1st READING – 2 SAMUEL 5: 1-3
David was not perfect. David was a sinner, yet he would be the one Israel would remember as leader of their splendid past. Doesn’t that give us all hope? God comes to us as we are and can create in us a light for the world, if we let God shine through us.
As a sense of messianic hope developed in Israel, it was logical that the messiah-to-be would be referred to as the Son of David. This king is a ruler who is in solidarity with his people. Thus, king as benevolent ruler and as shepherd are primary motifs in the first Old Testament theology of kingship (W&W, Birmingham, p. 540).
We are your “bone and flesh” – what is meant here? Reflect on what it means for our messianic king to be bone and flesh WITH us…
2ND READING — COLOSSIANS 1: 12-20
This is from a Christian hymn probably used at baptisms. What do some of these phrases mean to you . . .
Scholars suggest that this letter was written most likely in the 80’s A.D. in reaction to false teachers among the Christian groups. Influenced by the Greek culture of their day, there were beliefs that regarded angels and other ‘spirits’ as rulers of the universe. They were associated with stars and new moons and pagan rituals. These people wanted Jesus to be seen as subordinate to these ‘deities,’ since by his incarnation they viewed him as being contaminated by human ‘flesh.’ This writer firmly tries to correct this view with imagery that is profound and beautiful. (Celebration, Nov. 2001)
The word ‘transferred’ has a special purpose in this reading. In the ancient world, when one empire won a victory over another, it was the custom to take the population of the defeated country and transfer it lock, stock and barrel to the conqueror’s land. Thus the people of the northern kingdom were taken away to Assyria, and the people of the southern kingdom were taken away to Babylon. So Paul says that God has transferred the Christian to his own kingdom. From darkness to light…from slavery to freedom…from condemnation to forgiveness…from the power of Satan to the power of God (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 111-112).
We must note that Paul says that in Christ God was reconciling all things to himself. The Greek is a neuter (panta). The point is that the reconciliation of God extends not only to all persons but to all creation, animate and inanimate. The vision of Paul was a universe in which not only the people but the very things were redeemed. The world is not evil. It is God’s world and shares in the universal reconciliation (p. 123). What a way to look at life! This resonates so closely to what Pope Francis says in Laudato Si, “…all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things. Human beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator,” (#83) This is the kingdom of God!
THE GOSPEL — LUKE 23: 35-45
What two reactions to Jesus are seen here? Who is the only one to call Jesus by name? What does this mean to you? How is this a story of conversion? What kind of Kingship do we see here?
Jesus chose to exercise his authority as service and forgiveness. He reigns not from a throne, but from the cross. The Jesus who is worshipped today as Lord of lords and King of kings does not Lord it over others, but, rather, he loves and leads all who will follow him to the kingdom of eternal life, peace, and glory. (Celebration, Nov. 2001)
The word ‘Paradise’ is a Persian word meaning a walled garden. When a Persian king wished to do one of his subjects a very special honor he made him a companion of the garden, and he was chosen to walk in the garden with the king. It was more than immortality that Jesus promised the penitent thief. He promised him the honored place of a companion of the garden in the courts of heaven. Surely this story tells us above all things that it is never too late to turn to Christ (Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 299-300).
Christ the King was designated a holy day 1925 after World War I by Pope Pius XI. There was a strong desire to remind Christians that their allegiance was to their spiritual ruler in heaven as opposed to earthly kings and wealth (Knipper, Hungry and You Fed Me, p. 287). Don’t we always need to remember where our allegiance lies?
Let us pray with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin…
Lord, enfold me in the depths of your heart;
And there hold me, refine, purge, and set me on fire,
Raise me aloft, until my own self knows utter annihilation. Amen
1st Reading: Malachi (3:19-20a)
Take a minute to go over the opening prayer again and what this reading is saying. Our spirituality is like fire. We can let it transform us, or we can rest in the coals. St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “Go forth and set the world on fire.” How does this sit with you today?
