17th Sunday ordinary time, 7-24-16, Genesis 18:20-32,Ps 138, Col. 2:12-14, Luke 11:1-13
Did you think at first this week’s Gospel and Old Testament readings didn’t seem related? Me too. However, 3 questions emerged from the similarities I did find. Let me tell you what they are and how I found them.
Abraham was sitting in the shade of a tree at the opening of his tent. To his surprise, 3 men appeared to be walked out of the shimmer of the burning hot desert toward his tent. He jumped up and ran to them, offering food and drink. His behavior was not bizarre – it was the “ordinary” and expected gift of hospitality. In the desert, travelers could not just go down the street to the next hotel. Hospitality was life and death in the desert, and every nomad like Abraham knew all too well that the next man to depend on this desert hospitality could be him. People were dependent on each other, and they knew it.
But one of the men blessed Abraham and Sarah with the prophecy that within a year, they would have the son they had longed for all their lives. This was not “ordinary.” Then the men prepared to leave for the city of Sodom, and we are told one of them is God. God and Abraham are “tight” – they have a covenant and a relationship. God sends the other 2 ahead and lingers to confide in Abraham about the Sodom and Gomorrah problem. God is on his way to find out if the complaints he hears about the evil in those cities is as bad as people say. This is a much earlier understanding of God than we read in the New Testament, yet God is, even then, listening- and responding- to prayers. Hold on to that thought for a moment.
Abraham is determined to find out if God values life. This is the first question I found -we would phrase it, “Do all lives matter to God?” The culture of that day concerned communities. A community of at least 12 men was the focal point; that’s what mattered. Abraham means to know if God cares about individuals. The answer is clearly yes, God does number each of us, for God will save the entire city for not 12, but even 10 innocent people. In the end, God finds just 4 innocent people- who are given safety.
What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah that they should be destroyed? This has been discussed for centuries. Ezekiel 16 said it was their disregard for the poor, pride in their prosperity, and their complacency. Isaiah 1 says their faith was empty, and their hands were bloody from injustices. Jeremiah 23 lists adultery, living in lies, siding with the wicked, and provoking others to evil. Genesis 19 lists: random, uncontrolled violence and lack of that important hospitality. When the two messengers God sent entered the city, Lot offered them food, lodging, and safety for the night. Then a violent mob gathered & Lot was so appalled that the city residents would attack them that he offered his daughters to the rioters in place of the two men. Imagine putting your own children in danger to protect two strangers- but the point the enormous responsibility of protecting travelers– and how seriously out of control the cities were. The city people call Lot “an immigrant”, using the word like an ethnic slur, and threaten him with violence, too. My 2nd question is then: “What attitude should we have toward travelers, strangers, refugees, and immigrants?” 2 weeks ago we touched on this question with the Good Samaritan story. But generosity and compassion for immigrants and refugees has always been the expectation of God’s people.
There can be little doubt that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had totally severed any relationship to God, and had lost any sense of justice, hospitality or respect. And here is the place we can move to the Gospel reading, even though the contrast with Sodom and Gomorrah is so deliberately striking that the two seem incongruent. But Jesus tells this remarkable and often misunderstood parable of the man who needs bread to feed a traveler who has arrived from his journey late at night.
So we know about the hospitality thing. But something else is going on here. First, Jesus asks literally, “Who from You” (which of you) has a friend to whom you go at midnight and say to him, ‘lend me 3 loaves’…and the answer would be, ‘Don’t bother me, I am not able to get up and give you anything.’” Do you have a friend who would say that? 11 times a question is posed in the Gospels starting with “Who from you” and every time the answer is “No!” The whole point is that no one would refuse to get up and give his friend what he needs. It is unthinkable, unimaginable, an easy conclusion based on everyday life. For sure, the poor sleeping man will hand over the bread. Now look at this parable again. Does it mention any knocking at the door or repetition of the request? No. There is nothing to suggest this is a lesson in persistence. Not that persistence is bad, it’s just not in this parable. We have a problem. The Greek word here translated in some recent Bibles as “persistence” is “anaideia” is correctly translated “shamelessness or bad manners, rudeness”. There are no recorded uses historically of this word in any other meaning. Jesus is using the contrast to make a point about prayer and our relationship to our Abba/ Father. God is not like the sleeping man, who needs rudeness and social convention to produce what you want.
