Monday, February 25, 2019

8th Sunday C

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: Sirach 27:4‑7  1 Corinthians 15:54‑58  Luke 6:39‑45

            “Each tree is known by its yield.”  In this Sunday's Gospel Jesus reaffirms the wisdom traditions of his Jewish ancestors and continues to instruct his disciples in the ethics of the Kingdom of God.   Our responsorial psalm (Ps 92) promises that "the just shall flourish like the palm tree/ like a cedar of Lebanon shall he grow."  In gratitude for this assurance, let us sing the words of the refrain: "Lord, it is good to give thanks to you."
            The reading from Sirach makes the sage observation that, for better or worse, speech and conversation reveal a person's character. “As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace,/ so in his conversation is the test of a man.” On the one hand, when evil people speak, their faults are evident. “When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear,/ so do a man’s faults when he speaks.” On the other hand, thoughtful speech discloses the bent of one's mind, like “the fruit of a tree shows the care it has had.”
            The Epistle reading concludes Paul's defense of the resurrection, which we have been reading for the past four weeks in 1 Corinthians 15.  Paul asserts that at the final resurrection, when our "corruptible frame takes on incorruptibility and the mortal immortality," God's final victory over Sin and Death will be complete.  He understands this victory as the fulfillment of two Scripture texts drawn from the prophets: "Death is swallowed up in victory" (Isa 25:8) and "O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?" (Hos 13:14).   Although the law was powerless to defeat the allied powers of Sin and Death (see Rom 7), Paul thanks God that the victory has now been won "through our Lord Jesus Christ" in his obedient death and triumphant resurrection.  He concludes by exhorting the Corinthians to “be steadfast and persevering . . . in the work of the Lord.”
            In the Gospel Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Plain by giving his disciples a series of priceless parables about judgment.  Some of them are quite humorous.  He captures the folly of committing one's life to a foolish teacher in the questions: "Can a blind man act as guide to a blind man? Will they not both fall into a ditch?"  He lampoons the presumption of daring to judge someone else in the picture of the hypocrite straining to remove “the speck” in his brother's eye while he has a “plank” in his own. "Why look at the speck in your brother's eye when you miss the plank in your own?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck from your eye,’ yet fail yourself to see the plank lodged in your own.” We should rather be concerned with correcting our own faults. “Hypocrite, remove the plank from your own eye first; then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  He reminds his disciples that their deeds reveal what is in their hearts.  “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit; nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.  For every tree is known by its fruit.  For people do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, nor do the gather grapes from brambles.”  And he concludes with the observation we heard in Sirach, speech reveals a person’s character.  “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of the store of evil produces evil, but from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Monday, February 18, 2019

7th Sunday C

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 2-23  
1 Corinthians 15:45‑49  Luke 6:27‑38

            No ethical teaching is more characteristic of Jesus than the command, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you . . ." (Lk 6:27).  But nothing seems to violate our natural instinct to self-preservation, if not retaliation, than the saying, "When someone slaps you on the cheek, turn and give him the other" (Lk 6:29).  Only with the guidance of the compassionate Father revealed to us by Jesus do we dare to walk on this most unworldly path.  "The Lord is kind and merciful."  Let the refrain for this Sunday's psalm (Ps 113) remind us of the Father's compassion for us sinners and even for our enemies.
            The Old Testament reading from Samuel recounts David's sparing of King Saul who has repeatedly attempted to kill him (see 1 Samuel 18‑23).  Although David's harp playing and warrior prowess are Saul's only hopes for sanity and victory over the Philistines, the king's mad jealousy has driven David from court and forced him to live as a virtual outlaw in the wilderness. Despite having every human reason for taking vengeance against Saul, David refuses to kill the Lord's anointed king.  In fact this is the second time that David has had Saul within his grasp (see 1 Samuel 24).  Each time David's men urge him to take his vengeance upon the king.  In today's reading, Abishai whispers to David, “God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day.  Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I will not need a second thrust!”  But David refuses and says, “Do not harm him, for who can lay hands on the Lord's anointed and remain unpunished?”  Instead of taking vengeance, David removes Saul's sword and water jug which he later uses to remind the king of his magnanimity.  “Here is the king's spear. . .  The Lord will reward each man for his justice and faithfulness.  Today, though the Lord delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the Lord's anointed.’”
            In the Epistle reading Paul continues his defense of the resurrection to the Corinthians.  One of the problems they had was visualizing the manner of the resurrection of the dead and the nature of resurrected bodies.  In the section preceding our reading, Paul uses a metaphor drawn from the planting of seeds to describe the miraculous transformation of our bodies at the resurrection. “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel . . . So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable” (1 Cor 15:36‑42). In our reading Paul makes the same argument using an antithetical contrast between the first man, Adam, who was natural and earthly, and Christ, the second Adam, who was spiritual and heavenly.  He concludes with the assertion, "Just as we resemble the man from earth, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven" (1 Cor 15:49).

