It’s Not the Money!

3rd Sunday of Lent 3-4-18

Readings: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19: 8-11, 1 Corthinthians 1:22-25; John 2: 13-25

It’s Not the Money!

I strongly suspect that Jesus’ attitude about money and the accumulation of wealth was very different from the attitudes prevalent in America today.  Remember that Jesus was an itinerary preacher in the 1st Century in Judea – or as we know it, Israel.  We know that he owned no property and seemly had nothing more than the clothes on his back.  In Matthew 8:20, he says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”   He said that in the context of the price of discipleship.  In other words, he had made a choice.  He could have decided to be a craftsman.  Current scholars think that Joseph was not just a crude carpenter, but a skilled artisan who might have worked on some of the larger Roman buildings of the day.  It would have been a good paying job, a respected occupation with steady work.  Jesus was never shy to tell us that discipleship is a choice, and there were social and economic costs associated with discipleship.

But while Jesus did not choose to pursue money, he was fully aware of the cost of what money can do to us. He carefully seemed to avoid having any money at all.  Remember when, in Matthew 17: 24-27, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter about Jesus paying the tax.  Jesus tells Peter to catch a fish, and Peter finds a coin that will be enough to pay the tax for himself and Jesus.  I doubt that Jesus’ clothing had pockets at all; he had no “pocket change.”

When Jesus watched the people make their contributions in the temple, Mark 12: 41-44, he remarked, “…this poor widow has put in (two pennies), more than all those who have given (greater amounts) to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” He was not impressed with the amount of money which was given, but rather the sacrifice.  Jesus knew that 2 cents is more than $1,000 when it is all you have.

And finally, in Matthew 22: 20-22, the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus by asking if it was lawful to pay the Roman census tax. His reply was, ““Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” You may say that we owe everything to God, or that that we should pay our taxes, but however you choose to interpret this brilliantly vague response, you know that Jesus was not awake nights worried about money or taxes. Money did not make his top 10 list of important things in life.

With all this being said, I find it hard to focus on the way the money changers in the temple exchanged currency. No doubt they were charging unfair rates.  The historical writings from the 1st century record the political and financial maneuvering and bribes that went into being given permission to have one of those merchant stalls in the temple.  That part of the story would be understandable, at least to us, despite being rather despicable.  Still, it was the same as bank fees and exchange rates for currency in much of our world.  So what was it that set Jesus off?

What was the gross sin of the money changers and the sellers of sheep, oxen and doves? Well, where were they doing business?  For that you need to know something about the temple.  The Outer Court of the Temple in Jerusalem allowed anyone to come in and pray and learn about God.  Only here could Jews converse with non-Jews and foreigners without being ritually unclean.  Only here could faithful Jews tell others about their God, their faith, and beliefs.  It was a place where what we call “evangelism” could take place.  Instead, the noise and the ruckus of the animals and the shameless profiteering prevented any serious conversation or meditation.

The merchants were not only stealing money from people by their excessive rates, but more importantly, they were stealing the knowledge of God from people who had come to learn. They were preventing people from coming to know God, and from praying.  Jesus told us in Luke 19: 10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”  So the sin of the merchants was to purposely prevent The Mission of God’s son.  The sin was, for a little money, to come between God and his children.  In Matthew 18:6, we find this description of the sin: “If anyone causes one of …those who believe in me…to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” No wonder Jesus was so angry.

We have a much larger “Court” than the Outer Court of the Temple where we can pray, and meditate, and talk about God with those who are seeking the divine.  We have much of our nation where it is permissible to talk with people who want to learn, to have their questions answered.  It is a wonderful privilege.  It is, of course,  also a responsibility.  How do we present God?  Such conversations have recently felt more polarized, more political.  God, of course, is not political.  God is a God of love for the poor, a defender of children and those who are unable to provide for themselves.  God is the healer of the broken-hearted, those who have been used and abused.  God is not a God of religion, but a God of faith and trust and truth.   Are we ready to have these conversations in a tender way, with the attitude of a servant of God?

