Tag Archives: Thessalonians

3rd Sunday in Advent, Cycle B

1st Reading – Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11

Some scholars suggest that this prophet may have delivered this uplifting message to his people while standing among the ruins that had once been Jerusalem. With these words of hope, they could begin to rebuild their city – and their lives.  It was the ‘year of favor’ from the Lord. A ‘Year of Favor’, or a Jubilee Year, was a time of social reconciliation and economic restitution according to Leviticus 25: 9-19, 23-55. The land was to rest without planted crops. The poor could eat freely of whatever ‘wild crops’ grew.  Property that had been once seized, borrowed, or rented was to be returned to its rightful owner. Slaves were to be set free. All debts were to either be remitted or forgiven. For such was the favor and forgiveness that Israel had experienced at God’s hand. (Celebration, December 15, 2002)  When you experience and know this kind of joy, you want to DO something about it.

Henri Nouwen reflecting on joy in Here and Now:

Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away…Joy does not simply happen to us.  We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.  It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety…Joy does not depend on the ups and downs of the circumstances of our lives.  Joy is based on the spiritual knowledge that, while the world in which we live is shrouded in darkness, God has overcome the world…God’s light is more real than all the darkness.

2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24

As we wait with joy and hope for the many ways the Christ will come and does come, we are called to be faithful – and faith-filled – living with a trust in the amazing love of our God. Paul is trying to encourage three ways of living that are important: prayer-living, discerning-awareness, and wholesome-holiness. These three ways will help us to experience Christ in our lives no matter the circumstances. Let us not ‘quench the Spirit’ of Life and Love that is offered to us. This is a Christmas gift worth opening and using! (Celebration, December 15, 2002)

In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy…Love wholeheartedly, be surprised, give thanks and praise-then you will discover the fullness of your life. ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast

The Gospel – John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Ring the bells that still can ring,

Forget your perfect offering,

There is a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in.  ~Leonard Cohen

Maybe John the Baptist saw the crack, and helps us see the light coming through it.

This gospel may seem out place with the other two readings. We have been prepared with joy and hope; we have been encouraged with positive words and messages. But John’s message in this gospel is filled with negations: “I am not the Messiah, not Elijah, nor the Prophet . . .” He knew himself to be the “voice of one crying in the desert.” Yet, in that solitary truth and task he found joy. There is comfort and assurance in knowing who we are and what our calling is. There is joy in knowing how to look for the “one who is to come.” John is incomplete by himself: so are we! Let us with John be expectant in the midst of a desert – looking for light in the midst of darkness. Even a tiny flicker of light can dispel the darkest gloom. Maybe then we will be free to discover the many and various ways the Lord Jesus Christ comes into our lives. (Living with Christ, December, 2011, p. 123)

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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

A reading from the Book of Proverbs (31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31)
From Mary Birmingham: The Book of Proverbs begins with a personification of wisdom, Lady Wisdom. She promises wealth, prosperity, happiness, and a long life to those who follow her council. The end of this book [from which this reading is taken] depicts a woman who has faithfully followed Lady Wisdom’s counsel. The image of the woman is drawn with broad, artistic strokes. This lady ministers in her home to the needs of those who come seeking; she is not an extraordinary or exceptional woman, yet she performs with skill, tenacity, and commitment. She helps all around her, her family and the poor. In her service she finds peace and happiness. She is the ideal for all ‘wise ones.’ (Word & Worship Yr A, 572)

When Dorothy Day died on Nov. 29, 1980, her funeral was attended by all sorts of people – everyone from a cardinal (Terence Cooke) to beggars, from executives to addicts, the sane and the demented: all paid their respects. This woman might be considered a good example of the wise woman, even though she had ‘only’ been a poor single mother herself. But she never let her own inadequacies keep her from doing all she could to welcome and help those around her. She once said: “Do not be ashamed to serve others for the love of Jesus Christ . . . In the church, one never needs money to start a good work. People are what are important. If you have people who are willing to work, that is the thing. God is not out done in generosity. (Celebration, Nov. 2005)

From Healing the Purpose of Your Life by the Linns:
This worthy wife sounds like she is living out her calling, or as this book describes, her “sealed orders”. It is as if before we were born each of us talked over with God our special purpose in this world. Our sealed orders are something that we agreed to in the context of a loving dialogue with the God who created us. They are not a task we are to complete, but rather our special way of being. They are our essence. Our sealed orders, our unique way of giving and receiving life and love, are the foremost criteria of discernment for decision making. They make for a meaningful life. Consider spending time with the Lord to discover your sealed orders:
1. Take a moment to grow quiet and breathe in the love of God.
2. Think of a person you know who lives a life that seems rich in meaning and purpose, and imagine yourself in the presence of that person. Breathe in the quality of a clear sense of direction that you feel with this person.
3. Now recall moments in your own life when you have felt a clear sense of direction. In your imagination, relive one of these moments. Breathe in again that clear sense of direction. As you do so, how might you begin to describe your sealed orders?

