of John’s Gospel. So unlike the other gospels (which put this cleansing just before Jesus arrest and death), John puts it right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. (Celebrations, Nov. 2003)

Jesus calls the temple “my Father’s house.” This phrase is used 27 times in John’s gospel.  In John 14:2, Jesus uses these words to refer to the kingdom of eternal life: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”  What meanings do you attach to this phrase?  Later, he then refers to the Temple as the “temple of his body.”  How as a Christian do you understand this section?

Why is Jesus so angry in this gospel story? Was it just that the money changers and merchants were so conniving and selfish? Or, was it that he knew that this temple was to be a place where people could give their best in symbolic gifts to the God whose love was total and everlasting? All the noise of buying and selling, all the pretense and self-righteousness distracted people from the real God who was present in their midst. This must have broken Jesus’ heart. NO, he said. Our hearts must be the bottom line, not greed or self-indulgence. Jesus was a man of passion, a man filled with God’s passion and love. His anger is like the very wrath of God that is stirred up by our lack of response and our self-centered ways. But this wrath is meant to change us. At every Mass we have the chance to join Jesus in putting God first in our lives. (J. Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu.)

 

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, cycle A

parable two sons

1st Reading; Ezekiel 18: 25-28

Ezekiel is among the first people of Israel that the Babylonians take captive in 597 B.C. He is well known for his insistence upon individual responsibility for sin. Children are not responsible for what the previous generation did. We are free to turn from wickedness to good at any time; we will then be judged by the new life that we have begun. (Sunday by Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005, vol. 14, #54; “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Ezekiel speaks of metanoia, from the Greek meaning a change of mind.  Even the term, “turning away” gives the feeling of a physical change of direction.  This is not only about our sinful ways.  Believing in God is life-changing.  It is “an interior transformation that comes about when God’s Spirit breaks into our lives with the Good News that God loves us unconditionally,” (Catholic Update on The Sacrament of Reconciliation, 1986).  What is our response to this unconditional love?

2nd Reading: Philippians 2: 1-11

William Barclay makes this important point: Paul is never just interested in intellectual speculation and/or theological guess work. To Paul theology and action are always bound together. Any system of thought must necessarily become a way of life. The purpose of these thoughts on Jesus’ humanity and divinity was to persuade the Philippians to live a life in which disunity, discord, and arrogance had no place. Jesus did not desire to dominate people, but to serve them. So we as followers must have the same desire. And, in the end, the humble service that Christ lived won for him greater glory, even if the glory was not the goal. Jesus gains our hearts not by blasting us with power, but by showing us an irresistible, faithful love. His life of self-giving service won for him a new title: Lord. It was a word that meant master or owner. It was used as a title for the Roman Emperors and for the pagan gods. It was also used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures for Yahweh. So Jesus becomes the one master and God that we are to worship, revere, and imitate – the only safe, life-giving Lord. (William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 37-39)

Why should the Creator take on the cause of a disobedient creation? Why didn’t the Potter just start over? God’s justice is always about God’s love. Love, in the end, does not seek fairness. It seeks expression; it seeks the good of the other; it yearns for life-sharing presence. The Incarnation and the cross of Christ are the ultimate message to us from this God of love. (“Exploring the Sunday Readings”, Sept. 2008)

Humility was a big part of what St. Teresa of Avila wrote about in her Interior Castle.  She says, “As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God:  let us think of His greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble,” (p. 38).  She goes on to say, “If, then, you sometimes fall, do not lose heart, or cease striving to make progress, for even out of you fall God will bring good,” (p. 51).  Hope follows love!

