Mark Twain once said: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
In today’s second reading, we see a prime example of that in Paul. From his encounter on the road with Jesus leading to his conversion, his past became irrelevant and his ministry and mission and future became all important to him.
In the gospel, Jesus himself was a man who was also at ease with himself and was dedicated to his own mission to teach and bring God’s message to humankind. He spoke and talked with authority, so much so that the Scribes and Pharisees felt challenged and thought they had to discredit Jesus as a threat to their own authority and to the present rule of law and authority. Their relationship to God for them was a set of Laws and rules and regulations that determined everything they did. They were fanatical and unbending in carrying out the law. God’s mercy and love and forgiveness were lost in their all consuming rush to judge and force everyone to meticulously follow the law. One law that required quick resolution was adultery. With this in mind, the Scribes and Pharisees bring a woman they say was caught in adultery. They quote that the law says such a woman be stoned to death. For Jesus, it is a conundrum since the law of Rome forbids such a thing and Jesus’ teaching is of love and forgiveness of God. Not mentioned in the story today is the fact that no witnesses are present, and the ancient law prescribed that both the man and the woman be stoned. So even in testing Jesus, the Scribes and Pharisees were being deceptive and themselves using the law for their own purposes. When Jesus first bent down and basically ignored them, it seems they just continued pestering him with objections and questions. Note that after a time Jesus replies, but not with a judgment or a law or a teaching, but with a challenge: “If one of you is without sin, throw the first stone.”
Now tell me, who in any society, or assembly of friends or coworkers, or even standing alone could present themselves as sinless. Who could kill another while saying they were an innocent person. In such a way, Jesus disarmed the fanaticism of the crowd, pointed out the deficiencies of mindlessly following the law of words instead of the law God implanted on the hearts of all. The story of the woman should remind us all that what we did, what happened in the past is forgiven if we leave it in the past. It is what we do from here on that matters. It is what Paul tells us today and even Mark Twain in his own way tells us that there is a moment, a time when we know God is with us and it is what matters most.
4th Sunday of Lent yr C, 3-6-16 Joshua 5: 9-12, Ps 34, 2 Cor 5: 17-21, Luke 15: 1-32
I was talking with a friend about preaching on “The Prodigal Son.” Her response was, “Ooh, that’s a hard one. Good luck!” I understood exactly what she was saying. Then I began to wonder why Jesus even the story. Every generation and every culture has stories about wayward sons. Every society has rules about inheritances. But reading this as a wayward son story or inheritance law story just doesn’t give us an adequate interpretation or reveal the purpose of the parable. We need to look closer.
The 15th chapter of Luke consists of three parables, which all lead in the same direction. They are: (1) The Lost Sheep, (2) The Lost Coin, and (3) The Lost (or prodigal) Son. The Lost Sheep (the guy who leaves the 99 sheep to search for one) ends with this: “I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate! I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 people who do not need to repent.” Now, how did that happen? How did we go from sheep, to repentance and heaven?
The Lost Coin (you know, the woman who loses her coin, sweeps & searches until she finds it) ends almost exactly the same: “I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let us celebrate! In the same way, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.” Jesus is definitively not discussing inheritance distribution here.
Both of these first two parables focus instead on searching & the joy of finding. Then they compare that joy of finding with the joy that comes with repentance. The Lost Son focuses on those same themes, but in addition, it contrasts of the attitude of the father with the elder son’s attitude; contrasting compassion toward repentant sinners and refusal to celebrate repentance.
Now, the original audience listening to these parables included both the “sinners” that Jesus associated with – and ate with – as well as religious leaders who objected – strongly – to the presence of those “sinners. In fact, this may have been the “Hot Button” issue that ignited the plot to crucify Jesus.
But to find the birthplace of this parable, we must return to Luke 4: 18-22, which we read on Jan 31st. Remember Jesus reading from Isaiah in the synagogue: “(The Lord) has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty…recovery of sight…freedom for the oppressed and announce the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” It’s Jesus’ mission statement. It’s the announcement of the coming of the Messiah. It was widely believed then that the Messiah, or Christ, would bring a time of forgiveness, restoration, and insistence on joyous celebration.
To grumble in the face of his coming is to not understand what is happening. Jesus puts these parables in the context of why he is there, his purpose. It is a picture of the impact of his ministry, the coming of God’s kingdom….and the attitudes of those who find the Kingdom – those who repent, forgive, and who are forgiven.