A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (5: 1-6)
The beginning of this passage reminds me of the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Slip sliding away, slip sliding away, you know the nearer your destination the more you slip sliding away.” The problem is, disasters do strike without notice and when we’re not prepared. That’s life. But Paul is talking about the end times again because he thought they were right around the corner.

Imagine your own fear if you were to envision that great day as one of panic, rout and confusion. In addition to these images, the Day of the Lord was also associated with cosmic upheaval and universal judgment. Aware of this fear, Paul continually tried to remind his readers that they were children of light and of day, whose faith in Jesus would strengthen and sustain them through every trial and against all adversity. We are already children of light and day:

Harry Emerson Fosdick, (1878-1969), a pastor and professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York once compared fear and faith, “Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable — and, most of all, fear puts hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.”

From Healing the Purpose of Your Life by the Linns:
We often reach our final decisions much more easily by focusing on our sealed orders rather than on our fears. When we allow love to touch what we like least about ourselves and the underlying hurts and fears, we have a greater awareness of and capacity to carry out our sealed orders. Know and allow yourself to be a child of the light!

From a blog entry on our parish blog: Stay awake. Stay awake to God. All God wants is to be close to us. God reaches out to us many times throughout the day, whether we notice or not. We are never absent from God, unless we turn away from God ourselves. Stay awake to the hope, love and surprises God has in store. This can only be good. Pay attention to the blessedness in life. It’s there. And it’s life-giving. Stay alive to it. There is beauty in the lost moments. Even concentrating too much on the chatter in our heads closes us off to the reality of God revealing Godself in the day. Stay alive to the possibility that God might show up. Whether we like it or not, God just may know better than we do. Life is not supposed to be a game we have already figured out on our own; it’s just meant to be played. Stay alive to the idea that God is ever present. It’s why Jesus came to live with us. He died so we could stay alive to what God has in store for us: life in abundance!

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (25: 14-30):
The very rich man in this story sounds like an honorable person at the outset. It is only at the conclusion that we learn that he is dishonorable. The 3rd slave even describes him as such, and the rich man agrees with him! The first 2 slaves not only served their master but imitated him. Why not? If you can’t beat the system, join it. The 3rd slave did what most rabbis would later commend as the safest and most honorable course of action for a free man, but maybe not for a slave. In 1st century Mediterranean culture, people believed that all goods already exist and are already distributed. There is no more where this came from, and the only way to get more is to defraud another. Anyone who suddenly acquired something “more” was automatically judged to be a thief. (Pilch, the Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 164) So then why is the parable saying the 3rd slave is wrong?

• It may have been to capture the attention of Jesus’ audience.
• The message is we are not to be complacent but increase what Jesus has given us.
• William Barclay makes this point about the gospel’s ending advice: “If someone has a talent and exercises it, he is progressively able to do more with it. But, if one has a talent and fails to exercise it, he will lose it – slowly, but surely. (The Gospel of Matthew, 324)
• From Celebrations, November, 2002 and 2005: Fearfulness only breeds fear and crippling inaction. If we dare to risk ourselves in loving God and others, then Jesus assures us that we will find a God who is eager to share his powerful presence and gifts. Along with this parable, we need to reflect on the kind of God that Jesus shows us — a God who welcomes sinners and who rejoices when the lost are found.

Fr. Richard Fragomeni once said that faith is a risk; it is a bet we make with our whole lives…

C.S. Lewis once suggested that the ‘one’ talent many Christians fail to ‘invest’ or fear to risk losing is love. In a series of 10 lectures on this subject (later published as The Four Loves) he explains:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to be sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one — not even to an animal or pet. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safely in the casket or the coffin of your selfishness. But, in that casket– safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, unredeemable. The only place outside heaven where you can be safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.

