It always seemed strange to me that Jesus got angry and attacked the sellers and money people in the temple and overturned tables and started a stampede of animals out of the temple. The account today is from John and places the incident at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The other three writers place it in Holy Week. Ultimately, Jesus is confronting the loss of faithfulness and the lack of true worship from the temple. The priests and scribes had lost their way and given into worldly things. Like the prophets before him, Jesus is calling out the establishment and serving notice the end is near for them if they do not repent and listen to the good news. The old law is about to be replaced and the one sacrifice for all and for all time is about to be replaced and the new temple is present. The Israelites had once again failed the covenant with God and now a new covenant was being started but only after cleansing the old temple. Ironically the old law and temple was replaced by the caretakers of it by killing Jesus. Jesus replaced the old law and presented a new code or way of love or living in the love of God. He stressed that the commandments were only two, Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In those two commandments are summed up all the law and the prophets. No longer was humanity to be burdened. The codes and laws and prescriptions of the scribes and pharisees are to be gone. Yet, even now humanity sometimes gets carried away with law and regulation. From such we need to be vigilant and remember. Jesus is our savior and has died and risen for us. He did that we might be free to love, unconstrained to find our way to Him. We must avoid placing anything that is an obstacle to God.
6th Sunday in Ordinary time, 2-11-18
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”.
4th Sunday in Ordinary time
Our 1st reading today starts with a reminder of when Moses brought down the 10 commandments from the mountain (Exodus 20: 10). There was thunder and lightening. The earth trembled, the clouds were thick, and there was a sound like trumpets blasting. It was scary; the people were afraid. They believed that they could die from getting too close to God. They never again wanted to hear the voice of God.
We believe God loves us, “and we long to see his face.” But have you ever wondered why God does not speak to us directly? Have you ever said, “I wish God would just tell me the answer to my problems”? We complain that God does not communicate with us clearly, making it hard to know the right thing to do.
In Moses day, there was an answer to the problem – people were called to be “prophets”. A prophet does not foretell the future; a prophet just relates a message clearly and accurately from God to a person or a group of people. Of course, that was no guarantee that anyone would do what the prophet said. The Old Testament is filled with the stories of people who found God’s message too difficult, or found the advice of other people more appealing, which always lead to humiliations and hardships.
Our Psalm mentions one of the occasions when this happened. While traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land, God gave Moses and the Israelites manna and quail to eat. But when they camped at a place which had no water, the people quarreled and rebelled against Moses’ leadership. They still failed to trust when Moses told them that God would provide for them, even after they had eaten the manna and seen God’s strength lead them out of slavery in Egypt! They rebelled against both God’s message and the prophet who brought the message. That is why the place was named Massah (quarrel) and Meribah (rebel). Once again, their fear had stopped them from hearing God. The Psalm is a prayer that we might to be able to hear God without a messenger.
Finally, our reading from Mark follows immediately after Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John from their fishing to follow him. It is the first time Jesus teaches in a local synagogue and does a healing miracle. They know Jesus only as the son of Joseph, a carpenter. The amazement of the people is somewhat skeptical. How is Jesus able to speak and teach with more understanding and knowledge than even the scribes, who are educated, who read and write with ease? Why is Jesus so sure of himself and teaches as one with vast experience and understanding? He is like a prophet who confidently announces words which come from God, and heals, too!
The unclean spirit in the man recognizes Jesus’ authority. The spirit cries out, literally shrieks in fear of Jesus, as Moses’ people had feared God. The spirit is unable to disobey and leaves the man. The people debate among themselves, trying to understand what they have witnessed. But they cannot deny what they have seen, and the news spreads rapidly. The fame of Jesus builds as the people recognize, even if they do not name the source of it, his authority and his power.
If only Mark had recorded the teaching! We do not know what he said, only the stunning impact he created on the people. It is hard not to wish we had been there to experience what amazed the people so. We also wish we had the clarity of Jesus’ teaching and his presence among us.