Many thanks to BJ on The River Walk blog for this perspective.


The Long and Short of Mark 1

6th Sunday in Ordinary time, 2-11-18

Lev 13:1-2, 44-46; Ps: 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

This is the last Sunday before the start of Lent. For the last three weeks, we have had sequential readings from the Gospel of Mark.  In fact, we have read nearly all of Chapter 1.  Mark has given us a great deal of information about Jesus, the purpose and style of his mission, his unique authority to teach and heal, and his intensity and power.  Today, I want to recap these readings, because I believe they are an excellent entry into Lent as well as a very solid base for expanding the ministry of Holy Trinity.

The first 14 verses of Mark tell us about the baptism of Jesus and his time of temptation in the desert. Jesus’ first words recorded by Mark are, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” You will remember that when the ashes are placed on your forehead on Ash Wednesday,  one or both of these things are said, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  (Now we know where that came from.) The second one is not as familiar, maybe because it seems a little vague; we may not be sure what is being asked of us.

If someone calls you and says, “I have good news – our baby boy was born this morning,” you understand that not only is the message good news, but the baby himself is good news. The Jews had waited about 1,000 years for the arrival of the Messiah.  Now, Mark tells us, the Messiah, Jesus, is teaching and healing and present with his people.  Not only do we find the announcement good, but Jesus’ message is good news, as is his very self.  “Gos” means good and “Spel” means story, or news.   Jesus, and all he says and does, is the gospel.   We are to repent and shed our sin along with shedding the attitude of waiting.

Jesus acts this out by calling Simon, Andrew, James and John from their fishing nets, and “immediately” they leave their boats and go with him.   For them to do that was very counter-cultural, even disrespectful of their family, and, frankly, just plan weird, even for us.  When is that last time you put down your pen on your desk and walked away from your job?  Can you imagine the power in Jesus’ command to, “Come with me”?  Have you ever felt anything like that?  Has God ever put that kind of message in your heart?  What would you do to enliven and built up Holy Trinity if that happened to you?

And then, Jesus, along with his followers, went to the synagogue. Jesus teaches there, “as one having authority”…and not just as a scribe, or scholar.  He commands an unclean spirit to leave a man, and it does.  Everyone is astonished and amazed.  Interesting, isn’t it – the unclean spirits know and obey Jesus in an instant, and we, well, often not so much.  Is it because we haven’t grasped what he asks us to do?  Or do we not know him well enough?

Jesus is then on his way to Simon/Peter’s house the same day. He restores Peter’s mother in-law to health; not only health, but a position of dignity and even fame.  As a widow in declining health, she is a burden on the family and is fearful for the future.  Jesus (immediately) “helpers her up”, says Mark.  What an understatement!

She is able to be a hostess who exceeds the high bar of Mediterranean hospitality. The house becomes the site of all kinds of healings, and her own healing will be known as long as the Bible is read.  Her life had been changed, forever different.  Do you doubt that Jesus could change Holy Trinity into a thriving place of worship and impact the community?

Next, Jesus touches a leper and says, “Be made clean.” This story is full of implications. First, the story came to us in Greek, and Greek uses verbs in ways that we don’t.  In this case, “Be made clean” means, “Someone else will make you clean.”  In other words, God is doing the healing.  Jesus is not claiming this power as his own, just as he does not offer to heal the widow, but helps her move away from the sick bed.  It is a great portrayal of Jesus as the obedient and humble son acting as the conduit of God’s power.  We can be the conduit of God’s power, which is often found in humble prayer, worship, and obedience.

Second, just as “a cold” can mean many possible illnesses, a “leper” in that day could have many different skin conditions. But they all had one thing in common: the person had ugly sores on their body.  Any type of physical disfiguration was suspect then, and made the person “ritually unclean”.  No animal with any physical imperfections could be used for sacrifice in the temple.  Likewise, no person with sores could worship in the temple.  To add insult to injury, the cause of illness was presumed to be sin. The person was blamed for their own illness, and they were viewed as moral pollution in the community.