In this parable Jesus tells us that there can be no religion without adventure, and that God can find no use for the shut mind (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series for Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 323). Doesn’t this remind you of Pope Francis? In a recent homily, he said, “I am attached to my things, my ideas – does this mean I am closed? Or, am I open to the God of surprises? Am I a person who stands still, or a person on a journey?”

Let us resolve to become one-talent wonders, willing to risk ‘being fully alive’ so as to invest our love in God’s service. Let us not dig a hole to bury our love. Let us prefer service to safety, and risk to retreat. (Isn’t that what Jesus did?) We can love as Jesus did, fully, freely, and forever – at least, we can try!

From Healing the Purpose of Your Life by the Linns:
The power to be our real self and to accomplish something in life comes not so much from knowing who we are and what it is we want to do, but rather from feeling loved enough to be and do it. We must open ourselves to this love and grow in our capacity to take it in. As we do so, our capacity to carry out our special way of loving, which is our sealed orders, also grows.

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

A Reading from The Book of Wisdom (6: 12-16)
From Celebrations, November, 2002: The anonymous author of this book was probably a Greek-speaking Jew, maybe a teacher, who lived in Alexandria in Egypt in the 1st century BC. This was a great center for learning, and this person was obviously well-trained in Greek philosophy, rhetoric, culture and science. In Alexandria, there was a large Jewish community. It seems he wanted to counsel and instruct his fellow Jews so that they might hold fast to their faith traditions and their sacred heritage. He also wanted to encourage the evolving theological thought that included an awareness of life’s ongoing journey, which does not end with death, but continues into eternity,

From Eduard Schweizer: In Hebrew terminology, ‘wise’ means ‘seeing’ or ‘with eyes open.’ Being wise is not about one’s IQ: it is about having eyes and awareness that is open — alert — to what is and what is to come. We do not simply live for now — we must be open to what is yet to come (467).

Rob Bell has a podcast where he talks about simple vs. prudent. Simple is keeping things black and white and ignoring what doesn’t fit with a “blinders” way of thinking. Prudence is knowing there is a complexity to life, and that wisdom is seeking the way through that complexity. You can hear the whole thing in his Robcast Episode 123: Wisdom Part 7 – The Simple and Subtle.

From Mary Birmingham:
The feminine image of wisdom is commonly used in Hebrew Scriptures. “The words sophia in Greek and hokmah in Hebrew are feminine nouns that mean wisdom.” The Greeks understood wisdom to be “a human endeavor — something to be conquered by sheer human will and mastery. The Hebrew understanding describes wisdom as a readily attainable gift from God, just waiting to be embraced by the receiver. The attributes of Lady Wisdom are also attributes of the living, loving, pursuing God.”
‘Lady Wisdom is to be sought after, while we keep in mind that she is readily found by those who love and seek her . . . Wisdom does not just look for the seeker, she ‘hastens to make herself known’. She desires to be ‘perceived.’ She is eager to find a place in the human heart. Ultimately, wisdom is none other than God the Pursuer, who eagerly searches for the hungering human spirit. It is deep within the recesses of those spirits that Lady Wisdom takes up her residence” (565).

A Reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians (4:13-18)
From Celebrations, November 2002: Paul’s imagery here is his attempt “to describe the indescribable and to make known the unknowable. In such an endeavor, human words are but feeble tools.” They are not to be taken as literal — but as the poetry that they are — using the common ways of his culture to talk about such things. The apocalyptic props of trumpets and clouds and archangels are to be “visions of hope” — not a literal description of the end times.

The idea of the Second Coming had brought another problem to the people of Thessalonica. They were expecting it very soon; they fully expected to be themselves alive when it came but they were worried about those Christians who had died. They could not be sure that those who had already died would share the glory of that day which was so soon to come. Paul’s answer is that there will be one glory for those who have died and those who survive. The man who has lived and died in Christ is still in Christ even in death and will rise in him. Between Christ and the man who lives him there is a relationship which nothing can break, a relationship which overpasses death (see Romans 8:38-39). From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 202-203.

“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” ~ Vaclay Havel

A Reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (25: 1-13)
From Celebrations, November 2002: “This parable is clear and simple. The time for choosing Jesus is now; therefore, the time for preparedness is now; the time for ‘packing’ whatever faith, grace, repentance, conversion of heart, good works, and loving responsiveness to God . . . is now. This parable is “not about mercy but about being decisive and prepared. God’s gift is offered, but we must take hold of it, do something with it. Even the message of unconditional love does not override our free choice to ignore God’s intentions for us. Real foolishness is possible . . .” This is not a parable about caring and sharing. It’s a parable about responsibility; about doing our job of being a Christian . . . no one else can do our job for us.

