Monday, November 11, 2019

33rd Sunday C

Image result for apocalyptic false prophets33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: Malachi 3:19‑20  2 Thessalonians 3:7‑12  Luke 21:2‑19

At the end of the Church year the liturgy focuses on our Christian hope for the coming of God's kingdom in the final judgment.  This Sunday's readings call us to prepare for that judgment with lives of justice, fruitful work, and patient endurance.  With fervent hope, we pray for the coming God's kingdom in the refrain for our responsorial psalm: "The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice" (Ps 98).
The prophecy in the Book of Malachi ("My messenger") is addressed to those who have lost faith in God's justice during the depressing years after Judah's return from exile (c. 450 B.C.).  We hear of priests offering shoddy worship and neglecting their duty to instruct the people in Torah (Mal 1:6‑2:9).  Many men have broken the marriage bond by divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying foreigners (2:10‑16).  Finally, some, when they see the apparent prosperity of the wicked, have given up lives of justice and begun to ask “Where is the just God?” (Mal 2:17).  In the midst of this moral malaise, the prophet proclaims that the fire of the Lord's justice will come.  For the proud and wicked, it will be "blazing like an oven . . . leaving them neither root nor branch."  But for those who fear the Lord, "there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays."     
We saw last week that 2 Thessalonians is written to a community confused by the belief that "the day of the Lord is already here" (2 Thess 2:2).  Apparently, some equated this event with baptism and reasoned that, because they already enjoyed the benefits of salvation, they were free to live lives of disorder and idleness.  Today's selection reminds the Thessalonians of how Paul and his co‑workers lived among them.  Rather than being parasites on the community, they "worked day and night, laboring to the point of exhaustion so as not to impose on any of you."  To prod the idle to resume productive lives, the author recalls Paul’s rule "that anyone who would not work should not eat."   Last of all, the "busybodies" are enjoined "to earn the food they eat by working quietly." 
The Gospel is taken from Luke's version of Jesus' apocalyptic sermon predicting the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and his coming as the Son of Man with power and glory.  In Luke's account, Jesus makes a clear distinction between the fall of the temple and the events associated with “the end.”  His followers are not to be misled by false messiahs who say, ‘I am he,’ or ‘The time is at hand.’  The wars and insurrections associated with the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 A.D. fired many with the expectation of Jesus' return, but in Luke Jesus warns: “These things are bound to happen first, but the end does not follow immediately.”

Jesus goes on to prepare his disciples for the trials they will experience before his final coming.  As Luke recounts so dramatically in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus' disciples can expect to be persecuted and summoned for trial in both synagogues and before kings and governors.  When they are called upon to give witness to Jesus' name, he tells them not to worry, “for I will give you words and a wisdom which none of your adversaries can take exception to or contradict.”  They can expect to be hated and may even die because of their witness to the gospel, but Jesus assures them “not a hair of your head will be harmed.” 
Although Jesus' followers will be persecuted by the world's powers and even family members, they will have his assistance in time of trial and will experience the ultimate triumph of God's justice.  For all of us who wait and struggle for the coming of God's kingdom, Jesus' final words are a source of hope: “By patient endurance you will save your lives.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

32nd Sunday C

Related image32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: 2 Maccabees 7:1‑2,9‑14  2 Thessalonians 2:16‑3:5   Luke 20:27‑38