“The Coming of the Kingdom” is a phrase we read in the Gospels, but it’s hard to be really sure what to do with it. The conflict which brought about this parable was the claim from Jesus that the kingdom of God was present and that God was at work. That’s fine and dandy when you sit in a church and feel safe among those of like mind. But it was met with great suspicion as long as those around Jesus were tax collectors who worked for and collaborated with the Romans (those oppressive invaders, those multi-god-worshiping heathens); AND those ceremonially unclean shepherds and lepers and disabled people that were so feared and despised; AND others who were absolutely disreputable and debase, like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet.
So, here is a contrast between the acceptance of the repentant by God and the suspicion and rejection of them by some religious leaders. But, Surprise! The parable ends without rejecting either side. How can it be that the father would desire a household that would offer love to the son who put every cent of his effort & time into the estate, alongside the son who is an obvious drain on the bank account and the emotions of everyone? Yet, the father of the sons rejects no one; both sons are chosen. The father loves and offers everything he has to the grumbling son with a disrespectful attitude as well as the son who has broken every rule in the book and come home at best only hoping not to die of starvation. Could I be so open and loving and generous on the very best day of my life?? In my own self, it would be impossible. Only if I was fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit of God could that happen.
You see, the kingdom does not divide but unifies; the kingdom is universal. This parable is without an ending, and so becomes an invitation to everyone who hears it to change their attitude and join in the celebration. The Messiah has come, forgiveness, restoration, liberty- all our inheritance. Our heavenly Father has given us all he has, and He is always with us. We are no longer slaves of darkness or ourselves. If we had a sliver of a clue what was happening, if we saw a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, it would be enough to make us rejoice until tears of unrestrained happiness streamed down our cheeks. What is now “ours” could be shared with the hungry, the dirty, the homeless, the refugee, the foreigner, the addict, the derelict. The hard years, the labor which seemed to be without reward could be remembered with gladness. Perhaps that is why we were given the Holy Spirit and Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
One of the marvels of our time is the instant sharing of news and events throughout the world. It almost seems simultaneous and even live and in our living rooms. When I was younger I remember the marvel of seeing Queen Elizabeth of England crowned with only a five hour delay as the film was flown to Canada and transmitted. Today with satellites we can see things live as they happen. In Jesus’ time, news traveled by word of mouth and was slow but people paid no less notice to it. So, in the gospel, when Jesus asked about the Galileans who were slaughtered in Jerusalem and had their blood mixed with the sacrifices in Jerusalem, the people were familiar with it. Also the falling of the tower and killing of eighteen people at Siloam was also known to them. However, remember in the view of the times, bad things happened to people who did bad or evil things. Jesus, as we heard, immediately rejected the notion that bad things happening were a punishment from God. Asking why does God allow this is the wrong question. The question is how we relate to God and how we adapt to things when they do not necessarily go our way. God doesn’t choose people who are sinners or who are worse off than other sand then punishes them with something bad. He asks if the 18 under the tower were worse than everyone else. He said, of course not, prosperity, wealth, happiness and the good things in life are not rewards for doing the right thing. Those things have nothing to do with virtue. What we are and our humanness come from God and prepares and leaves us to do the right things in life. In all our live, we have the time and chances to do and be right in relationship to God’s world and his call to be with him. How we live and love and relate and give of our time and selves to others determines what will be for us when our life ends.
Christ continues the discussion with the parable of the fig tree. The point of the parable is what good is a fruit tree if it gives no fruit? Jesus is the loving, caring gardener who asks for more time for the tree to develop and grow fruit. Surely, Jesus himself is in His death and Resurrection extending to us the time to grow and to produce fruit in the lives we live. Each day is a gift and an extension to love and share and relate as Jesus called us to do. If we are to truly live, we need to put aside what is wrong and sinful and turns our backs to God. Lent is the perfect time to begin or continue and to renew ourselves to love and relating. The fig tree becomes for us a sign that we have a little time to make our selves better and healthier Christians.
The tradition of lent developed early in the church in a twofold manner, as a forty day fast preparation for Easter and and time of preparing catechumens for baptism. Vatican II focused lent on Baptism and the need for communal conversion. Tied in with that of course is the work of the Spirit, given everyone at baptism and the same Spirit that led Jesus to the desert for his forty day fast. This became a time renew ourselves by once again turning away from sin and the negative attractions of this world. While each of us needs time to meditate and be alone with God. The Spirit leads forward to reach out to a world crying out for God, seeking reason and understanding in a world which leaves so many questions unanswered especially in regard to humanity’s action against itself.