This is a “how much more” parable. In other words, if a man will get up in the middle of the night to answer a request that is rude, how much more will God answer your requests? Matthew in 6: 27 (which starts with “who from you”)has the same thing when he says if God cares about the birds and flowers, how much more will God care about you? This is the same God who listened and responded to Abraham’s prayer for a son and the outcry over the evil in Sodom & Gomorrah. God has a long & impressive resume in handling prayers. In this parable, Jesus is giving us assurance – certainty!- that God hears our prayers and responds… to the point of giving his own Spirit, the Holy Spirit to help us. This parable and the verses which follow affirm the importance of prayer and is an invitation to pray. Come to God with your worries, cares, needs – it’s not a waste of time.
So here is my 3rd question: Can you tell the difference between people with a prayerful, dependent relationship with God, and people who have severed all relationship with God and depend on their own power? I think our readings answer that pretty clearly. To put it another way, what is the defining difference between a violent, out of control mob with no concern for those in need; and people who share their dependence and needs with each other, and who embrace the hungry and the outsider? It would seem that a prayerful relationship with God is the difference here. It would seem that kind of dependence on God completes us as beings made in God’s image.
Two words come out of today’s readings, commitment and freedom. In the first and third readings we see Elijah calling Elisha and Jesus calling new followers. In both cases, the one called is told to move on, to not look back and to steadfastly move on to their new future commitment. I remember that this idea was very strong in people called in past times to a vocation in the church, to the point that contact with family or their past was seen as a negative thing. Certainly, some ties can hold back a commitment to a vocation, but completely moving on and ignoring one’s past is not the best for a person’s vocation or family and friends who have led them to their vocation. Surely, Jesus’ apostles left and followed Jesus, but they visited and remained in touch until a later time when they were called to go out and preach to the surrounding countries and places far distant. God’s call is one we are looking to answer, but his love and its call is not to exclude anybody, especially those who have nurtured our faith. However, our response must be to the moment and to the task that is immediately at hand. Our service of love is one that is personal and involves our attention and action as best we are able to give. In serving God, we all have one master, but serving does not preclude a personal, private life of our own at the same time.
The second word we hear is freedom which is from Paul. In committing to Christ we are becoming free. Free because we are being given the capacity to love, to share our knowledge and love of God by loving our neighbor as ourselves. This is the most Godly thing Jesus has given us and makes us free for others and not in a selfish way. It is the acceptance of the spirit and living in and by the spirit. Freedom allows us to be open and outgoing expressing ourselves as we are meant to be. Surely, Christ’s call is to give up all, but on the contrary, it is gaining all, giving all.
In today’s gospel, Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am?” When Peter said “the Christ of God”, Jesus scolded them. Why did he scold when such an important revelation had been made to them? Simply, they did not understand what it meant, they only had a glimpse of Jesus’ mission and knew nothing of what was to come. Jesus was the Christ, the prophet, the one to come, but no one knew or was ready to fully understand what was the role and mission of Jesus to suffer and die. His humanity and holiness they knew and felt, but his divinity and the saving suffering mission he had was a darkness they didn’t know. The revelation of who he was had to unfold as he preached and worked among the people, gradually showing, revealing and teaching even his own disciples who he was.
Even today, we come to know and experience Jesus in different ways and at different times of our lives. Our faith and commitment is something that grows and expands and deepens as our lives and experience goes on. Jesus and the Spirit work in our lives and speak in various ways. I don’t know anyone who has direct communication yet so often in life prayer and the Spirit leads us in the right direction. A spiritual life can be joyful and fulfilling or at times it can seem dry and humdrum. Faith and prayer and constancy leads us to an ultimately full and encompassing prayer life. While religion is personal, Jesus called us to his family to his community. Love, care and concern are important to all believers as we worship in the Lord and share his sacraments. Suffering, sickness, violence, evil in the world can seem so overwhelming, that only with an anchor in our faith and love of Jesus in community and prayer, can we weather the world and what lies in it. Christ is with us and speaks and acts in our lives and actions if we only give in to the love with open mind and hearts and share it with others and not be concerned with anything but that others are God’s children called to be saved like each of us. Scolding? Yes Jesus scolded because they knew but didn’t understand. Hopefully we know and we never cease trying to understand, so we are ready to love and give as he did.