What does the ‘oil” represent?
William Barclay says that “the oil signifies 1) a relationship with God; a person cannot borrow such a relationship, he/she must cultivate it himself/herself;
2) character, a person cannot borrow character . . . 3) Others simply say that the oil represents the wisdom and preparedness necessary for recognizing and welcoming the coming Christ . . .” We must be ready “to love the ways and will of God,” (The Gospel of Matthew, Vol II, 320, and Celebration, Nov. 2005)

From Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew:
This parable is found only in Matthew’s gospel although there are ‘hints’ of it in Luke 13:25. It certainly reflects the community’s struggle over Jesus’ delay in not returning in ‘glory’. Matthew does not want the delay to be the cause of the people not truly living their faith in the here and now. “When Jesus calls on his disciples to keep watch, he is calling on them to take the reality of God so seriously that they can come to terms with its sudden appearance at any moment in their own lives . . . (467).”

Some points made by Pheme Perkins in Hearing the Parables of Jesus (104-110):
• It may be tempting to separate ourselves into the wise and the foolish. Note that the wise don’t resolve the situation or make a big effort to fix it. The foolish are simply caught in their habitual type of behavior.
• The foolish servants do not have any idea of what their real situation is. They persist in showing their attempts to bail themselves out at the last minute. Those attempts fail because it really is the last minute. (And see how Jesus uses humor to portray the wrong way to go about things as opposed to “wailing and gnashing of teeth”.)
• The foolish are excluded due to their own decisions and actions. They fall back on their old patterns. They might have done better to wait outside until morning rather than call attention to themselves by their banging on the door. Reflect on this situation: What if they didn’t go get the oil and waited without lit lamps? Would they have gone to the feast despite their “darkness”? Perhaps Jesus is calling us to be ready for relationship, not necessarily for perfection.
• We all know good, responsible employees who seem to waste vast amounts of emotional energy lamenting the behavior of others who are not performing their job as they should. The parable does not suggest that we should always bail such people out. It suggests that maybe we should suggest ways to them of shouldering their own responsibility.
But remember the 1st reading — wisdom and God seek us out…

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi (1:14; 2:2, 8-10)

Malachi is a pseudonym meaning “My Messenger.”  The author probably wished to conceal his (or her) identity because his attacks on the priests and ruling classes were very sharp.  Malachi arrived on the scene after the excitement of the return from exile had worn off.  Morals were suffering.  People were reneging on their tithes, intermarrying (and losing their cultural and religious identity), and oppressing the widow, the orphans and the foreigner  (US Catholic, K Guentert, p. 22).

Prophets know all about passion!  Malachi feels so strongly about his faith and about impartiality for all people that his language is piercing.  How do you show your passion in your faith?

St. Benedict said to, “Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.”  And Malachi says something similar when he compares listening to laying it to heart.  It hints to the idea that listening to someone should involve our whole self in attention.  Some questions to test your ability to listen:  Do you try to ignore the distractions about you?  Do you smile, nod your head, and otherwise encourage the other to speak?  Do you listen even though you anticipate what s/he is going to say?  Do you withhold judgment of the person?  (Think about how listening is part of being a good leader when we move on to the Gospel.)

A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (2:7-9, 13)

We see Paul here as an ideal authority figure and leader. We often do not think of Paul as humble, yet, an honest look at how he lived his life seems to give us a real-life example of what Jesus meant by being a humble servant. From this letter we see that Paul certainly had ‘turned his life’ over to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable – to risk everything. He ministered by entering into a personal relationship with those he wanted to share this good news. He knew the people by name. He worked alongside them, not wanting to be a burden in any way. He shared their joys and sorrows; their problems were his problems. Then, from within this close friendship, he preached, taught, corrected, and guided them. He challenged them to live as he did, in union with Jesus. He would encourage and praise those he brought to Christ. He believed in their goodness and in the power of God’s grace to transform them. In the middle of the two ‘critical’ readings, the church gives us Paul as a real-life example as to how we are all called to live ‘the priesthood of Jesus Christ’ that began with our baptism. (Celebration, October, 2005)

Paul is talking about being transformed by the Good News of God:  hearing it, believing it and then living it.  In Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium”, he said, “Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst  of difficulties.  Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus…we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel,” (#167).  How profound if we truly lived that way!