Malachi means “my messenger”. This book was written by an anonymous author about 460-450 BC after the exile. Although the exile was over and the people had been allowed to return home, they were disheartened. The temple had been rebuilt, but it did not guarantee communal, liturgical, or spiritual unity. The people were in disarray. The clergy were negligent, the ritual sloppy, and there was an indifference to the needs of the poor. The rich became richer, and poor became poorer. The prophets used the idea of the “Day of the Lord” to create fear and to motivate people to change. They claimed the day would be a day of judgment – a day of fire when the righteous would be saved, but evil would be destroyed. Because Malachi came up against the leaders, he was a very unpopular prophet. He was also insistent that the people forsake all foreign religious practices – he was even afraid of intermarriage because he thought it would taint Judaism. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 533)
The “Sun of Justice” literally means the ‘sun which is justice’. How does this image speak to you of God? Here we see the Biblical authors applying the symbol of the ‘sun god’ that was used in Persia and Egypt to Yahweh for to them Yahweh certainly was the source of all light and life. The hot sun could blaze with fire to burn away evil and to heal the righteous. Christians applied this idea later to Jesus calling him the “Son of Justice” – the One who comes as light into the world with the incarnate presence of God. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Wk, 533-534)
2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians (3:7-12)
This letter reflects an example of a group whose apocalyptic fervor has ‘gone amuck.’ They refused to work, and they were beginning to be a burden on the rest of the Christian community. We do need to be careful how we apply this text. We are all capable of being ‘shirkers’ – and we thus need to take the warning seriously. But – as with all scripture – we should not use this passage to criticize the poor who might be faced with unemployment and homelessness beyond their own choice. It may be just as likely to find ‘shirkers’ among the affluent as among the poor. Christianity always demands that we uphold the law of love. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 534)
“Faith cannot stand as an excuse. Faith does not wait for another to work, for another to think, to serve, to pray. Faith plunges the believer into the thick of the human experience with all its pain and struggle even as it realizes and lives in the hope that this life is not forever. Temporal and temporary as it is, however, it is only during THIS life that we have the opportunity to prepare for the life that never ends,” (“Preaching Resources”, Nov’04).
Gospel Reading: Luke (21:5-19)
From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
But in some ways this gospel is also just about the way life is – such things do happen as Jesus warns us. Each day is the last. Each time is the end time. Each human faces the end of the world in the span of a life. Every sunset closes a day that will never come again. Each human death is a curtain on an unrepeatable drama. Without God, this would all mean hopeless tragedy.
Has there ever been an age without such turmoil and trial, persecution and stress? As Paul says, it is only faith that saves us; it is faith that gives us hope in the midst of this ‘groaning of creation’ both within and without our human lives – as we live and when we die.
Our belief in Paschal Mystery can help us. From the Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser:
In order to come to fuller life and spirit we must constantly be letting go of present life . . .
Terminal death is a death that ends life and ends possibilities. Paschal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life . . . Jesus did not get his old life back. He received a new life – a richer life, a life that is free of death entirely. (146)
What can we learn from the cycle of the paschal mystery?
- Name your deaths.
- Claim your births.
- Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality.
- Do not cling to the old; let it ascend and give you its blessing.
- Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living. (148)
Christ’s words are meant to move us, inspire us to set the world on fire like St. Ignatius implores. Here are some reflection questions using the image of fire:
- What is blazing in your heart?
- Where in your life do you experience the fire of light, protection and warmth?
- What in your life needs to be refined or purified?
- Where do you experience resistance to the purifying dimensions of fire?
- What keeps you from living your life with an awareness of this holy fire within you?
1st Reading — 2 Maccabees 7: 1-2, 9-14
This book tells of the gruesome atrocities endured by the Jews under the Greek leader, Antiochus Epiphanes about 150 BC. He is noted for the “abomination of desolation” in which he had pigs sacrificed in the Temple’s Holy of Holies to the Greek god, Zeus. The purpose of this book is to edify its readers in their Jewish faith, recalling for them the beautiful examples given by those who defended the cause of God. It places great hope in the rewards that await those who suffer for their faith. The death of martyrs can bring salvation to others. It is believed that it is out of such suffering that a firm belief in resurrection began to grow in the Jewish faith. (Celebration, Nov.2001)
The name Maccabees means “designated by God,” an apt title for one who would so courageously lead the people in their fight for independence (W&W, Birmingham, p. 526). What do you think of someone showing no fear in the face of adversity because of their belief in resurrection?