At the end of the liturgical year, the readings focus on the resurrection of those who have persevered in faith.  As we hear of the heroic faith of Jesus in the Gospel and the seven Jewish martyrs in 2 Maccabees, let us join them in praying the refrain of this Sunday's responsorial psalm: "Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full" (Ps 17).
            In the 2 Maccabees reading, the seven brothers die for their refusal to violate God's law during the terrible persecutions of Jews by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the 160s B.C.  Each gives a speech, expressing some aspect of resurrection faith.  The first affirms courageous fidelity to God's law in the face of death: “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”  The second expresses a transcendent hope for a life beyond this physical life: “. . .  you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to life again forever.”  The third believes that God, who created life, can also restore it beyond death: “It was from Heaven that I received these (his bodily parts); for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again.”  Finally, the fourth brother states his hope that resurrection will be granted only for those who have been faithful: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”
The reading from Second Thessalonians also offers hope in the resurrection during a time of persecution and confusion.   Because they were confused by the delay of Christ's triumphant return (see 2 Thes 2:1‑12), some Christians at Thessalonika were spreading the rumor that the Day of the Lord was at hand and were leading others into disorderly and irresponsible behavior (see 2 Thes 3:6‑16). In that context, the Pauline author prays that the community persevere in faith: "God our Father, who loved us and in his mercy gave us eternal consolation and hope, console your hearts and strengthen them for every good work and word."   He also requests prayers for himself and his co‑workers as they struggle to be faithful to preaching the gospel.  “Pray that we may be delivered from confused and evil men. For not everyone has faith; the Lord, however, keeps faith; he it is who will strengthen you and guard you against the evil one."
In today's Gospel Jesus, shortly before his own death, affirms his belief in resurrection against a challenge from Sadducees who claimed there was no resurrection.  This hostile encounter occurs in the Jerusalem temple after Jesus has driven out the money changers and become embroiled in a heated controversy with the chief priests, scribes, and elders over his  authority to be teaching in the temple (see Lk 19:45‑20:26). The Sadducees attempt to ridicule belief in resurrection by proposing a case from a law which was designed to keep property within the family (see Deuteronomy 25) by demanding that a woman marry her deceased husband’s brother.  In their unlikely example a single woman married seven consecutive brothers in an attempt to raise posterity to the first brother (see also Tobit and Genesis 38).  They want to know whose wife she will be at the resurrection. 

 Jesus' answer stands in the same tradition as the author of Second Maccabees.  First, he asserts the radical transformation God will bring about “in the age to come.”
"The children of this age marry and are given in marriage,
but those judged worthy of a place in the
                        age to come and of resurrection from the dead do not. 
                        They become like angels and are no longer liable to death. 
                        Children of the resurrection, they are children of God." 
Then he goes on to prove this belief from a text in Exodus, a portion of the Torah that the Sadducees themselves accepted as authoritative. "Moses in the passage about the bush showed that the dead rise again
                        when he called the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."
Because these patriarchs had died centuries before the time of the revelation to Moses at the burning bush, Jesus can conclude that they must now be living with God because “God is not the God of the dead but of the living.  All are alive for him.”   
            By limiting their hopes to worldly concerns about property and descent, the Sadducees demonstrate their lack of faith in God's power and the impoverished character of their own religious imaginations which are bound to these materialistic preoccupations.

Monday, October 28, 2019

31st Sunday C

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: Wisdom 11:22‑12:2  2 
Thessalonians 1:11‑2:2  Luke 19:1‑10

