Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Will Follow You, Lord, Wherever You Go!

First Reading
Nehemiah 2:1-8

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart."

I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?"

The king said to me, "What is it you want?"

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, "If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it."

Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, "How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?" It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

I also said to him, "If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king's forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?" And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.


In the first chapter of the Book of the Prophet Nehemiah, his brother Hanani had come from Judah to visit him in Persia, where he was an important official in the service of the King. Hanani told him about the Jews who had escaped the slaughter by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, and were living in Judah, where they suffered much trouble and shame. The walls of the city of David were now reduced to heaps of rubble, and the gates of the city had been burned to ashes.

In today’s First Reading we read that after Nehemiah heard the bad news from Judah, he prayed. He asked God to help him so that he could say the right thing to the king. Four months later he had his opportunity. He did not waste the four months. He continued to pray. In the end, he felt confident about what God wanted him to say.

Nehemiah’s face was sad when he served the wine to the king. He had not been sad before when he was with the king. In those days servants had to be happy when they were with the king (Esther 4:2).

But Nehemiah was sad that day. And the king could see that Nehemiah was sad. The king might have been very angry and Nehemiah was afraid. But God was in control and so the king was kind to Nehemiah. The king asked Nehemiah why he was sad. So Nehemiah told the king the bad news about Jerusalem.

Nehemiah chose his words carefully. It seems that he did not actually name Jerusalem. In the past, the king had been worried about Jerusalem (Ezra 4:19). At that time, the king did not want the Jews to rebuild the city. So Nehemiah simply spoke about the city where his ancestors were buried. He mentioned their graves for another reason too. Often, people believe that they should take great care of graves, because of their religion. Nehemiah hoped that the king would feel sympathy for him.

The king asked Nehemiah what he wanted. This was Nehemiah’s opportunity, so he prayed. But he only had a moment to pray this prayer. Then Nehemiah told the king what he (Nehemiah) wanted to do. He asked the king to send him to Judah so that he could build the city again. Nehemiah was very bold to say this. But he believed that God had heard his prayers. So he was confident.

Nehemiah was an important servant to the king. Now Nehemiah was asking the king to send him to Judah. The journey from Persia to Judah on foot would take four months, so Nehemiah would be away from the king for a long time. He also was asking the king to change his decision about Jerusalem. Earlier the king had stopped the people who wanted to build the city again (Ezra 4:21). On the other hand, Nehemiah was also asking the king to send him away from his comfortable life in Persia. He would have to make a long hard journey. Then he would have to work hard to build Jerusalem again. This is why he asked the king to allow him to go there.

The king knew that Nehemiah was a good and loyal servant. The king and queen would have liked Nehemiah to remain in the palace. But God wanted Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem. So the king asked Nehemiah how long he would be away from the palace. Nehemiah worked out how long the journey would take.

Nehemiah was confident that it was God’s will for him to go to Judah. So Nehemiah became even bolder. He asked the king for more help. He wanted the king to protect him as he travelled on his four month long journey. He asked the king for wood for the city gates. Nehemiah already knew what he needed to do. So he was able to explain all the details to the king. God was looking after Nehemiah. So the king gave to Nehemiah what he asked for.

+++    +++    +++    +++   

Luke 9:57-62

As Jesus and his disciples were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."


The first man was eager to follow Jesus; but he had not thought about the kind of life a follower of Jesus would be leading. Jesus describes the lifestyle of his disciples in word pictures: foxes have foxholes, birds have bird nests, but the Son of Man and his followers have no place to lay their heads. The man is not mentioned again – he must have walked away.

The second man wanted to wait, rather than to follow Jesus at once. It is unlikely that his father had just died, and he wanted to wait until after the funeral. Rather, he wanted to stay at home with his father until the older man passed from this world to the next. Jesus answered that when he called someone to follow him, there should be no delay. There are other people who have not been called to be disciples that can take care of burying the dead, while those who have been called bring the message of God’s kingdom to the four corners of the world.

Finally, there is the man who wishes to follow Jesus, but first wants to go and bid farewell to his family at home. It would seem that this inquirer is not from the city, but from the countryside, since Jesus speaks about a farmer who is plowing in his field. If he keeps his eyes straight ahead, the furrow will be straight. The message is that someone who keeps looking back at his former life is not ready to be a disciple, because, like the plowman whose eyes wander, he is not focused on the mission at hand.

Jesus spoke honestly about the cost of discipleship. He did not try to hide, or even to minimize the difficulties. Someone who has made a decision to follow Jesus must strive to be completely loyal to this commitment. Bearing witness to the truth is more important than other responsibilities. This sometimes includes tending the fields and tending the family. On the other hand, Jesus makes it clear elsewhere that the Commandment “Honor thy father and thy mother” maintains a high priority (see Matthew 15:3-6; Mark 7:9-13).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bless The LORD, All You Angels, You Ministers Who Do His Will

First Reading
Revelation 12:7-12

There was a war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and its angels fought back. But the dragon was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent that from the beginning has led people into sin (Genesis 3:1-7) – was thrown down to earth, and its angels as well.

Then John heard a loud voice from heaven say: “Now salvation and power have come, the Kingdom of our God, and of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who testifies against them day and night before God, has been cast out. He has been vanquished by the Blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. For love of life did not cause them to shrink from death. Therefore, let the heavens rejoice, and all who dwell in them!

John 1:47-51

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said about him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no guile.” Jesus had never met Nathanael, but he knew him. He knew that he was a faithful worshipper of the LORD, and he knew that there was nothing two-faced about him.

Nathanael was taken aback. “How do you know me?” he asked. Jesus answered, “While you were still under the fig tree, before Philip called you, I saw you.” Fig trees are very leafy, and provide good shade. It was common in the Holy Land for people to sit in the shade of the fig tree to rest, to pray, and to read the scriptures. Nathanael was surprised that Jesus knew what he was doing before Philip was called him. It persuaded Nathanael that Jesus was the Son of God and the King of Israel. Jesus told him that he would see much greater things. In fact, all of the disciples of Jesus would see greater things.

Then he said to Nathanael, “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

This may be a reference to Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:12), in which Jacob saw a ladder that reached from earth to heaven, and angels going up and down the ladder. Jesus is like Jacob’s latter, because he connects people to God. He does this by offering himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of his brothers and sisters. By his death on the cross, Jesus would heal the relationship between the God and his people. Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. This reminds us that Jesus is God, the only-begotten Son of the Father, but at the same time, he is the Son of Mary, sharing human nature with her, with me, and with you.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Humblest One Among You Is The One Who Is The Greatest

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Book of the Prophet Zechariah 8:1-8. According to some Bible scholars, this is the last chapter of the Book of Zechariah. Chapters 9-13, they say, are from a different prophet. If they are correct, then this book is like the book of Amos, the book of Isaiah, and of several other prophets: It ends with a message of hope!

Notice that the word “jealous” is repeated three times at the beginning of this reading. If this message had been composed in English, it would read “very, very, very jealous”. But in the Hebrew, the verse reads, “stirred to burning wrath” or “on fire with anger”.

God says that he will dwell in Jerusalem with his people. This means that God’s glory will again be in the temple. The mountain of the Lord is Zion, where God’s temple was built. It was holy because God is holy.

There had been terrible wars in Jerusalem. People there died before they got old. Enemies took children off to be slaves. Now, the Lord was speaking about at time when Jerusalem would be at peace. Now, there will be people in the streets of the city, from the very young to the very old. Children will play in the streets, and old folks will sit in the park watching them play.

In the eyes of the few people who remain in the city, these things seem impossible. It would take a miracle! A miracle is something that would be impossible without God’s intervention. But will it be impossible for God? The answer that Zechariah hears is “No!”

Where are all these people going to come from? God will bring them from “where the sun rises” and “where the sun sets”, that is, from the east and from the west. God has scattered his people to the four corners of the earth; now, he is going to bring them home again, to dwell in Jerusalem, in the shadow of Zion, the Temple Mount, where the LORD dwells.

The reading ends with a statement of the covenant between God and his people, in his own words: “They shall be my people, and I will be their God.” And the LORD will rule over them with fidelity and justice.

Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke 9:46-50.

An argument arose among the disciples of Jesus about which of them was the most important. Jesus knew what they were arguing about. So, he took a little child and placed the child at his side. He said to the disciples “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me, and welcomes the one who sent me, for the humblest one among you is the one who is the greatest.” It was John who answered, “Rabbi, we saw someone casting out demons using your name. We told him to stop because he does not belong to our group.” “Do not try to stop him!” Jesus said. “Anyone who is not against you is for you.”

To welcome a little child is an example of service to someone who has no important position. Jesus meant that anyone who was willing to serve him in any humble way is ‘great’. He did not use the word ‘greatest’, which means ‘the most important’. The people who serve Jesus must not compare themselves with one another.