11th Sunday Homily, 6-12-16 year C, 2nd Samuel 12:1-13, Galatians 2: 16-21, Luke 7: 36-50
Our 1st reading is one of the few readings in the Sunday lectionary from King David’s life, and it’s sad that we read about one of his worst moments. Adultery & murder are taboo in most cultures because they tear the very fabric of community life. David knowingly and purposefully sinned. Nathan told him a parable which made him face what he did. David used his wiles, his wealth, his power, and his position to sin. How could God forgive him?
But there is a clear message of God’s grace and mercy. Psalm 51 is David’s confession. “A clean heart create for me, God; do not drive me from your presence, nor take from me your holy spirit. Restore my joy in your salvation.” So, what is the message Nathan brings? “The Lord has forgiven your sin.” That is the message of the story. That is the take-away. That is the point. No matter how far he had fallen – even the mighty King David – or the darkness of the sin, God had announced his forgiveness to Nathan before David had even been confronted. There are, however, repercussions from David’s actions – not punishment from God, but natural consequences; that’s an important distinction.
Then we hear Paul’s take on how we move from sin to grace. “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me,” Paul writes to the Galatians. Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We rejoice because of what God has done.” Let me paraphrase. ”I live in the present”, he says. ”But my sin, even before it happened, died with Jesus when he was crucified. I have faith in and believe this in the very core of my being: that Jesus loved me when I was at my worst, and that he was willing to die a shameful dead, a torturous death at the hands of people just like me, people who did the same sinful things I do. All of this Jesus did before I ever came to believe. Jesus’ actions and God’s forgiveness preceded my understanding of and my confession of my sins.”
But a picture is worth a thousand words, so Luke provides the picture. So often we find the original story in the Old Testament, like David and Nathan, and then Jesus comes along and takes that same story line, and lives it out, showing us God’s ways. See, without Jesus, we are inclined to think God is like us, and we want to create a god in our image. We want revenge, we want others to stoop and gravel before us. We want to hear, “Oh please, I beg you to forgive me!!” So we assume, from our expectations, that we must cajole or coax or wheedle or shame God into forgiving us, you know, lean on him a little. But is that really how God is??
To answer that question, Jesus, like Nathan, presents a compelling parable about forgiveness – in this case the forgiveness of debt, a concrete subject that wealthy Simon the Pharisee can relate to…just as David, once a shepherd, understood sheep story.
Here it is: Two men are in serious debt. One owes 50 days wages, which would take years to repay. The other owes 500 days wages –hopeless, impossible to repay. The vineyards that have been in his family for 100’s of years will be sold off, the wife and kids will be sold into slavery. But the creditor forgives both of them. Which man will be really delighted, but which one will be ecstatic, jumping, screaming with joy, sobbing with love and thanksgiving? Obvious. Simon’s response sounds hesitant to me, and I suspect he hears a rebuke coming, for Simon the Pharisee is well aware that he has not extended the appropriate hospitality to Jesus. Simon would have seen to it that anyone of his own social status would have been greeted with water to wash his feet, would have been given a firm kiss, and his hair would have been anointed with soothing perfumed oil. But Simon had done none of these things for Jesus. Jesus has been treated like the entertainment, and quite possible the amusement, for the other guests.
Meanwhile, Jesus had allowed this woman’s administrations, which are far beyond social norms. She sobbed over him, to the point of washing his feet with her copious tears, wiping them with her hair, which no proper woman would loosen and display in public, kissing and anointing his feet with ointment. The boldness of this woman was undoubtedly caused by her understanding of who Jesus was, and the undeniable need to seize this chance to express her overwhelming gratitude. Simon judges Jesus as ignorant of what he thinks is the impropriety of her behavior; Simon judges her to be of low morals and sinful.
But suddenly Jesus turns the tables. Simon is called out on his rude behavior, and the woman is praised: “Her many sins have been forgiven; therefore she has shown great love.” The Greek structure of that sentence becomes ambiguous when translated to English. Some might find it confusing and think her show of love has lead to her forgiveness. Not so; think back to Jesus’ parable. Did the debtors display any great virtue or faith? No! It was the creditor who forgave the debt, and the love and joy were a reaction to the forgiveness of the debt. And Jesus, to seal the deal so to speak, announces, “Your sins are forgiven”, and causes the other guests to stop and reconsider the whole situation.
