Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think we get a more vivid picture of today’s Gospel if we’ve ever had the task of weeding a good-sized garden. I’ve done it plenty of times.  It’s not a task I really look forward to, but it is kind of good in that when you finish a job like that, you can look at it and see something good happened.  There’s a sense of accomplishment.  But discerning what is a weed and what is a plant is sometimes a difficult task.

That’s the kind of question the disciples had for Jesus today.  Jesus had just told them several parables about the kingdom of God, and this one didn’t get read in the Gospels the last few days.  So we have the explanation, but not the parable.  You can check it out in the 13th chapter of Matthew.  The story basically went that the landowner sowed good seed in the field, but when it started to grow, weeds came up too.  His laborers asked him about it and he said, “An enemy has done this.” So they wanted to pull up the weeds, but the master said to let them grow together until harvest time, lest in pulling them up they also accidentally pull up the good plants.  They could then be pulled up and burnt at harvest time.

Now I think a good gardener might quibble with the analogy.  But that’s not the point.  The point is good news, and the good news is this: however much we may resemble the weeds from day to day, Jesus gives us the time to grow into much lovelier plants during our lives.  He doesn’t blot us out of the book of life for one transgression.  But the warning is that we only have so much time until the harvest.  If we are going to turn to the God who sowed us and provide good fruit, we need to do it now.  If we wait until the harvest, it may well be too late.  Our God gives us the freedom to choose to be the good seeds in the field of the world, blessed are we who choose to grow that way.

Monday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

These parables that we have today regarding the nature of the Kingdom of God are head-scratchers for sure! I am sure we can all understand how the people were confused by Jesus’ description of the Kingdom, since it even
seems foreign to our ears. One might wish that he would just say: “Okay, look, here’s what the Kingdom is like.”

But as I read this last night getting ready for this homily, it struck me that no words would be adequate to express how wonderful is the kingdom. It’s big, like a mustard tree, and expansive, like rapidly-rising dough. But whatever we can say about the Kingdom of God, it’s going to be too little. It will never even come close to describing the Kingdom in its fullness.

My guess is, no matter how often we hear these wonderful parables, on that great day when we – please God! – get to the Kingdom of heaven, we will be amazed beyond our wildest dreams. God’s heavenly Kingdom is something we certainly don’t want to miss.

The only way to get to the Kingdom is to follow our Lord. As we come to him in prayer and follow him by living the Gospel, maybe we’ll get just a tiny clue of what heaven will be like. That way we’ll recognize it when we get there.

Monday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It’s easy to have faith when our enemies aren’t pursuing us, isn’t it? When things are going well, we can be people of faith with the best of them. But it does take a certain amount of sainthood to have faith in the face of opposition of whatever kind you can imagine. For the Israelites, it was the pursuing Egyptians; for the Pharisees, it was the destruction of their worldview; for us it might be illness, or unemployment, or the death of a loved one. It’s hard to have faith when our faith is tested. But our faith is tested all the time; that’s what the life of discipleship entails.

And that’s when faith is faith, really. Faith is remaining strong when things are really bleak. And we disciples should be able to embrace that kind of faith, because, like the Pharisees, there is something greater than Solomon here. We have Jesus Christ, who proved that God loves us first by laying down his life for us. If our faith is real, then we must trust that God has hold of us even in our darkest moments, and that the way he chooses to answer our prayers will be greater than we can imagine.

The Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think a lot of us can identify with what’s going on in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus and the Twelve had been working hard: they had just been out on mission, proclaiming the Gospel and the Kingdom of God, and healing the sick. They were busy, they were tired, but they were excited. Jesus calls them together to go to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while, maybe have something to eat. But as soon as they arrive, they find that the crowds figured it out and got there ahead of them.

If you’re a parent, that might sound familiar. When’s the last time you had a minute to yourself, only to find out that the children have figured out where you were and needed something right now? Or at work, you finally have five minutes to take care of your own work, only to have a coworker come and ask for help with something they are doing? We know the experience. Responsibility for whatever we are charged with never really ends. We have so many things to do, we don’t have time for ourselves, for our spiritual lives, for those things that are ultimately important.

And Jesus doesn’t want it to be so. He wants to shepherd all of us to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while, to rest in him. He wants to feed all of us with the best of food: his own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, that we might have strength to take care of the crowds clamoring around us for our attention.

