Friday, October 16, 2009

Have No Fear! You Are Worth More Than Many Sparrows!

Today's First Reading is taken from Paul's Letter to the Romans (4:1-8)

Paul continues his teaching about faith. Paul wants the reader to know that his message about faith is not a new message, so he explains how the Hebrew Scripture teaches the same message, choosing Abraham and David as models of faith. When Abraham was told by God that Sarah, his wife, would bear a son, and that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky, Abraham had faith in God that this would happen. Abraham trusted in God’s word, and God credited his faith to him as righteousness (cf. Genesis 15:6).

A worker’s wages are not credited as a gift, but as earnings. But no one can earn a right relationship with God. When a sinner trusts in God who justifies even the ungodly, such faith is credited as righteousness. Because of God’s merciful love, the sinner is forgiven, and by continuing to cooperate with God’s grace, that sinner can – and will – become a saint. This is the experience of Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of the Way of Jesus who became the Apostle to the Gentiles. It is the experience of Augustine, the son of Monica, whose prayers for his conversion from a profligate and sinful life were answered, and he became a great saint.

Paul then turns to the experience of King David. It is likely that you are familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, the soldier who lived next door to the palace. Perhaps you also know of an earlier incident, when Saul was murdered while he slept, and David became King. Paul closes this section of his Epistle to the Romans by citing a psalm written by David many years later, a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s boundless and undeserved mercy:

Today’s first reading concludes with the first strophe of today’s Responsorial (Psalm 32).

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R. I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.

Blessed are they
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed are they
to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
in whose spirit there is no deceit. R.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,
and you took away the guilt of my sin. R.

Rejoice in the LORD, and be glad, you who are just;
exult, all you who are upright of heart.

R. I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.

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Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (12:1-7):

At that time, a large crowd had gathered and they were trampling each other underfoot, to get closer to Jesus. Jesus first began to speak to his disciples. “Be on guard against the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” “Leaven” or “yeast” is a substance that bakers use to make bread rise. Jesus uses the word to describe the attitude of the Pharisees, calling it “hypocrisy”. The dictionary defines hypocrisy as: pretending to be what one is not, or to believe what one does not; especially: the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.

Jesus continues: “There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, no secret that will not be made known. What you say in the dark will be heard in the daylight; what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the rooftops.” Jesus’ words recall an “ironic dictionary" definition of a secret: Something you reveal only to a few of your closest friends. Then, each of your closest friends tells your secret to a few of their closest friends, etc. etc. etc.

Jesus then speaks about the fear of death: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and can do no more. I will tell you whom you should fear: Be afraid of the one who has the power, after your body is dead, to throw you into Hell. That is who you should really be afraid of!”

After a person's physical body dies, no one can kill them a second time. But God’s power remains after the body dies. God is the judge of the living and of the dead. He can punish the wicked and send them to Gehenna. This is the Aramaic word meaning “the Valley of Hinnom”, which was just outside the walls of Jerusalem, and the people of the city brought their rubbish there. As it happens in rubbish dumps in our own time, the Valley of Hinnom was the source of frequent fires, creating billows of black smoke, and an unspeakably ugly stench.

Then Jesus changes his theme from the power of God to punish, to God’s loving kindness. At the market, it cost only two pennies to buy five sparrows. The disciples have nothing to fear. God knows the number of hairs on our heads (and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a woman with flowing curly locks or a man with only a fringe from ear to ear). Have no fear! You are worth more than many sparrows!


Sarah in the tent said...

Hypocrisy: It supposedly meant 'play acting' for the ancient Greeks. Their theatre was an aspect of their religion. They believed in the allegorical truth of their myths. The rabbis saw how attractive the pagan Greek theatre was to their young people and tried to warn against it. But it was hard for the rabbis to compete with innovations like theatre, not to mention temple prostitutes!
Now think of our own movies and tv programs. These stories illustrate the allegorical 'truths' driving OUR society. Some are Christian, some aren't. The ancient Greeks wore masks in their play-acting, but they also put beautiful golden masks on their dead. The ultimate hypocrisy!

What were the sparrows being sold for? Were they trapped as pests and sold roasted on sticks? If people were buying them for their friendly chirping, it wouldn't have been in bundles of five! I can't help worrying about these sparrows, but Our Lord's words about them are definitely consoling because, if we are worth more than many sparrows, the sparrows themselves are not worth nothing!

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Two comments: the first on theater, the next on sparrows

Theater has been associated with religion since time immemorial. It played an important part in the worship of the Egyptians, even before the brothers of Joseph brought their families to join him there. It was a significant element of the religious practice of the people of the Sinai Peninsula, the territories through which Moses led God’s people on their way to the Promised Land. While Moses was communing with the LORD at the summit of Mount Sinai, the people fashioned a golden calf and danced around it. Later, David the King danced before the Ark of the Covenant.
The analogy with our own movies and television programs is on the mark. These stories do indeed illustrate the “allegorical truths” (the myths) of our society. During the second half of the 20th century, radio and television programs have been presented by Christian producers. There have also been similar programs offered by other religious groups. Yet, we can’t ignore the fact that much of the programming on the radio and television, and in the life theater and on the motion picture screen has been not merely secular, but sordid.

This is the way it has been from the beginning. Light and darkness, good and evil are present in our world. It is up to us, with the help of God's grace, to choose what is right, and do what is good.

Yesterday afternoon, Father Charles and I were having supper here at the residence, and the conversation turned to the words of Jesus, "You are worth more than sparrows."

Father Charles told me that when he was a boy, there was a fellow in the neighborhood who would feed the sparrows in the same way that the farmers would feed their chickens. He made up his own combination of grains, scattered them around the field behind the house, and fed the sparrows till they became plump and tasty. He sold the sparrows in pairs to the folks in the neighborhood, $2.00 a pair, $5.00 for three pairs. Fr Charles said that sparrow meat was really delicious.