John’s comment about the man who was casting out demons raises a question about his motivation. Where the apostles envious of the man’s success? They had just failed to cure a boy possessed by a demon. Was he simply being protective of the right of the Twelve to work wonders in Jesus’ name? The man who was casting out demons was not a member of the Twelve. But he was a friend of Jesus. Jesus ends this dialogue with an aphorism which is a core principle of the relationship between God and his people: God’s power to free his children from the power of evil spirits is not limited to Jesus and his companions. “For whoever is not against you is for you.”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Would That All Of God's People Spoke In His Name!

In today’s First Reading (Numbers 11:25-29) the LORD told Moses to choose seventy elders, to whom he would grant his Spirit, the same Spirit he had granted to Moses. When the elders received the Spirit, they began to prophesy. They did not do this by natural or human means, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, had stayed in the camp, but they also began to prophesy. So, when a young man went to Moses and told him, Joshua, Moses’ aide, was concerned. Perhaps he thought that Moses was going to lose his authority. Or he may have been concerned that Eldad and Medad had not received the Holy Spirit, but some other spirit. He went to Moses and said, Moses, my lord, stop them!”

Moses was not disturbed. He was happy that these men had received God’s Spirit too. He knew that they were speaking on God’s behalf. That is what the word “prophesy” really means. These men were not predicting the future. That is something a prophet does only when God assigns them that task, sometimes to warn the people of danger, sometimes to encourage them as they journey toward the land of promise. They were praising God, and encouraging the people to praise God, too. It is the Holy Spirit who gave them this power. Moses had no reason to be jealous of his gift of prophesy. He was happy to share it with the 68 who came to the Tent where the presence of God abided, and just as happy to share it with the two who had stayed behind in the camp. His response was “Would that the LORD might bestow his Spirit on them all!

+++    +++     +++    +++   

In today’s Second Reading, (James 5:1-6), James speaks to the well-to-do people. He warns about the punishment that would come upon the rich. He does not call on them to change their ways, to escape the judgment of God. He speaks about the fate that will come to them.

The day will come when they will weep and wail in their misery. Their wealth has rotted away; their clothes have become moth-eaten, their gold and silver have been corroded, and that corrosion has become a testimony against them.

The message is clear that the riches of this world have no lasting value. The stain and dirt on their gold and silver is like a poison. It will be as evidence against them in front of God. The wealth of those who do not trust in God accuses them. They trusted in their riches but riches will be of no value to them. Here is a terrible picture of the last judgement. It will be like a fire that burns up their bodies. It is as if their wealth adds fuel to the flames of that fire. Instead of helping the poor, they kept all their wealth for themselves. Their crime was that they were greedy and selfish. Much of their wealth came from the poor. But they did not care about the poor. The poor suffered at the hands of the rich.

James says that the rich have heaped up wealth in the last days. The last days are the period of time between the first coming and the second coming of Jesus. The days in which we live are the last days. At the end of these last days, there will be the judgement. James has that future event in mind as well. It is as if the wealth of the rich people will increase their punishment. That will be in the day when God judges them.

James accuses the rich because they had not paid their workers. They had kept back the wages of the workers who worked in their fields. The Law of Moses says that employers must be good to their workers. They must pay the wages to the hired workers for the work that they have done. They must not delay that payment, but pay it as soon as it comes due.

If a worker suffers and cries to God, God will hear the prayer. The wrong done to the poor worker would itself cry out to God against that rich person. It is as if the coins in the rich person’s pockets cry out that they are guilty. God is the *Lord of all power. It is he who will act for the poor against the wicked rich persons. God will punish those who cause the poor to suffer.

The rich people lived in luxury and for their own pleasure. That way of life shows that they did not care about the needs of other people. They lived for themselves alone. They lived in the excess of luxury. But they were not aware of the judgment that was soon to come upon them. The farmer feeds his animals to make them fat before he kills them. The rich are just like that. They are preparing themselves for their end. They are making themselves ready for the day when God will judge them.

James says that the rich had caused the death of innocent people. The picture is of the rich taking the righteous poor to the law courts. The judges in these courts were themselves rich owners of land. So, the wealthy persons were always able to win. There was no *justice for the poor person. As a result, the courts would decide that the poor person was guilty. That often meant the death of the innocent person. It may also be that the rich, by this means, took from the poor. As a result, the poor would suffer and lack what they needed for living. As they died, the rich had in effect murdered them. The poor could not defend themselves. There was no help for them against the rich persons. They had to be patient in their suffering and put their hope and trust in God.

+++    +++    +++    +++   

In today’s gospel (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48) John asks Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name. We tried to stop him, because he does not follow us.” John is speaking for himself and for the other disciples. If someone did not belong to their group, he should be stopped. But Jesus told his disciples not to stop anyone whose faith was working for him.

We should be glad when other people are successful, and we should not turn our backs on those who worship and serve God in a different way. Either someone is on God’s side, or against him. Those who do good deeds are on God’s side. If someone assists a follower of Christ, God will reward that person. “A cup of water” shows that the assistance might not be an important consideration. Even an apparently insignificant gesture, such as giving someone a cup of water to a thirsty person, deserves a reward.

The disciples are responsible to him for the “the little ones”, an expression which includes not only children, but recent converts to the Way of Jesus, whose faith is not yet mature. It was a common form of execution in Jesus’ time to place a millstone round the neck of criminals and cast them into the Mediterranean, or the Sea of Galilee, or some other body of water. Jesus tells his disciples that they are responsible for children and for new converts. Disciples who cause a child or a new and weak Christian to sin deserve that form of execution.

Our hands, feet and eyes can cause us to commit sins. The fruit that tempted Eve was “delightful to the eyes, and seemed delicious” (Genesis 3:6). We can go on foot or in a vehicle to a place where we are likely to commit sin. When Jesus says “If your hand or foot leads you to see cut it off, and if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out”, he is not telling his disciples to maim themselves, but using vivid imagery to remind us that committing can cost us an even greater penalty – the loss of eternal life. It is better to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than to be cast into Gehenna where “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Isaiah 66:24). Gehenna is the name of a valley outside Jerusalem which was used as the city dump. If you’ve ever been to a city dump, the stench is likely rising in your nostrils. It is the word the Jews used as a metaphor for the place where God would punish the wicked eternally.

But there is hope, if we follow these counsels of Jesus: "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15). “It is the will of My Father that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:40)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Meaning Was Hidden, So That They Could Not Understand.

First Reading: Zechariah 2:5-9. 14-15a

In the previous chapter of the book of the Prophet Zechariah, God had promised that his people would rebuild Jerusalem. Now, Zechariah sees a man with a measuring line, an architect or engineer who was about to mark off the place where the walls of the new city would be built. Walls around the city would make the city safe, so that the people of God could build houses for themselves and a temple for the LORD.

Then the angel who has been Zechariah’s guide goes to speak with another angel, who has a message from God to the young man with the measuring line. The new city would not need walls with ramparts and watchtowers built around it. There were three reasons for this: God invited all comers to enter Jerusalem. It would be God himself who would protect the city not with stone walls, but with a wall of fire. And within the city, God would dwell in the midst of his chosen people, and all who chose to join them there.


Gospel :Luke 9:43b-45

While the people were astonished at his every deed, Jesus said to his disciples: “‘Give careful attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is going to be handed over to men.” But the apostles did not understand what he meant. The meaning of what he said was hidden from them, and they did not understand. But they were afraid to ask him to explain what he had said.

+++    +++    +++     +++

“The meaning of what he said was hidden from them, so that they could not understand.” Another translation reads: “Something prevented them from grasping what he meant ...” Whenever we don’t understand, or we don’t want to understand, there always seems to be “something” that prevents us from understanding. Surely, the problem can’t be within us – or can it? It may be fear that makes us look away – which is the first step toward running away. The Twelve “were afraid to ask him to explain what he had said”, according to Luke. Why were they afraid? Wasn’t he their friend, their rabbi? They had no reason to fear him. Truth told, it was not Jesus that they were afraid of. They were afraid that what he was saying was true, and they did not want to hear it.

“There is no reason to be afraid of the truth” is something we were often told as children. But the truth is, there’s every reason! Truth told, there’s no reason to be afraid of anything else. If I lie, I am turning my back on the truth, because I’m afraid to face it. A lie is an evasion intended to preserve my sense of well-being. Lies are afraid of nothing as much as the truth, because the truth has the power to destroy them. “The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light…” (John 3:19). “Are you afraid of the dark?” “No, I'm afraid of the light!” If I look at myself in the light, I might have to admit to myself that I am not righteous, but a sinner.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Son of Man Must Suffer Greatly And Be Rejected.

Reading 1

Haggai 2:1-9

In the second year of the reign of Darius, King of Persia, on the twenty-first day of the seventh month (that would be October 17, on our calendar) the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai. He was told to speak to Zerubbabel, the Governor of Judah, and to Jeshua, the High Priest, and to the remnant of the people.

“Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory?” he asked them. The glory of the Temple of Jerusalem had been gone for seven decades, since Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, had destroyed it. “How does it look to you now?” The old people who remembered the temple as it was did not think the new temple was as good as the original.

Then the prophet addressed the word of the LORD to the High Priest. “Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak. Be strong, all you people of the land,” says the LORD, “and work, for I am with you. This is the pact I made with you when you came out of Egypt, and my spirit continues to be with you. Do not be afraid!”

The word of the LORD continued: “In a little while, I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake the nations, and the desire of the nations will come, and fill this house with glory.” The LORD Almighty said, “The glory of the new temple will be greater than the glory of the former temple. And in this place, I shall grant peace.”

As Christians, we recognize that this prophesy speaks of the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. He glorified the Temple when he was brought there to be circumcised. The glory of the Temple was greater because Jesus preached there. He glorified it again when he chased the moneychangers away, “You have made the House of God a den of thieves!” The last words of the prophecy are these “In this place, I will give you peace, says the LORD of hosts.” But here, Jesus is not speaking of the Temple in Jerusalem, but of the Temple of his body, which will be offered up as a victim for our sins. The sacrifice of his human life in atonement for our sins is the source of our salvation, and of our peace.

Luke 9:18-22

One day, when Jesus was praying alone, the apostles came to him. ‘Who do the people say that I am?’ he asked them. They answered, ‘Some people are saying that you are John the Baptist. Other people say that you are Elijah. Other people say that one of the *prophets of long ago has come back to life’. Jesus said to them, ‘What about you? Who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah whom God has sent’. Then Jesus gave them strict orders that they were not to tell anyone. He also told them, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things. The *elders, chief priests and the teachers of the law will refuse to accept him. People will kill him. But three days later God will raise him to life’.

The questions Jesus asks the Apostles are two-fold, and the answers to each question are different. The answer to Jesus’ question “Who do people say that I am?” reflect the different perspectives people had about him. Some thought that Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the dead. Others said that he was Elijah, whose return from the abode of the dead would be a sign that the coming of the Messiah was at hand. When Jesus asked them who he is, the answer was quite different, and on the mark. It was Peter, who said, “The Christ of God”, in Hebrew, “the Messiah”.

The response to Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus is this: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes. And he will be killed, but on the third day, he will rise again.” The expression “Son of Man” is a title of power and of honor. Here Jesus uses the title for himself. He said that he “must” suffer. The passion and death of Jesus were a necessary part of God’s plan. It is his willing sacrifice of his own life which opened the gates of Heaven for all of us.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

This Is The Word Of The Lord.

Reading 1
Haggai 1:1-8

During the second year of the reign of Darius, King of Persia, on the first day of the sixth month (which, on our calendar, would be August 29) the LORD spoke through Haggai the prophet to the leader of the people of Judah, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and to the High Priest Jeshua, son of Jehozadak.

Thus says the LORD of Hosts through the voice of the prophet Haggai: “People are saying that it is not time to rebuild the house of the LORD. But you are living in fine, well-furnished houses, while this house (God’s temple) lies in ruins. Think twice about what you are doing. You have sown much seed, but little has grown. You have eaten, but not been satisfied. You have drunk, but have not been exhilarate. You have clothed yourselves, but your clothes do not keep you warm. You have worked for wages, but your money bag has a hole in it.

The LORD of Hosts says: “Think again about what you are doing. Go up into the hill country and bring back timber to build my house. That will make me happy, and give me glory. This is the word of the LORD.


Luke 9:7-9

Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee, heard about what was happening in the territory which he administered under Roman rule. He was especially concerned because people were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead”, while others were saying, “Elijah has appeared; still others said, “One of the prophets of old has returned.” Herod had a guilty conscience, and kept reminding himself that he had ordered the death of John the Baptist at the request of Herodias. But he kept asking himself, “Then, who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he kept trying to see him.

+++    +++    +++    +++

Jesus started out as a street preacher in the towns and villages of Galilee. But now he is starting to attract the attention of the authorities. The synagogue officials in Nazareth are uncomfortable with the way he preaches – with authority. Herod the younger, one of four governors of Galilee, (which is why he is called “tetrarch”) is trying to figure out just who Jesus is. He has heard the rumors: Some say that he is John the Baptist brought back to life. Others, that one of the prophets of old has returned; and some even name Elijah. Now, that would have been disturbing to anyone who was familiar with the prophesies: Elijah and the prophets were supposed to return at the end of the ages, when God would come to judge the world by fire.

The fact is that what was bothering Herod, sometimes giving him bad dreams, sometimes keeping him awake all night long. The truth is that what was bothering Herod was not the ghost of the prophet he had executed, nor that of a precursor of the end of the ages. It was his own bad conscience that was causing his insomnia.

Herod’s appearance in the Gospel at this juncture is ominous, especially his interest in Jesus. It is at this point mere curiosity, unlike the genuine interest that true disciples have in him. Consider, in contrast, the response of the Twelve, especially Peter, in Luke 9:18:20.

The mere mention of Herod’s name is sufficient to remind us of the passion and death of Jesus. The three verses of today’s gospel reading are slipped in between the mission of the Twelve, and their return with reports of their success. These few words set the theme: suffering and death will be the lot of Jesus’ disciples, just as it had been for Jesus and for John before him. When Jesus says, “Come, follow me”, we have two choices: to go with him, as the Twelve did, or to walk away sad, like the rich young man. There are no easy options: and don’t say you haven’t been warned!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Blessed Be God Who Lives Forever!

Reading 1 (Ezra 9:5-9)

Ezra had been fasting, and had torn his cloak and his mantle, as a sign of mourning. Now, at the time of the evening sacrifice he knelt, lifted his hands toward the LORD and began to pray: O my God, I am too embarrassed and ashamed to turn my face to you, because the many wicked deeds are heaped above our heads, and our guilt reaches up to the heavens.

Ezra himself was not disobedient to the mission God had given him. He had not done the things that some of the people had done. But he prayed as if he were the greatest of sinners. He made himself the “scapegoat”, who does penance on behalf of the people, just as , according to the Law of Moses, a yearling lamb taken from either the sheep or the goats, was slaughtered and roasted over an open flame as a substitute sin-offering, a sign of penance, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement in the midst of the festivities of the New Year that begins at the fall equinox. This year Rosh Hashanah was celebrated on September 21-22; Yom Kippur will be September 28.

But now, for a short time, the LORD has shown kindness to his people. He has allowed some of them to return from exile. He has given them security in the holy place. As for the Jews who remain in exile, although they are still slaves, according to the laws of Persia, they have been granted freedom of worship. The LORD has even moved the pagan King Darius not only to allow, but to finance, the rebuilding of the Temple.


Responsorial Psalm

Taken from the Book of Tobit, Chapter 13, this psalm echoes the same themes as the Reading from Ezra, which is why, contrary to custom, it is included here:

R. Blessed be God, who lives forever.

He scourges and then has mercy;
he casts down to the depths of the nether world,
and he brings up from the great abyss.
No one can escape his hand.

Praise him, you children of Israel, before the Gentiles,
for though he has scattered you among them,
he has shown you his greatness even there.
So now consider what he has done for you,
and praise him with full voice.

Bless the Lord of righteousness,
and exalt the King of ages.
In the land of my exile I praise him
and show his power and majesty to a sinful nation.

Bless the Lord, all you his chosen ones,
and may all of you praise his majesty.
Celebrate days of gladness, and give him praise.

R. Blessed be God, who lives forever.

Gospel: Luke 9:1-6

In Chapter 8 of Luke’s gospel, we accompanied Jesus on his journey through the towns and villages of Galilee, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and several women who had been cured of disease, or freed from of evil spirits, including Mary Magdalene, from whom seven demons had been released.

At the end of the chapter, Jesus freed a pagan man from the power of demons, and healed a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, and raised the daughter of a synagogue official from her death bed.

In today’s gospel Jesus summoned the Twelve and gave them authority over evil spirits, and power to heal the sick. Those who opposed Jesus were making it more difficult for him, and he knew that his time in Galilee would soon be coming to an end. It is the Twelve who will carry on his mission, even after he has returned to the Father.

His instructions were simple and straightforward. Carry nothing with you for the journey: no walking stick, or satchel, or food, or money, not even a second tunic. Trust the LORD to provide everything necessary. They should stay in the same house where they were first invited. They should not waste time and energy on those who do not make them welcome, but shake the dust from their sandals and move on. “This will be testimony against them” says Jesus to the Twelve.