Today's readings emphasize God's mercy that continuously offers the possibility of repentance, even to those whom we, in our self-righteousness, may deem unworthy of God's love.  Let us praise the Lord's compassion in the words of our responsorial psalm: "I will praise your name forever, my King and my God!" (Ps  145).
The reading from the book of Wisdom is an apologia for God's loving providence.  It is written in Greek and uses philosophical terminology that would make sense to its original audience: Greek-speaking Jews living in Egypt during the first century B.C.  God is the transcendent Lord before whom "the whole universe is as a grain from a balance/ or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth."  But He is also the merciful one who "overlooks the sins of men that they may repent."  All that exists is potentially good and is sustained by God's love. “For you love all things that are/ and loathe nothing that you have made;/ for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.” God's love and compassion point to an eternal destiny that transcends this material order. “But you spare all things, because they are yours,/ O Lord, and lover of souls,/ for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”
For the next three weeks the second reading will be from 2 Thessalonians, a letter which warns the Thessalonians not to be seduced into believing that the day of the Lord has arrived so that they no longer need to live responsible and ethical lives. “. . . (W)e beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be so easily agitated or terrified, whether by an oracular utterance or rumor or letter alleged to be ours, into believing that the day of the Lord has arrived.” The Pauline author urges them to endure their persecutions and trials in the assurance that God's justice will triumph over their persecutors.  He prays that God will make them worthy of their calling so that God's name may be glorified in them. “We pray for you always that our God may make you worthy of his call, and fulfill by his power every honest intention and work of faith.”
The Gospel presents the unforgettable story of Zacchaeus as an illustration of all that Christian repentance involves both for the penitent and for Jesus as the agent of God's salvation.  As a tax collector and rich man, Zacchaeus represents the despised sinner in Luke's gospel because he had acquired his wealth through dishonest means.  Yet this stereotypical sinner, like many others in Luke, is attracted to Jesus when he enters his town of Jericho, and he makes an extraordinary effort "to see what Jesus was like."  Because he is "small of stature," Zacchaeus cannot see Jesus in the huge crowd so he climbs a sycamore tree.  His efforts are matched by Jesus' outreach; he announces his intention to stay at Zacchaeus' house:  “Zacchaeus, hurry down.  I mean to stay at your house today.”

In contrast to the self-righteous Simon the Pharisee earlier in Luke’s Gospel (see Luke 7:36‑50), Zacchaeus delightfully and hospitably welcomes Jesus.  When everyone murmurs against Jesus' going to this sinner's house as a guest (see also Luke 15), Zacchaeus defends himself as a penitent. “I give half my belongings, Lord, to the poor. If I have defrauded anyone in the least, I pay him back fourfold.”  Unlike the rich young man in the previous episode (Lk 18:18‑30), Zacchaeus knows that his possessions are to be used in charity for the poor, and that he is obligated by the law to make appropriate restitution to anyone he has overcharged in collecting taxes.  The story concludes with Jesus affirming that Zacchaeus has discovered what it is to be a true child of Abraham. “Today salvation has come to this house, for this is what it means to be a child of Abraham. The Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost.”      

Monday, October 21, 2019

30th Sunday C

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: Sirach 35:12‑14,16‑18  
2 Timothy 4:6‑8,16‑18  
Luke  18:9‑14

Last Sunday's readings stressed the need for perseverance and faith in prayer.  This week we learn that our prayer should seek justice and forgiveness in a spirit of humility.  In the words of the responsorial psalm, let us pray: “When the just cry out, the Lord hears them,/ and from all their distress he rescues them./ The Lord is close to the broken hearted;/ and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”  (Ps 34:18‑19)
Sirach's reflections assert that a desire for justice must accompany true worship.  As a God of justice, the Lord does not favor the wealthy but "hears the cry of the oppressed," especially "the wail of the orphan" and "the widow's complaint."  Therefore Sirach states that the one "who serves God willingly is heard," and "the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds."  The reading concludes with an act of faith in the final triumph of God's justice. "Nor will it (the prayer of the lowly) withdraw till the Most High responds,/ judges justly and affirms the right."   
The closing portion of Second Timothy also binds a life of service to God's justice with worship.  In language charged with emotion, the Pauline writer describes Paul’s suffering in prison and approaching death as "being poured out like a libation."  Then, he depicts the struggle to be a faithful apostle in athletic imagery. “I have fought the good fight.  I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  From now on a merited crown awaits me; on that day the Lord, just judge that he is, will award it to me‑‑ and not only to me but to all who have looked for his appearing with eager longing.” The author is not simply bragging in Paul’s name; he uses Paul’s situation to teach Timothy the proper attitude for a minister of the gospel in the midst of suffering and abandonment.  Although Paul had no one to defend him in his first hearing before the Roman court, he forgave those who abandoned him in time of need.  "May it not be held against them!"  In his suffering Paul has been rescued by the Lord who "stood by my side and gave me strength." The selection ends with a confident act of faith in God's protection:  "The Lord will continue to rescue me from all attempts to do me harm and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom."      
Last week the parable of the widow and the unjust judge taught "the necessity of praying always and not losing heart."   This week Luke continues his treatment of prayer with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector which is "addressed to those who believed in their own self‑righteousness while holding everyone else in contempt."
The Pharisee's prayer reminds us that piety can turn into narcissism.  “With head unbowed,” he begins by assuming in a god-like way to judge himself as morally superior to others. “‘I give you thanks, O God, that I am not like the rest of men‑‑grasping, crooked, adulterous‑‑ or even like this tax collector.’” Then, with smug self-assurance, he goes on to list his deeds of extraordinary piety: ‘I fast twice a week.  I pay tithes on all I possess.’  The Pharisee's prayer is really an act of idolatrous self-love. Instead of opening himself to God's gifts, he enumerates his own accomplishments.