The Gospel: Matthew 21: 28 – 32

Parables can shock us as they can lay bare the truth with great simplicity. We cannot really argue with a parable; we must either accept it or reject it. It is a challenge, but it is also an invitation. Mary Birmingham says that “Living in the reign of God demands that I acknowledge my sinfulness, my reluctance to serve God, and forge ahead anyway.” (M. Birmingham, W&W, Yr.A, 525, 527)

In Jesus’ culture the son who answered yes to his father even though he did not go to work would have been considered the honorable son. His reply was respectful; it was what the father wanted to hear. Obedience was important, but the honorable appearance was more important. Notice: Jesus did not ask which son behaved honorably. He asked: “Which of the two did the will of the father?” Jesus’ own honor is being questioned by the chief priests and elders. But Jesus rubs salt into their wounds with this very counter-cultural parable and its challenge. They recognize this challenge: 1) Jesus is making them family with harlots and tax collectors (sons of the same Father) and 2) the chief priests and elders are the ones who may behave honorably, but they are not the ones who are always seeking to do the will of their Father. They care more about appearing to be honorable than about truly being about the good that God wants.(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Sometimes we can love humanity with great conviction, but find it extraordinarily difficult to love people in particular. For most of us, God is not the problem. The problem is those humans that God created, especially the creeps who don’t seem to deserve to take up our time and patience. When people draw near, they bring trouble. Yet, as Paul was emphasizing in his passage, it is our very relationships to each other that embody our relationship to God. Paul says we will only find joy and peace when we die to ourselves: an unwelcome prospect. Too often we want love, but not its cost. Love is more than logic and practical advice. It is a risk of the ego, an emptying of the self, a desire to serve rather than be served. This is at the heart of the Good News: first, God loved us with utter graciousness; second, we are called to love others with this graciousness. We jabber of love, but the living of it is a great shaking down of our pretense. Love in dreams can be easy; the reality of it can be a dreadful assault . . . (“The Word Embodied”, http://liturgy.slu.edu)

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

Let us pray from Psalm 95…

If today we hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

Come, let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;

Let us joyfully sing psalms to him.

If today we hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

Come, let us bow down in worship,

Let us kneel before the Lord who made us.

For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds,

The flock he guides.

If today we hear His voice, may we harden not our hearts.

1st Reading: Ezekiel 33: 7-9

Ezekiel understood his role as prophet to be that of watchman who discerns the moral pulse of the culture, and who also watches for and announces to the people any impending disasters.  (Birmingham, W&W Workbook for Year A, 499)  You can hear the weight of responsibility he feels this role, and it challenges us to speak out against what we see is wrong in the world too.  We all do this in our own way.  How have you had to do it in your life?

During the day, some people who lived in a fortified city worked outside the city gates.  So that they could go about their work without worry, a guard stood on the city wall scanning the horizon for any sign of an approaching enemy.  When the watchman spied hostile forces, he gave a signal to the townspeople in the fields.  It was their responsibility to leave their work to return to safety behind the city walls.  Both the watchman and the people had clear responsibilities, (Vawter&Hoppe, Ezekiel:  A New Heart, 148).  Do you have someone that watches over you?  Are you a watchman?

2nd Reading: Romans 13: 8-10

In this pericope, Paul gives us the “how” in handling this social responsibility:  with love. 

Indeed, Paul’s words from 1 Corinthian 13 are very close.  It also aligns well with Jesus’ preaching as we find it in the synoptic gospels, especially passages like Luke 10: 25+ — here Jesus lists love as the essence of the law and tells the story of the Good Samaritan. These words of Paul predate the gospels, of course. His experience of the Risen Lord taught him the same truth that we find later recorded by others in the gospels — a great testimony to the ‘unity’ of mind and heart that comes from knowing Jesus. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 500)

The Gospel — Matthew 18: 15-20

Here we see Matthew applying Jesus’ wisdom and advice to his own community and its needs. He is trying to fashion his ‘church’ on the teaching of Jesus.  (Birmingham, 501)