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (23:1-12)

Jesus speaks of good leadership.  To lead like Jesus, one must be servant, steward and shepherd.  “Jesus leaders” build community and fellowship.  They foster contentment and generosity in themselves and in others.  They build trust and increase the flow of trust all around them.  They are inspired to increase their capacity and to make greater contributions to the common good.  And they inspire others to do the same.  Service, contribution, and purpose become the hallmarks of both their individual and collective lives.  It is a new way to live.  It is always a struggle.  And the struggle is lifelong, (O. Phelps, Leading Like Jesus, p. 63).

What does it mean to you to be humble? The word was used in the spiritual sense to mean lowly like a servant. It was not a quality thought highly of by most Greeks. They saw it as ‘self-belittling,’ and thus it was abhorrent.  But the Jewish tradition of which Jesus certainly approved took a different look at it. To be humble was to put oneself in a ‘right relationship’ with God who is the one who deserves our ‘bowing’ and our service. God would and could often use the ‘lowly’ to accomplish good. What became important – and we see this especially portrayed in Jesus – is that the one who is humble lives and acts obediently under God’s purpose. (The word, obedient, means to listen with one’s whole heart and mind.) God humbles us to put us in a right relationship with God and others – but then when we ‘repent’ or live this way of humble service, God raises us up. God exalts the humble.  (Theo. Dictionary of the New Testament, 1152-1154).

From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Cycle A:

Most scholars today believe that the harshness of this attack against the scribes and Pharisees is probably best attributed to the Matthean church.  Matthew’s lengthy indictment was most likely based on a short statement made by Jesus during his ministry.  Luke’s gospel has the same section, but only four woes (Luke 11: 37-52).  The style of this text is very common in ancient Greek philosophical and Jewish literature.  Dialogue and arguments between opposing sides of an issue were customarily caustic and insulting.  Matthew was certainly not promoting anti-Jewish sentiments.  The language is prophetic in its anger and intensity.  It is meant to challenge all of us for we, too, are capable of hypocrisy (560-561).

A poem by Mary Rita Schilke Korzan

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You hung my first painting on the refrigerator
And I wanted to paint another.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You fed a stray cat
And I thought it was good to be kind to animals.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You baked a birthday cake just for me
And I knew that little things were special things.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You said a prayer
And I believed there was a God that I could always talk to.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You kissed me good-night
And I felt loved.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
I saw tears come from your eyes
And I learned that sometimes things hurt –
But that it’s alright to cry.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You smiled
And it made me want to look that pretty too.

When you thought I wasn’t looking
You cared
And I wanted to be everything I could be.

When you thought I wasn’t looking – I looked…
And wanted to say thanks
For all those things you did
When you thought I wasn’t looking.

 

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading: Exodus 22: 20-26

This pericope is the Covenant Code between God and God’s people.  Certain classes are singled out:  strangers, widows, orphans, the poor.  God always sides with the marginalized.  God reminds them that they were once strangers too.  It’s like that saying not to know what someone is going through unless you walk a mile in their shoes.

From Henri Nouwen, Here and Now:

Compassion – which means, literally, “to suffer with” – is the way to the truth that we are most ourselves, not when we differ from others, but when we are the same.  It is not proving ourselves to be better than others but confessing to be just like others that is the way to healing and reconciliation (p. 135).  The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility!  In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid…It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless – toward all who ask for compassion.  What do they have to offer?  Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God (pgs. 138-139).

The 2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 1: 5-10

Paul seems very pleased with this early church.  They must have been living Jesus’ words sincerely in their lives.  He seems to emphasize the effect of modeling that sincerity, without the need to even say anything.  How powerful affirmation is and being reminded that there is good in us!

Paul speaks of the “joy from the Holy Spirit” in the Thessalonians for reaching out to others.  Henri Nouwen says, “Joy is the secret gift of compassion…Joy does not simply happen to us.  We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day…,” (p. 142, 31).

In verses 9 and 10 two words are used which are characteristic of the Christian life.  The Thessalonians SERVED God and WAITED on the coming of Christ.  The Christian is called upon to serve in the world and to wait for glory (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 187).