But we do! We have 4 Gospels, 4 different and fascinating records of the life, teaching, and miracles of Jesus. We also have all the letters by Paul and others that have been saved. We have some 2000 years of church history and Tradition. Many wise and faithful Christians have left their legacies, their lives, their writings, their studies for us. It is an incredible and vast collection to help us grow in the faith. We no longer have to wonder who Jesus was. Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit; we have the Spirit indwelling in our hearts to guide us.
But what if we fail to read or study the teaching of Jesus? We are like people who read only the first paragraph of each chapter of a book and think they are ready to attend a book club discussion. We would be like students who don’t read the assigned text book, expecting a couple of important bulletin points to be emailed to them by the professor. Hearing just short passages on Sunday robs us of the crucial settings and background of why, for example, Jesus told a particular parable. Jesus often refers to Moses and Abraham – how can we understand those references unless we know those characters and their stories.
Have you ever been pressed to explain or defend baptism or the Eucharist, and had difficulty? Do we take the Traditions of the church seriously? Do we learn all we can about why we pray as we do, why we have the sacraments and the depth of their meaning? No wonder we are so hesitant to tell other people about our faith and what it means to us. For our message to be attractive to others, it must include our knowledgeable and personal experience with God as Father, Brother, and Friend.
Perhaps we think God is silent because we are silent about God. Perhaps we have stopped listening to God and focused on all the “thunder and lightening” of our culture instead. Perhaps we still fear God, because we do not yet know God. Oh, that today we would hear God’s voice!
2nd Sunday Ordinary time. 1-14-18
We begin our readings in the middle of the story of Samuel. Who is Samuel, how does it matter; and why is he sleeping in the temple next to the Ark of God? The answers are found by returning to the 1st chapter of 1 Samuel in the Old Testament. Elkanah had two wives, Peninnah, and Hannah. Peninnah was very proud that she had given Elkanah several children. She purposely teased and taunted Hannah and upset her by bragging about the children. Hannah was unable to have a child, a cause of social disgrace in that culture. Children were a measure of a woman’s worth.
One day Hannah went into the temple to pray. She was weeping and moving her mouth in silent prayer. The Priest, Eli, thought she was drunk and scolded her. She told him that she was not drunk, but upset. Then Eli blessed her and later she had a son, who she named Samuel. (Hannah’s desire for a child is very like the story of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.) Then Hannah prayed in thanksgiving, saying, “My heart exults in the Lord….I rejoice in thy salvation. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.” (It is a prayer that is very much like Mary’s Magnificat.)
When he was old enough, Hannah brought Samuel to the temple to stay with Eli, so that Samuel could learn the ways of God and grow up in God’s presence. The Jews of that time believed that the Spirit of God lived in the temple, and filled the Ark of the Covenant. What better place for the boy to sleep than next to the Ark?
Eli’s sons, who were to succeed him as Priest, were disobedient to God and their father. But we are told that “the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.” (Luke’s Gospel tells us that after the boy Jesus talked with the teachers in the temple, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.”)
When Eli finally understood that God was speaking to Samuel, he taught him to say, “Speak for your servant is listening.” Those words are carried into our Psalm. In Psalm 40 we read, “Sacrifice or offerings you wish not, but ears open to obedience you gave me….so I said, “Here I am; your commands for me are written in the scroll. To do your will is my delight.” And the Letter to the Hebrews quotes Jesus as reciting this Psalm this way, “I have come to do your will, O God.” John’s Gospel has repeated instances when Jesus listened to God.
So Samuel’s story has elements that are very familiar. The Gospels draw on the stories from Jewish history to give us the message that Jesus was indeed “The One Who was to Come”. The people who first read these Gospels knew by this that Jesus was the Messiah.
So the 1st reading and the psalm prepare us for the Gospel. It is like the difference between saying to a child, “Here’s your milk”, and taking a child to a dairy farm, where they can see and touch a cow, hear it moo, and watch as the milk comes from the cow into the tubes to the tanks where it is pasteurized and perhaps chocolate added. That brings about understanding for the child. We need an understanding of some of the many ways the Jewish scriptures are not separate, but very connected to the New Testament. We see patterns that are not yet complete, and we have a sense of anticipation about the message of Jesus, the Messiah.