Also remember, Matthew’s community was a highly Jewish/Christian group.  Eduard Schweizer asks us to notice these things in connection with this gospel: In Judaism, at least 10 males must be present for corporate worship. For the disciples of Jesus such rules are no longer needed: even 2 who pray together are heard.  Also, the authority of the community is the authority they gain through prayer. It is assumed, of course, that the community prays according to God’s will as Jesus taught his disciples to do in the Lord’s Prayer (See Mt. 6: 9-13.)  The promise of Jesus’ presence speaks with a strong ‘taste’ of resurrection faith. When we come together in Jesus’ name we come together under Jesus authority and teaching.  It is this presence of love that confers the presence and power of Christ on the community.  Prayer and love are central: “the presence of the God who is unknown has been replaced by the presence of the man who is known, who can be called by name, the presence of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus now takes the place of the Law, as described by this Jewish saying: “When two men sit together and words of the Law are between them, then the presence of God is dwelling among them.”    (The Good News According to Matthew, 374-375)

From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Embodied,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:

Community life is the great testing ground of faith. St. Teresa of Avila thought that relationships in community were often a greater indication of one’s relationship to God than any heights of mystical prayer. Too often, though, we let problems fester in stead of being confronted and healed. The misdeeds of friends and family are discussed with everyone but the accused. We would too often rather ignore than struggle with conversion. Encountering truth with another person can be daunting – but it can also be the beginning of new life.

William Barclay has these comments: He says that this passage is one of the most difficult passages in Matthew’s entire gospel. It just does not ‘ring true’: it does not sound like Jesus. In fact, it sounds much more like a ‘church committee.’ Certainly, in its present form Jesus could not have told his disciples to take things to the Church for it did not exist yet! Still, it seems equally certain that it does in some way go back to a ‘Jesus teaching.’ If we press behind the text itself, we can find perhaps advice from Jesus like this: If someone does something wrong and harmful, spare no effort to help the sinner to see what is wrong and try to correct it. We must talk lovingly and directly to the one who has wronged us or others. Direct, personal confrontation can be healing and it needs to be private, at least at the beginning. If this does not produce healing and reconciliation, then bring one or two wise, caring people with you. Their objective wisdom may help to bring about good. If that does not work, call on your Christian community with the hope that with prayer, love and fellowship the personal relationship may be righted.

But then we come to the most difficult part. We are told if the person will not repent we are to treat that one like a Gentile or tax-collector. But Jesus never set limits to forgiveness. In fact in the very next passage in Matthew’s gospel (18: 21-35) Peter is told that we must forgive the one who wrongs us as often as necessary: 7 x 70! And, when Jesus ‘deals with’ tax-collectors or Gentiles in the gospels he does so with sympathy, gentleness, and an appreciation of their good qualities. In fact, Matthew for whom this very gospel is named was a tax-collector. Jesus found no one hopeless; neither must we. Maybe Jesus is telling us that even if the stubborn sinner is like a tax-collector or a Gentile, we may still win him over in the end as He did.

Barclay has more insights concerning the ending of this passage that is on prayer. Surely, we can not take literally the idea that if we but have two people agree on something God will have to give it. Nothing but harm can result when we teach people to expect what does not happen. So what is meant?

1st – prayer must never be selfish. We are not to pray only for our own needs; we need to pray as a part of a fellowship open to what is needed around us.

2nd – when prayer is unselfish, God’s answers with what is best for real growth, real goodness.

Furthermore, Jesus is with us whenever faithful hearts meet. He is not a slave to numbers. No matter how few may gather, his loving and powerful presence is there. (The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 187-192)

Kenneth Leech says, “Prayer needs always to be seen within this social context, for there is no such thing as private prayer.  The word private comes from the Latin privatio, which means robbery.  To the Christian, nothing is private, least of all prayer.  God is not private but personal and social, Being in relationship.”  Margaret Guenther adds, “After all, when in the Lord’s Prayer we address God as OUR Father, we are acknowledging that there are other children in the family.”  From The Tree of Life by Steven Chase.

Let us pray:

Lord,

We need you.

We need you to help us be watchful people.

Not to snuff out the sin in the world, not to be accusers-

But to be faithful to what You teach us.

We need each other to do this.  Help us to see that too.

When we are loving to one another, we spread Your love.

And You are in our midst.

Thank you Lord.  AMEN