And so the Twelve set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

+++    +++    +++    +++   

Jesuit Father Donagh O’Shea, a frequent source of inspiration (and sometimes of text), tells a story: On a train he was seated next to a man with an enormous suitcase, that contained everything he might need during his day away from home: an umbrella in case it rained, sun lotion, if the sun came out – not always the case on a summer’s day in the Emerald Isle. The suitcase was so big it wouldn’t fit in the overhead or under the seat, and it had to be kept in the freight carriage, at the far end of the train, but the man was adamant that he would not move closer to his baggage. During the journey, the man got quite involved in complaints about the problems of the transportation system, and how difficult it was for the ordinary passenger, that he missed his stop, and found himself separated from his suitcase (which, of course, had been removed from the train at the proper stop). His panic knew no bounds! As the train moved on, he was standing on the platform, waving his arms, his face flushed with desperation. He had discovered the meaning of “take nothing for the journey”, but it might be a long time before he would appreciate the lesson learned.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Those Who Hear God's Word And Act On It Are My Mother, And My Sister, And My Brother.

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Book of Ezra (6:7-8, 12b, 14-20)

Ezra tells us of a letter King Darius wrote to his officials, telling them that they must allow the Jews to continue building the Temple. In fact, he ordered them to help the Jews by offering them the taxes collected in the district, so that they could use the money to pay the construction costs. He even told them to give the Jews whatever provisions they needed to offer sacrifices to their God. He went further, issuing a command that anyone who tried to prevent the building of the Jewish temple would be punished severely.

Darius paid homage to many gods, and did not serve the true God; still, he wanted the Jews to pray to their God for himself and his people. So, God spoke to him and through him, and the Temple of Solomon, which had been destroyed by the King of Babylon, was restored through the goodness of the King of Persia. The project was completed in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

Soon after the building of the temple was completed, the Jews held the Passover holiday, which reminded them of the time when God brought their ancestors out of Egypt to the Land of Promise. For the Dedication of this dwelling place of the All-Holy, they offered one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs as a sacrifice, and twelve he-goats as a sin-offering for all of Israel. Finally, they set up the order of priests in their classes, and Levites in their divisions, for the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is prescribed in the Book of Moses. The exiles kept Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Levites sacrificed the Passover for the rest of the exiles, for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (8:9-21)

Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him. But they could not get into the house where he was teaching because of the crowds. Someone told Jesus, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you’. Jesus said, ‘My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s message and obey it’ (Luke 8:9-21).


Hebrew and Aramaic have no word for “cousin”. The other children of my parents are my brothers and sisters. The children of my mother’s siblings and my father’s siblings are also called my brothers and sisters. So, for that matter, are the children of my grand-parents’ siblings. It is a reflection of the underlying truth: We are children of the same God; therefore, we are all brothers and sisters.


Cyril of Alexandria (374 – 444) took pains to say that Jesus was not putting his mother and brothers below his disciples, but rather raising the disciples to their level. “Do not let anyone imagine that Christ scorned the honor due to his mother, or disregarded the love owed to his brothers. He said, ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ How, I ask you, could he have rejected the love due to brothers, he who even commanded us to love not only our brothers but also those who are enemies to us? - he said, ‘Love your enemies….’ The greatest honour and the most complete affection are what we owe to our mothers and brothers. If he says that they who hear his word and do it are his mother and brothers, is it not plain to everyone that he bestows on those who follow him a love thorough and worthy of them?”

Typically, Luke softens the edges of Mark’s account. In Mark, Jesus says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (3:33). Luke omits this phrase, perhaps because it might appear to slight the family. He also displaces it from Mark’s sequence of events, using it here as a nice ending to his section on hearing the word.

We are so used to defending the family that we are apt to forget that it needs first and foremost to be redeemed. Family relationships are capable of becoming very destructive. People can be hurt more deeply by members of their own family than by any stranger. You sometimes meet people who have a feeling of being held prisoner in destructive or stuffy family relationships all their lives.

These relationships need strong and constant injections of God's grace. Jesus was drawing attention to discipleship in this passage; but his statement implies something about family relationships too. Everyone who hears and keeps the word of God is a relative of Jesus. Why not spell it out more fully? If you are trying to live a Christian life you can think of yourself as the Lord's mother, aunt, uncle, younger sister, older sister, brother, cousin, next-door neighbor.... If this awareness entered the soul very deeply we could never again treat any relative badly. Every human relationship would be opened up and made a vehicle for the grace of Christ.

Donagh O’Shea, O.P.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I Did Not Come To Call The Righteous, But Sinners.

On this Feast of Saint Matthew, in the First Reading (Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13) Paul, from prison in Rome, writes to the Church at Ephesus, urging them to live a life worthy of the calling they have received from God. He lists four qualities that a true disciple of Christ should have.

Humility: God loves all of his children to the fullness of his being. So no one is more important than anyone else. To be humble is simply to recognize this. Being humble does not mean putting oneself down, but knowing that what we have – be it talent, or intellect, or wealth – is a gift from God, to be shared with the community of God’s people.
Gentleness: This quality can also be called “self-control”. A gentle person uses strength to help others, whether this strength is strength is physical, intellectual or moral. Jesus said, “Look to me, for I am gentle and humble of heart”.
Patience: When things are not going well, this quality helps us to keep on keeping on, and not give up. “When the going gets tough, the patient person keeps going!”
Tolerance: This quality is a form of patience with regard to other people. It helps us to be patient with the faults of others. Being tolerant does not mean ignoring the sinful behavior of another person, much less approving of it. Take as an example the attitude of Jesus when the Pharisees brought him the woman caught in adultery. His gentleness with her awakened her contrition and conversion. On the other hand, his attitude toward the intolerant Pharisees was intolerant – not of them, but of their behavior.

Some scholars consider verses 4-6 as part of an early Christian hymn, which repeats and elaborates the theme of unity: The word “one” is repeated several times: one body, one spirit, one glorious hope; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and father of us all. Paul concludes this part of the epistle by reminding the Ephesians that every one of us grace in the measure of God’s gift – and each has grace in keeping with our own person, and our own calling.

The second part of today’s epistle Paul writes that Jesus has given certain people to the church as a gift. These people have different gifts, but together they are God’s gift to the Church. Paul then describes the gifts God has given to these people to help other members of the community. Through them God builds up the church, so that it can grow.

The first of these are apostles, who are sent out into the world to bring the message of Christ Jesus to those who have not yet heard it. In Paul’s time, apostles included not only the Twelve, but Paul, Timothy, Barnabas, Silas and others mentioned in his letters and in the Acts of the Apostles. Next are evangelists, who are related to, but distinct from, apostles. Apostles bring the good news to new places. Evangelists preach and teach the good news to the people of their community. Then come pastors and teachers, whose mission is more easily explained -- shepherding and teaching. All of these ministries work together to build up the Body of Christ, which is the Church, until we attain to unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to full maturity, and eventually to the goal of every Christian: to attain the full stature of Christ himself.

The gospel of the Feast of Saint Matthew (Matt. 9:9-13) is the story of the conversion of a customs official called Levi in the gospels of Mark and Luke, but named Matthew in the gospel according to Matthew. In those days, tax collectors and customs officials had a reputation for cheating people so they could get richer quicker. They also were hated because they worked for the occupying forces – the Romans.

As Jesus passed by he saw Matthew at his counting table, and said to him, “Follow me!” Matthew got up and followed him. Then Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to have dinner with him, and invited several of his friends, other tax collectors and other people who did not obey the rules of the Pharisees to share the meal. The Pharisees saw them there together and were offended. But they did not confront Matthew. Instead, they waited until Jesus and his party left Matthew’s house to ask the disciples this question: “Why does your rabbi eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But it was Jesus who answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor; sick people do. Go learn the meaning of the saying: I desire mercy, not sacrifice."

Jesus is referring to Hosea 6:6 which reads “I desire mercy, not sacrifice; knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” In the Old Testament, burnt offerings, called holocausts were offered to God as an act of worship, and also as a sacrifice of atonement for sin. Most people made sacrifices because they were truly sorry for their sins. But others, including the Pharisees, had a notion that sacrifices could be offered first, a sort of prepayment plan for sin.

Jesus, echoing the words of Hosea, teaches that true religion is not about performing rituals, and offering sacrifices, but knowing God, and striving to do his will. Jesus concludes with his answer to the question of why he sat at table with people whose occupation or lifestyle placed them outside the law, at least according to the Pharisees. “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

The words of Jesus “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”, and “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” refer not to what God expects from us, but the love God has for us. Saint Augustine, who has experience whereof he speaks, says, “God created us in order to forgive us.” In return, God asks us to forego judgment and condemnation, and be merciful and forgiving in our attitudes and actions toward one another. “The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”

Sunday, September 20, 2009

If You Seek To Be First In God's Kingdom, Become The Last Of All And The Servant Of All

The Book of Wisdom was composed by a member of the Jewish community at Alexandria in Egypt, about a century before the coming of Christ. The author, who wrote in Greek, often speaks in the person of Solomon, placing his teachings on the lips of the wise king of Hebrew tradition to emphasize their value.

