The readings today are about calling. First we heard the call of Samuel. Even the older prophet Eli did not realize God was calling until the third time and so Samuel answered on the fourth call. In the gospel, we see the call of the Apostles first inspired by John the Baptist pointing to the “Lamb of God” and the person of Jesus leading them to ask what he was doing. I say doing because where are you staying is exactly what they meant. They meant what are you about. In our own way we all have been called through our baptism by way of our parents. I also submit that in our lives, we have at times answered Christ’s call as we have lived out our life in the choices we have made, especially at key moments in our life. It is at those moments when we prayed, thought or ultimately opened our hearts to listen, to discern what was right, what was God’s call for me. That is the key to hear and listen to God’s word and how it affects us. I must say that sometimes that call says what we don’t want to hear, but ultimately listening and acting in accordance with that call usually brings us to a comfortable result, one that eases our life’s burdens. The hard part is discerning God’s intention especially if it entails a change in our life that we perceive as difficult. God calls many to serve and in various ways, Most of us will never be asked to travel to far away places, but in today’s world we are called to help and reach out to the starving and homeless of the world as best we can. We are asked to live and act toward others as Christ did. As a community we do that in many ways and I encourage our community to continue and listen as we begin this new year.
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.”
This week we jump from the end of Mark’s gospel to the beginning. The idea of “waiting” is still present, but we are introduced to John the Baptist. His message is to repent and prepare. He baptises as a sign of forgiveness. In doing so, he adds a new word to our Advent as we repent and prepare. That word is change. It is a word that most don’t like to hear or do. Mostly, we are all set in our ways and pretty much satisfied with whom we are. In the comfort we feel, sometimes we forget that we can hurt others by what we do or say. It is easy to say repent and get ready for Christ’s coming, but do we really step back and take a close honest look at who we are. Jesus came at a time there was turmoil and disillusionment in the Jewish community. Many had wandered off from the teaching of the prophets, the priest, the temple and yearned for communing with God. John was an intriguing figure and they accepted him as a prophet or even maybe the promised Messiah. He was the attraction of his time drawing people from everywhere. His message was clear, repent, change, and wait for the one to come. I have always wondered why we use John in the desert preparing the people for Jesus’ ministry in preparing for Christmas. Yet, the liturgical year uses his message of repent and change at the beginning every year to prepare ourselves by calling on us in our season of wait to repent and change. Christ is certainly coming, first symbolically at Christmas, but also most assuredly to each of us in the future either near or far.
I think today’s gospel is one of the most familiar to all of us. Again a Pharisee scholar sets out to trap Jesus with what he thinks is a trick question. Jesus is ready for him and answers that Love is the greatest commandment. To love God with our whole heart, soul and mind and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. It means that within our self we give all we are to God and what it means to belong to him. It is the means and purpose for which we live. And in living, we must love others as we love ourselves. This or more properly these commands are no small matter. I think that for the most part whether consciously or not all of us look out for ourselves or love ourselves very much beyond just the point of self-preparation. As children we learn to love from our parents and others as we grow older. However, you expand our circle of love is something we must learn and be willing to do as part of our faith and love of God. To reach out and accept others as God has done for us is not always easy in this world in which we find Good and evil present as we go forth. But loving our neighbor also mean being ready to forgive just as God does. Love is not always easy as I am sure married couples will tell you. No one except God is perfect, and even a loving couple has their moments of disagreements. Yet in any loving relationship, the giving of the whole self makes possible the resolution and coming together after conflicts.
We know that the greatest act of giving of self was Christ’s death on the Cross. In one-act, for all time, he brought God’s mercy and forgiveness to all and made possible for all of humanity to be united to him forever. This is the chief and only reason for giving ourselves body and soul and it will bring us to him forever.
One thing we must first remind ourselves of today is that the gospel has nothing to do with our concept or idea of separation of church and state. The question involved was a question of authority and God as the ultimate power. The first reading is interesting because Cyrus was not a Jew but the Persian Ruler. Isaiah refers to him as “God’s anointed,” the same title given to Jewish Kings. In this case, Cyrus unknowingly to himself, was doing the work of God by letting the Israelites return home and even reconstruct their temple. So the ruler who is doing God’s will has legitimate authority, but God is the source. In the gospel, the Pharisees and Herodians were actually setting a trap in their friendly approach and seemingly simple question. It required either a yes or no with either answer having dire consequences of turning believers against Him or committing treason against the empire. But Jesus doesn’t answer the question really as it was put to Him. In fact he left two unanswered questions, that then and through the centuries remain for each generation to answer. What belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar(or the state, the good of humanity). It has led to a whole history of rich versus poor, of demands for human rights, of demands for the end of slavery and all other movements even to our present time. Humanity’s fallen nature has not always made us a people with our best foot forward, but hopefully we are trying and learning what it means to be a Christian and a lover of God and all that it asks us to do. It is an ongoing task, learning and developing as a people, as a world responsible to our creator. We are all called to be open and discerning of the Holy Spirit who leads the way for all. Truly we will be complete only when we are one with God, in this life, and in the next.
27th Sunday Ordinary time, 10-8-17.
Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm: 80: 9-16, 19-20; Philippians 4:4-9; Matthew 21:33-43
Have you ever listened to the Gospel on Sunday morning and, inside your head, thought: “Not this one again.” We all have favorite scripture readings, and those we don’t like so much. Just the raw violence and disregard for life in this Gospel bothers me. Maybe it will help to start with the Old Testament reading.
The reading from Isaiah, of course is “The Classic Vineyard Passage of the Bible”. It is Isaiah scolding and beside himself with frustration. The people who had a covenant with God, God’s chosen ones, just weren’t keeping their end of the deal, and the future would go very badly for them if they didn’t shape up. God had proclaimed the people of Judah as “His Cherished Plant”, but when God looked for justice, God saw bloodshed instead, Isaiah says. They were not living as God would have them live. When God looked for righteousness in the land, God instead heard an outcry from those who had been abused and oppressed and cast aside. The people were not living spiritual or moral lives. As the verses following Isaiah’s vineyard parable make clear, the prophet had witnessed violence and drunkenness along with bribery to cover lies and cheating the innocent.
God have given them everything they needed, God had given them fertile land, cleared it of stones, planted the choicest vines, built a watch tower, and hewed out the wine press. He had protected it with a hedge. So, God will allow it to dry up, and be overgrown with the thorns of sin.
We have to make a big jump over to the Gospel. It was Tuesday of Holy Week. Sunday, Jesus had processed into Jerusalem as the crowd waved palm branches to welcome him. He had cleaned the merchants out of the Temple who were overcharging the people and thrown out the money-changers who cheated the people. Those merchants and money-changers had bribed the temple authorities to be in a part of the Temple where they should not have been. Now, we find Jesus teaching the people, to their delight. And the chief priests and the elders came up to him and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Their question was just the usual game, where they planned to mock him, and deny that his authority was from God. Instead of playing their game, he told them 3 parables. The first was the two sons, whose father had asked them to work in his vineyard, which we read last week. Next he told them the parable we read today. The third parable we will read next week.
Jesus has in mind the way the nation has violently rejected the prophets God has sent to them. He updates the parable with the violence practiced by those who do not obey God’s ways. In Jesus’ rendition of the Vineyard Passage, the servants of the landowner are beaten, killed and stoned. Even the son of the landowner will be killed by the tenants in a senseless attempt to get control of the property. Jesus senses the mood of the city and the leaders; he knows that he, the son of the land-creator, will be killed by these tenants in three days.
It’s time for a new update to the vineyard story. This week 58 people were killed by a man who had carefully planned to kill -not individuals who had harmed him somehow – rather he chose to kill at random. I cannot begin to imagine the cost of the medical care alone. But worse, people will be imprisoned in fear, and their minds will replay endlessly the terror of that night. Hundreds more have lost limbs, will be in pain and disabled for the rest of their lives, will have to undergo countless hours of surgeries and medical procedures to be able to just move, to talk, or to eat. Their bones and bodily organs have been irreparably shattered by high powered bullets. Children have lost parents, parents are mourning children. Lives have not only been lost but ruined, for no purpose, no gain, and no apparent reason.
Before the 1960’s the 2nd amendment to the US constitution was not interpreted as pertaining to the use of weapons by citizens without need for them for food or protection. Certainly, our founding fathers did not have, or even image, the use of automatic or semi-automatic weapons to kill innocent people enjoying music.
Yet, here we are, in a time and place where the only limit on the amount of ammunition you can buy is how much money you have. Mass shootings are now a part of the fabric of America. Since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the US has seen 1,518 acts of gun violence in which at least four people were wounded or killed, according to the Gun Violence Archive website. That’s nearly one mass shooting a day for the 1,754 days since that slaughter of the Connecticut children and teachers. The crimes claimed the lives of 1,715 people and wounded more than 6,000 others – and Congress has not enacted any significant new gun legislation. I repeatedly hear – but have not seen the numbers and names -that the majority of American voters want new gun control laws, but the gun lobby is funding election campaigns, and only the candidates who turn their backs on the issue of guns get the money.
I have been told that the church should not be involved in political issues. Is “Thou shall not kill” a political issue? If so, then I am out of line. If not, then we must make some changes, for the vineyard is all shot up, there is blood everywhere, and the thorns are so thick that there can be no more wine of joy.
Curiously, 3 years ago, I preached my last homily at St Charles of Brazil Parish. It was the week of the parable of the two sons being asked by their father to work in his vineyard, which we read last week. I updated that parable this way: The father said his son named Australia, “Go to work in the vineyard of social action.” And the son replied, “No, I don’t want to. It is hard and contentious work. People will be angry and argumentative. It costs money.” But the son named Australia saw blood on the ground, and he went to work. Agreement came and lives were saved.
The father said to his son named America, “Go to work in the vineyard of social action.” And this son said, “Yes, I am tired of all these tears and empty school desks.” But it was hard and contentious work. People were angry and argumentative. And the son named America went home, and sat down to watch “Dancing with the Stars” to help him forget. Who did his father’s will?
So the vineyard story has not changed, at least for the better. Our memory of the covenant/ our relationship with God remains weak. The thieves, the murderers, the liars, the cheaters, and the ones who bribe their way through the world, have not changed. Evil seems to be thriving. Darkness reigns, it would seem. The future will go very badly – unless we hear the messages of Isaiah, Jesus, and God and take action.