In the readings today, we see 2 significant moments In the history of salvation. The first is the acceptance of Abram(Abraham) to pull up stakes and leave behind his kinsfolk and all that was familiar to him and set out to a place unknown to him to become a father of a great nation. Remember he was 74 years old and in that time travel was difficult and leaving meant that he would never return. It was a key moment of faith to accept the call. Even later at his death, Abraham had one son as heir and 2 grandsons. While he had 6 other sons, they were not in the line of those who received his inheritance, although they spread far and wide and we know today that Abraham is known as a Father of faith to Jews, Muslims and Christians. Thus, while his inheritance was small at his death, ultimately many nations have been born from him in the course of the centuries. His relationship with God and the fidelity of those who came after him brought us to the entrance of Christ into the world and the age of Christianity he started.
The Transfiguration in the gospel today is a transformational moment because Jesus chose 3 of his disciples to share a moment where, in a glorified state, he spoke to Moses and Elijah. It was a moment of confirmation and of passing on from the prophets Moses and Elijah to Jesus. At that moment, with the voice telling the disciples to listen to him, the relationship from the time of Abraham to that moment was passed on to Jesus. It was a moment and experience that the 3 disciples didn’t completely understand until Christ’s death and their encounter with the risen Christ. This moment in a way prepared them for the Passion and death, but still in their own human weakness and fear were challenged by the events of Christ’s death. Despite that, Christ continued on, for he came for the weak, for those who sin, for all who are fearful or doubtful. His love, the love of God, was for all and he freely gave without judging asking only that those he met to believe. In all times, that love which also encompasses forgiveness for all our faults is what is at the real core of life. So perhaps our best response to what was read today is “I believe”
Recently, we had the experience of sharing in the birth of little Isaac. What is there not to love in the birth of an infant? But, you know what comes to mind in seeing this, is that each infant, each person in this world is entirely unique. Even identical twins or triplets etc, are individually unique because at gestation everything becomes different for each one. Each person though does have a relationship with God, even if the person chooses not to pursue it. As each of us develops, we are certainly conditioned by family and all our surroundings and experiences. Jesus himself was a unique human being, but even more so as he had a second nature as he was divine also. His life, his work was to make it possible for humans to have a relationship with God. His life seems to have been a period of gradually preparing to do his ministry. After his baptism, we see today he goes off alone to the desert to contemplate, to prepare. As is common in Mediterranean culture and the middle east, the spirit of evil or the devil appears to once again challenge humanity to somehow be equal to God as we saw in the Genesis reading today. As we see in today’s gospel, Jesus rejects the devil and moves on to his ministry.
For us, the gospel and the story of the garden reminds us that as human beings we are vulnerable to overestimate ourselves, to have an inflated notion of our very self, to want to stand out in some way. Yes, our uniqueness can sometimes make us feel more important or even superior to others. We all know that within a family it is important to know and accept each other as they are, and so it is in the family of humanity itself. Christ’s message of love and care of each other means that we live and work and accept others. In doing this, we must learn and accept the abilities of all and the role we play in working together. While we certainly can not solve all the ills of the world, we certainly shouldn’t be adding any to the list. As we look forward to the coming weeks, we should be positive in examining all the good things we do and what more we can do or change to further the kingdom Jesus has given us. This will truly make us ready for Easter Morning.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you”
The kingdom of God is the kingdom we share now in this world, a kingdom of believers called to live out the Word. It means to answer God’s call right now in this life. It is not a call to not care or worry, but a call to place your self in God’s care. Jesus was from the poor of his time, he was aware of the difficulties and problems of daily life and the struggle to survive day to day. All of us have dreams and cares and so to speak a plan for life and living. But, I ask you, how many people do you know who mapped out a plan at 20, were still in the parameters of that plan at 50? Life is unpredictable and changing. All of us do the best to prepare and live accordingly. A certain amount of anxiety is normal, but nothing we do will completely remove the anxiety unless we place ourselves in God’s plan. No amount of wealth possessions and even power assures a long healthy life with a successful career. Only by doing our best and living as best we can within the precepts of Jesus’ commands are we assured of the true comfort of God. It is always a battle to not put ourselves first all the time and see the needs of others. Yet, the poor, the hungry, the homeless in one way or another find a way to get by because of the goodness of God and good people who see the need to help out and share with those in need. Jesus was always harsh on the Pharisees and scribes simply because their concern was themselves and their immediate comfort. Their own self planning overlooked those for whom they were called to look after. As Jesus pointed out, instead of relieving struggles, they added to them. Thus, Jesus called for love, and service, for a life of walking together as sister and brother amid all the days of life.
