Saturday, September 11, 2010

Every Tree Is Known By Its Own Fruit: A Good Person From His Heart Produces Good.

Saturday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Corinthians 10:14-22
My beloved ones, avoid idolatry.
I am speaking as to sensible people;
judge for yourselves what I am saying.
The cup of blessing that we bless,
is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ?
The bread that we break,
is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?
Because the loaf of bread is one,
we, though many, are one Body,
for we all partake of the one loaf.

Look at Israel according to the flesh;
are not those who eat the sacrifices
participants in the altar?
So what am I saying?
That meat sacrificed to idols is anything?
Or that an idol is anything?
No, I mean that what they sacrifice,
they sacrifice to demons, not to God,
and I do not want you to become
participants with demons.
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord
and also the cup of demons.
You cannot partake of the table of the Lord
and of the table of demons.
Or are we provoking the Lord to jealous anger?
Are we stronger than him?
Paul today returns to the problem of Christians eating food offered to idols, while also participating in the Christian Eucharist.

He first warns them to stay away from all forms of idolatry. This is no empty warning. Most of the Corinthian Christians were recent converts from paganism and their old customs, coupled as they likely were, with superstitions fears could still attract them. In their daily lives they were surrounded by reminders of the paganism they had left: temples to Apollo, Asclepius, Demeter, Aphrodite and other gods and goddesses. The worship of Aphrodite, with its huge numbers of sacred prostitutes, would still be a strong temptation.

But he points out that the Christians have not been left with nothing to replace these former practices. They now have what we call the Eucharist.

There is the “blessing-cup” from which all the gathered community drinks and which is “a communion in the blood of Christ”, the blood poured out on the cross and something far more meaningful than the blood of sacrificed animals.

The original blessing cup was drunk at the Jewish Passover. At the Passover meal which was the Last Supper, Jesus had said over this cup as he gave it to his table companions, “Drink from it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). And he had told his disciples to continue doing this in memory of his suffering, death and resurrection.

There is the bread that is broken which is “a communion with the body of Christ”. Again, at the Last Supper, Jesus had taken a loaf of bread from the table, had said a blessing over it and, as he broke and distributed it to his disciples, had said: “Take, eat: this is my body.”

Paul emphasises the significance of the one loaf which is broken and shared out among the celebrating community. “Though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.” It is again a communion in the Body of Christ, of which this community is now a part. It is a sacramental act of total identity of the community with Christ and of the members of the community with Christ and with each other. This is the source of their nourishment and Life.

This eating together of the Body and Blood of Christ under the forms of bread and the loaf is the Christian sacrifice which more than replaces what the Corinthians have left behind in the pagan temples.

Paul indicates that what the Christians do is in many ways not unlike the Jews who also ate the meat of the animals offered in the Jerusalem Temple to God. It was also a form of communion with the Lord in the old covenant. The sacrificial rites in the pagan temples were also a form of ‘communion’ with the deity but meant little because those deities were no more than the wood or stone images from which their images were made.

Paul is warning the Christians that if they do eat meat sacrificed to idols, they should not eat it as part of the pagan worship. “You cannot take your share at the table of the Lord and at the table of demons,” he tells them. His words imply that some of the Christians who shared the Eucharistic table were also visiting the temples and even involving themselves in immoral behaviour there.

Comparing his words earlier, he makes a clear distinction between eating food offered to idols as a sharing or “communion” with the imagined god and eating that food when separated from the act of worship. He forbids the first because it involves idolatry and he allows the second because the food has no sacred value whatever, given that the object of worship is non-existent.

Paul’s warnings against involvement in idol worship might have seemed until recently fairly irrelevant to many Catholic communities in the West but it can still be a real problem in parts of Africa and Asia.

However, in the West too there are now several movements, loosely gathered under “New Age” and the like, which attract many Christians, especially those on the fringes of church life, and which do not seem compatible with the Gospel and participation in the Eucharist. Discernment is needed to judge which ones can be grafted into Christianity and which are opposed to it.

Paul’s words about the sharing of the cup and the one loaf also highlights an aspect of the Eucharist which is often lost by many, where “going to Mass” and “receiving Communion” are seen all too often as the private and devotional acts of an individual.

The Eucharist has no meaning except as a community and sharing celebration. It is not just a ‘receiving’ of Jesus into ‘my soul’. It is a ‘breaking of the one bread’ and a shared eating which emphasises the real presence of Christ not only in the bread and wine but, even more importantly, in the celebrating community. In our next reading we will see that to neglect the community during the celebration of the Eucharist is a kind of sacrilege.*
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Psalm 116
To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise.
How shall I make a return to the LORD
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise.
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people.
To you, Lord, I will offer a sacrifice of praise.
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Luke 6:43-49
Jesus said to his disciples:
"A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,
nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.
For every tree is known by its own fruit.
For people do not pick figs from thornbushes,
nor do they gather grapes from brambles.
A good person out of the store of goodness
in his heart produces good,
but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil;
for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,'
but not do what I command?
I will show you what someone is like
who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them.
That one is like a man building a house,
who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock;
when the flood came, the river burst against that house
but could not shake it because it had been well built.
But the one who listens and does not act
is like a person who built a house on the ground
without a foundation.
When the river burst against it,
it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed."
In our final reading from Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus speaks of the qualities of a genuine disciple. The goodness of every disciple comes from within and is not to be measured merely by his external behaviour. A really healthy tree cannot produce bad fruit; nor can an unhealthy tree produce genuinely good fruit.

At the same time, consistently good behaviour is a sign of a healthy interior. “Every tree is known by its own fruit” and “A good person from his heart produces good”. We need to focus our energies on our interior spirit. If that is good, the rest will take care of itself.

Another measure of the good disciple is how he listens and acts on the words of his Master. To “listen” includes hearing, understanding, accepting, and assimilating into one’s self the Master’s teaching and vision. The behaviour then follows naturally, spontaneously and, to a large extent, effortlessly.

Such a person is compared to a man who has built his house on a strong foundation. When floods came, the house stood firm. On the other hand, the one who listens but does not take in and so does not act on what he has heard is like a man who built his house on a poor foundation. When the floods came, it collapsed.

This parable needs to be read in the context of the early Church where, in time of persecution, some stood firm because their faith was deeply rooted, while others fell away at the first sign of pressure.

Even if there is no overt persecution of the Christian faith where we live, we live in times which are very threatening to a genuine Christ-centred life. Without a sure foundation, it is very easy to be enticed away to a life of materialism, consumerism, hedonism, and individualism. Because of their superficial attractiveness and their being indulged in by so many around us, these things are often far more insidious than outright attacks on our faith.

In fact, experience shows again and again that nothing strengthens people’s faith more than open persecution. Most of us live in a much more dangerous environment, an environment not of torture and imprisonment but of advertising and media hype promising untold happiness and pleasure, where the vision of the Gospel is ignored or seen as irrelevant. We need to have very sure foundations to live in such a world.*

The Irish Jesuits

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