John the Baptist heard the message, and he foretold the coming of the Messiah. He did the will of God when he baptized Jesus and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The next day, where our reading picks up, he said it again. It initiates a chain reaction which changed the course of history. Two of John’s disciples heard him, Andrew and John (we think), and they immediately followed Jesus. It must have been a scene permanently engraved in John’s memory, because he even records the time of day. The implication is that staying that long with Jesus is a sign that the men were dedicated to remain with Jesus. From there, the excitement spread to Peter and beyond.
This is different from the calling of the disciples in the Gospel of Luke. Remember, John is not writing to preserve a step-by-step historical record of the events as our culture might expect. John is instead writing to explain who Jesus was, to reveal the character and motive of Jesus’ ministry and purpose. Still, John’s rendering of his joining Jesus at this time is supported by Peter’s remark in Acts 2:21-22. Peter wants to fill Judas’ place with someone “who accompanied us beginning from the baptism of John.”
The verb “follow” and the directive “follow me” appear 4 times in 6 verses, and many other times in the Gospels, don’t mean to just to walk along with. It is a much deeper connection. Notice that Jesus initiates the conversation. Jesus has come to earth to save the lost. Jesus does not hesitate to get to the heart of the issue; he asks, “What are you looking for?” These men would not have been disciples of John the Baptist if they had not been seeking a fuller life with God – something deeper than just living and then dying. “Where are you staying?” is a desire to know Jesus fully. His response, “Come, and you will see” conveys that he is open to their questions and offering a challenge to their faith.
This scene introduces us to many of John’s key words. “Coming” to Jesus is to have faith; “seeing” Jesus is to understand his message. As Fr. Raymond Brown, one of the primary authorities on John, puts it, “If the training of the disciples begins when they go to Jesus to see where he is staying and stay on (abide) with him, it will be completed when they see his glory and believe in him.” All this adds to our understanding of the scriptures.
But what do we do with it on Monday? Fr. John Pilch writes that this gives us a highly successful pattern for telling others about Jesus: (1) A believer in Jesus (John the Baptist) tells someone (his disciples) about Jesus and (2) he uses a special title of Jesus (“Lamb of God”). (3) The believer shows that person Jesus (in acts or words). (4) Jesus then calls the newcomer and brings them to faith.
We, then, are to live honest and true lives for all to see. When people ask us why we act this way, we can share our faith. When people around us get discouraged or mired in bad choices and we respond with compassion, or when we are generous to those in need, we give people who watch us reason to believe what we say. When we are in conversation, opportunities arise to explain why we go to church and believe in God. We can speak of our faith with confidence and pride, and answer questions about our beliefs. The Holy Spirit will intervene with a gift of understanding and love. This has always been the primary way of sharing faith, person to person, and will likely remain the primary way for Christianity to thrive and flourish. Someone tells us, we go to Jesus, see where he is, and stay with him to see his glory.
4th Sunday Advent 12-24-17
I raised my children in a small town in upstate New York. The town promotes itself as “historic”, meaning that history is about all that’s left – no industry, and only a few stores. When my middle son finished high school, a job as a janitor at the elementary school opened, and he saw that as his only chance for a steady job with benefits. But God had not made this young man to be a janitor. Not that I have anything but respect and admiration for school janitors, but it wasn’t the right job for him. And that Christmas, my cousin gave him a miracle in the form of a Radio Shack TSR-80 home computer. My son was re-born as a highly respected “IT guy”.
Our first reading today is about King David. One day, King David had a chance to take a breath from the large military campaigns which had made Israel safe from hostile neighbors. David realized he was living in a “cedar palace” while the Ark of the Covenant and the place where the nation worshiped God was still in a tent, just as it had been since his ancestors fled Egypt. He began to make plans to build a house for God. But God had not meant David to be a house builder. Not that God has anything but respect and admiration for builders, but that wasn’t the right job for David.
