As I see new books being published today, one genre that is prominent is the apocalyptic. So many authors are looking into the future, and seeing destruction, devastation and every form of chaos in what I call gloom and doom. This we encounter in Daniel and our gospel today. The question of evil and chaos and an impossible future lies ahead. Bad things like natural disasters, and the evil of war, and the greed of always wanting more, all contribute to the gloom and doom. But we must remember that Apocalyptic writing is not to be taken literally. Our readings are not meant to point to some final catastrophe, but rather to remind us of our immortality and that each of us will transition into a new life, a whole new divine dimension which we can only speculate. Loving and understanding God is like how a child comes to understand a parent. It is a process that takes years or even a lifetime before we understand and never come to a complete understanding. Certainly in our world bad things happen, but God has chosen to give humanity freedom and nature the ability to evolve. Yet he has given us the charge and the ability to care for each other if we choose to follow his love. Christ has shown the way of what total love and sacrifice is. We will make our transition to a new life if we follow what he has called us to do. Like Daniel, who told his people that God was there for them and would receive them at the end. It is the same for us if you recall each mass we say “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”
In Christ’s time, the poorest of the poor were the widows. They could not inherit or own property. They were dependent on family and on what donations they could get from the scribes and pharisees. Their husbands’ inheritance would go to the scribes and pharisees to administer and care for the poor, widows and children. Jesus today is condemning them for their dressing distinctively and their lavish lifestyle which was using the wealth that should have been using for the poor. What he saw was a betrayal of what their purpose was. It was a betrayal of trust and a neglect of the poor with whom Jesus had a special identity. Wealth was not a bad thing, but the way it was, and even today how it is used, is the important thing. It is easy to get quickly attached to wealth and lose sight of our ultimate goals of life. If we put ourselves and our “stuff” first, it can get in the way of our doing the right thing when moments of choice and decision come upon us. Lets look at the two widows in our readings. The first was a Gentile who met the Jewish prophet Elijah. As you might recall, one common thing in the region was the hospitality shown to a stranger. As Elijah requested water and bread, she explained she had only enough flour and oil for one last meal. But she did as Elijah requested, even if it meant she had less for her final meal. She did it, giving over her doubts and fears. And I dare say the widow at the temple who is so often used to say “give until it hurts”, was making her offering trusting that those scribes and pharisees would come through. For her it was the right thing to do to pay the temple tax. In all our lives, there are moments or times that come that give us a choice to do what is easy and often selfish and what is the right thing. Often the right thing is like a leap into darkness as we can’t always know the result. It is a time we have to let go and show our faith in God. That is the story of the two widows, faith and trust.
Today’s feast is a reminder that we are all God’s children now. In the early church, they were very aware that they were made holy by baptism and even addressed each other as holy and saints. In the first reading, John was expecting persecution to break out in Asia Minor and thus in this Apocalyptic book, described the shedding of blood as cleansing their robes for heaven. But the cleansing blood that he refers to, is the blood of Christ. His blood was cleansing for all of the world. As God’s children we are part of his kingdom now. What we transition to when we die is not known. The beatitudes show us a way, a view of what lies ahead. The poor, the suffering, the persecuted, and those who have followed Christ will be filled and comforted. The culture of Israel was different from our world today. Respect and status centered in tribes and the tribes were grouped in families. It was very male oriented and status conscious. Today, we live in a capitalist and consumer oriented society. We are sometimes so tied up in things and self we lose sight of others. Yet sinners that we all are, holiness or sainthood is among us also. Surely you realize we receive Christ’s mercy and forgiveness at each Mass. The Eucharist each time reminds us we are washed clean in his blood and retain his presence in us as we remain one with him. Being holy means being aware and open to others. Like Christ we need to show mercy and forgiveness. This is what brings God’s peace and contentment to us. I lived with a man who wanted to be a priest, leaving all behind. But more was asked of him on that journey when a broken neck made him a paraplegic at 19 in his first year of seminary. He survived and even though he was totally disabled moved forward and was ordained. His cause for sainthood has been advanced, but to me it reminds me that Christ is alive in our lives, he walks among us, he is at our activities, in fact with us always wherever we go. The homeless, the poor, the outsiders have God’s presence also. We are all God’s children now.
Paul today clearly points out that the Word of God is living and effective. It penetrates soul and spirit and joints and marrow. It discerns what is in our hearts and is in every creature. We know from John’s gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. “ and “the Word became Flesh” God’s word we know as Jesus who lived, died, and rose and ascended back to His father. As Paul said the Word is living and active. Jesus thru our baptism and confirmation and the Eucharist is present in our very body and spirit. Together the community is the body of Christ as are each one of us. As such we carry the Word of Christ each day in our presence to others. We must remember the Word, Jesus, is alive and active and works through us today. He simply said to Love God and Love our neighbor as ourselves. No ritual, law or person really supersedes these commands of Jesus.
And so we come to the rich young man. He was very rich and comfortable and kept all the precepts of the law presented to him. But Jesus as we see loved the man and invited him to follow him, gut to first give up his wealth. This rich man received a special call from Jesus, yet he turned him down for his wealth and comfort got in the way. We know that Jesus loves and calls us all, each in different ways to live and minister or work with others. What we must realize is that we should trust in him and not be consumed in the here and now and what we have. We need to look beyond our doorstep and see and be present to those in need. Surely as I have said many times, we can not save the world, but we can sometimes make a difference for those we meet. Jesus did not heal all the sick of Galilee and Judea but only those he met. For all of us, the kingdom awaits if we follow and spread the Word in what we do and say and in who we are.
Paul tells us today that we are always courageous. He explains that we are at home in this world, in the body we have yet we are separated separated from the Lord. Our journey, our walk to a new life is one in faith. Alone we would be like a blind person stumbling along. Yet faith gives us the way and means to travel on in our journey. Faith is what brings us to the Kingdom of God, yet it is not a tangible visible thing. Jesus announced the kingdom of God has come and like our two parables today the seeds have scattered and planted themselves in the ground. Faith tells us that kingdom embraces all and ultimately asks for our accounting. Just as the field of grain was harvested or the mustard seed plant flourished, So too are we called to grow and flourish and produce grain or fruit or bush depending on the seed. Yet, we all know that the faith we have is grounded in the death and Resurrection. The Gifts of the sacraments and the Holy Spirit complete and enable in so many ways the faith we have and light the path or journey we are on. These gifts are the ultimate path and way to follow in our life’s journey.
n the gospel, we see Jesus return to Nazareth. While there, he is surrounded by his followers. When his relatives come and are questioning his actions and mission, he proclaims that they are not his family or brothers or sisters, but rather those who are part of his mission to hear the word of God are his family now. He is not evil or of the devil, for if he was how could the devil drive the devil from a possessed man. It is here he proclaims that all things can be forgiven except one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit. This statement has been much debated as to what is unforgivable. After all God is all loving and forgiving, what would be such he could not forgive. Obviously, it is not something God does to block forgiveness but what the sinner himself, does putting himself above and beyond God himself. He is beyond forgiveness because he sees no need of it or need to acknowledge a God above him. Think of it that we put ourselves as self-contained living our lives as we see fit with no thought or vision or idea of God above. Seem impossible? Look around and see the world today with the allurements of ease and pleasure and it is easy to be drawn away and forgetful of a loving God. We can see that in the first reading and remember, that while that is a story, the evilness it shows and predict is still within our world. Even as we believe, we are reminded that even Jesus was questioned for his ministry when he first returned home. In doing God’s will, he was breaking the traditions of town an family.