Because it was seen as a “sin” issue, the Priest banished lepers and declared them healed. The isolation and blame could be worse than the sores.  This leper somehow knows and believes in Jesus.  Jesus, evidently, was a cafeteria Jew, because he followed the Jewish law in Leviticus and sent the leper to the priest; but he touched the leper in pity, thereby breaking another law as he restored the man to wholeness.  Jesus put himself at risk of being mobbed by suffering people in hopes of healing.  He told the leper to be silent, not wanting a reputation as a miracle man/ wonder worker.  Remember, he came to urge repentance and belief.  He knew his goal.  What is our goal, here in this parish?

So, to be like Jesus, we must be short on presumption and long on pity. We must be dependent on God’s power and know it.  We must use God’s eyes to see past the sores on skin and see the sores of the heart.  We must focus on our goal and honor the directives of God, not culture.  With prayerful discernment we must be prepared to act for the glory of God when we are called.  Old presumptions may require repentance, and belief may need to be strengthened.  Our path forward as a church may bring us change, but we can trust it will be “Good News”.

Big Bucks and a Great Big Job

33rd Sunday Ordinary time 11-19-17

Proverbs 31:10-13; 19-20, 30-31, Ps: 128:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6;

Matthew 25:14-30

We begin our Gospel reading with the verse immediately after where we left off last week after the parable about the ten young women waiting for a bridegroom. 5 women ran out of oil for their lamps. While they were away buying oil, the bridegroom came and locked them out of the wedding celebration. They failed to be prepared.

As Fr. Joe told us, this parable was not about weddings, but about the last days, the end times, the 2nd coming of Jesus. And the lamps are not about oil or energizer bunny batteries, but about being prepared for the inevitable judgment that is part of the end times. We’re more apt to say something like, “Get your lights on”, meaning to understand what needs to be done, and to make sure our faith and our behavior line up. We are talking about being tuned into God (prayer), staying tight with our faith (worship), and using the life teaching app Jesus left us (the Bible).

So we must again look at today’s Gospel and interpret it through the lens of last days and end times. This is again not about money, or interest rates. The Greek talanton was a huge monetary unit of silver coinage worth about the same as the lifetime earnings of a Palestinian laborer. Parables often use exaggeration to make the lesson more obvious, but the fact that the first servant was given 5 talantons should tip you off right away that whatever we are talking about is of great value, perhaps even something that cannot be bought or sold. Also notice the master is entrusting his property to the servants, very valuable property. The master is taking great risk and his high expectations are clear.

The other important piece is the setting of this parable. This takes place after Palm Sunday. It is two days before Passover. Judas is about to begin his negotiations with the Chief priests to betray Jesus. This is Jesus’ last major teaching to his followers. He has already told them that he will be crucified. He, like the master in the parable, is going away, for a long time. What valuable property is Jesus entrusting to his disciples? He’s given them the message of the kingdom. What a privilege it must have been to hear it from Jesus, yet it also was a great responsibility. Those who hear it are accountable for continuing to share the message as Jesus gave it to them. It is a message that makes any amount of money seem insignificant, and the expectation is enormous.

So what does Jesus give each one of us? Breath, life itself, forgiveness, love, mercy, grace, unselfish love; companionship, the bread of life and the cup of salvation, free will, birds, flowers, our food growing in the fields, and the riches of the earth! We could continue to add to the list all day. And what does he ask us, his servants, to do? Well, we are to be responsible for the church, for living and sharing the Good News we have heard. We are to join together in community, encouraging one another and embracing the needy, the hopeless, the sick, and those imprisoned in bad choices. We are to “handle these accounts” for him until he returns. It is a huge responsibility, even more than those large sums of money. The servants who doubled the master’s money were praised. The master says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…Come share your master’s joy.”

