Over the many years I have served as a priest, one thing that always amazes me is that no one can really look ahead and see what lies ahead for them. I think today’s first and third readings tell us this fairly clearly today. First, we see Samuel sent to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse with a horn of oil to anoint the next King of Israel from among Jesse’s sons. With a sacrificial banquet prepared Jesse presents seven of his sons starting with the oldest. Samuel was drawn to the sons, and even had a favorite, but each of the seven presented were rejected by the Lord as the chosen one. Only when Samuel asked, did Jesse say my youngest is tending the sheep. Yet, the youngest and least of his children was the one chosen and who during his life and for all ages would be remembered. God chose him and remained with him through his good times and even his times of unfaithfulness for the good of Israel. Why David? Only God could say.
Next we come to man born blind in the gospel today. He like the homeless and other victims of our society that we so often pass and really do not see as we busily pursue our lives, even today in our modern times. Unlike his disciples who were quick to equate his blindness to sins of his parents, Jesus paused and said this man was chosen to show Christ as light of the world. Sickness, blindness maladies had nothing to do with sin. The man before him had an intrinsic value, and so it is for every human being in God’s creation. Once again the weak, the person set aside is chosen to be a lesson for God’s kingdom. Again we are reminded, no part of creation is insignificant.
The real lesson for us today, is that God does as he wills. He chooses whom he wants and sometimes confounds us by whom he chooses. It is why his church is a community and in Baptism we all share in the priesthood of his cross and resurrection. His Spirit works through the whole body of the church from the least to the greatest. Yet, in actuality there is really only one Great one, and this is the Body of Christ. This is why we must remain open to the Spirit, open to one another in all things. Christ speaks to all of us in many ways. Whether we be the least or possibly the greatest we need always to be open to the Spirit and hear his Word.
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”
“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.
Today, Malachi and Luke talk of coming days, death, the end of the temple, wars, insurrections, even the end of nations and the fighting of nations. The earth itself will suffer quakes, plagues, and famines. Look back in history and all these things have occurred in the past centuries and in every lifetime and generation. Rejection and persecution of believers has occurred throughout history, even at the time of Christ’s birth if we recall the innocent children slaughtered by Herod. Christ himself suffered rejection and persecution and even experienced betrayal and felt abandoned.
Christ said these were signs of the times, and yes they are. They are signs in all times of the fallen nature of humanity. What age or country or century has eliminated these times and signs from the world? What victory has ever given peace to the world? Was there ever a time that a true Christian was immune from ridicule, rejection, whether from family, friends, or a state or country. Has sin been removed from the world?
Keep in mind that each day is new, but the last was an end. Each moment is an end time where someone will not face another. Each of us faces an end time whether it be days or years. The signs are there for us to see. Christ says these things are bound to happen not just at the end of all times but in every time. God is a God of Love, certainly not a human being, and so we must realize he is not subject to anger and other emotions. Sin and evil come from the freedom his creatures receive and abuse. God loves and forgives and embraces all who ultimately reach out to him. Punishment or being cut off from God is what we do by the choices and things that we do.
The sign of our times at the moment are not far from Malachi and Luke today. As Christians we are called to witness Christ’s message of love, forgiveness, healing and the life of Jesus Christ. We have all put on Christ, now is the time to step up and be the light of the world. Jesus said: “Follow Me.”
- All Soul’s Day – Isaiah 25: 6-9, Ps 27: 1-9,13-14, Romans 5:5-11, John 6: 37-40
Tuesday afternoon, I sat with a bedridden elderly woman. I was just beginning to introduce myself to some residents at a nursing home. I had no information about this woman other than a staff person suggesting she might enjoy a visit. So I asked, “How’s it going for you?”
Her eyes began to form tears. “Oh, my husband, he’s here, he has dementia, Alzheimer’s. He sits in a wheel chair and he just talks nonsense…he was never that way before.” She made no mention of it, but it was clear she had her own health issues too.
We talked for a few minutes about the strain of watching a beloved spouse’s health deteriorate. I asked her: would she like to have me read to her out the Bible. “Yes”, she nodded. So I opened to Psalm 103, and read of the goodness of God, about God’s love and faithfulness, compassion and mercy. She grew visibly calmer as I read. “Oh, thank you,” she breathed. The Bible I had with me was donated by the Gideon’s, and I left it with her. Those free Gideon Bibles have a well-deserved reputation for helping people who are overwhelmed by life.
It’s very easy, and entirely normal, to forget God’s love when crisis strikes. But in every section of the Bible, we can find reminders of the tender love God has for us, all of us. Today one of our reading is from Isaiah, a Hebrew prophet who lived some 800 years before Christ. It speaks of the Lord ending death and grief and tears on the earth, and offers assurance that the Lord will save us. Then the Psalmist writes, “The Lord is my light and my salvation……..wait for the Lord with courage.”
Years later, St. Paul declared with great certainty that we will not be disappointed by our hopes in God. Wearied by the sound bites of politicians, we need to be reminded of this! Paul says, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us…we are justified and saved through him…” Paul adds, “We also boast of God.” Now, if you have read much of St. Paul, you know when Paul says you can boast of something, he means it’s rock solid, without a doubt.
But if you might have any remaining doubt about hoping in God, our Gospel will dispel it. John quotes Jesus saying, “…Everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.”
All Soul’s Day is about remembering those who have gone before us; those we miss, those we will mourn for the rest of our lives. But this day calms us, and draws us back from the pain of loss to the comfort of God’s love. It is almost counter-cultural to remember that God didn’t make us disposable. We are eternal beings. It is absolutely counter-cultural to say that we are eternal beings, but we still don’t know very much at all about eternity. And it is probably close to anti-cultural to say that we don’t need to know more about eternity than we already know. What do we know? We know Eternity is real, prepared and waiting for you and me and those we love, and it will be beyond anything experienced in this life.
So, today we rejoice in life. We light candles to remind us of eternal life; their light breaks through the darkness of doubt. We delight in the memory of those who have been born into eternity, even as we remain here for a time, and we continue to share the love of God.
The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is one we have heard often over time. It is paired with the reading from Sirach about God as a just judge, looking out for everyone and Paul in Timothy explaining how he gave his life to the Lord. If we turn to the gospel story, we first should realize that the Pharisee was not a bad person. All the acts and sacrifices he describes are good works and even expected of someone of his place in society. Yet, in the end Jesus criticized the Pharisee because of where he was and what he said. His prayer is full of “I’s”. His concern is for himself, his well-being, not for others or the community. His list is one of what would be expected of a Pharisee, a form almost of self praise. The tax collector on the other hand, was in a way fearful and acknowledged that as a sinful man he was unworthy. His prayer was to ask for God’s mercy. In the end, Jesus said the tax collector left justified in his prayer. God judges in his own way and time. He is a just judge who knows each of us intimately, knows who we are and how we think. He knows our actions and how we relate to others. He judges us not only on what we are expected to do, but also when we fall short of what we can and should do. It is ironic, that in almost all that we do, we can never reach perfection. In our faith and in our love and actions toward others, we can always fall short. I once had a professor who called it the uneasy conscience of a Christian, always asking and suggesting, “can I do more?” Should we be satisfied saying I did the best I could? Sometimes we must be, while at other times, we just might be called to keep going. In all our lives, everyday brings different and even new things into our lives. How we meet and live our lives meeting new things and people and challenges is how we witness and live our faith. Using our prayer life in a humble, realistic way seeking God’s mercy will lead us also to justification.