Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Today’s readings

These readings for the weekdays of Lent are especially challenging, aren’t they? They’re supposed to be. They speak of what it means to be a disciple and take up the cross, and they speak of it with urgency. We have to be willing to have our whole world turned upside-down; to do something completely against our nature; to let God take control of the life we want so much to control.

“For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty scary to me. Because there have been plenty of times when I’ve failed to give someone a break. The measure I sometimes use ends up being a bar set pretty high, and I would sure hate to have to leap over that bar myself. But that’s what Jesus is saying we will have to do.

The real measure of compassion is the compassion of God himself. He is our model, He is who we are to strive for, His example is how we are to treat each other. But when we do that, it means we can’t judge others harshly. It means that we have to see them as God does, which is to say that we have to see Jesus in them and to see the goodness in them. And that’s hard to do when that person has just cut you off in traffic, or has gossiped about you, or has crossed you in some other way. But even then maybe especially then, we are called to stop judging others and show them the compassion of God.

“Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.” That is the prayer of the Psalmist today. We are given the promise of forgiveness, but we are also warned that if we do not forgive others, we will not be forgiven either. The measure with which we measure will in turn be measured out to us. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try real hard to give people a break today.

The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time [A]

Today’s readings

I love these readings today; they are so filled with rich imagery.  We can imagine the scrumptious banquet described in our first reading; we can just picture the picnic that Jesus provided in the gospel.  These are images that perhaps resonate with us as we spend our summertime attending family reunions, picnics, and neighborhood block parties.  And for those among us who are in need, the image of the heavenly banquet is one that they yearn for in suffering.

But as I read the gospel reading today, one particular word leapt out at me.  This word, I think, is the reason for the rich banquet we have been promised.  That word is “pity.”  The gospel says that when Jesus saw the vast crowd that was following him to this out-of-the-way place, “his heart was moved with pity for them.”  That pity led him to call on the disciples to give them some food to eat, and when they couldn’t, he helped them do it.

But that word “pity” has negative connotations for us, I think.  When we hear the word “pity” perhaps it implies condescension that makes people feel despised.  We have certainly heard people say, “don’t pity me” or “I don’t want your pity!”  And they say that because pity, to our ears, implies a feeling that writes the other person off as someone less than able.  “Pity” as we use it doesn’t generally move a person to action.

But for Jesus, the pity was anything but the experience we have had.  Pity for him moved his heart in such a way that he had to do something about the plight of the people who were following him.  So I did a little digging and found that the Greek word that is translated as “pity” in this reading is splagchnizomai.  Now I’m not a Greek scholar.  When I took Greek in seminary it was an optional class that carried zero credit hours.  So let’s just say that the homework didn’t often float to the top of the stack!  But I did enjoy it enough to get some things out of it and one of them was this word splagchnizomai.

Splagchnizomai is a Greek example of what we call onomatopoeia, that is, a word that sounds like what it is.  So it is defined as a deep guttural reaction that moves one to compassion.  This is hardly what we think of when we think “pity.”  Parents may relate to this word if they think about a time when, perhaps, they saw their child falling and they had a deep feeling of pain even before the child hit the ground.  The word is famously used in John’s gospel when Jesus learns of the death of his friend Lazarus.  In that instance we are told that Jesus was “deeply perturbed,” he had splagchnizomai for Lazarus, his sisters, and the people who were mourning.  In that instance, his compassion moved him to raise Lazarus from the dead.

So today, Jesus has splagchnizomai for the crowds.  That deep, guttural reaction was one that he was trying to teach his disciples.  When they approach him to suggest that he dismiss the crowds so they can go find supper, he says “give them some food yourselves.”  He recognizes that they have that feeling of compassion, but he wants them to complete it by acting on it.  But they can’t: they have only five loaves and two fish.  For Jesus, however, it is enough, and he famously prays over what they have and gives it to them to distribute, and it turns out to be even more than enough.  Jesus’ splagchnizomai for the crowds gave them more than they needed, more than they could have hoped for, and he teaches his disciples to have splagchnizomai too.