            This Sunday's Gospel continues Jesus' sermon on the plain in Luke by amplifying the meaning of the blessings and curses which we heard in last week's gospel.  Jesus' commands are addressed to would be disciples, “To you who hear I say . . .”   The first set instructs the disciples in the way to respond to the persecution and hatred envisioned in the beatitude, “Blessed are you when  people hate you . . .” (Lk 6:22).  Jesus commands his persecuted followers to love and even bless and pray for their enemies (Lk 6:27‑29).  In the second set of commands, Jesus is challenging the rich and comfortable (6:24‑26) to use their wealth generously, even to the point of sharing with their enemies.  “If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? . . . love your enemies and do good to  them, and lend expecting nothing back” (Lk 6:34‑35).  
            Jesus concludes these radical teachings by giving the basis for his whole ethic.  His disciples are called to be “children of the Most High” by living out the merciful love of God, “for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (6:35‑36).

Monday, February 11, 2019

6th Sunday C

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: Jeremiah 17:5‑8  1 Corinthians 15:12,16‑20  
Luke 6:17,  20‑26

            "Happy are they who hope in the Lord."  This Sunday's responsorial psalm (Ps 1) reminds Christians that trust in God is the only ultimate security.  In a society that idolizes independence and self-fulfillment, today's readings challenge us to acknowledge our dependence upon God and to live lives of grateful service.
            The reading from Jeremiah is a wisdom saying affirming trust in the Lord as the only source of lasting happiness.  Using graphic imagery drawn from life in the desert, Jeremiah contrasts the curse ridden life of the godless person with the blessed life of one who trusts in God.  The one “whose heart turns away from the Lord" and trusts in mere “flesh” is cursed “like a barren bush in the desert,” standing “in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.”  In contrast, the one “who trusts in the Lord” is blessed “like a tree planted beside the waters” that remains green through the heat of summer and will produce fruit even in "the year of drought."   Notice that those who trust in God are not free from the ravages of “heat” and “drought,” but they are still able to bear fruit because of the strength that their “hope” in the Lord gives them. “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,/ whose hope is the Lord./ He is like a tree planted beside the waters/ that stretches out its roots to the stream./ It fears not the heat when it comes;/ its leaves stay green;/ in the year of drought it shows no distress,/ but still bears fruit.”                   
            The Epistle continues from last Sunday's reading Paul's defense of the resurrection to the Corinthians.  In this week’s selection he begins by supposing that there is no resurrection from the dead and examines what happens to the gospel in that case.  Without the resurrection, Christ has not been raised; Christian faith is vain; and the Corinthians are still in their sins, because Christ has not triumphed over Sin and Death. Paul concludes by bluntly asserting, “If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiable of men.” Having explored what denying the resurrection does to the gospel, Paul then reaffirms that indeed “Christ has been raised from the dead” and speaks of him as the first fruits of a harvest which will include all believers at the final resurrection.
            The Gospel is the beginning of Luke's great sermon “on the plain.”  It shares some of the beatitudes with Matthew's more famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5‑7), but adds curses for those who trust in riches and power.  Luke's Gentile audience probably included wealthy people who, unlike the Jews, had no tradition of almsgiving and care for the poor.  They especially need to hear Jesus’ blessings for the poor and persecuted and his woes cursing the rich and contented.
            These two groups are the same ones described in Jeremiah’s wisdom saying.  The blessed are those who acknowledge their dependence upon God: the poor, the hungry, the weeping, those hated, insulted, and denounced as evil on account of Jesus, the Son of Man. They are the ones Jesus is gathering in his ministry (see Lk 4:18‑19).  He assures them: “rejoice and exult, for your reward shall be great in heaven.”  In sharp contrast to these dependent ones, the cursed are those whose contentment with wealth, physical comforts, and worldly renown has caused them to settle for the kingdom of this world. They have their consolation now, but at the judgment they “will grieve and weep.”