2nd Reading — 2 Thessalonians 2: 16 – 3: 5
There is something deeply moving in the thought of this giant among men asking for the prayers of the Thessalonians who so well recognized their own weakness (like Pope Francis?). It is very difficult to dislike a man who asks you to pray for him! In the last verse of this passage we see what we might call the inward and outward characteristics of the Christian. The inward characteristic is the awareness of the love of God, the deep awareness that we cannot drift beyond his care, the sense that the everlasting arms are underneath us. The outward characteristic is the endurance which Christ can give. We live in a time that more and more people have the feeling that they cannot cope with life. With the love of God in his heart and the strength of Christ in his life a man can face anything (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 216). How does the Lord direct your heart?
Gospel Reading — Luke 20: 27-38
Jesus is finally in Jerusalem:
in Luke 19: 29+, he entered the city on a donkey.
In verses 41+, he weeps over Jerusalem
because they will not recognize the “things that make for peace.”
He enters the Temple and ‘cleanses’ it,
calling it a House of Prayer not a den of thieves.
Needless to say, the chief priests and leaders of the people were plotting to ‘trap’ him . . . After much controversy, we then have this reading.
THE SADDUCEES, mostly priests, were the wealthy aristocracy of the day. They were the privileged presiders of temple ritual and sacrifices. They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (a much debated subject at Jesus’ time). The Pharisees, mostly laymen, on the other hand, did believe in resurrection. The Sadducees, as an elite class, also enjoyed a very cooperative and profitable relationship with Rome.
Jesus was part of a culture that was prone to conflict because of its emphasis on honor. To gain and augment personal honor, one must challenge another in hope that the challenged person will look weak. Jesus may not have started the argument, but he is not against putting the opponents on the defensive and letting them look ‘stupid’ in comparison with his own clear thinking. One can see how such confrontation eventually could lead to their wanting to get rid of him. Yet, Jesus speaks what he knows to be true, not letting fear rule him.(The Cultural World of Jesus, John Pilch, 161-163)
To translate marriage in the present life into resurrection terms is impossible. The transformation of the resurrected body from matter to spirit is so total that earthly considerations no longer have meaning. It is hard for us to grasp because we aren’t there yet. We like to know, but it is unknowable. All we do know is it is vastly superior to the present life, and it is vastly different. The central joy of heaven is life in and with God with no fear of loss. We must pray, in the spirit of St. Paul, to be strengthened and with the firm conviction that the God who is faithful will bring us home (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 724).
1st Reading – Wisdom 11: 22 – 12: 2
This reading, actually a poem, echoes our opening prayer and psalm. It was a popularly held belief that the book was written by Solomon, but the author does remain anonymous. The most we know is he was a learned, Greek-speaking Jew and probably a teacher, and he was familiar with Hellensitic philosophy, rhetoric and culture .
The word love is used as a verb, an action word. God continually creates us anew, preserves us and forgives us. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook,C, 517-8).
What is most mysterious is God’s superabundant life pouring itself forth, the love of God who gives and gives again but is never emptied in the giving. This self-giving is at the very heart of who God is (M. Downey, Altogether Gift, p. 43). How do you experience God’s love in your life?
2nd Reading – 2 Thessalonians 1: 11- 2:2
This is another letter that is questionable whether Paul actually wrote someone writing as Paul. Either way, there is truth in the letter. The people of Thessalonica (the capital city for the Roman province of Macedonia) are being told that they are being prayed for and not to be fooled by anyone saying they know when the second coming will be. Doesn’t it feel good to know you are being prayed for? Pope Francis recently said, “Without love, effort becomes a lot heavier.” Praying for others is an act of love.
We must be diligent in living the Christian life…be watchful and alert. During that time, everyone thought Jesus was coming back any minute. This was to the point where they were just waiting around and not doing anything! Paul was saying cut it out. There’s still a lot to do, so get busy doing it. (Birmingham, W&W, p. 519). How can this reading be good for us today?
Gospel Reading – Luke 19: 1-10
Here we have story of Zacchaeus (zuh-KEE-uhs, not zuh-KAY-us). This story is found only in Luke’s Gospel. This is Jesus’ last encounter before he enters Jerusalem.