And so we disciples now need to respond to that.  We can, like Jesus’ apostles, feel overwhelmed in the face of so great a task.  We have enough on our plate dealing with our own families’ financial woes, job demands, raising of children, caring for the elderly, and so much more.  Then we find ourselves walking with friends, co-workers and classmates who are having problems.  How can we ever expect to then reach out and meet the needs of those in need: the poor, hungry and homeless, migrants, financially ruined families, and so many more?  What good are our meager efforts in the face of so much suffering?

But we should remember that God most likely has not asked us to solve all the world’s problems, but instead just handle our own little corner of the world.  God can multiply our efforts just as he multiplied the loaves and fishes to really affect the world for good.  It just starts with a little splagchnizomai, a little deep feeling of compassion that moves us on to action, that moves us to be the Body of Christ and feed others as we have been fed.  We just have to be willing to give them some food ourselves.

Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Aren’t the Lenten readings challenging?  But this is what it means to be a disciple.  We have to be willing to have our whole world turned upside-down; to do something completely against our nature; to let God take control of the life we want so much to control.

“For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”  I don’t know about you, but that scares the heck out of me.  Because there are plenty of times when it just about kills me to give someone a break.  The measure I sometimes use ends up being a bar set pretty high, and I would sure hate to have to leap over that bar myself.  But that’s what Jesus is saying will be our measure.

Because the measure of compassion is the compassion of God himself.  That is our model, that’s what we’re to strive for, that’s how we are to treat each other.  But when we do that, it means we can’t judge others.  It means that we have to see them as God does, which is to say that we have to see the Jesus in them and to see the goodness in them.  And that’s hard to do when that person has just cut you off in traffic, or has gossiped about you to your neighbors, or has crossed you in some other way.  But even then, we are called to stop judging others and show them the compassion of God.

Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.  That is the prayer of the Psalmist today.  We are given the promise of forgiveness, but we are also warned that if we do not forgive others, we will not be forgiven either.  The measure with which we measure will in turn be measured out to us.  I don’t know about you, but I’m going to look really hard for a small ruler today.

Second Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings

I think that two words sum up what we are being told today in our Liturgy of the Word: WAKE UP.  There is a lot of waking up going on: Abram falls into a deep trance and is enveloped in terrifying darkness, he then wakes up to see God ratifying the covenant.  The disciples on the mountain have fallen asleep as Jesus prayed, and they wake up to see our Transfigured Lord conversing with Moses and Isaiah – symbols of the Law and the Prophets.

We too are called to wake up.  We too have once been enveloped in a terrifying darkness. The light of the Gospel and the joy of the sacraments banishes that darkness, if we but move forward in faith. The problem is that so many times we get dragged back into that darkness. It’s so easy to return to sinful ways, bad habits, patterns of brokenness, the shame of addiction. We want what we don’t need. We seek easy answers rather than work through the tough times. We make Gods out of success, and money, and pleasure, rather than honor the God who compassions us through failure, poverty and pain. We see to all our own creature comforts with little regard for the poor, oppressed and marginalized. We return over and over and over again to the terrifying darkness of sin in thought, word, and deed. Lent reminds us that we cannot survive living that way. We must confess our sins and wake up to be children of light.

Waking up to the call of God in our lives, we are called to be light to others.  We have to be willing then to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  God’s compassion has been poured out on us so that we can then be compassionate to others. That compassion demands that we have concern for every person God puts in our path, that we take time out of our busy and hectic schedules to listen to a hurting coworker or look in on a sick neighbor. God’s love has been poured out on us so that we can love as he has loved us. That love demands that we discipline children with patience, that we honor and respect our parents, that we go the extra mile to share the gifts we have been given. We must wake up to live as God’s people.

We are a people who have been given so much. God has reached out to us in great love and mercy and has taken the initiative to form a covenant with us, first with the sacrifice of Abraham, and in the last days through the blood of Jesus, poured out on the altar of the Cross. We deserve none of this, because we as a people and as individuals have turned away from God over and over again. But over and over again, God has sung to our spirit, giving us grace, and called us to be sons and daughters of light. But we have to wake up and receive it.