1st Reading – The Book of Wisdom 18: 6-9
The Book of Wisdom, written in the century before the birth of Jesus and in Alexandria (one of the great centers of learning in the ancient world), aimed to strengthen the faith of the Jewish community living in the diaspora. The diaspora were communities outside of the Holy Land through Asia Minor where the Jewish people were more influenced by Hellenistic culture. They seemed to be more progressive and were very important to the early church. In this reading, the author reflects on God’s abiding presence and constant saving action among the people. There is an attitude of watchful readiness, which we will see in the Gospel reading too (Foundations in Faith, p. 176).
With faith comes courage. We have a God that will never disappoint, that will never leave us. We must rely on God like “holy children of the good”. How does that image speak to you? God summons (arouses, beckons, gathers, rallies) us…for God’s glory. How do you find this true in your life?
2nd Reading – Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19
The 11th chapter of this letter is sometimes called ‘the roll call of the heroes of faith.’ Yet, these great figures of salvation history are brought forth, not for their heroism, but for their ‘faith’ which is here closely linked with hope. Faith is taking God at his word when he promises his love and help for the now and for the future. These Old Testament people became examples to early Christians (and to us) for the New Israel – the new wandering people of God – called into God’s kingdom – now and into the future. We are all called to imitate Abraham who “went out, not knowing where he was to go.” He lived trusting himself and his family to God’s promises and love. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The Gospel – Luke 12: 32-48
This gospel is not about an ending…but a beginning. Be prepared…for something wonderful. Be prepared…for God to come into your life. Be prepared…to open the door to Christ, let him in, and to serve him. Are we ready for whatever God wants us to do with our lives? Are we looking for Him, anticipating Him? Are we ready to give Him what He wants and needs – our time, our talent, even, perhaps, our lives? (Hungry, and You Fed Me, p. 206)
“Gird your loins.” The long flowing robes of the east were a hindrance to work; and when a man prepared to work he gathered up his robes under his girdle to leave himself free for activity. We would like God to find us with our work completed. Life for so many of us is filled with loose ends…the things put off and the things not even attempted. Keats wrote,
“When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain.”
There is nothing so fatal as to feel that we have plenty of time (Barclay’s The Gospel of Luke, p. 171-172). What will you do with your time? It matters!
1st Reading — Isaiah 53: 10-11
This is part of the fourth Suffering Servant Song that is found in Isaiah. One can read all of these Servant Songs at Isaiah 42: 1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:12-53:12. They were written during the time of exile when the nation of Israel was itself the ‘suffering servant’. Its intention was to offer a word of hope and consolation. The early Christian community believed that Jesus was the Suffering Servant; it isn’t certain if Jesus actually saw himself that way, but he could certainly identify with it. How do you identify with this passage? Did you see a light in the tunnel when you have had a moment of suffering?
The word for many according to Jewish scholars referred to gentiles. In later Judaism, the many was understood to mean “all” – everyone, all the nations, all people. The Suffering Servant would save all people. What good news! (Share the Word, 52, and Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year B, 686)
From Preaching Resources, Oct. 2006:
God can make sense of chaos. God can bring good out of bad. Hope is only hope when things are hopeless. The Christian view of history is not that goodness overcomes badness, but that goodness survives badness. We learn that from Jesus, God’s own son. God has high hopes for us and for his world. God is tickled to have us in God’s life. The God we find in Jesus promises us that all will be well in the end.
If Jesus came with the sole mission of taking away all pain in this life, then he failed miserably. But perhaps God inspired the Suffering Servant songs precisely to help us understand the sufferings of Jesus and so learn how to cope with our own sufferings – growing in compassion regarding the sufferings of others. (Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.)
2nd Reading — Hebrews 4: 14-16
Here the Suffering Servant is the High Priest. How does this reading give you confidence?
As different as Jesus is from us, he also knows and understands our weaknesses. Like us, he too was tempted, and not only once at the start of his ministry, but throughout his life, just as we are. The difference, of course, is that though tempted “in every way,” he never sinned. The consequences of all this are no less than astounding: we can “confidently” approach “the throne of grace,” that is, the throne of God, because Christ, our brother in the flesh and our Lord in eternity, has thrown wide the gates of access to God’s merciful love, (Workbook for Lectors…255).