In sharp contrast to the Pharisee's moral posturing, the tax collector prays by humbly acknowledging the truth that he is a sinner.  "The other man, however, kept his distance, not even daring to raise his eyes to heaven.  All he did was beat his breast and say, ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’" Because the tax collector recognizes his need for God's mercy, Jesus asserts: “Believe me, this man went home from the temple justified but the other did not.” 
This parable forces us to choose between two ways of approaching God.  Either we turn religion into a self-righteous worship of our own moral superiority, or we admit our need for God's mercy.  Jesus concludes: "For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled while he who humbles himself shall be exalted."  (Lk 18:14) 

Monday, October 14, 2019

29th Sunday C

Readings: Exodus 17:8‑13  2 Timothy 3:14‑4:2  Luke 18:1‑8

As a teacher, I encourage my students to develop consistent study habits so that they will be able to endure the rigors of a course that stretches over a semester or a full year.  Today's readings speak of the same type of perseverance in prayer.  As we struggle to be faithful to our Christian calling, let us pray with hope the words of this Sunday's responsorial psalm: “I lift up my eyes toward the mountains;/ whence shall help come to me?/ My help is from the Lord,/ who made heaven and earth” (Ps 121:1‑2). 
The Exodus reading depicts both the difficulties of persevering in faithful prayer under trying circumstances and the need for support from others in the faith community.  As the Israelites make their way out of Egypt and through the wilderness toward Mount Sinai, they are attacked by the Amalekites, a fierce tribe of desert nomads.  Israel's survival in this battle does not depend upon superior military strength or strategy, but upon Moses' continuous prayer.  As he sends Joshua into battle, Moses assures him, “I will be standing on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”  As long as Moses keeps his hands raised in prayer, Israel has the better of the fight, but when he becomes weary and let his hands rest, the Amalekites prevail.   Only with the help of Aaron and Hur, who "supported his hands," is Moses able to continue in prayer so Joshua and his men may defeat the Amalekites.
The Pauline writer’s advice to Timothy in the epistle reading continues the theme of fidelity by charging him to "remain faithful to what you have learned and believed."  The major "source of wisdom" in Timothy's struggle to be faithful is the "sacred Scriptures" which at this point would have been the Jewish Scriptures, and possibly Paul's letters and the Gospels and Acts.  In a famous line later used by St. Thomas Aquinas as a basis for the science of theology, Scripture is described as "inspired of God and useful for teaching‑‑ for reproof, correction and training in holiness so that the person of God may be fully competent and equipped for every good work."  With the help of Scripture's wisdom, Paul charges Timothy to be faithful to his duty as a minister of the gospel: "preach the word, stay with this task whether convenient or inconvenient-- correcting, reproving, appealing‑‑ constantly teaching and never losing patience."
In the Gospel Jesus tells the parable of the widow and the unjust judge for the specific purpose of teaching his disciples "the necessity of praying always and not losing heart."  In the previous section of Luke, Jesus warns his disciples that the time will come “when you will long to see one of the days of the  Son of Man, but you will not see it” (Lk 17:22).  During the delay before Jesus' return the disciples' fidelity will be tested, like the generations of Noah and Lot.  If they want to save their lives in this time of trial, Jesus' followers must be willing to lose them in loving service (see Lk 17:23‑37).