The Gospel: Matthew 22: 34-40

On the face of it, the question appears very honest.  The Pharisees identified 613 commandments in the Torah.  How could anyone remember all of them?  Were some more important than others?  (Pilch’s Cultural World of Jesus, p. 154)  But the Pharisees are continuing (from last week’s reading) in their quest to target Jesus.  He turns to scripture for his answer, citing Deuteronomy (6:5) and Leviticus (19:18).

From Eduard Schweizer, The Gospel According to Matthew:

Jesus “explicitly places the commandment to love one’s neighbor on equal footing with the commandment to love God, and adds that ‘the entire Law and the prophets’ depend (literally ‘hang’) on these two commandments, perhaps the way a door hangs on its hinges.  Then righteousness as a whole depends on the fulfillment of these two commandments . . . they are (together) the ‘great’ commandment because they are the only ones needed. Jesus fuses these two and, thus, prescribes how to perform the first: only the first commandment is called ‘great,’ but the second is equal to it, for one can love God only by loving one’s neighbor (425-426).”

To love was to have a sense of belonging to that person or group. In other words, to love another was to treat that person as a member of one’s family.  To love God was to belong totally to God.  In biblical terms, the heart was considered the center of a person’s entire being – the life, emotion, and totality of that person.  The soul was the life force or physical life itself.  Matthew seems to use mind instead of strength in order to stress the element of understanding and decision that is required to turn one’s heart over completely to God.  Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 553

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

Let us pray our 2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-5…

This letter was probably written about 50-51 AD.  Paul was a tentmaker who came in contact with many in the Gentile world. A riot broke out in this city among the Jewish population who resented Paul’s successful reaching out to the Gentiles there.  Paul and Silvanus had to flee.  Because of this hasty departure, Paul soon writes this letter to express his prayerful thoughts and wishes for this new ‘church’ . . .  (Birmingham, W & W, p.544-545)

In verse 4 Paul speaks of the Thessalonians as brothers beloved by God.  This is a phrase applied by the Jews only to supremely great men like Moses and Solomon, and to the nation of Israel itself.  Now the greatest privilege of the greatest men of God’s chosen people has been extended to the humblest of the Gentiles (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 187). How does being loved by God make a difference in your life?

1st Reading — Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6

Cyrus was a Persian of Indo-European descent, who rose to power quickly.  In fewer than 20 years, he was victorious over Media (549 BC), then over Lydia (546 BC) and finally over Babylonia (539 BC).  This made him the head of the largest empire of the then known world. Because he was tolerant and understanding of differences, his reign was seen as a real turning point in ancient history. He allowed all who had been taken into exile by Babylonia to return to their own lands.  The time of exile for the Jews had become a time for rethinking about and deepening their faith, rather than a time for all-out despair.  Newly reliant on God, the exiles were eager to discover and welcome those signs of divine involvement that were pointed out to them by the prophets.  So while the pagan world saw Cyrus as being taken by the hand of Bel-Marduk, the chief god of Babylonia, the Jews saw Cyrus as being used by Yahweh, the one and only God, to free his people and bring them home.  (Celebrations, October, 1999 & 2002)

This 2nd Isaiah proclaims that true reality is a theocracy where God rules. Despite the reality of exile and hardship, God is ultimately in charge. Here we see the prophet giving voice to a rather new insight for the Jews. Their God who had protected them, called them out of slavery, and formed them as a nation also cared about other people. Their God was the God that was over all people guiding and caring for all throughout history. History is a stream in which light and darkness, well-being and evil are constantly mingled. But this prophet would have us trust that God is in the mingling and the flowing stream of life. (Celebration, Oct. 2005)

Again we hear the words that Israel is God’s chosen one, but that God wants all people to know God.  We are God’s chosen.  Henri Nouwen says, “It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout:  ‘You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody – unless you can demonstrate the opposite.’  These negative voices are so loud and so persistent that it is easy to believe them.  That’s the great trap,” (Life of the Beloved, p. 31).  What other words do you associate with CHOSEN?