The second chapter of Wisdom, from which today’s First Reading is taken (Wisdom 2:12, 17-20) is a prophecy of the passion of Christ. Wicked and ungodly conspirators plot against the righteous one, seeking to silence him, because he is obnoxious to them. He reproaches them for transgressions of God’s law, and of not following a proper way of life.

They say: Let us see whether his words are true, and that will decide his fate. If he is truly the son of God, He will defend him, and deliver him from his enemies. Let us revile and torture him, to test his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, since, according to his own words, God will take care of him.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Today’s Second Reading (James 3:16 – 4:3) follows the same theme, contrasting “earthly wisdom” with “wisdom from above”. Earthly wisdom is founded on the principle that human intelligence and will should guide our decisions and actions. There is no question of guidance from above, because earthly wisdom is atheistic or agnostic: Either God does not exist, or God is irrelevant. Instead of resolving issues, it worsens disagreements, and causes further confusion.

James teaches that true wisdom comes from above. He lists seven principles to describe true wisdom:

• Pure: It has no selfish ambitions. It is holy, as God is holy.

• Peaceful: It gathers people together, and brings them closer to God.

• Gentle: It is fair and kind. It is patient with human weakness; it is ready to help, not to blame.

• Compliant: It is not self-centred, but is willing to listen to other opinions.

• Merciful: It helps those who are in need, is sympathetic to those who are sad; it seeks the good of all.

• Constant: It does not act out of prejudice. It does not make class distinctions.

• Sincere: It is honest. It does not seek its own benefit at the expense of others.

The first part of today’s reading concludes with a saying of James that has become a proverb in its own right: The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace. Peace means a right relationship with others and with God. If this is not the case, there can be no real righteousness.

In the second part of the reading, James asks, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” The question could be addressed to any assembly of Christians from the 1st century to the 21st. In fact, the answer has been the same from the time Moses received the Tablets of the Law from God on Mount Sinai. Some covet other people’s possessions, or other people’s spouses. Some kill to obtain what they want, but are still not satisfied. God says, “Ask and you shall receive”, but sometimes people do not receive what they pray for. They ask God to give them what they ask for because their motive is not to please God or to perform a good deed on behalf of someone else, but to serve their own selfish, sometimes evil, desires.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Today’s Gospel is taken from the Book of Mark (9:30-37).

The time when Jesus was teaching publicly in Jerusalem was coming to an end. He and his disciples were travelling through Galilee on their way back to Capernaum, but Jesus did not want people to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples about what was going to be happening to him: "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise again."

The disciples did not understand what Jesus had told them, but they were too frightened to ask him to explain. Earlier, he had told them that he would be arrested and would have to suffer. They opposed that idea, and Jesus had scolded them for their lack of faith (Mark 8:32-33). Perhaps they did not to risk another reprimand; or else, they might have learned something even more disturbing, something they preferred not to know.

It might have been that some disciples were envious of Peter, James and John, who had been alone with Jesus on the mountain when he was transfigured in their sight. But all of them still had in mind that Jesus would found an earthly kingdom, and would give them important positions in his realm. When he told them that he would be handed over to men, who would torture and kill him, they did not listen. They were holding on to their more pleasant notions about the Messiah’s purpose, but they kept quiet, since they were ashamed to tell Jesus what they thought, and fearful of the consequences if they asked him further questions.

When they came back to Capernaum, once inside the house, Jesus asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way here?” They did not answer. They had been talking about which one of them would have the highest position, when Jesus came into his kingdom. Then Jesus sat down at the table. Jewish teachers sat to teach their students. The fact that Jesus sat down indicated that he was going to teach his disciples a lesson: If they wanted greatness in his kingdom, they must not seek the most important place. Instead, they must be willing to serve the needs of everyone else.

To underline the need for service, Jesus enacted a parable. He took a little child and had him stand among them. Children have no power, and are totally dependent on help from adults. The disciples of Jesus must serve even little children. But, in the gospel, when Jesus speaks of “children”, he intends to include everyone who is weak or in need of assistance.

Taking the child in his arms, Jesus says to his disciples: "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." When Jesus says, “in my name”, he means “on my behalf, and with my authority”. Humble service to God’s people is service to God himself. And whoever serves God well will be richly rewarded.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Seed That Falls In Good Soil Bears Much Fruit

In today’s First Reading (1 Timothy 6:13-16), Paul charges Timothy in the sight of God, who gives life to all creatures, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment without spot or blame, until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time. The “good confession” is the response of Jesus to Pilate’s question: Are you the King of the Jews? Jesus responded, “I am a King, but not of this world” (cf. Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33-37). The command is to keep and obey all that Jesus and the apostles taught, and to do what the Lord requires. It is a precept that binds not only Paul and Timothy, but every Christian from the time of the Apostles until the day of the Lord’s return in glory.

God only knows the moment when Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. At that moment, Jesus will be acclaimed at King of kings and Lord of Lords, and he shall reign forever and ever. To him are due all honor and eternal power. Amen.

+++    +++    +++    +++

Today’s gospel (Luke 8:4-15) is the parable of the sower and the seed.

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown."

When he said this, he called out, "He who has ears to hear, let him here."

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,

" 'though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.'

"This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and bear fruit through perseverance. “


The soil is the heart, the place where the seed of God's word is to be received and hidden, and from where it will appear in its own time in a revolution of freshness and new life. But the difficulty is that the soil is never perfect.

1. “Some seed fell along the path….” The path is where everyone walks: it’s public. It’s not a place of interest in itself; it leads elsewhere. When you are on a path you are between places, you are nowhere. The path has no interiority. If I'm always on the way to somewhere else (and which of us isn't nowadays?) I'm nowhere, and the word of God cannot find a place in me.

2. “Some seed fell on rocky ground….” The heart can be like a rock or a stone: solid, impenetrable, self-enclosed, separate, unloving and unloved…. Throughout the ages it has been a common metaphor for the heart. “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). Cyril of Alexandria (ca. 378 – 444): “All whose minds are hard and unyielding, and so to speak, compressed, do not receive the divine seed.” Ephrem the Syrian (ca. 306 – 373): “The birds were not able to penetrate the earth in search of the seed.... The evil one does not forcefully snatch away from the heart the teaching entrusted to it. In the parable’s imagery... the grain of wheat lies on the surface of the ground, which has not hidden the seed in its womb.”

3. “Some seed fell among thorns….” It has a chance to grow there, but everything else is growing there too. My power is divided into a thousand parts, and only one is available for the word of God. It’s like flicking through the pages of a magazine: nothing remains in the heart, even though everything was promised.

4. “Some seed fell on good soil….” It’s good soil when none of the above applies. Then the heart is deep and soft and silent. Then I may hear the word of God.
Donagh O’Shea O.P.

Friday, September 18, 2009

They Helped To Support The Disciples From Their Own Resources

Today’s First Reading (1 Timothy 6:2c-12) omits the first and part of the second verse of this epistle, in which Paul speaks of a custom that was quite common in his times, was prevalent in some parts the United States until the mid-19th century, and is still practice in many other parts of the world: slavery. In Paul’s time many of the first Christians were slaves, and a few were slave owners. Paul urges Timothy to remind Christian slaves not only be obedient, but respectful to their masters, so that they not bring shame upon the Lord and the teachings of Christ. On the other hand, Christian slave owners are reminded that they must treat their servants as brothers, since all are children of the one true God. Timothy must teach these things to the members of the Church at Ephesus.

Paul then returns to the topic of false teachers, who not only disagree with what Paul teaches, but teach their own notions as the truth, even though it differs from what the Lord Jesus taught. These false teachers are proud and vain. They think they can know the truth by using their own minds. While that may be true in some respects with regard to human knowledge (mathematics, language, philosophy, etc.) it is not with regard to learning to know, to love and to serve the one true God, or to love one another as God has first loved us.

These false teachers not only lack understanding, but they are vain and arrogant. They have an unhealthy tendency to quibble over the meaning of words, which stirs up arguments that foster jealousy, and end up in slander and division among the people of God. Paul lists five specific problems that arise from such disputes: envy, spite, evil suspicions, and friction among people with corrupt minds, who do not accept the truth, and use religion as a means of personal gain. But they are wrong, for there is no ultimate gain in false religion.

“The love of money is the root of all evil” is a well known proverb, which opens verse 10. On the one hand, Paul is often misquoted: the problem is not money, but greed. On the other hand, the desire to accumulate wealth can become stronger than the desire to love and serve God. The inordinate desire for wealth is comparable to the roots of a plant whose fruits are evils of all sorts.

Unlike these false teachers, Timothy is a man of God, chosen by Him to be the leader of the church in Ephesus. As a man of God, he is enjoined to avoid all of the evils about which Paul writes. But, beyond that negative advice, Paul urges his young friend to pursue what is right and good. He lists six qualities that every Christian should cultivate: righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness.