So what are we left with here? Can it be that God initiates forgiveness? Can it be that God has already forgiven us our sins, even before we acknowledge them? Is it possible that we waste enormous parts of our lives avoiding facing our darkness and shutting our eyes and ears to reconciliation with God and neighbors? Do we miss the chance to feel and express our joy; do we shut down and remain static instead? Maybe the part of the darkness in this world that is ours just seems too large to fix or beyond our control, so we rationalize it as too big for God to fix. How would our lives change if we forgave everyone of everything right away instead waited for them to confess guilt? What if Christians really were known for their love and forgiveness? Perhaps in the answers to these questions is the hope our churches and community and nations seek.
In today’s readings, we meet two widows who have lost their sons. In biblical times among the Jews, it was very much a male dominated society. A widow would have very little standing in that society except for perhaps having a son to represent her household and give her a place in that society. If not, generally, the widow was expected to return to the house of her parents so she would be looked after. The prophet Elijah and Jesus act similarly and differently in the two accounts. First to notice is that each of them acted on their own initiative. Each seeing the distress and sorrow of the widow acted to help the widow. Elijah took the boy to his guest room and laid on him and prayed. When the child revived he returned him to his mother. Jesus, however, simply stopped the funeral procession and issued the command for the young man to arise. The obvious point in the gospel was to point to the difference of authority that Jesus had over Elijah. Jesus also returned the Son to his Mother. Jesus was the more powerful prophet, he was the one who they were all waiting for. Certainly, the two stories today points to God’s love and the compassion he feels for all of us. His care of the two widows points out that he is aware and is always there for all of us at all times. Not only is he there at extreme times of sorrow and distress, but at all times.
But today as we think of the two sons, we have reason to celebrate on of our own sons, Jordan, who today will receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time. Jordan, today is a special day for you, a day to remember for all your life to receive Christ’s Body and Blood for the first time. It is the next step in a journey you began with your Baptism and now you begin a new and stronger lifetime relationship with the Lord as you partake and share the Eucharist with all your family and the Holy Trinity parishioners. We all congratulate and celebrate with you and your family today.
Growing up in the United States, one thing we all can say for the most part is that food is plentiful and gotten by most of us. Sure there are those among us who because of circumstances do not receive or get what they need, but food is plentiful because of our work ethic and technology. We do import food but at the same time we export it also. But, my point today, is that no matter where we go, every human being has one basic need if he or she is going to survive, and that is food. Since the beginning of time, we humans have come together and sought out food to sustain our lives. Generally families would share their food together as they share their daily lives. In modern times, families coming together for a common meal has become less frequent as schedules have become complicated and times to be together seem to be harder to arrange. Yet, there remains in our culture the desire to be family and share time and conversation and food together. At important times and events, it seems we always arrange to gather around food. It is one thing that seems to bring a certain ease for conversation and interaction.
If we look back at the early church, in the earliest times they met in the homes of believers which were large enough to bring everyone together. Their sharing of the faith always started with a meal and then a celebration of the Eucharist, a sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ. It was the same context and setting that Christ set when he gave us the Eucharist at His Last Supper on that night He knew would be his last with His disciples before he died. What He gave, was His very self, a food with a visible form of bread and wine, but actually His very Body and Blood, a food to feed us spiritually and keep us strong and robust for a long and tedious journey to His Father. Certainly, he sent his Spirit to assist us, but as God gave us family, Jesus gave us each other in the church and calls us to his special meal that draws us together in his love and provides the nourishment and strength to continue on in all the struggles we encounter. A human is not meant to be alone, even as God himself, we are meant to love, to relate and reach out and grow together as one. Our Food and Drink for our spiritual journey is unlike any ever given. While worshipers of the past partook of the sacrifices they offered, what they ate was not fulfilling spiritually. Our food is living flesh and blood, the living Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. So, as we reach out and hit the refrigerator or call for delivery or seek out some place to eat, Let us not forget that there is a more basic and desirable food that brings us here.