The Gospel – Matthew 22: 15-21

John Pilch points out that in Jesus’ culture such public questioning was never neutral – it was always seen as challenging to one’s honor. Jesus, too, ‘values’ honor – but his ‘honor’ comes from authentically pleasing God. He shows his questioners to be hypocrites by the very fact that they can present the Roman coin, something very shameful for the Pharisee to even touch much less to have with him or one of ‘his friends,’ the Herodians. These two groups were usually enemies, but they seem willing to ‘swallow’ what seems right in order to ‘get’ Jesus and to shame him. Jesus, nevertheless, exposes their true shame before the people. Jesus would like them to see that they should drop their game playing and do what is pleasing to God. (The Cultural World of Jesus, cycle A, 151-153)

Who are the Herodians?  It is much disputed among theologians as to whether they were a religious sect who thought Herod was the Messiah, or perhaps anti-Roman Jews.  It is most probable that they were those who favored the house of Herod, supporting Herodian rule and the Roman rule upon which it rested.  In other words, they think like Herod  (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 357).   How did Herod think?  Well, he was famously paranoid to the point that he coined the phrase, “Better to be a pig than a son in the house of Herod.”  Herod did not eat pork but he did kill three of his children when he suspected them of wanting to usurp his throne,”  (Powell’s Introducing the New Testament, p. 27).  In other words, he was blinded by power.

St Thomas More (later beheaded by King Henry VIII of England) said that when a person separates their conscience from their public duty, they rush the nation toward chaos.  What do you think?

“It is not always easy to know how to apply one’s convictions to particular issues.  But we are never excused from doing so.  For conscience remains the litmus test of all our behavior.  All of us live in the human city, but we are always mindful of our primary citizenship in the city of God,” (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 671).

“If the symbols used to express the nature and actions of God do not find confirmation in and through one’s own experiences, then we should not be surprised to find that the reasons for being moral, the principles and values inferred from these symbols, and the actions required by them will have no persuasive power over one’s life,”  (Gula’s Reason Informed by Faith, p. 55).  Knowing God is a lived experience!  We aren’t motivated to do something if we don’t understand why we’re doing it.  Let’s look at the life of St. Augustine:

“For there was nothing I could reply when you called me:  Rise, thou that sleepest and arise from the dead:  and Christ shall enlighten thee; and whereas You showed me by every evidence that Your words were true, there was simply nothing I could answer save only laggard lazy words:  ‘Soon,’ ‘Quite soon,’ ‘Give me just a little while.”…”How long, how long shall I go on saying tomorrow and again tomorrow?  Why not now, why not have an end to my uncleanness this very hour?”…(and after reading scripture and experiencing conversion)…”You, Lord, alone have made me dwell in hope,”  (Confessions, p. 165, 178, 191).

This story can provoke questions in us:  Do I get distracted by things in life so as not to follow where God is leading me?  Do I (or someone I know) create drama in life rather than live in an honest way?  Where do I put my energy?  To what extent do I let my conscience help me make my decisions?  How do I live a CHOSEN life?

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

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).

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

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)

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading: Exodus 22: 20-26

This pericope is the Covenant Code between God and God’s people.  Certain classes are singled out:  strangers, widows, orphans, the poor.  God always sides with the marginalized.  God reminds them that they were once strangers too.  It’s like that saying not to know what someone is going through unless you walk a mile in their shoes.

From Henri Nouwen, Here and Now:

Compassion – which means, literally, “to suffer with” – is the way to the truth that we are most ourselves, not when we differ from others, but when we are the same (p. 135).  The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility!  In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid…It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless – toward all who ask for compassion.  What do they have to offer?  Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and pece of the children of God (pgs. 138-139).

The 2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 1: 5-10

Paul seems very pleased with this early church.  They must have been living Jesus’ words sincerely in their lives.  He seems to emphasize the effect of modeling that sincerity, without the need to even say anything.

Paul speaks of the “joy from the Holy Spirit” in the Thessalonians for reaching out the others.  Henri Nouwen says, “Joy is the secret gift of compassion.  We keep forgetting it and thoughtlessly look elsewhere.  But each time we return to where there is pain, we get a new glimpse of the joy that is not of this world,” (p. 142).

The Gospel: Matthew 22: 34-40

From Eduard Schweizer, The Gospel According to Matthew:

Jesus “explicitly places the commandment to love one’s neighbor on equal footing with the commandment to love God, and adds that ‘the entire Law and the prophets’ depend (literally ‘hang’) on these two commandments, perhaps the way a door hangs on its hinges.  Then righteousness as a whole depends on the fulfillment of these two commandments . . . they are (together) the ‘great’ commandment because they are the only ones needed. Jesus fuses these two and, thus, prescribes how to perform the first: only the first commandment is called ‘great,’ but the second is equal to it, for one can love God only by loving one’s neighbor (425-426).”

