Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
– Philippians 4:8-9
One of my favorite passages of Scripture today. It always makes me think twice about what I’m thinking about. A lot of the stuff we let ourselves see, well, we weren’t created to see. God wants nothing for the best for us, and He provides that. But we have to open our eyes to it and close our eyes to the false, the dishonorable, the unjust, the impure, the ugly, the ingracious, the mediocre and everything not praiseworthy. That’s a decision we have to make every day … every moment of every day. Those decisions get us a little closer to the Kingdom all the time.
Turning to the disciples in private he said,
Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
During my CPE experience, this was a quotation of Scripture that greatly consoled many of us. We saw a lot of nasty stuff in those days, but we also saw some things that were really holy. People who died after a wonderful old life, ready to go to the kingdom; families who rallied around a sick or injured member; spiritual growth in our fellow chaplain interns. It was a blessed time, and I think we always knew that, even in the crazy times.
How true that is in everyday life. We see a lot of things that we would rather not see, but if we are looking and attentive, we see a lot of God’s grace at work as well. And blessed are we to see it.
The question for me right now — as difficult as it is to be at seminary now with the grief of our tragedies and the craziness of the Apostolic Visitation — is what is it that I am seeing that blesses my eyes; what is it that I am hearing that blesses my ears? That will be the focus of my prayer in these days.
Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, pray for us.
Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:
It’s easy, I think, to distance ourselves from the point of the Gospel. We often think, well, I’m not one of the chief priests and elders, I’m a Christian, so I’m saved and I’m above reproach. But to do that does violence to the Gospel itself, and ignores the call to repentance that comes with Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God.
The point is that this call to repentance is for us. We are the chief priests and elders, and it’s our turn to hear the Gospel and react to its message. The point is that in Christ, God shows us sinners the way, as the psalmist proclaims:
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
and teaches the humble his way.
We, then, must follow the way to justice, lest we remain in our sin as the chief priests and elders:
When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him.
So may we too change our minds and believe, and follow in his way, that we may sing with the Apostle:
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father!
“Going out about five oclock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
Why do you stand here idle all day?
They answered, Because no one has hired us.”
Often when I’m reading a familiar passage of scripture, some part of it will jump out at me which has never really struck me before. This week, the part shown above of the parable of the workers in the vineyard really got me. It got me because I think it’s perhaps the saddest part of the parable.
These who have been standing around idle all day may well be those who even at the eleventh hour have not yet had the Gospel preached to them. The parable tells us that our Lord pursues his children up until the very last minute, because He wills that all should be saved, and that all should be gathered in to the kingdom of heaven.
Indeed that kingdom of heaven is symbolized in this parable by the persistent landowner, who returns to find laborers at every moment of the day, who gives generously to all, and brings all to the same reward. We can take heart as the psalmist tells us, because that’s just how our God is:
Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.
Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?
Jesus answered, I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
What an interesting reading to have had on September 11th. I think it’s so hard for us to even forgive the little things that happen in our personal lives. So then to be expected to forgive something as greivous as terrorist attacks on our country is really grasping for the impossible, it would seem.
The Church didn’t pull any dirty tricks putting this reading out there for Sunday. That’s what’s in the Lectionary for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, cycle A. It just so happens that corresponded to September 11th this year. But still in all, I don’t believe in coincidence; I believe in the work of the Holy Spirit who is clearly speaking, yelling to us in these readings!
Forgiveness was the major theme of Jesus’ ministry and mission, and so it has to be ours too. We must forgive each other from our hearts for the small and petty, and even for the ghastly and unconscionable. Have I done this yet? I’d have to say no. But the solution isn’t to abandon the pursuit of it as pie-in-the-sky. The solution is to take up the cross and forgive.
For truly “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion,” as the psalmist says. And we are expected to do likewise, lest we suffer the fate of the unforgiving servant in the Gospel reading. We, like him, are expected to forgive our brothers and sisters from our hearts.
O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
for your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.
Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.
Yesterday I was out mowing the lawn. When I came back inside, I drank several glasses of cold, refreshing water to slake my thirst. So the image of “for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts” is one that is clear to me. And the whole idea of being “parched, lifeless and without water” is terrifying. Only in God can we find water for our thirst and only God can fill up the void that is within us. All we have to do is be away from prayer for a short time and we can find that our lives are adrift. The only way to survive is for our souls to “cling fast to” God whose right hand upholds us.
Perhaps the second reading makes it even more clear. We can be tossed about by all the philosophies and teachings of a world adrift in its search for meaning. But the only way to find rock solid truth and surety in our time is not to be conformed to this age, but to “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.”
Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
This is probably every bit as pertinent a question in our time as it was when Jesus walked the earth. Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
For many, the question seems surprising. Of course he is Christ, the Son of the Living God. Peter had it right. But does our behavior match what we would really say about that? Who is the Son of Man to us? What difference does it make that he is our God? It can often seem like the Son of Man is irrelevant in our world, and if we look deeply, sometimes in our lives too.
Because if we really knew that he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, then maybe our lives would be more Gospel-centered. Maybe our words would be more healing and our actions more loving. Maybe we would take more time with our families than at our jobs. Maybe we would relentlessly pursue relationships with our God rather than relentlessly pursue more posessions that rob the world of resources meant for all. Maybe we would look past our own wants and see the needs of the poor and the oppressed. Maybe we would preserve the resources of the world that all might have enough.
Maybe if we really knew that Jesus is the Son of the Living God we would bind all those really important things and loose all the things that take us out of relationship with God. We really must live the truth that Peter proclaimed. It is only in doing that that we can one day hear Jesus say to us, “Blessed are you!”