To live for Christ in this world can often be a struggle, and Paul urges Timothy to “fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses. “

+++ +++ +++ +++

In today’s gospel (Luke 8:1-3), Jesus travels about from one town and village to the next, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. With him are the Twelve, as well as some women who have been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary, called Magdalene, who had been free of seven demons; Johanna, the wife of Chuza, the chief steward of Herod’s household; Suzanna, and many others. These women were helping to support the disciples from their own resources.


Luke’s gospel has a special sensitivity to women. Today’s gospel passage is unique to Luke, and so are all of the following: the passages about Elizabeth (1:5-39), the prophetess Anna (2:36-38), the sinful woman (7:36-50), Martha and Mary (10:38-42), the crippled woman (13:10-17), the woman with the lost coin (15:8-10), the woman and the judge (18:1-8). This may not seem a big thing to us today, but in its own time and place the female following of Jesus was out of the ordinary. The power of the revolution unleashed by him is seen at one remove in St Paul, who (though he never knew Jesus in the flesh) could write, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Strict rabbis would not speak to a woman in public, very strict ones not even to their own wives. But what is remarkable is not only the presence of women in that list of followers, but their variety. Mary Magdalene, whom he had healed, became his most faithful follower. (From the 6th century she was identified with the sinful woman of Luke 7, but there are no grounds for this identification.) Joanna was the wife of Herod’s steward, Chuza, who was a major political figure. If it had not been for their friendship with Jesus they would have had nothing in common. There were not just two or three women; the text says, “and many others.”

It has to be said: at crucial moments Jesus was better served by his women disciples than by his men. A little-known Cork poet, E. S. Barrett, wrote:

Not she with traitorous kiss her Saviour stung,
Not she denied Him with unholy tongue;
She, while apostles shrank, could danger brave,
Last at His cross, and earliest at His grave.

Donagh O’Shea, O.P.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

One Who Has Been Forgiven Much, Will Respond With Much Love.

Today’s First Reading continues Paul’s advice to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12-16). There may be some in the Christian community at Ephesus who would oppose him, since he is still a young man. At that time, Timothy was about 30 years of age, and, in the common view of those times, lacked a decade or two of experience to be considered wise. Paul encourages Timothy to become a pattern to his flock of how a disciple of Christ should live. He should be careful in what he says and how he says it. In what he does, he must demonstrate true Christian virtue: faith, purity of heart, and love above all. “The greatest of these is love”, as Paul writes elsewhere. Timothy is encouraged to speak and act with love for God, and for the Christians whose anointed leader he is.

Until his arrival, Paul advises Timothy to focus on three tasks: reading the Scriptures to the church; encouraging them to believe God’s word; teaching them how to live according to the model given in the holy book. When the elders laid hands on Timothy, he received a gift of grace from God. This grace was to help him accomplish the task to which God appointed him. There are many gifts of the Holy Spirit, and it is not written which of these gifts Timothy had received, yet we can be sure that it was the grace he needed to be faithful to his ministry as the leader of the church at Ephesus.

Timothy is urged to be diligent in the matters which Paul has mentioned; he must become absorbed in them so that his progress will be evident to the members – and especially the elders – of the community of Christians in Ephesus. As they observe how he grows in confidence, that is, in trust of God, he will grow in the authority God has given to him as leader of the Christian community at Ephesus.

In brief, there are two matters that Timothy must be attentive to: himself, and his teaching. “Persevere in both tasks”, Paul writes, “for by so doing, you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”

+++ +++ +++ +++

Today’s gospel is from Luke (7:36-50).

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—five hundred days wages to one and fifty to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

“That’s right,” Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

+++ +++ +++ +++

“Who is this woman in the city who was a sinner?” asked Peter Chrysologus (380 – 450). He was renowned in his time for the brevity of his sermons, so he came straight to the point: “Beyond any doubt,” he said, “she is the Church.”

Let’s follow his idea. She had to get past the Pharisees at the door, who actually owned the place. She must have felt that she was gate-crashing. In fact she wasn't, because the public were allowed to enter and listen when a rabbi was at table. But she surely saw the contempt in their faces and in their body-language. Unlike them she was not pretending to be a saint. A saint, someone said, is a dead sinner, revised and edited. But she was a live sinner. They were the ones who looked dead: moral righteousness usually looks like a death-mask. She was alive and full of feeling and expression. ”Ardent, panting and perspiring,” was how Peter Chrysologus described her. She was able to weep, and therefore she was able to love. She was able to love, and therefore she was able to forgive and to be forgiven....

I'm beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with this; are you? I feel I may be one of those poker-faced Pharisees rather than that passionate weeping loving woman. Does Peter Chrysologus have anything to say to reassure us? No, he has lapsed into silence. I am left in silence with the question: Am I better represented by those Pharisees than by the sinful woman? If so, then I separate people from Christ (which is what the name ’Pharisee’ means); I am a barrier to anyone who wants to come near him. I pretend to welcome him and identify with him while excommunicating the very people who are closest to him. Then the eyes of such as this passionate woman will see clearly that “Christ is betrayed amid sweet cups and a banquet of love.”

Donagh O’Shea, O.P

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

We Played The Flute, But You Did Not Dance; We Sang A Dirge, But You Did Not Weep.

Today’s First Reading returns to the First Epistle of Paul to Timothy (2:14-16)

Paul was hoping to visit Timothy soon, but wrote this letter in case there was a change in his plans. He wanted to be sure that the members of the church of Ephesus, of which Timothy was bishop, learned “how to behave in the house of God.”

The church is not the building in which Christians worship; they are themselves are the Church of the living God, the foundation and the pillars of devotion, that is, of genuine worship. God has entrusted his Church with the truth. Each of the local churches has the responsibility to teach the truth, and to protect the truth from all that is false. There were some people in Ephesus who taught error, in opposition to the truth. Timothy was encouraged – one might say “enjoined”, since Paul was not known to mince words -- Timothy was encouraged to stop them from spreading falsehood. Yet, Paul also was well aware, and shared with Timothy, a basic principle about teaching and preaching the gospel: If is more fruitful to give witness to the truth than to struggle against falsehood. The Church at Ephesus needed to learn, and to practice, true religion.


The secret of true religion which God has shared with His people is Christ Jesus: who He is, and what he accomplished. Throughout the Old Testament, God spoke to his people about the day when Christ would come. When he came Christ had to suffer and die to make restitution to God for us. Yet no one really understood that on Good Friday or on Easter morning. It was forty days later that Jesus stood on a hilltop outside the City of Jerusalem, and told his followers: Go teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit; and then he was taken up in glory.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Today’s gospel is from Luke (7:31-35).

Jesus spoke to the crowd: I am going to tell you what the people of this generation are like. You are like children sitting in the marketplace playing games. They call to each other: “We play the flute for you, music for a wedding, but you would not dance. They we sang a dirge, a sad song for a funeral, but you would not weep.” When John the Baptist came, he ate very little food, and drank no wine at all, and you said, “He must be possessed by a demon!” When the Son of Man came, he ate and he drank. You said, “Look at him! He is a glutton and a drunkard. He is friendly with tax collectors (who were Jewish men in the service of the Roman government), and sinners (who were Jewish women – and you probably know what service they provided.)


There is a role-reversal in today’s gospel. People are judging God’s word – both the preaching and the person, and they reject it for opposite reasons. John the Baptist was an ascetic, in the mode of Jeremiah, who fasted, prayed, and preached hellfire and damnation. Jesus is open and friendly. He enjoys going to wedding banquets, and when the caterer’s wine runs out, he is known to produce more. The truth is, whenever God’s wisdom is rejected, whoever the preacher, and whatever the reason, there is little opportunity for the heart to become open again to hear God’s word. The true seeker of wisdom appreciates and welcomes God’s message, however it is presented. Today’s plea is for wisdom, and today’s prayer one of thanksgiving to our heavenly Father who is generous, patient and merciful toward his people, even when we are less childlike than childish.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

And Your Heart Will Be Pierced By A Sword

First Reading: Hebrews 5:7-9.

Even though Jesus was Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, when he took human form and flesh as the Son of Mary, he shared all of the experiences which we endure. As a toddler, when he fell and scraped his knee, it bled, and he cried. like a baby. As a teen, before his Bar Mitzvah, he lost track of time, and stayed in the Temple discussing God’s word with the priests and teachers, and the caravan back to Galilee left without him. As a grown man, “he offered prayers and pleadings with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to rescue him from death”. (Heb. 5:7) The meaning of this verse is not clear. It appears that Jesus was praying that he would not have to die. That may well be the case.