To love was to have a sense of belonging to that person or group. In other words, to love another was to treat that person as a member of one’s family.  To love God was to belong totally to God. In biblical terms, the heart was considered the center of a person’s entire being – the life, emotion, and totality of that person.  The soul was the life force or physical life itself.  Matthew seems to use mind instead of strength in order to stress the element of understanding and decision that is required to turn one’s heart over completely to God.  Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 553

Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), a clergyman, author, and proponent of the Social Gospel Movement, wrote: “I am only one, but still I am one.  I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

From Dorothy Day, Selected Writings:

We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying, “We need bread.” We could not say, “Go, be thou filled.” If there were six loaves and a few fishes, we had to divide them. There was always bread. We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us.  Let those who can take it, take it.  Some moved out and that made room for more.  And somehow, the walls expanded. (362-363).

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

Let us pray our 2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-5…

 This letter was probably written about 50-51 AD.  Paul was a tentmaker who came in contact with many in the Gentile world. A riot broke out in this city among the Jewish population who resented Paul’s successful reaching out to the Gentiles there.  Paul and Silvanus had to flee.  Because of this hasty departure, Paul soon writes this letter to express his prayerful thoughts and wishes for this new ‘church’ . . .  (Birmingham, W & W, p.544-545)

1st Reading — Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6

Cyrus was a Persian of Indo-European descent, who rose to power quickly.  In fewer than 20 years, he was victorious over Media (549 BC), then over Lydia (546 BC) and finally over Babylonia (539 BC).  This made him the head of the largest empire of the then known world. Because he was tolerant and understanding of differences, his reign was seen as a real turning point in ancient history. He allowed all who had been taken into exile by Babylonia to return to their own lands.  The time of exile for the Jews had become a time for rethinking about and deepening their faith, rather than a time for all-out despair.  Newly reliant on God, the exiles were eager to discover and welcome those signs of divine involvement that were pointed out to them by the prophets.  So while the pagan world saw Cyrus as being taken by the hand of Bel-Marduk, the chief god of Babylonia, the Jews saw Cyrus as being used by Yahweh, the one and only God, to free his people and bring them home.  (Celebrations, October, 1999 & 2002)

This 2nd Isaiah proclaims that true reality is a theocracy where God rules. Despite the reality of exile and hardship, God is ultimately in charge. Here we see the prophet giving voice to a rather new insight for the Jews. Their God who had protected them, called them out of slavery, and formed them as a nation also cared about other people. Their God was the God that was over all people guiding and caring for all throughout history. History is a stream in which light and darkness, well-being and evil are constantly mingled. But this prophet would have us trust that God is in the mingling and the flowing stream of life. (Celebration, Oct. 2005)

The Gospel – Matthew 22: 15-21

John Pilch points out that in Jesus’ culture such public questioning was never neutral – it was always seen as challenging to one’s honor. Jesus, too, ‘values’ honor – but his ‘honor’ comes from authentically pleasing God. He shows his questioners to be hypocrites by the very fact that they can present the Roman coin, something very shameful for the Pharisee to even touch much less to have with him or one of ‘his friends,’ the Herodians. These two groups were usually enemies, but they seem willing to ‘swallow’ what seems right in order to ‘get’ Jesus and to shame him. Jesus, nevertheless, exposes their true shame before the people. Jesus would like them to see that they should drop their game playing and do what is pleasing to God. (The Cultural World of Jesus, cycle A, 151-153)

Tertullian (160-220 AD) called humans “the coins of God” who belong to God. First and foremost, we are God’s. Rome demanded a denarius, one day’s wage, from everyone in the empire. Jesus seemed not to be too bothered by this fact. But, he takes seriously that God wants all that we are – not for our detriment, but for life. Only God is Lord of all. (Celebration, Oct. 2005)

St Thomas More (later beheaded by King Henry VIII of England) said that when a person separates their conscience from their public duty, they rush the nation toward chaos.  What do you think?

Note how focused and ‘centered’ Jesus is. He does not get flustered by their false praise or their desire to trap him. He shows us that when God is truly the center of our lives, there is no problem with giving others their due. Conversely, giving others their due does not necessarily compromise God as the center of our lives. Jesus shows that single-mindedness about God is even better expressed when we know clearly God’s place — then we know everyone else’s place. (Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, 256)

“It is not always easy to know how to apply one’s convictions to particular issues.  But we are never excused from doing so.  For conscience remains the litmus test of all our behavior.  All of us live in the human city, but we are always mindful of our primary citizenship in the city of God,” (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 671)