So God would take care of the building, by having one of David’s sons- Solomon- build a magnificent Temple. God had another role for David. It would be another sort of “house”. My own father still used the term “house” to describe his lineage, his ancestors. God’s gift to King David was to be the beginning of long line of Kings, what we might call a “dynasty”, a traceable line of names and history, leading to the long-awaited Messiah, the savior of God’s people. Matthew’s Gospel spells out those 28 generations from David to Jesus to make the point clear.
The other problem with David building a “house” or temple for God was that David had missed an important lesson about his relationship with God. David was thinking like a King who built loyalty with his staff and soldiers was by rewarding them with power and prestige. God had no use for David’s rewards. God reminds David that when the prophet Samuel anointed David as King, David was a young man who spent his days guarding sheep. God had made David a King who guarded God’s people. God was the reason for David’s military success. God was the reason that Israel was enjoying peace. God had been with David in every circumstance, in every location, in the fields and in the palace. God is greater than any building; God is not defined by space or décor, by canvas or cedar. Buildings weather and decay, but God’s blessings are eternal.
The Psalms, many of which were traditionally attributed to David, stress one of the other themes which build during Advent: the promises of God, specifically the fulfillment of God’s promises. Thru the centuries, those promises remain alive and, in God’s time, they are fulfilled and renewed. Today’s Psalm says, “I will sing forever of the promises of the Lord…my mouth will proclaim (God’s) faithfulness.” (God) had made a covenant with…(David)..(God) will …establish David’s throne for all generations.” The House of David remains with us today as Jesus our Lord and Savior.
The 2nd reading, from the Letter to the Church at Rome, frames this idea differently. King David most likely thought of God’s promise of his dynasty, his lineage, in terms of an earthly throne. The full implications were not known to him. The Gospel of Jesus that Paul had been preaching is referred to here as a “mystery.” Saint Paul lived in a time when people were just beginning to sort out the message and full implications of the birth of Jesus, his life and teaching, his crucifixion and resurrection. Believers were starting to made sense of how those promises had been fulfilled. The mystery of God’s promises continues to open to each new generation and each new believer as they consider their own lives and their own relationship to God. We find that we are part of the promise – we live in a particular part of the revelation of the mystery. We have been woven into the very fiber of the building of the Kingdom.
The angel Gabriel brought to Mary a mystery that at first was troubling, even the cause of fear. It was a mystery that the child could be divine, yet born as a human child. The child she would conceive by the power of God and the Holy Spirit will be given the “throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary’s child fulfilled the promise to King David.
Neither King David, nor St. Paul, nor Mary expected God to fulfill the promise in the way that it actually happened. They each had their own expectations. Yet each of them willingly moved forward in faith and trust. They struggled against fear and opposition, against seemingly unconquerable difficulties and, yes, danger…in the full knowledge that God was with them and that God’s plan, however mysterious or obscure, was best. They were able to do that because they knew God kept his promises.
Christmas is a time of miracles and joy. Now we will once again experience the thrill of the gift of this ancient promise. Even 2000+ years after the historical event, even before we fully grasp the how and where and why, we feel the thrill of something that changes our lives in that tiny child. King David and St. Paul and the Blessed Virgin Mary all chose to open their hearts, and their lives, to the mystery – to be personally part of a great miracle of love for every human being who has lived or will live. As we move from Advent to Christmas, we enter a time when past, present and future come together.
3rd Sunday of Advent – December 17, 2017
46 And Mary said, ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed; 49 the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has come to the help of his servant Israel, 55 for he has remembered his promise of mercy to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
This week we have a special reading as the Psalm. Much of it, in fact, comes from the Psalms. Some say that the Magnificat could not have been spoken by a young Jewish woman in the first century. Sometimes our pride in our literacy hides treasures from our eyes. I suggest we set aside our judgment, born of our own moment in time. We must view the Magnificat from a time when many, if not most, people routinely learned long quotations from Scripture in the absence of being able to read. Having memorized it, they meditated on it, turning it over and over in their minds; it became part of who they were and how they lived. We, on the other hand, tend to read but not remember; we hear but do not listen. We say the words but our understanding does not grow.
Just for a few moments, immerse yourself in this incredible poetic outcry that most certainly was formed with the help of the Holy Spirit. I want to show you where the Magnificat verses came from and the enormous power that is embedded in them.