So we have to let him. We have to give him five minutes of our day, if we haven’t been giving him anything at all. We have to give him a little more now, so that he can use that space to help us rest a while, to refuel, to recharge, to grow and become more. It won’t be easy. If we can’t find five minutes for ourselves, it’s going to be hard to find five minutes for Jesus. But it is possible. Maybe it’s too much at the end of the day when we’re dog tired. But maybe we can get up five minutes earlier just to read a verse of Scripture and put ourselves in the presence of our Lord for the day.

Jesus can do a lot with five minutes. In these hot days of summer, those five minutes can be the refreshment we need to move forward in our relationship with God and with the people in our lives. They can help us to not be resentful of what we’re called to do for others. They can help us to give more than we think we can. They can help us in good times and in bad. Give him five minutes, go to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while.

Friday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time: Merciful Like the Father

Today’s readings

Today, Jesus gives us what might be considered to be his mission statement: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Or at least we might consider this to be his statement of what he wants from us, his people. Because we, like the Pharisees, might be tempted to make all sorts of sacrifices. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it might mean sacrificing our time to work long hours to attain our goals. Or maybe we sacrifice to give to the poor, or spend more time at Church, or whatever. None of those things is bad in and of themselves. In fact, depending on our intentions, they are probably good things.

But here’s where Jesus is making his point: if we don’t have mercy in the mix, if we don’t then also extend God’s love to our family, coworkers, or whoever God puts in our presence today, then we’ve blown it. It’s all for nothing. All our striving, all our hard work, none of that means anything if we don’t become more like God himself; our God who is mercy and love and grace at his core.

Pope Francis has called for a special Year of Mercy to begin this December and the theme for it is “Merciful Like the Father.” That’s where we have to put our intentions and effort. We have to become more merciful in every moment: giving a break to the guy who just cut us off in traffic; being more patient with a six-year-old who has just asked the same question ten different ways, ten separate times; being loving enough to check in on an elderly relative whose disabilities have made him or her a bit cranky; and forgiving the one who has hurt us to our core. None of these things is easy to do, especially that last one. So we look to the one who is mercy itself to teach us how to do it; we ask him to make us more merciful like him.

Because if we put mercy first, if we forgive as we have been forgiven and love as we have been loved, then we’ve gotten our mission statement right, too.

Friday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our God never promises that the life of faith and discipleship will be an easy one; only that it will be blessed. One thing is certain: that life will certainly entail hardship, even suffering. That’s pretty evident in today’s Gospel reading. Faithful disciples have to worry about being betrayed by even their closest family members.

None of this is a surprise to anyone who has tried to live the faith. Perhaps at times the hardest people to evangelize are the members of one’s own family. I’m sure we all can think of people close to us who have abandoned the faith or practice it rarely. Maybe the ones who receive the Church’s teachings least are those we would hope would get it and be partners with us as we journey to the kingdom. It happens all the time – in your family and in mine.

These are trying times. It is hard to give witness to the Truth when the culture around us wants to make its own truth. And it’s painful to see our brothers and sisters fall for the lie hook, line and sinker. So how do we stand for the Truth when our loved ones tune it out? What do we do when our loved ones reject what we’ve tried to give them to bring them to eternal life?

Our Gospel tells us that what we do is persevere: we continue to live the Truth and witness to our faith. If those close to us tune out our words, then we have to be all the more attentive to our actions, to our lived witness, so that they can see that we live what we preach and believe. We have to depend on God to give us the right words and help us to do the right things so that we won’t be a stumbling block. And then we have to trust in God to work it all out in his time.

None of this is going to be easy, but Jesus tells us that the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Monday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time 

Today’s readings

In today’s readings, God proves himself trustworthy, yet again. He appears to Jacob in a dream and promises that he will be with him wherever he goes, protecting him, and bringing him back to the land, which he would also give to Jacob’s descendants. In his joy, Jacob reacts by consecrating the land to the Lord.

In the Gospel, which we heard a week ago Sunday in Mark’s version, Jesus heals not one, but two people: he stops the hemorrhage of a women who had suffered from the malady for twelve years, and then he raises the daughter of one of the local officials. In their joy, news of Jesus’ mighty deeds spread all throughout the land.

The Psalmist prays today, “In you, my God, I place my trust.” It’s a call for us to do the same today. We certainly don’t know how God will answer our prayers or even when he will do so. He might bring healing, but maybe in a way we don’t expect. But his promise to Jacob is one in which we can trust as well: he will be with us wherever we go, and he will protect us.