Jesus knew that he had been sent from God to take upon himself the burden of all human sinfulness, and he accepted that mission, knowing from all eternity that it would cost him his human life. At Gethsemane, he was so overwhelmed with fear that his blood oozed from his pores like perspiration (a genuine medical phenomenon caused by terror). From the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, let this burden pass from me”; but quickly followed “Yet, not my will but yours be done”. This is a vivid reminder that no aspect of human nature was foreign to him, and that, like ourselves, he sometimes found the dark side of his humanity rather hard to control. It is a truth we need to remember not only when we are reading (or writing) a reflection on the Scriptures, but especially when our emotions (positive or as well as negative) seem difficult to rein in.

The eternally begotten Son of God has always been perfect, when he accomplished the mission for which He was sent, he offered his own life in reparation for the sins of his brothers and sisters from the first man and woman ever created, to the people who will be alive in the flesh at his second coming. By doing this, He accomplished a mission that no mere human person could fulfil: As the Son of God, he had status equal to the Father, and was qualified to offer this ransom to the Creator. In so doing, Jesus becomes the source of new and eternal life for his human sisters and brothers. We grow in this new life – the life of grace, when we place our confidence in him. « Jesus, I trust in you! »

Gospel: Luke 2:33-35

When the time had come, Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised. There was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was a good man, who loved God. He was waiting for the Messiah to come and save the people of Israel. The Holy Spirit had promised that he would not die until the Redeemer came.

When Mary and Joseph brought the child to Temple for his circumcision, Simeon took the baby in his arms and praised the Lord, “Now, Lord, your servant can die in peace, because I have seen your salvation, for all to see. This child will be a light to the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.

Mary and Joseph were astonished what Simeon had said about the child. But they were even further astounded when he continued his prophesy: “This child will cause the rise and the fall of many in Israel. He will be a sign of contradiction. And your heart will be pierced by a sword, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

+++    +++    +++    +++

A Mother's Meditation on Our Lady of Sorrows

Sometimes we come across people who have a special quality – an ability to listen deeply; a sense of peace in their lives; a deep compassion that shows itself quietly. Their sense of faith and trust in God is palpable and they are the people we might turn to instinctively when we need help. Often we discover later that these remarkable people are ones who have suffered great loss and have found some meaning for their lives in it.

That’s what today’s Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows is all about. The Church offers us this centuries-old tradition of turning to Mary with our misery and grief, and seeing her as someone, like us, who has suffered greatly.

We all have pain and suffering in our lives. Even the most privileged of us have to deal with this very human experience. We face the death of a beloved family member, especially devastating when it is a child. Part of life is our own aging and diminishment and a growing awareness of our physical and mental frailty or the worries we have about our children, our grandchildren and other family members. The profound disappointments of life – the state of our marriages; the realilty of the youthful life dreams we once had; or perhaps disappointment in the decisions made by our children – are part of the experience of so many of us. Sometimes there is the anxiety of waiting for the results of medical tests and the unknown changes to us and our family if the results are bad.

Beyond the scope of our own personal world, we see poverty and racial strife in our own cities, mistrust and conflict among our national leaders and a world torn by war, religious divisions and a terrible mistreatment of women and children.

How do we live with this, share this experience or make sense of it? When Simeon met Mary and Joseph in the Temple and saw the infant Jesus, he knew that Jesus was “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel,” but Simeon also was predicting that Jesus’ life would cause Mary tremendous sorrow. She had the pain and emptiness as her son left their home and town for the unknown life of a teacher. Not only did she probably miss his presence, but she had to open her heart and ask God to help her let go. She knew her son needed to leave and fulfill his call, but she did not always understand it. Her confidence in him was clear as she paved the way for her son’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana. “Do as he tells you,” is all she whispered to the servants.

She saw him move out farther into the region, accompanied by an unimportant group of ragtag followers that puzzled some. She listened as Jesus became more outspoken against the religious authorities. Her stomach had a knot that was hard to ignore as she heard the growing grumblings against him from those who were threatened. Finally, she was there as he was arrested, humiliated, and executed. This was her own son, once her cherished little boy, now the beloved man with whom she had such a deep bond of love and faith. She watched as he was spit on and tortured and finally endured the crucifixion. While other followers ran, Mary stood there at the foot of the cross, looking up at her son’s agonizingly slow death.

Mary is a woman who has suffered deeply in life. This is a very real and very human Mary, who understands our losses and tragedies.

Dear Mary,

Help me to see you more clearly as a mother, a sister, daughter and friend. Help me to turn to you and to your son, Jesus with my own sorrow. Sometimes my heart is paralyzed by fear and pain and I don’t know where to start. Let me unlock my heart to God freely, as you did, and let me feel the peace and love of Jesus flooding into the heart I have opened.

Maureen McCann Waldron
The Collaborative Ministry Office
Creighton University

Monday, September 14, 2009

For God Sent Not His Son Into The World To Condemn The World; But That The World Through Him Might Be Saved

Today’s first reading is taken from Numbers 21:4b-9.

When the king of Edom refused to allow the Israelites to travel through his country, they had to go around it, which delayed them on their journey to the Promised Land. Moreover, the route was difficult. So the people became impatient and directed their anger against Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the desert? There is no bread and no water! And we detest this miserable stuff!” The “stuff” was manna, which was a gift from God.

So, God punished them, by sending poisonous snakes among them. The Hebrew word for “poisonous” is “seraph” which also means “burning”. It refers to the pain one feels when bit by one of these serpents. But the word also refers to the angels that serve God in heaven (cf. Isaiah 6:2). So, the use of this word further emphasizes that God sent the snakes not only as punishment, but as a warning.

On this occasion, the people are quick to repent. They acknowledge that they have sinned against God, and they are genuinely contrite. They ask Moses to pray, asking God to remove the snakes. But instead, God provided a way for everyone whom the snakes had bitten to be cured. Moses had a bronze serpent made, and mounted it on a pole. Those who looked up at the bronze serpent were healed. Those who did not, died.

This story is very important for Christians. Jesus referred to it when he was talking to his disciples about his impending death (John 3:14). Jesus compared himself with the bronze serpent on a pole, and his death on the cross is a true image of the bronze serpent in the desert.

Just as God did not remove the serpents in the desert, he does not remove all sin from the world. Instead, he provides a way for everyone to be cured from the consequences of sin. Like the Israelites, we have to look upon the cross. We must have faith in Jesus, who died on the cross for our sake. He suffered the punishment that we deserve. It is up to each of us to accept the grace he has won for us by taking upon himself the burden of our sins.

Today’s Second Reading is taken from Philippians 2:6-11.

Jesus did not have to seize the same honor as God the Father. It was his by right. But he did not consider his equality with the Father as something to be coveted. Instead, he laid aside all appearances of his divinity, giving up his place of honor in heaven to become a servant. He left his home in heaven, but he never had a home on earth that he could call his own. He gave up the glory that was his at the right hand of the Father, and took on the form of a man, like us in all things except sin.

Jesus' identification with his human sisters and brothers moved him to obedience to the will of the Father, emptying himself of any visible sign of his divinity and dying on the cross of Calvary to remove from us the burden of our offenses against God.

Yet, it is because of this that God raised just from death to life with him in the highest place of honor. The name which he was given, which is “higher than any other name” is Kyrios, which is translated “Lord.” It was the official title of the Roman Emperors, and it reflects the truth that Jesus is the Lord of Heaven and of Earth, to the glory of God the Father.

The third chapter of the Gospel of John opens with a long conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee and prominent leader of the Jews, who came to him in the middle of the night, presumably because he wanted to keep his visit secret. The dialogue opens with these words of Nicodemus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him." From there, Jesus the teacher leads the dialogue.

Today’s gospel takes up the dialogue at John 3: 13-17.

The one person who creates a bridge between heaven and earth is Jesus, who was in heaven but left his place at the right hand of the Father to take human form and human flesh , becoming at that moment both Son of God and Son of Mary. After his death and resurrection, Jesus returned to Heaven, where he sits at the right hand of the Father. Now, he lives in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus then makes a reference to an incident in the Old Testament (Numbers 21:8-9). The people of Israel were wandering in the desert and they complained against God, who sent a plague of serpents to punish them for the bad attitude. The snakes bit and killed many people. Then God told Moses to fashion a serpent of bronze, and to place it at the top of a pole. Whenever people who had been bitten looked up at the bronze serpent, they would be healed.

Sin affects us in much the same way as the bite of a venomous snake. But God has provided a way to save us from sin and spiritual death. Jesus said that he would be lifted up like the bronze serpent. He was referring, of course, to his crucifixion and death on the cross. For the Israelites the way to be healed of the snake bite was to look up at the bronze serpent. The only way we can be freed from the burden of our sins is to look up at Jesus on the cross, and allow our sorrow for giving in to the urgings of our human nature to lead us, by his grace, to repentance, and from repentance to forgiveness. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is effective to take away the sins of every sinner, no matter how dreadful. But there is one exception to the axiom, “Nothing is impossible for God”. It is impossible for Jesus to forgive the sins of someone who does not want to be forgiven and does not express contrition for sin. The Creator gave us the gift of free will. We can disobey God’s will, even knowing the consequences. He will never cease to give us grace to move us toward repentance, but he will not heal us of our wounds unless we seek mercy and forgiveness. We must look up at the Savior on the cross.