Remember: Welcoming another into one’s home to share at table was an act of profound friendship. Meals were sacred times reserved only for close friends and family. Yet, one of the most historical ‘facts’ that we know about Jesus is that he often ate with sinners and the outcasts of society. When Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he is coming to dinner, the offer is clear. Jesus is asking him for his friendship. And, Zacchaeus responds by changing his way of doing business – and his way of living. Such generosity delights Jesus for he knows that now salvation (full health and life) has come to Zacchaeus’ whole house.(R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu ; Celebrations Oct., 2004)
From “Working with the Word” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
We sometimes tend to think that we need to repent and then God will come to us. But the gospel would suggest that just the opposite is true: Jesus comes to Zacchaeus who then responds by repenting. We do not repent so that God will give us his grace; God’s grace is a free gift. We just need to be open to receiving this grace so that we can repent.
William Barclay tells us to notice that the gospel ends with the encouraging words: “For the Son of Man (the Human One) came to seek out and to save the lost.” The word lost in the New Testament does not mean damned or doomed. It merely means in the wrong place. A thing is lost when it has got out of its own place into the wrong place . . . A person is lost when he or she wanders away from God. To come back into a right relationship with God is a cause for rejoicing and new life. (p. 245, The Gospel of Luke)
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 — Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
From Celebration, October 2004:
If scholars are right, Habakkuk might have been a contemporary of Jeremiah. He is probably here lamenting the destruction of Judah by King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army. He is probably also lamenting the corruption that took place in Judah before the fall. Yet, he is told that he must trust in a vision that can yet come to be. With this vision comes an assurance of God’s love and care even though there is destruction and suffering. He was told to write down this vision; in other words, make it permanent. And, it is to be in large, legible letters so that all the people may see it, read it, hold on to it – a public display of faith in the midst of tragedy. This is faith that gives life.
Br. David Steindl-Rast’s gratefulness, the heart of prayer:
How difficult it is to live in the creative tension of hope, the tension between not-yet and already!…Some people imagine that hope is the highest degree of optimism, a kind of super-optimism. I get the image of someone climbing higher and higher to the most fanciful pinnacle of optimism, there to wave the little flag of hope. A far more accurate picture would be that hope happens when the bottom drops out of our pessimism. We have nowhere to fall but into the ultimate reality of God’s motherly caring (p. 126, 136)
2nd Reading – 2 Timothy 1: 6-8, 13-14
By the time of this writing, many have given their lives for the faith in Christ; others have endured increasing difficulties and hardships. (Some have also fallen away or fallen into heresy –see 1:15, 2:17-18 and 4:9) This writer wants to use the example of Paul’s imprisonment and suffering along with some of perhaps Paul’s own words to encourage others to use their faith to live with courage, power, love and self control. (Celebration, October 2004)
We hear Paul telling Timothy to seek God’s help through “the imposition of my hands” and “the sound words that you heard from me”. In other words, Timothy should feel hope in the Lord because of how the Lord works through Paul. Don’t we often find hope in the Lord through each other too? The warmth of a loving touch and comforting words can be all we need to get through a really hard day. It gives a whole new meaning to “being there” for someone. We bring God into that accompaniment when we have faith.
The Gospel – Luke 17: 5-10
This whole chapter in Luke’s gospel is about “the decisiveness and urgency of discipleship.” We cannot just wait (or even pray) until we have enough faith, for then we may never begin living as the servants we are called to be. A seed is small, but it is filled with potential ‘power’ for growth. Jesus wants to convince us that our faith is like this. We must ‘burst open’ like a planted seed allowing growth and new life to begin.
“We must use what we have.” Jesus then shows us what the faithful disciple looks like – one who not only works the fields, but also serves at table. In fact, as we put this all together we see that serving at table is as great as moving trees – and other more amazing feats of faith! Jesus like many good preachers of his time loved to use hyperbole and humor to get his point across. (Living Liturgy, Cycle C, p.220)
What do you think of the phrase “unprofitable servants”? The Greek adjective that is used here actually means “without need.” Although it is translated here as ‘unprofitable’ it seems to mean more that this servant is without the need for ‘pay.’ He is not motivated by reward or recompense. As servants of an all-merciful and loving God we need to do everything with gratitude that we have been called to serve such a ‘master.’ We are servants that are ‘due nothing,’ because all we have has been given to us with love. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context, liturgy.slu.edu)
The 1st Reading — Amos 6: 1, 4-7
Amos is continuing to lament and grow weary of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. The rich are basking in the glow of their wealth, even drinking wine out of bowls! Scholars think the reference to David is trying to be ironic. Unlike David who used his musical talents for praising God, the wealthy of Israel were dabbling in the art simply for their own entertainment and enjoyment. The prophecy of the rich going into exile first does occur. In 722BC Assyria attacks the northern Kingdom (Celebration, Sept. 1998). Their complacency did not benefit them in the end. What happens when we become complacent and take for granted what we have?
