26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Sept. 27, 2020

26A20.    Ezekiel 18:25-28.  God is the only source of life; everything or everyone else apart from God can only produce death.  Iniquity or sin is a rejection of God as our source of life.  The fruit of sin is death that has no redemption.  What counts at the time of judgment is where our life is at the time of judgment.  If God finds us on the right road of the straight and narrow at the time of judgment, we are on our way to heaven.  On the other hand, all the past good we have done will not cancel out the present state of sin we are in.

Matthew 21:28-32.   Ezekiel’s reading parallels today’s parable.  Yesterday’s sin is wiped away by today’s change of heart.  However, today’s sin is not wiped away by yesterday’s goodness.  The ‘yes’ that the chief priests and elders said to God yesterday does not gain for them forgiveness for today’s rejection of Jesus.  On the other hand, the tax collectors and prostitutes who were sinners yesterday but today accept and follow Jesus are on their way to heaven.  The old saying is that we are sinners on our way to becoming saints; not saints, on our way to becoming sinners.  We can never become complacent on our way to heaven.  This world, the devil and some of our own natural tendencies can easily put us back on the wrong road.

Philippians 2:1-11.  “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory.”  Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”  Original sin, imbedded in human nature, calls us to grab everything for ourselves before others get it. That is life lived on the basis of the survival instinct, where all our lives are all about oneself and those one considers part of oneself.   Jesus demands that we live in him and he lives in us (John 14:4) or that we lose our grep on own lives so that we can live in his life-giving strength and will.  Paul says that Jesus emptied himself of living only in a divine state in heaven but humbled himself by taking on human nature.  His infinite love for us led him to become human so that he could sacrifice himself for the sake of our redemption.  “Because of this, God greatly exalted him” so that we may all declare that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  If God is everything for us, then we will have everything that is good and have it forever.

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2017

26A.   Ezekiel 18:25-28.   This selection of Ezekiel sets the stage for this week’s lesson.  There is a group that thinks they know better than God.  Adapting a line from a famous musical, “Why can God think like we do?”  Adding just another line, “We’ve got it right.  Why can’t God think like we do?”  It is so easy to take the position of God and allocate it to oneself, which is to say, “What I think is right and virtuous and not what God thinks,” or another way to say the same thing, “I replace God; instead of God over me, it is I over me.  I am quite capable of running my own life without God.”

Matthew 21:28-32.  That is exactly what the chief priests and elders of the people thought.  The second son took on the veneer of holiness and piety but within himself thought he knew better than the father; and so, he ignore what the father wanted and did whatever he wanted to do.  The first son had a mind of his own, had no desire to put up a front of pleasing the father, spoke his own mind and did as he himself pleased.  Realizing the error of his ways, the first changed his mind and, in fact, obeyed his father.  Jesus likens the second son to the chief priests and the elders of the people; and the tax collectors and the prostitutes, to the first.  Jesus points out that John the Baptist got them to do the right thing but the chief priests and the elders of the people refused to follow the way of John’s righteousness.

Philippians 2:1-11.    Paul calls on us to, “Have the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus,” i.e., as he emptied himself, humbled himself so should we.  Jesus was so submissive to the Father’s will that became “obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.”  He, unlike us, was equal to the Father but “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.”  He let go of what was his right to hold on to and “taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,” since he was truly human yet still divine so to accomplish the redemption of humanity.

“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.  Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory.”  The chief priests and elders of the people were so full of themselves that they rejected the way of righteousness of both John and Jesus.  That same selfishness is what divides the Church community.  That attitude that I know better than God, than the Church authority that divides the Church, creates divisions and an atmosphere which does not speak love of one another.

The last verse of Sunday’s psalm (Ps 25:8-9) says, “Good and upright is the Lord; thus he shows sinners the way.  He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.”  He is “the way, the truth and the life.”  In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” Resting in the Lord’s humility and obedience, leads us to be a humble and obedient people likewise.  “Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 20, 2020

25A20.   Isaiah 55:6-9.   “Seek the Lord while he may be found.”  God is the only source of all that is good.  Those who are not dependent on the Lord for guidance will wonder around in the darkness and be hopelessly lost.   “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”  With the guidance of the Lord we will sink into an abysmal abyss of chaos and worthlessness.