John 3:16-17 may well be the best known couplet of verses in the Bible. It expresses in just a few words the reason God sent his Son to die on our behalf. Many a preacher and teacher has written great sermons and lectures, and many a composer wonderful musical settings, but today, let us close simply with the words of the gospel in its most familiar form:

God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world;
but that the world through him might be saved.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Whoever Would Be My Disciple Must Pick Up The Cross And Follow Me

Today’s First Reading (Isaiah 50:4c-9a) speaks of the mission of the Servant of God who has been given a particular mission: that of Prophet. The one who is called must listen carefully, not only to hear the word of God, but to understand the meaning and purpose of God’s message. That is the positive aspect of learning to be a Prophet – a Servant of God who accepts the mission to speak in God’s name, and on God’s behalf, to people who are not always going to be happy with what they hear.

This brings us to the second point of Isaiah’s message. The Servant must be willing to suffer. Men who read this reflection know about nicks, scratches, gouges and rashes that occur in the process of shaving one’s facial hair. Having three sisters, I know that those of the gentler gender will have their own uncomfortable reactions to what Isaiah wrote. Brothers and sisters, just imagine what it was like to pluck out the hairs one by one, which was the traditional way of bringing shame upon a man. (See Isaiah 7:20, and 15:2). The Servant of God must not be self-centered, but focused on the Lord. This gives the Servant the determination to carry on the Lord’s work.

The prophet then begins to speak in the language of the courts. “He who is near” – that is, the Lord, is the one who upholds his right to speak – since it is the Lord who has commissioned him to speak on God’s behalf, and those who confront him are dealing not only with him, but with the One who sent him.


Today’s Second Reading (James 2:14-18) is focused on the nature of faith. Having real faith always leads to doing good works. Good works are the fruit of love. Where there is no love – whether of God or of others – there are no good works, because there is no foundation in true faith.

James then focuses on those who are in urgent need, those who lack enough food, or proper clothing. If a member of the community of Christians looks at their situation and says, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well”, but does not do anything to provide them with the food, clothing, and shelter that they need, what does that say about the faith they profess? In a word, they have no real faith, because “Faith without good works is dead!”

Some might say that one person has faith and the other has good works. Such a person thinks that faith and good works are distinct and separate from one another. This suggests that God is pleased with either good faith or good works. The question James raises is this: Can it be shown that one can have sufficient faith to be saved if there is nothing to demonstrate the fruits of that faith? The truth is: It is impossible to show that a person has faith if there are no good works as evidence. Genuine faith moves the believer to works of charity – good works. To say one has faith proves nothing. Jesus says: A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. (Matthew 7:17-20)


In today’s gospel (Mark 8:27-35), Jesus and his disciples are passing through Caesarea Philippi, going to Jerusalem from Capernaum, where they were staying. While on the way, Jesus asked the disciples a question: “Who do people say that I am?” Some replied, “John the Baptist”, others “Elijah”, still others “one of the prophets.”

Then Jesus asked them a different question: “And who do you say that I am?” Jesus emphasized the word “you”. It was not enough for the disciples to know what other people thought about Jesus, they had to decide for themselves. Now, Peter speaks for all of the disciples, making the bold statement, “You are the Christ!” Then Jesus tells warns the disciples not to mention that truth to anyone – it is not yet time for him to reveal himself.

The word Peter uses, “Christ”, is a Greek word that is equivalent to the Hebrew word “Messiah”, meaning “the one who has been anointed”. The Jews in Jesus’ day were waiting expectantly for a Messiah who would lead an army against the Romans, defeat the enemy, and restore the kingdom of David. But when Jesus spoke with his disciples, he taught them that the Christ must suffer and die before the Kingdom could be restored. He was not speaking about the kingdom of David, but God’s Kingdom, the world that existed before the first sin was ever committed.

Jesus then began to explain to his disciples that he would be rejected by the chief priests, the elders and the scribes, the religious authorities of the Temple in Jerusalem. He told them that he would suffer greatly and would be killed, and that he would be raised from the dead on the third day. Jesus knew that his suffering and death were part of God’s plan: the person who is qualified to make reparation for a serious offense must share the status of the offender, and at the same time, share the status of the one offended. In other words, the Redeemer must share both human nature and divine nature. Only Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, can fulfil that mission.

Peter and the other disciples heard what Jesus was saying, and thought that they understood. But they really did not want to accept that such things would be happening to him. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to scold him. Jesus, recognizing the true source of Peter’s thoughts and words, said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God does, but as human persons do.” It is first, a command to Satan to stop tempting Jesus. Then, a message to Peter and the other disciples: “I am the leader here. You follow me; I don’t follow you.”

Then Jesus addresses himself not only to the twelve disciples, but also to the people in the crowd that had gathered to listen to him. He invited them to follow him, but he did not offer them an easy life. Those who seek to be disciples of Jesus must learn to set aside their own desires and their own dreams. Those who follow him must carry their own cross.
In those days, when the law of Rome prevailed in the Holy Land, capital punishment was carried out by crucifixion. Outside the city gates, tall upright stakes were set into the ground and remained there permanently. A condemned criminal would carry a piece of wood a little bit longer than the arm-span of a grown man from the place of judgment to the place of execution. Because that piece of wood was attached horizontally to the upright, it was called the “crosspiece” – in Latin “crux”, and the method of execution soon became known as “crucifixion”. That is the way Jesus would be executed, and from the outset, he told anyone who wanted to follow him that they must be willing to share the same shame and the same suffering – and perhaps even, the same sort of death – as he did.

The final admonition of Jesus “whoever wishes to say his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will save it”, has two levels of meaning:

• Living a self-centred lifestyle does not give true value to anyone’s life.
• Life in this world lacks all real value if the cost is the loss of eternal happiness with God.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why Call Me Lord, Lord But Do Not Do As I Command?

In today’s First Reading (1 Timothy 1:15-17) we touch the heart of the gospel of Christ Jesus. He left his place at the right hand of the Father and entered the world of humankind for one purpose: to save us from our sins. He took upon himself the burden of our wrongdoing, and by his death paid the ransom due to the Father. That is the reason that God raised him from the dead, and gave him the name that is above all other names (Philippians 2:9).

Paul looked upon himself as the worst of sinners, since he had attacked the followers of the Way of Jesus with such ferocity. The Lord forgave Paul for all his sins, but Paul still looks upon himself a sinner, whom God has saved, not for any merit of his own, first of all because God is rich in mercy.

Paul was not the first to believe in Christ, but his was the most wondrous of conversions. He had been a champion among the persecutors of the followers of Jesus, when the Lord Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and “knocked him off his horse” (whether literally or figuratively). Now he is a leader in the Church, and an apostle sent to bring the Good News to new places, and build new communities of Christians throughout the Mediterranean basin, from Macedonia in the east to Rome in the west. He sees his own conversion as a powerful example of the working of God’s grace, and his experiences as a pattern of what Christ can accomplish in the life of all who put their trust in him. They will become what God wants them to be, and they will be truly alive, now in this world, and later, in the next.

As Paul reflects on what he has written, he gives praise to the Lord:

All honor and glory to God forever and ever!
He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies;
He alone is God. Amen.

+++    +++    +++    +++   

In today’s Gospel (Luke 6:43-49) Jesus is teaching his disciples, using parables.

The first parable is about the orchard:

First lesson: If a tree is healthy, it will produce an abundance of good fruit; if not, it will produce little fruit, and what it produces is likely to be rotten.

Next lesson: Every tree is known by its own fruit: figs grow on fig trees; grapes grow on grape vines. There are other trees and bushes that produce fruit that no one would want to eat. You can’t pick figs from a thorn bush, or gather grapes from brambles. And so it is with people: From the heart of a good person comes goodness, “whatever is true, honorable, fair, pure and lovely (Philippians 4:8). But who knows what evil might lurk in the human heart? It will become evident in the words and deeds which flow from that wicked heart.

The second parable of Jesus is based on his own experience as a carpenter’s son. If someone builds a house on a foundation of solid rock, then when the river overflows its banks in the springtime, the house will withstand the flood, because it is well built. On the other hand, if someone builds a house on level ground, without a foundation; then, when the river floods, the house will collapse and be totally destroyed.

A foolish person hears the word of the Lord, but does not do what Jesus says. A wise disciple listens to Jesus’ words, and acts upon then.

St Augustine: Let us not be lazy or content with the surface. Let us dig more deeply until we come to rock: “Christ is the Rock!” (1 Corinthians 10:4).