What will earn us praise? What is it like to be responsible for the church? Jesus is not suggesting the church should remain as it was. Pope John XXIII said: “We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.” The apostles knew that the church was not to be buried in a “safe” place.
That sounds like what the 3rd servant did, who just kept the money he was given safe. It did not grow. He did it alone, without going to any bankers or fellow servants to guide him. He just, well, did nothing; life as usual. But his response to the master gives him away. He says he knew his master’s expectations and he was afraid. Given the master’s reaction to the other 2 servants, I have to question if he really knew his master at all.

He reminds me of people I meet. They say they know what Jesus taught, that they understand the expectations of love and generosity, yet somehow they remain unmotivated to be productive or get help changing their life, and they continue on, disobeying the master, somehow thinking that handing back the money would be enough. Did your math teacher give you a passing grade when you had not learned anything? Does the mortgage get paid when you have not earned anything? No; and there are consequences. The 3rd servant found this out. He lost his job and his home, and suffered in remorse. He was bound by fear of loss, and loss was the result.

But we just talked about St. Paul’s 2nd missionary journey; that demonstrated that Paul was often not safe, worked hard sometimes for little gain, but always rebounded to move on and share the Good News of Jesus and the resurrection. He taught the scriptures unceasingly, he created faith communities all over Asia Minor, and his letters created a network of Christians. He took enormous risks, with no regrets. He wrote, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time, we shall reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9)

Are you willing to take risks for the Gospel, or are you paralyzed by fear? If you were a leader in the Church, what kind of risks would you take to insure growth of the faithful? Let those questions perk in your mind, for we will come back to them another day. The intent of this parable is to urge us to be faithful in our obedience to the Gospel until Jesus returns. The idea of stewardship derives its importance from the importance of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom. The parable’s harsh ending of judgment and punishment is not necessarily a realistic description of divine judgment, but it serves to warn us and shock us into thoughtfully considering how we invest ourselves in the growth of the Kingdom.

Stay tuned: next week will be the last Sunday of the church year, and Jesus will finish his “last days” homily, which includes more specifics of his expectations and how to meet them.

Be Prepared

32nd Sun Ordinary time, 11-12-17 Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm: 63:2-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18;  Matthew 25:1-13


Once again our Lectionary is playing a trick on us. What does it do?  Well, it leaves out the first word of our Gospel!  What is that word?  The word is, “Then”.  Why does it matter? For two reasons: first, it lets us know that this part of Matthew’s Gospel is a series of teachings and parables about the end times.  This parable is not free-standing and disconnected.   Second, it tells us that Jesus is teaching about things in the future.  In fact, all of verse one is important.  Jesus says, “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to (or “will be like”) ten maidens who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.”  This lets us know we need to read it like a parable, which is a lesson which uses a story to explain some important point.  The story isn’t the point, and the characters and setting aren’t the point – but the story is a way to make a point.  The kingdom of heaven is “like” the whole story, not just parts of it or people in it.

One of the common problems with this parable is that people get hung up on the unimportant setting of the story. We don’t know a lot about the historical wedding traditions of Jesus’ day, and what we do know indicates that many areas had a variety of traditions.*  Where the bridegroom was coming from or going to is not part of the story.   This is not about the church, or the maidens, or lamp oil.  When we focus on these things, we miss the point of the story.  Let’s talk instead about what the parable teaches.