            Luke's blessings and curses are worded in the second person plural: “Blest are you poor” . . . “But woe to you rich.”  We need to ask ourselves, to which group do we belong?  If we are in physical and spiritual need and are suffering for the cause of the gospel, Jesus’ words give us hope for ultimate happiness in heaven.  If we are wealthy, content, and well received by the powers of this world, we have already received our reward.

Monday, February 4, 2019

5th Sunday C

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Readings: Isaiah 6:1‑2, 3‑8  1 Corinthians 15:1‑11  Luke 5:1‑11

         “Leave me, Lord.  I am a sinful man.”  Peter's words to Jesus in today's Gospel express the sense of unworthiness that he, Isaiah, and Paul feel when confronted by God's holiness.   Despite, or even because of, their deep awareness of moral inadequacy, all three are called to be God's special messengers.   We too are sinners, called to be God's witnesses. Let us take consolation from today's readings as we sing with hope the lyrics of the psalm: "In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord" (Ps 138:1).
            Isaiah's account of his call to be the Lord's prophet describes his being transported to the heavenly court where he experiences the Lord's awe-inspiring holiness.  In Hebrew the word "holy" (qadosh) connotes moral purity, transcendence, and otherness. It is the opposite of “profane” or “ordinary.”  When Isaiah sees "the Lord seated on his high and lofty throne" and hears the seraphim crying out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” he is overwhelmed by his own and his people's sinfulness. "Woe is me, I am doomed!/ For I am a man of unclean lips,/ living among a people of unclean lips;/ yet my eyes have seen the King,  the Lord of hosts!" In response to Isaiah's admission of sin God forgives and purifies him.  One of the seraphim touches his mouth with a burning ember and says, “See now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”  Humbled and cleansed, Isaiah can then respond to the Lord's call with the words, “Here I am; send me.”      
            The Epistle continues the consecutive reading of First Corinthians with Paul's response to those who were taking the heart out of the gospel by denying the resurrection of the dead.   For the Corinthians, who were accustomed to the Greek belief in an immortal soul, a resurrected body after death is incomprehensible.  In Platonic thought, the soul was imprisoned in the body, the source of the passions and appetites which kept it from attaining truth and wisdom. In the face of this philosophical challenge, Paul reaffirms his initial preaching of the gospel by insisting that belief in the resurrection of the crucified Christ and the future resurrection of the dead at  Christ's return are central to the Christian faith.  He first lists the various appearances of the risen Jesus: to Cephas, the Twelve, five hundred brothers at once, James, and all of the apostles.   Last of all, Paul mentions Jesus’ appearance to him, "as one born out of the normal course." 
             Like Isaiah and Peter in the gospel, Paul is humbly aware of his sinfulness.  He describes himself as "the least of the apostles; . . . because I persecuted the church of God."  Despite the fact that he does "not even deserve the name" of apostle, God's "favor" to Paul "has not proved fruitless."  The one time persecutor has "worked harder that all the others," not through his power, "but through the favor of God."

            In Luke's Gospel, Simon is the first character to respond positively to Jesus' public preaching.  Even Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, had rejected him when he announced in the synagogue that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy of a Messiah for the poor and outcast (see Lk 4:16‑30).  In contrast, Luke emphasizes Simon's willing, but somewhat incredulous, cooperation with Jesus.  When Jesus asks him to pull his boat out a short distance from the shore so that he may teach the crowd, Simon does so.   But when Jesus finishes teaching and commands Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch,” the seasoned fisherman is skeptical, and only grudgingly complies.  “Master, we have been hard at it all night long and have caught nothing; but if you say so, I will lower the nets.”  Once Simon Peter witnesses the miraculous catch of fish, he is seized with amazement and a sense of unworthiness.  He falls at Jesus' knees and acknowledges his sinfulness.  Now he is ready to be the instrument of God's work.  Jesus can then assure him, “Do not be afraid.  From now on you will be catching men.”