God’s love is in the world, but that love can only be found in those who actively seek to love. Communal conversion calls for the entire community to hear and believe the good news of God’s love and embrace of all. Jesus Christ was a human being, a man who lived like any other. He had thoughts, desires, temptations like any other human. He had likes and dislikes, he loved and was loved as we all are. What set Him apart was the fact that he was divine, having come to bring God’s forgiveness to all humanity and exhibit the love he has for all of His creation. So, Lent is not meant to be a negative, foreboding time, but a period of renewing and seeking out God’s love and sharing it with all our sisters and brothers to follow Jesus. This we can do with a word, or by an act or some kindness given simply because a person needs the help. What we do for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, or someone in need, we do it to Jesus himself. His Spirit is not just confined to those we know and live with, but is present wherever and with whomever the Spirit chooses to be. Not only do we bring Christ to others by our actions, but Christ comes to us through those whom we ourselves touch. So as we begin lent, let us be aware that it is a time of conversion and growth of ourselves and our community.
In today’s readings, we see Isaiah, Paul, and Peter question their worthiness. Each in turn facing God or his work, questioned if they were indeed worthy to accomplish the task. Even at Eucharist, the church’s liturgy builds that doubt into reception of communion when we say “O Lord I am not worthy to receive you.” I think in all cases that it is a question that in the face of God, no one is adequate to simply stand straight on with him. However, is our perception and understanding of God correct? How often do we say God is Love. His love produced this world and also humanity in his image. This God like image in itself has made us unique and loved by God. That presence of God’s love within us proves that each and every human has a worth and value not able to be diminished by anyone. At times, human can have faults and can commit sin and negative acts, but God’s love remains and their human worth remains. History has proved that women and men have done many good and many bad things throughout history. How quick are we to judge others at times when in effect we should be judging ourselves?
How harsh and judgmental has humanity been through out the centuries? How judgmental are we of different races and cultures and insensitive to people of places that do not meet our particular standards. How quick are we to characterize judgments as the Word of God or on the Bible? Jesus loved and forgave and said move on. How long must we go on realizing that it is not the law that saves but God’s love which is the real law and embraces us to be like Christ and his father. Who are we to judge or take offense when God himself forgives and embraces. If we can not forgive, then our worth demands us to seek and find God’s love and embrace it.
Truly then, none of us is worthy by ourselves. God within us is our worth and our life. Let us learn today and embrace God’s love and each other. Each of us is worthy with a call unique to each of us.
1-31-16 Homily 4th week ordinary time year c: Jeremiah 1: 4-19, Ps. 71:1-17, 1Cor 12: 31-13:4, Luke 4: 18-30
I have heard “A prophet is not accepted in his own country” applied to lot of trivial situations (mostly meaning: you won’t believe me just because you know me). But I have never really understood why the people of Nazareth were angry enough to kill Jesus, and why they turned against him so suddenly.
Rule # 1 for making sense of Bible passages: read what comes before and after the passage. Luke chapters 1-3 tell us of the birth of Jesus and his Baptism. Chapter 4, where we read today, immediately takes Jesus from his Baptism to his temptation in the desert, which we will hear more about on the 1st Sunday of Lent. Then, Jesus returns from the desert, “in the power of the Spirit”, according to Luke, and begins his ministry. He was a big hit – “news spread of him throughout the whole region”, and “he was praised by all.” It is strikingly like Pentecost.
Jesus was Mr. Hash Tag of the moment. We find him standing in the synagogue in Nazareth, the old home town, and reading from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tiding to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” Then he announces, “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing.” What is he saying? What can I compare it to?
It was like… having the BIG winning lottery ticket. The people of Nazareth had won! After waiting hundreds of years, generations, for the Messiah, suddenly the bright lights are turned on, and the big check with all the zeros comes out. What are the prizes? Good news, liberty, recovery of sight/ insight, freedom – all theirs. Fear could be driven out by hope; it was a moment of monumental change.
But people have a curious way of resisting even the most astoundingly good news. It only took seconds for someone to resist. “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” No, no, it isn’t! It’s the Son of God! Luke takes great trouble to repeatedly make this clear. Everything Jesus says leads us to this, and whatever he does, proves it.