How do we hold fast to our confession?
The Gospel — Mark 10: 35-45
From your experience, what is so great about being servant? Where is the good in this?
After James and John argued their point that they should have “special seats” in heaven (Doesn’t it remind you of kids who want to sit in the front seat?), Jesus summons all of his disciples saying, “You know….there are rulers in the world that want power and prestige, and you aren’t them.” In other words, Jesus is gently and lovingly telling them to get over themselves! They must be willing to really drink from the cup.
John Pilch says that in this culture, the head of the family would fill the cups of all at the table. Each one is expected to accept and drink what the head of the family has given. In a type of analogy, God is like this parent and so this cup came to represent the ‘lot’ or reality of our life. Jesus accepts the reality and his call from God to serve others by showing them God’s kingdom, God’s power and love. Jesus’ ‘honor’ will be attained in this way, even when evil tries to stop him. What is your cup? How does this add insight into the ‘sharing of the cup’ at Eucharist? (“Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )
Henri Nouwen opened up this idea even further in his book, Can You Drink the Cup?. He asks, “Can you drink the cup? Can you taste all the sorrows and joys? Can you live your life to the full whatever it will bring?” Drinking the cup of life involves holding, lifting and drinking. It is the full celebration of being human. We must hold our cup and fully claim who we are and what we are called to live. When each of us can hold firm our own cup, with its many sorrows and joys, claiming it as our unique life, then too, can we lift it up for others to see and encourage them to lift up theirs lives as well. Drinking the cup of life says, “This is my life, “ and “I want this to be my life.”
Thoughts from M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbk.,Yr. B, 689:
The word ‘ransom’ in this setting in Hebrew means an offering for sin, an atonement offering. Jesus has paid the universal debt: he has given his life for many to redeem the world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against the Nazis’ unjust and inhuman treatment of Jews in Germany before and during WWII. He was killed by order of Hitler, but his life and words still inspire many. In his reflections on Jesus’ call to service, he lists certain ministries or services that can encourage a holy and wholesome communal life:
- The service of holding one’s tongue so as to prevent undue criticism or domination while allowing the other to grow freely, in God’s image not my own.
- The service of humility that places the honor, opinion and well-being of another before my own.
- The service of listening that does not listen with only half an ear presuming to know already what the other has to say.
- The service of active helpfulness that remembers that nobody is too good for the lowliest service.
- The service of proclaiming by speaking God’s words of compassion and truth even in difficult circumstances.
Only after all these services are in place and available to all can the service of authority be truly exercised. True authority is humble, willing to listen. It is actively helping to ease the burdens of others, while speaking words that give life. (Preaching Resources, October 2000)
1st Reading: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
The Book of Wisdom is known only in Greek and may be the last book of the Old Testament to be written. The main interest of the author is to reassure the Jewish community living in Egypt that keeping their faith is worthwhile despite the hardships in a pagan land (Aren’t we still?). Prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah draw from the insights in this book, so it deserves healthy attention (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 488-489).
Gandhi was inspired by the teachings of Jesus, in particular the emphasis on love for everyone, even one’s enemies, and the need to strive for justice. He also took from Hinduism the importance of action in one’s life, without concern for success; the Hindu text Bhagavad-Gita says, “On action alone be thy interest, / Never on its fruits / Abiding in discipline perform actions, / Abandoning attachment / Being indifferent to success or failure” (Wolpert, India 71).
For Gandhi, ahimsa was the expression of the deepest love for all humans, including one’s opponents; this non-violence therefore included not only a lack of physical harm to them, but also a lack of hatred or ill-will towards them. Gandhi rejected the traditional dichotomy between one’s own side and the “enemy;” he believed in the need to convince opponents of their injustice, not to punish them, and in this way one could win their friendship and one’s own freedom. If need be, one might need to suffer or die in order that they may be converted to love (http://www.socialchangenow.ca/mypages/gandhi.htm).