In this context, the disciples, who will be tempted to lose heart, are to identify with the widow in the parable.  Her situation is doubly perilous.  She has virtually no power in the patriarchal society, and she is pleading with an "unjust" judge, who "respects neither God nor man."  But she can at least make a nuisance of herself and continually badger the judge until he settles the case in her favor.  This humorous example of  a corrupt judge caving in to the widow's persistent demand for  justice is the basis for an argument from the lesser case to the  greater, a favorite technique in Jesus' parables and in the teachings of the rabbis.  Jesus reasons that if a corrupt judge finally accedes to a persistent widow's demands, “Will not God then do justice to his chosen who call out to him day and night?   Will he delay long over them, do you suppose?”  He answers his own question by affirming, “I tell you he will give them swift justice.”  Jesus concludes by asking a further question to challenge his disciples: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on the earth?”  Only people of faith will have the persistence to "pray always and not lose heart."

Monday, October 7, 2019

28th Sunday C

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: 2 Kings 5:14‑17  2 Timothy 2:8‑13  
Luke 17:11‑19

In today's readings two foreign lepers, Naaman the Syrian and an unnamed Samaritan, thank God for the gift of healing.   Let us rejoice with them in the words of the responsorial psalm:  "All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation by our God" (Ps 98). 
The beautiful story of Naaman and Elisha challenges stereotypes about wisdom, power, and race.  Naaman is a highly esteemed Syrian army commander, but he is afflicted with leprosy. Although Aram (Syria) and Israel are bitter enemies, at the suggestion of his wife's servant girl, Naaman comes to Israel to be healed by “the prophet in Samaria.”  But the king of Aram assumes that Naaman will be cured by the king of Israel and therefore provides his commander with extravagant gifts and a letter of introduction.   When the Israelite king reads the letter requesting a cure, he acknowledges his powerlessness in these matters by lamenting, “Am I a god with power over life and death, that this man should send someone to me to be cured of leprosy.”  Elisha then sends word to the king: “Let him come to me and find out that there is a prophet in Israel.”  
At first Naaman is offended by the simplicity of Elisha's instructions to plunge seven times into the Jordan river.  “I  thought that he would surely come out and stand there to invoke  the Lord his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy.”  He also denigrates the modest waters of the Jordan in comparison with the mighty rivers of Syria. Despite his reservations, a servant convinces Naaman to do as the prophet has commanded.
Once he has been cured, Naaman is overwhelmed with gratitude and courageously converts to belief in the God of Israel.  He offers a gift to Elisha, the prophet, who refuses it because he has only been fulfilling his duty.  Although Naaman will have to return to his native country and enter the temple of the god of Aram, he asks the prophet for two mule‑loads of earth from Israel so that he may build an altar upon it and continue to offer sacrifice only to the Lord the God of Israel.   Impressed by this foreigner's courageous faith, Elisha dismisses him with the words, “Go in peace.”
The Epistle reading instructs Timothy that he must bear his share of the hardships which come from preaching the gospel.   The Pauline author admonishes him to "remember" that the heart of the gospel is that "Jesus Christ was raised from the dead."  Therefore, any suffering, including Paul's imprisonment in "chains" as a criminal, is to be endured with the confidence that "there is no chaining the word of God."  Using a baptismal hymn, the author ensures Timothy of the reliability of his faith. “You can depend on this: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we hold out to the end, we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he will still remain faithful; for he cannot deny himself.”   
To appreciate the shocking nature of the Gospel story, we have to recall the traditional hatred between Jews and Samaritans as was illustrated at the beginning of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem in Luke when the Samaritans refused to receive Jesus and his disciples into their village because he was going to Jerusalem.   On that occasion the disciples asked Jesus to retaliate with the words, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” But Jesus rebuked them for their hatred and moved on to another village.  Now as Jesus draws near to Jerusalem, only a Samaritan, among the ten lepers Jesus cleansed, returns to give thanks.  Like the famous character of the "Good Samaritan" in Jesus' parable (see Lk 10:29‑37) who exemplifies true love of neighbor, this real Samaritan illustrates the appropriate response to God's merciful action.  Luke skillfully conceals his identity until he has described his grateful actions.  
“One of them, realizing that he had been cured, came back praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself on his face at the feet of Jesus and spoke his praises.  This man was a Samaritan.”
Let us resolve to imitate the Samaritan’s faith and gratitude for God's saving action in our own lives.  “Jesus took the occasion to say, ‘Were not all ten made whole?  Where are the other nine? Was there no one to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?’  Jesus said to the man,
‘Stand up and go your way; your faith has been your salvation.’”