Matthew 20:1-16a.  In reading the Scriptures, context is extremely important.  This reading follows the scene of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man where Jesus responds to Peter in Matthew 19:27, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?”  Jesus’s response is that they will receive a hundred times more than what they have given up plus eternal life.  Jesus then concludes as he does in today’s gospel: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  Who are the first and who are the last?  My understanding is that the ‘first’ are those who live by this world’s standards that those who get out and get whatever they can for themselves have more, i.e. grab what you can for yourself.  Jesus is saying that they will end up last. Those who live out of God’s generosity and so are considered in the eyes of this world to be last rather than living by their own greediness will end up first.  The Lord says in the first reading: “So high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”  When we live by God’s generosity, we will receive a hundred times more than what we put in.  When we live by human standards, we get back only what one gives.

Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a.  Paul wrote:  “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.”  As Mary said in her “Magnificat,” also Paul is saying that whether he lives or dies, his body or person proclaims the greatness of the Lord.  Paul continues, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.” His life is all about Christ, whether he is in this world or the next, nothing else but Christ.  Life wherever we live it must be all about Christ.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2017

25A.   Isaiah 55:6-9.  “Seek the Lord while he may be found.”  Our time is limited here on earth.  While we are here, we have the opportunity to draw closer to him and he will draw us higher to him.  Our God is a generous God, “slow to anger and of great kindness.”  See how empty and meaningless is our life without God.  So high are his ways above our ways.

Matthew 20:1-16a.  At first it would seem that this parable is about the opposition of the human demands for fairness and justice versus God’s desire to be generous.  The parable starts off with the phrase that Jesus often used, “The kingdom of heaven is like.”  The usual daily wage that the parable is referring to is the reward of entering into heaven at the end of a life on earth in which we have successfully worked for heaven.  In that sense we all get the same wage.  The parable was pointed toward the Jews who thought that they were better than the rest of humanity and that God would always give them more.  “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  He was telling the Jews to live in God’s generosity and not their own sense of being a privileged people.  He was also telling the Gentiles that God would reward latecomers to faith in the one God with heaven just as much as the Jews who had longed toiled in the vineyard of the Lord.

Philippians 1:20c-24.  Paul says, “For me life is Christ, and death is gain.”  In 2 Cor. 5:8, Paul says, “Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.”  Paul’s statements show the fruit of a genuine spiritual life in Christ.  Living is all about God living in us and being our life.  This world wants us to put off thinking about departing from here and the spiritual preparations we need to make by crowding our minds and hearts with worldly cares and fear of death.  Life in Christ while we are here in this world allows us to live in the truth and security of an eternal reality where there is no need for fear or worry.  Interior peace comes from what is eternally true and not just exciting and passing.  Living Christ daily calls us to live in the light and put away the darkness.   Paul goes on, “I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better.” He is following up on, “Life is Christ and death is gain.”  To grow in a life in Christ is to realize how ridiculous fear of death is and how wonderful it is to look forward to the fullness of life in Christ in heaven. “Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.”  Always Paul remains obedient to God’s will.  God is saying to Paul, “Do my work for you in the world.  Wait on me to call you to heaven.”  May we all be obedient to that voice for us.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 13, 2020

24A20.   Sirach 27:30-28:7.   “The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance.”  We have no right before God to be vengeful.   “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your sins will be forgiven.”  Since we seek forgiveness for our own sins, how can we deny forgiveness to others for their sins?

Matthew 18:21-35.  Peter thinks that forgiving would be quite generous if we forgive seven times.  Jesus responds that we should forgive seventy-seven times, which is to say forgiving without end or infinitely because God’s love is infinite.  Then Jesus relates the story of the servant who was forgiven his debt by his master but was himself unforgiving to a fellow servant  who was a debtor to him.  When the master finds out what he has done, “his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’”  Then the master punishes the servant who had received forgiveness but refused to be forgiving.  Jesus ends by saying, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”   Forgiveness does not mean that evil and sin are not hateful.  It does mean that we must leave room for the sinner to repent and become whole and holy.  That is the will of our loving God.  We ourselves are sinners who seek to become saints with the help of the Holy Spirit.  It is not right to freeze anyone into his sinful state with no opportunity to repent.  The mercy that God gives us is his forgiving love.  That same mercy God wants us to give to others.  In the ‘Our Father’ prayer we say, “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others their trespasses against us.”

Romans 14:7-9.  “Brother and sisters: None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.  For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”  In this world we live in an earthly environment in which we ourselves and those around us are what is central and meaningful to us.  This is our life.  If God is truly God for us, then all that must die.  God must be our only life.  All else must flow from the center which is God.   When God is truly our life, the God of our life, everything else in our lives becomes infinitely richer and deeper.  We live as we never lived before because everything is as it should be, now and forever.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2017

24A.   Sirach 27:30-28:7.  This passage readily brings back to memory the second of the Old Testament great commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” when we read, “Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.”  The emphasis here is to obey what God commands of us and not obey our natural human inclination to pay back in kind what we have received from our neighbor: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”.