In South Africa, the words “I am” also mean “you are.” I am because you are! This concept, known as ubuntu, emerged in the 19th century and developed as a world view for South Africans when apartheid was legislated in the early 1950s. It literally stands for human-ness or humanity toward others. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said ubuntu means “I am human because I belong, I participate, I share.” Nelson Mandela wrote “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?” Ubuntu then is a philosophy of interdependence (from recent blog of https://richardsvosko.wordpress.com/). How does this fit in setting the “wicked” as being someone else? Are we all to learn and be blessed by one another?
2nd reading: James 3:16-4:3
James questions what we still question today…why is there war? Why can we hold on to our own self interests? He begs his listeners to be seekers of peace…to be pure, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits. Where do you find peace in your life? How does this help you in times of conflict?
From Seeking Peace, Johann Christoph Arnold:
“You will always find reasons to grumble. If you want to find peace, you must be willing to give them up. I beg you: stop concentrating on your desire to be loved. It is the opposite of Christianity.”
“…the inside must become like the outside (and the other way around)…a consistent battle in favor of all that is life-bringing and good…”
“Joy and peace are found in loving and nowhere else.” – John Stott
Gospel: Mark 9:30-37
Not only is Jesus predicting his Passion and death a second time (remember last week’s Gospel?), but he is teaching his disciples the meaning of servant. We are all servants of Christ and servants in his household. (Birmingham, W&W, 653) How do we become servants of Christ? It’s all about the love! J We will be unable to endure the cross Christ asks of us if we do not grow in the love he gives us. When we follow the way of the Lord and the will of God in love, we live in the perfection of justice we seek in our prayer. Only then will we understand and live the life of a true servant of Christ (654).
Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges developed the Lead Like Jesus movement. Like Sigmund Freud, ego has a lot to do with it. We have a tendency to Edge God Out by putting ourselves in the center (like the disciples in this Gospel story). We let pride and fear get in the way. We need to have a tendency for Exalting God Only, where we have a spirit of humility and confidence in God’s purpose. It is a lifelong struggle (Phelps, The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus, 58-63).
Did you notice that Jesus and the disciples are in constant motion? They are constantly on the way to somewhere, on a journey. This is like our lives now! We are challenged to be present with Jesus in our constant motion too.
The word for servant (talya) is interchangeable with child. The word receives is the same word for welcomes in 6:11. It means taking care of the weaker members of the community – those who are in most need of being served. Children were at the bottom of society’s social ladder. Childhood was a time of great danger. 30% of live births ended in death. Disease and lack of hygiene caused 60% of children to die by the age of 16 (Birmingham, W&W, 656). Jesus turns everything upside down for us. We are supposed to be more like children (or servants) to receive Him. How do we do this? Again, it is all about the love…
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).
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 to 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.
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, October, 2007:
Have you ever met someone with vision? What do we mean when we use that word in that way? Part of the ‘vision thing’ is to be able to see farther down the road than the rest of us. It also means perhaps that this person with vision can see the ‘big picture’ – how things go together and what the focus should be. Most importantly this idea also means a person who has a creative instinct for the future. Tomorrow does not have to be a rerun of yesterday. Visionaries imagine what doesn’t yet exist, but perhaps should. Without such visionary thinking, hope can come to a standstill along with our faith and loving actions.
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)
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, October, 2007:
Fear is not the stuff of Christian living; love is. We are realists; we know that life, even the life of a Christian can and will have difficulties. But God provides us a gift of his Spirit that will enable us to act with courage and power and love despite our fears.
Does this reading stir you into flame?
The Gospel – Luke 17: 5-10
This passage sort of starts in the middle of things. Because the lectionary does not include the first part of this chapter, we do not understand why the disciples are asking for an increase in faith. Jesus had just warned them about not causing anyone to sin. In no uncertain terms Jesus tells them it would be better for the one who leads another into sin to have millstone around his neck and be thrown into the sea. Quite a vivid picture of the outcome of evil! He then goes on to say that they must be willing to forgive seven times a day. (Seven was the number symbolic of wholeness, completeness) It is no wonder that the poor disciples walking with Jesus toward Jerusalem would ask for a little more faith. But Jesus does not lessen the demands. Even a tiny bit of faith (a mustard seed) will be enough to uproot deeply rooted problems evil and hard-heartedness. (Celebration, October, 2004)
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)