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.
The readings today are interesting and kind of mixed in themes. They deal with life after death, the Jews and their relationship to God and the beginning of the Apostles’ ministry in the persons of Paul and Barnabas to the Greeks and Gentile world. For centuries, the Jews considered themselves unique as the worshiped only one God, Yahweh, and were the chosen people following the prophets sent to guide them. But even in their tradition, we see that the messiah was not only to be there for the Jews, but also as Isaiah said he would be a light for the Gentiles. When Jesus came, he was rejected by the rulers and leaders of the Jewish people, and as such was subsequently seen as a scandal to them. So when Paul and Barnabas were rejected by the Jews in Antioch, they turned their ministry to the Greeks and so began the opening up of the faith to all humanity.
The second reading from Revelations, is a picture of judgment where not only the 12 tribes of Israel will be, but also “a great multitude”. After all the time and turmoil of the beginning of the church through the first century until the writings of Revelations made it clear that Christ had come for all humanity and intended his words to reach to all the ends of the earth.
Finally today, is the simple passage of the Good Shepherd. It is not the long version but the reminder that Jesus is the good shepherd who puts his life on the line for his sheep. In our world today, it is hard to understand the ways of life in the Mediterranean country in the time of Jesus. Fishermen, shepherds, village life, and in many ways tribal life. Sheep were a valued commodity and important to the ebb and flow of life itself. Caring for them was primary and the shepherd would take great lengths to protect and care for his flock. His knowledge of them and their response to him would be very clear. Thus Jesus as the Good Shepherd means he stands as protector and provider of his flock. Jesus spoke in stories and language and values familiar to his listeners. His sayings and meanings were meant to be seen and heard and understood in light of the here and now, what we see and hear. God was a mystery, yes, but his love and understanding and forgiveness was able to be seen and grasped if only we open our hearts and minds to it. The scandal of the cross was in actuality his giving his life so that all might live. It is a simple but clear message, his resurrection and subsequent presence in his church through out the centuries leaves open the way for us. He calls us and leads us by name.
The feasts of All Saints and All Souls brings us to the concept we call the Communion of Saints. In the early scriptures, the faithful are referred to as “saints” and the community was a part of a union of all believers in the love and fellowship of God. Of course, they thought Christ was returning in the very immediate future and thus the reality of that was very real for them. Their communing with the Martyrs and the persecutions of the time strengthened their resolve and the bond of love with each other through Christ and the Spirit. Their faith knew they would be united with those who went before them. But as the centuries moved on, and the life and death of fellow Christians were not martyrs or believers who stood out in faith, the mystery of death and the after life became speculative and question. The fact Jesus said the part of following him meant that suffering would come in some form or another. Also, most believers realize that everybody falls short of perfection and must seek out God’s mercy. With this in mind, in the communion of saints, the idea that those who fell short in life had a suffering or preparatory stage to full union with God. Yet, the concept of time and place which heaven and purgatory brings to the fore is not really consistent to time and place we experience. Even Paul tells us that what we will be has not yet come to light. We know there is eternal fire(Punishment) and union with God but that union is present even now and certainly before we die. Punishment comes from our disuniting or actually failing to love as we are called to do. As believers, we pray and embrace all who are part of God’s love and call for union with him. Thus, praying for those living or deceased is part of an expression of faith in the union of God’s love and mercy and the final and joyous reunion of all for eternity, standing and being with God. And so our prayers today and tomorrow are for all in the Communion of Saints, those walking the path with us now, those who have gone before us. We pray for the well being and love of all in union with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.