The Magnificat is a blend of multiple references from the Old Testament Scriptures listed below and many others. It was profoundly different from the social order of the day and could have been considered to be anarchy or treason against the government. It was, at that time, considered to be what we might call extremely “leftist”, or “socialist”. It seems to advocate for the upheaval of government, and threatens those in power. It portrays God as being on the side of the poor, the hungry and the helpless – those called “a burden on society”. God will take from those filled with greed and self-worship and give to those clinging to faith. There is a message that class structure- however disguised or justified-will be reversed. It is, in a word, revolutionary in the classic sense. Above all it underlines that God will fulfill the promises we find in the Scriptures.
It has been described as a song of thanksgiving for the immense graces given in salvation; a song of the poor whose hope is met only as God fulfills those promises. But we cannot ignore that it reminds us that salvation will bring a world with structure very unlike past or present governments and, too often, even the church. Consider that Luke put these powerful verses in the mouth of a very amazing woman of great faith and purity of heart who is frequently portrayed as “meek and mild”!
Verse 46– Psalm 35, 9: “Then I will rejoice in the Lord, exult in God’s Salvation.” Isaiah 61, 10: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.”
Verse 47 – Psalm 34, 1-3: “I will bless the Lord at all times… My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear it and rejoice… let us exalt His name together.”
Verse 48 – 1 Samuel 1, 11: “O Lord of hosts, if you look with pity on the misery of your servant, if you remember me and do not forget me…” Psalm 113, 7: “The Lord raises the needy from the dust, lifts the poor from the ash heap…” Psalm 138, 6: “For though the Lord is exalted, yet he regards the lowly; but the haughty he knows from afar.”
Verse 49 – Psalm 71, 19: “…that I may proclaim your might to all generations yet to come, your power and justice, God, to the highest heaven. You have done great things…” Psalm 111, 9: “You have sent deliverance to your people…and awesome is your name.” Psalm 126, 2-3: “It was said, ‘The Lord has done great things for them’.”
Verse 50 – Psalm 103, 13 &17: “…so the Lord has compassion on the faithful. But the Lord’s kindness is forever, toward the faithful from age to age.”
Verse 51 – Psalm 118, 15: “The Lord’s right hand strikes with power; the Lord’s right hand is raised…” Jeremiah 32, 17: “Ah, Lord God, you have made heaven and earth by your great might, with your outstretched arm; nothing is impossible to you.” Isaiah 40, 10: “Behold, the Lord God will come with might, with his arm ruling for him.”
Verse 52 – Isaiah 2, 11 &12: “The haughty eyes of man will be lowered, the arrogance of men will be abased, and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day. For the Lord of hosts will have his day against all that is proud and arrogant… and it will be brought low.” 2 Samuel 22, 28: “You save lowly people, though on the lofty your eyes look down.” Job 5, 11: “He sets up on high the lowly…” Job 12, 18 & 19: “He loosens the bonds imposed by kings, and binds a waistcloth on their loins (like a slave). He leads counselors (priests) away barefoot and overthrows the mighty.” Psalm 147, 6: “The Lord sustains the poor, but casts the wicked to the ground.” Sirach 10, 14: “God overturns the thrones of the arrogant and establishes the lowly in their place.”
Verse 53 – 1 Samuel 2:4 & 5: “The bows of the mighty are broken, while the tottering gird on strength. The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, while the hungry thrive on spoil.” Psalm 107, 9: “For he satisfied the thirsty, filled the hungry with good things.”
Verse 54 – Psalm 98, 3: “The Lord has remembered faithful love toward the house of Israel.” Isaiah 41, 8-10: “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, offspring of Abraham my friend – You… whom I have chosen and will not cast off – fear not, I am with you…”
Verse 55 –Psalm 105, 8-9: God is mindful of his covenant for ever, the covenant which he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac… Micah 7, 20: “You will show faithfulness to Jacob, and grace to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from days of old.”
33rd Sunday Ordinary time 11-19-17
Proverbs 31:10-13; 19-20, 30-31, Ps: 128:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6;
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.