But in that place and in that time, a son inherited and carried on his father’s work, his place in the community, and his honor. That role determined a person’s worth. To step outside of that role was not only shocking, but shameful. It is hard for us to think this way, but that’s how it was in Nazareth 2,000 years ago. The speaker has suggested that Jesus breached his family’s honor by doing something different than Joseph and by leaving the community. Of course, Jesus was indeed doing exactly his Father’s work. The speaker was blind that. The people’s anger is born in and fueled by this lack of insight and false accusation.
They would have said it was love – love for God (as they understood God), love for their religion, and love for their community. Religion can inspire love so powerful that it can be expressed through hateful actions without conscious intention. As we know, strong religious identify often is aligned with strong hostility toward non-believers.
So the test begins: “Jesus, we want you to do here in Nazareth the things that we heard were done elsewhere.” In the other towns, Jesus had healed people. They had heard about the miracles; surely he would do that and even greater things here at home.
When Jesus heard the demand for miracles, he knew those expectations came from doubt, and pride, not belief. They were in effect asking to be bribed; their acceptance of his teaching would cost him. He reminds them that Elijah and Elisha were not sent by God to feed or heal the people of Israel, but Gentiles from Syria (of all places, they thought!). This feels like a terrible slap in the face to the townspeople. The people of Nazareth had confused love with some sort of payback. Love is not control but a path to obedience and reverence.
No, they haven’t grasped who Jesus is; but they jump at judging him to be insane, or worse, blasphemous. Their rules have been broken, they feel robbed of their right to benefit from Jesus, their pride is hurt, and they manage to blame it all on Jesus and justify their own bad behavior by their religion. It is a neat package for excusing hatred and the desire to commit murder, both of which are clearly against the religion they claim to follow. Jesus’ response to the recent temptations in the desert now makes sense. It takes that level of trust in God to face the people who you think would believe what you say and recognize who you are – but instead you get hate and death threats.
It should also begin to sound familiar. This is the type of reasoning that is used today to justify wars and terrorism and discrimination and watching refugee children drown in the Aegean Sea. This is not just a story from a long ago in a place far away. It happens now, here, in our cities and streets. As distressing as it is, religion, if allowed, can move people from being “amazed at the gracious words of Jesus” to becoming a murderous mob.
Recently, I heard an interview where a researcher had carefully reviewed public opinion polls since the year 2000. There were no significant increases of public sentiment against Muslims after 9-11 or other terrorist attacks. The increases were all during election years when political candidates used fear to attract voters. Jesus brought Hope to replace fear, but fear can be used to appeal to our doubts, our pride, and our greed. But we will never find Hope hiding behind a wall or a fence. Hope comes from the Spirit, and good news, liberty, love, healing, wisdom, and freedom come from God through the amazing and gracious words of God’s Son. Luke, our Gospel writer, is begging us to listen to and accept these words of Hope which he so carefully recorded, that we would understand their truth, and live lives not filled with fear, but full of Hope and Love.
The feasts of the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus in the Eastern churches were always seen as the beginning or the manifestation of Jesus as he began his Ministry as an adult. Luke in his gospel, uses Jesus’ baptism as an end point for the old law and the beginning of a new age with the emergence of Jesus and the entrance of the Holy Spirit. As we know, the emergence of the eastern churches along with the western churches gave us different views and approaches to Christ’s message. While his messagewas meant for all to receive, the Gentile Christians and the Jews who became Christians, looked at Jesus message in slightly different ways. Culture and previous beliefs certainly entered into the differences and disputes which began soon after Jesus left his disciples. Early on, the Apostles meeting and the governing body of the church, had to discern and realize that the new law of Jesus was not tied to the old law of Moses but actually succeeded it. Christ was a Jew yes, but his message was all encompassing for all of humanity without prejudice to where they were from or to who they were. Humanity was God’s creation gifted with God’s son to bring all things to his Father. How we think, how we pray, how we put ourselves in God’s presence is at times varied and different, yet what we believe and share in faith is the same except when we cut off God’s love and go beyond our limits to interpret and bring God’s word to others. If we look back in history, how often has division resulted because Jesus’ simple message was obscured by the intentions of grandeur or the misunderstanding of what love our neighbor means. Christ built a church but a church was people and not a building. Over the centuries, beliers are still around and still answering his call to love. What today’s feast recalls is our beginning in Christ’s baptism and our own baptism and the coming of the spirit to each of us.