Monday, September 30, 2019

27th Sunday C

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: Habakkuk 1:2‑3; 2:2‑4  2 Timothy 1:6‑8,13‑14  Luke  17:5‑10

Faith is more than an intellectual assent to an abstract creedal formula having nothing to do with daily struggles in life.  Today's readings plunge us into life's suffering and mystery where faith involves perseverance in struggling for God's justice.  As we actively wait in hope for the completion of God's kingdom, let us hearken to the call of the responsorial psalm:  "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Ps 95).
Habakkuk's prophecy comes from the period when idolatry and political corruption engulfed Judah, immediately prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon.  In the midst of this moral chaos, the prophet repeatedly cries out to God about the "violence," "ruin," "misery," "destruction," "strife," and "clamorous discord" that surround him.  He accuses God of being indifferent to the corruption of the nation and the apparent triumph of injustice.  "How long, O Lord?  I cry for help/ but you do not listen!" 
God then challenges Habakkuk to do two things.  First of all, he must "write down the vision" about the triumph of God's justice.  Habakkuk must do this ahead of time "so that one can read it readily."  Then, God assures him that the vision is trustworthy.  "For the vision still has its time,/ presses on to  fulfillment, and will not disappoint."  Secondly, the prophet himself, along with the community, will have to wait for the fulfillment of the vision.  This time of waiting will sort out the foolish from the wise, the "rash" from the faithful. “If it delays, wait for it,/ It will surely come, it will not be late./ The rash man has no integrity;/ but the just man, because of his faith, shall live” (Hab 2:3‑4).
If one is tempted to think of faith as a passive virtue, the reading from 2 Timothy completely dispels this notion.  Timothy is a second or third generation Christian.  His faith came from his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice (see 2 Tim 1:5).  Now the Pauline author exhorts him "to stir into flame the gift God bestowed when my hands were laid on you."   Timothy's faith will have to be courageous and steadfast.  He is reminded, "The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly spirit, but rather one that makes us strong, loving and wise."  Timothy, like Jesus and Paul, may suffer persecution for the faith.  But he is warned: "never be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but with the strength which comes from God bear your share of the hardship which the gospel entails."
The gospel also presents faith as a virtue for the active living of the Christian life.  In the previous section of Luke Jesus warns the disciples about the dangers of temptations to sin and the need to forgive a repentant brother who has sinned against them as many as seven times (Lk 17:1‑4).  Faced with these demands, the apostles beseech the Lord, “Increase our faith.”   Jesus replies by saying, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore, ‘Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

In the following parable of the master and the slave, Jesus then warns the disciples against understanding faith as a kind of meritorious claim on God for a reward.  Drawing upon the well‑known duties of the slave, Jesus reminds his followers, who may have done their duty by living lives of faith, that they should not expect an earthly reward, any more than a slave would expect his master to serve him supper after he has done his work in the field.  Rather, after they have done all they have been commanded to do, Jesus' disciples should say, "We are useless servants.  We have done no more than our duty."  True faith leads to continuous service, not shrewd calculation of rewards due for past actions.