This is a parable that was in part clarified by the Dead Sea Scrolls, found only some 50 or so years ago (the writings of the Christian community at Qumran). The document 4Q434a* describes messianic times when evil ends, the earth is filled with God’s glory, and sins are reconciled.  “(The Messiah) will console them in Jerusalem…like a bridegroom with his bride he will live for ever…his throne is for ever and ever…”   This fits with Matt 9:15 (Cana wedding), Mark 2:19-20 (When the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples do not fast), and Luke 5: 34-35 (also in response to questions about fasting); these are all scriptures where Jesus used the term “bridegroom” for himself.  So, the coming of the “bridegroom” in our Gospel refers to the second coming of Jesus.*

Matthew also uses the idea of “I do not know you” in Matthew 7:23 when Jesus tells his followers, “No every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” In other words, those who do not do God’s will be told, “I never knew you; depart from me.” Scholars suggest that this was a common expression of the day for a teacher whose followers failed to follow through with what they had been taught*.  This expression reminds us that there will be a final judgment – those who have done the will of God will be separated from those who chose their own beliefs and agenda.  There are consequences for filling our days with goals that do not match God’s will, and leaving love and wisdom until “later.”

This parable was told to Jesus’ followers. But it also was a warning for all who heard him, Jew, Pharisee, or Gentile, us, then or now – to be prepared for Jesus’ return.  The surrounding teachings in Matthew chapters 24 and 25 all stress the need for being ready for the end times – whether it should come earlier than expected or later than expected.

Indeed, the parable just before our reading is the parable about the servant who is drunk and abusive to the other servants because the master is away, and is not expected for some time. The master arrives sooner than expected and the servant is punished and thrown out.  The servant was not ready.  Now we read about women who are not ready when the bridegroom was delayed.   In this instance, the parable is based on this delay.  The delay* is the factor which reveals which women were prepared and which were not.

Some people have suggested that Matthew conceived this parable to assure Christians who feared that Jesus would not return.  But there is no evidence of that here. Rather, we are reading about wisdom and foolishness in regard to being prepared.  Jesus uses “Wisdom” and “readiness” as synonyms.*  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all emphasized Jesus’ statement, “heaven and earth will pass away…but of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, not the Son, but the Father alone… therefore, be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”

So, we are to be alert. We are not to sit on the sidelines, with a ready supply of beer and pretzels, and watch life go past us.  Our call to readiness and preparedness is to faithfully fulfill our Christian calling.  When we care for our neighbors, near and far, we actively display our faith for all to see. We are like lights in the darkness of selfishness and greed.  We display love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  (Galatians 5:22) In one of the great paradoxes of life, we find that by choosing a path which may appear difficult and burdensome, we find joy and peace.

We proclaim victory over death. We pray God’s Kingdom will come.  We work so evil will come to an end.  This is a way to live – each day and in every circumstance, a frame for how we approach life; the basis for every decision we make.  Wisdom, Solomon wrote, “is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.  (Wisdom) hastens to make herself known, anticipating (our need for her)”; Wisdom will not disappoint us.  And Jesus, upon his return, will find us ready.


*From Klyne R. Snodgrass’ book, “Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the parables of Jesus.” William B. Eerdmans Publisher, 2008, Pages 509-518.

Homily, September 17, 2017- the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

24sun5Forgiveness is something we all encounter at one time or another in both directions, giving and receiving. This was an important part of Jesus ministry and is subject of one of his sacraments. If we know and realize that love is an important part of relationships and of our relationship with God, we can hopefully realize the importance of forgiveness. To quickly understand, let us look at a married couple in love. It is inevitable in living that two people living together are going to have disagreements and arguments as a normal course of living. 24sun4But truly, living out their lives involves give and take and forgiving slights and differences, even large ones. Forgiveness is not a one time thing, but an integral part of life and love and relationships. Forgiveness looks to the future and has its own way of putting behind what was the dispute. To say, “I’ll forgive but never forget,” is not Christian and certainly not what we ourselves ask when we ask forgiveness. I ask 24sun3where would we be if God himself said he would not forget? Yet the words of the sacrament are “I absolve you of all your sins.” His love is unconditional and so should ours be.

Each of us knows the weakness and failure that sometimes only we know and the many times we ask for forgiveness for our actions. This access to forgiveness we seek, is something we should be prepared to give and share to those who in any way need our forgiveness as we live our daily lives.