Contrast this image with St. Teresa of Calcutta. In a general letter she wrote to her sisters in July 1961:
My dear children, without our suffering, our work would just be social work, very good and helpful, but it would not be the work of Jesus Christ, not part of the redemption. Jesus wanted to help us by sharing our life, our loneliness, our agony and death…Only by being one with us He has redeemed us. We are allowed to do the same: All the desolation of the poor people, not only their material poverty, but their spiritual destitution must be redeemed, and we must have our share in it. Pray thus when you find it hard – “I wish to live in this world which is so far from God, which has turned so much from the light of Jesus, to help them – to take upon me something of their suffering.” Yes, my dear children – let us share the sufferings – of our Poor – for only by being one with them – we can redeem them, that is, bringing God into their lives and bringing them to God.
The 2nd Reading – 1 Timothy 6: 11-16
This passage tells us clearly how and what we are to be. It is an exhortation not just for Timothy, but for every baptized person. We all need to take these words to heart. It should help us realize that our faith is a living relationship of love – with God and with others(Celebration, Sept. 2001).
What wisdom do you find in this passage? What do you make of the writer saying we should, “Compete well for the faith,”?
The Gospel — Luke 16: 19 – 31
This gospel reading is challenging us to open our eyes and minds and hearts to those around us. Let not our possessions and comforts blind us and deaden us. Perhaps the saddest aspect of this parable comes when the rich man, suffering now himself, raised his eyes and saw Lazarus. But even then he only saw him as someone who could meet his needs — not as a person in his own right with needs. The rich man has no name (although he is sometimes called Dives, a Latin word for rich); the poor man is given a name and an identity: Lazarus, which means the oneGod helps or loves. (Celebration, Sept. 2001)
St. John Chrysostom, “Thoughts from the Early Church,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:
Have you thought about why the rich man saw Lazarus in Abraham’s arms? Abraham was not only our ‘father-in-faith,’ but he was also known for his hospitality. Abraham did not begrudgingly help strangers; he would sit in his doorway and catch all who passed by – to offer them friendship and food.
He did not know that these strangers would bring the tangible presence of God and new life to him and to his wife as they did (Genesis 18:1 – 8).
From William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, 221-222:
The details in this parable are very important. The rich man had great luxury: garments of purple and fine linen. The word that is used for feasting is one that is used for a glutton who feeds on exotic and costly dishes – everyday. His self-indulgence seemed to give him no time for work while his servants must have slaved to keep him fed. Also, in these days food was eaten with the hands. In very wealthy houses, the hands were cleaned by wiping them on chunks of bread. The bread was then thrown away. These were the ‘crumbs’ that Lazarus longed to be allowed to eat. The rich man was not deliberately cruel; nor was he accused of being the reason for Lazarus’ poverty. His sin is his blindness – his lack of even noticing another’s need. That lack of human concern for anyone outside of himself was a great chasm that separated him from love, life.