Matthew 18:21-35.  In this Gospel Jesus is commanding that we forgive as we have been forgiven by the Father or, as we have been taught in the Our Father prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  In other words, as Jesus says in Mt. 7:2, “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure, will be measured out to you.”  To forgive our brother or sister from our heart, especially when we have been deeply wronged is not possible to do out of our natural resources but requires first that we live deeply in the love of the Lord.  Only the divine can give that depth of love.

Romans 14:7-9.  If we are people who live life daily out of the love that God gives us daily, then “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.  For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”  When we belong to the Lord and to nothing and no one else, then the Lord, the infinite source of love, belongs to us.  Then we have the strength to love as the Lord loves.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 6, 2020

23A20.    Ezekiel 33:7-9.  God, speaking to Ezekiel, tells him that he Ezekiel must relay the warning that God wants to be given to the wicked man or else he Ezekiel will be held responsible for the wicked man’s death, should he not repent.  Failure to obey God’s call to warn the guilty party will be seen to be just as evil as that man’s wickedness but, if we do our duty and warn the wicked man, then we will not be punished.

Matthew 18:15-20.  Knowing that he is near to leaving his believers as a person who could physically and visibly walk among his disciples,  Jesus leaves instructions on how keep order and discipline in his church.  First, try to get the sinner to get his life in order by appealing to him one on one; but, if that fails, next bring in one or two others, to help the sinner to straighten out his life.  Yet if that fails, then bring him to the church assembly; but if that fails, treat him as one whom no longer wishes to be one of God’s people.  In other words, Jesus is saying that as his church we have the duty to exercise responsibility for one another as God’s agents in this world.   Church is any assembly or congregation of God’s people, even if it is just two or three believers.  Jesus promises to be present and active in the midst of those who gather in his name.  To gather in his name means that the believers come together as branches that are totally dependent on the one vine that is Jesus. (John 15:5)  Just as soldiers go into battle under one flag, the believers are united to one another through their mutual belief in Jesus as the Messiah.  We who are physically in this world speak and act in behalf of and in the name of Jesus.  We are ambassadors or people who represent Jesus.  Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20:  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Romans 13:8-10.   Paul says, “Love is the fulfillment of the law.” He is saying that we are no longer bound by the Hebrew Law or Torah.  Our only law is to love God who is love and perfect obedience to him.  Jesus said in John 15:14, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  In John 15:10: “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”

Note: When Jesus uses the expression ‘my commandments’, he is not referring to the ten Commandments of the Old Testament BUT being obedient to his WILL.  His will is his love for us.  The Old Testament commandments were a few ‘do this’ but mainly ‘don’t do this or that.  Obeying God’s will is infinitely more comprehensive than the Ten Commandments.  Do his will; obey his word and absolutely NOTHING else.  His will is his love for us.  Jesus said in John 14:23b:  “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”  That is heaven on earth.

 

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2017

23A   Ezekiel 33:7-9.   Yahweh holds Ezekiel responsible for warning the wicked to the impending danger like the watchman warning the citizens of dangers that he sees approaching.  If Ezekiel fails to issue the warning and the wicked continue in their ways, then both shall be lost; but, if he does warn them, even if the wicked remain wicked, Ezekiel shall not be held responsible.  This theme of having a reasonable sense of responsibility for one another because God demands this of us is continued in the other two readings.

Matthew 18:15-20.  Jesus requires that the church community he is establishing has a system of familial correction to deal with sinfulness in its midst so to maintain a necessary level of spiritual integrity.  First, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”  The church that Jesus desires to establish should be like a family relationship with God as our Father.  The binding force in the church relationship should be our caring for one another in Christ.  After a continuing effort at reconciliation that spirals out like concentric circles including more and more people that calls the sinner to reform and yet the sinner refuses to reform, the sinner must be excommunicated from the church community.  In Jewish terms that meant to treat the sinner as one would a Gentile or a tax collector who were outside the Jewish community.  The Christian church community that Jesus seeks to establish has the right and responsibility to maintain its spiritual integrity that distinguishes it from the world outside of itself and so he said, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  In other words, Jesus endorses the church community’s decision.

Continuing in that same line of standing with the church community’s decisions, Jesus says, “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  The phrase ‘in my name’ means that we come together under God’s authority and in accord with his will.  “There I am in the midst of them” should be understood to mean that the church community sees itself as an instrument to accomplish God’s will and not its own will apart from God or that God is obedient to the church community’s will.  “All things have taken place.” (Matthew 5:18c)  Now that we have God in our midst there is no longer any need for an Old Testament law.  God is the center of the Church’s life.  We do all through him, with him and in him.