From Richard Rohr, The Good News According to Luke, 169-170:
Hades is the abode of the dead. It does not necessarily coincide with our term of hell. In this story there is a big chasm separating those who respond to and with God’s love and those who do not. The ‘hell side’ is the state of being where you don’t love – where you find yourself cut off and where non-life is chosen. This parable is not suppose to convince us that God’s justice is served by physically punishing people: God’s justice cannot be served by “burning people’s behinds.” The story is suppose to open us to the true way of life – to listening to God’s Word and letting it guide our life and our choices. We are to choose life – love – sharing – communion. We need to choose the good because it is good – it leads to life. Such choice leads to dignity and goodness. There is as Abraham says in the story a ‘great chasm’ between heaven and hell – between fear and faith, between death and life. This story was meant to help us overcome the chasm – not to deepen it. Continue reading →
1st Reading – Amos 8: 4-7
Amos was a native of the village of Tekoa located 6 miles south of Bethlehem on the edge of the Judean wilderness. He made his living as a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees. What is translated as sycamore is probably a type of mulberry that produced a type of fig-like fruit. They had to be punctured or pinched at exactly the right moment in its growth cycle so as to release the insects that infested it. Insect-free fruit would then grow to ripeness so that the poor, for whom the fruit provided some meager sustenance, could gather it up and be fed. Although Amos thought he was not suitable to be the prophet God called him to be, perhaps his job with these trees had actually prepared him well to pinch and puncture the greed and dishonesty that infested the hearts of some of the rich at that time. The greedy rich did not even like the Sabbath rest for it kept them from their unscrupulous business practices. These heartless and disreputable merchants actually sold the poor into lives of slavery because of their greed. Amos understood the lives of the poor; he spoke out vehemently with condemnation toward those whose greed continued to force the poor into more and more difficulties. We need to allow Amos’ words to pinch and puncture us so we too are open to God’s ways of love and truth, not selfish greed. God still hears the cry of the poor; he is not fooled by superficial piety. (Celebration, Sept. 2001 and Exploring the Sunday Readings, Sept. 1998)
There is a sense that nothing is hidden from the Lord. All of our actions are noticed and have meaning. Sometimes we don’t even give thought to how our actions have impact on others, such as the food or clothing we buy from a company that doesn’t practice fair wages. In what ways can you be more mindful of your actions?
2nd Reading — 1 Timothy 2: 1-8
As we said last week, most scholarship theorizes that this letter wasn’t actually written by Paul but a disciple of his. Some in the community were succumbing to Gnosticism, and so the letter is countering that. Gnosis is Greek for knowledge. Gnostics thought they possessed special, mystical knowledge that they received because they were an elite group. They believed all matter is evil, so our bodies are evil and our spirits must escape them. In order to be liberated from our bodies, a spiritual messenger must come and awaken us from our sleep. This messenger brings gnosis. For Christian Gnostics, that messenger was Jesus. But because they believed bodies were evil, they rejected the idea that Christ had a body like ours (appeared to be human but not). So there were theories about Jesus’ birth, incarnation and resurrection that threatened Christian doctrine (Gonzalez, JL, The Story of Christianity Vol I, pgs 58-61). In this letter to Timothy, “Paul” writes how EVERYONE is to be saved, there is ONE mediator and he is a ransom for ALL. What do you make of this in our world today?
The Gospel – Luke 16: 1-13
This whole section is tied together by the theme of wealth and the danger it poses for disciples. Luke is always very concerned about this problem. Don’t you wonder why Jesus advises that we should make friends with dishonest wealth?
Jesus’ audience (and Luke’s) would have expected the steward to be jailed immediately. When this didn’t happen in the parable, their imagination was captured. The underdog seems to be getting the better of the person in power! In actuality, the master is a man of mercy. The steward knew that, since he wasn’t jailed, and decided to capitalize on that. When he lowered the renters’ ransom notes (connect this ransom with the one in the previous reading!), the renters believed it was with the master’s approval and so he is a hero. It would look bad if the master changed this. The steward hoped that even if the master did not reinstate him, he would be welcomed and employed by others in the community. The steward relies heavily on the fact that the master is generous and merciful. God is the master, and we are God’s stewards. We are completely dependent on God for life itself. Only God can save (Birmingham, M, Word and Worship, p. 481).
As disciples, we need prudent decisiveness. We must take our identity so seriously that it defines how we live. We are not going to live in this world forever. We or our profits are not the source and security of our lives; God is. We had better take his priorities seriously. We need to realize that all our choices in daily living are actually choices for eternal life. And, our Christian way of living – our Paschal Mystery living – isn’t simply a matter of surrendering to the self-sacrificing possibilities that come our way in the normal course of living. We must be clever and smart about searching out such opportunities to live Jesus’ proactive way of love. This passage in Luke’s gospel is really challenging us with the question: How smart are you? We need to know who and what we are. We need to face our gifts and shortcomings honestly. It does not do ourselves or anyone else any good to live in fantasy. We need to face our abilities and the real situation with clarity. Such realism is an asset in many a crises. It enables us to come up with real solutions to the problems. It is only practical, real-life wisdom that brings true insight. (Pheme Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, 165-171, & Living Liturgy, Cycle C, 2004)