Romans 13:8-10.  Fulfillment of the law by loving one another is the lesson of this second reading.  The measure of how much we love others as the measure by which we love ourselves (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.) is made obsolete by the measure of love by which God loves us in his Passion and Death.  Jesus tells us in John 14:34, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved, so you also should love one another.”  God’s love is the measure by which we should measure our love.  “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 30, 2020

22A20.    Jeremiah 20:7-9.  Jeremiah carries his cross at great cost and pain to him by following what the Lord wants of him.  Following the Lord’s will, he opposed the idolatry that had taken ahold of Judea and he was severely ridiculed for it. “All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.”  When Jeremiah tries to no longer speak in God’s name, a force like a raging fire burns in him so that he can no longer stop preaching against the idolatry in Judea.

Matthew 16:21-27.   When Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer, be killed and rise on the third day, Peter, having just been named by Jesus as the pope of his after he ascends up to heaven, privately rebukes Jesus for saying such a thing.  Jesus then “said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’” Peter, thinking according to the commonly held notion that the Messiah would be a conquering king who would drive the occupying Roman force out of Judea, could not imagine why Jesus would say that he would be killed and then rise from the dead.  As creatures of this earth, this earth’s ways can easily dominate us and be our life’s force by which we live.  “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  The world teaches us to think and feel as it does.  Jesus is telling us to die to living and thinking by the world’s ways but rather to live from God’s life within us.  Jesus said in John 15:5b&c, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”  Paul wrote in Galatians 2:19c-20: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”  Paul is saying that he is no longer his own life but God is life for him.  As far as Paul is concerned, God is his only life; he no longer is his life’s force.  That former life or way of living is dead. His life in God is his life now and forever.

Romans 12: 1-2.  Paul wrote: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”  True life, the life that is forever, is living in the love that God has for us.  With the help of the Holy Spirit we die day by day to what is not of God so that we breathe in God’s gracious life. Jesus is the life that is the only real life; all else is mirage or a sham.  Praise be to the loving Lord!

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2017

22A.    Jeremiah 20:7-9.  Jeremiah does not want to announce to the people what God is proclaiming to them because the people reject what he is saying by mocking him, laughing at him, deriding him and reproaching him.  On the one hand, it gives him so much pain to proclaim the word of the Lord; but, on the other hand, even greater pain to hold God’s message within himself without proclaiming it.  This Sunday’s message is that all too often what popular opinion or culture holds is at complete odds with what God thinks and believes.  That opposition can make it very difficult and uncomfortable for those who side with God and have to live in a world that is apathetic, or even hostile, to what God thinks.

Matthew 16:21-27.  Jesus, knowing what will happen to him, tells his disciples what to expect.  Peter, being so much a part of the world around him, expects Jesus to militarily reestablish Jewish rule over Israel.  He remembers how, after Jesus had miraculously fed the great crowd (Jn. 6:15), they wanted to make him king.  He did not know that Jesus’ kingdom does not belong to this world, as just another worldly king (Jn. 18:36).  Peter does not realize that what he was saying was a great temptation for Jesus because Jesus knew well ahead of time how fearsome his passion and death would be (Lk. 22:42-44).  So Jesus “turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  Jesus, in his humanity, was genuinely being tempted daily by the way the world thinks.  He was human in every way, except for sin, but still felt the great tug of temptation. (Hb. 2:17-18; 4:15)

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  To follow Jesus means to give up one’s own will and submit to God’s Will for us.  If we pursue our own will, we will lose our life forever in hell; if we pursue God’s will for us, we will live forever in heaven.  “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”  As we live, so shall we be judged.

Romans 12:1-2.  The Old Testament Mosaic Law commanded the Hebrews to offer up the bodies of various animals as sacrifices on various occasions and for various reasons.  Now Jesus calls upon us to offer up ourselves: our wills, words, actions and thoughts, to God “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship,” instead of the former physical sacrifice of the bodies of animals.

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”  To think as God thinks and not as human beings do calls upon us to be transformed by a renewal of our minds through the power of the Holy Spirit.  As in the first reading from Jeremiah this world has a different point of view, a different set of values, and a different way of reasoning than that of God.  To discern the Will of God we must live in the mind of the Holy Spirit so to belong to what is of God and not of this world.  “At that time Jesus answered, “I give you praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” (Mt. 11:25)  We must once again become like little children who learn what life is really all about from God our Father, being newly brought up in the ways of God.