The Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of my jobs before I went to seminary was in the sales department of a computer supply company.  In that job, they taught us that one of the first good rules of sales was never to ask a question to which you didn’t already know the answer.  I think teachers get taught that principle as well.  I can’t help but think that Jesus’ question to the disciples in today’s Gospel falls under that heading.  Because Jesus certainly knew who he was.  But, as often happens in our interactions with Jesus, there’s something more going on.  And to figure out what that something more is, all you have to do is go back to the Gospels the last couple of weeks and see in them that Jesus is thirsting for people’s faith.  He was thirsting for faith from Peter when he called him to walk on the water.  He was quenched by the faith of the Canaanite woman last week as she persisted in her request that Jesus heal her daughter.  And now he thirsts for the disciples’ faith – and ours too – as he asks us the 64 thousand dollar question: “Who do you say that I am?”

He actually starts with kind of a soft-ball question. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they recount all the obvious and probably much-discussed options of the time.  If there were bloggers and talk radio people and CNN in that first century, they too might have said “John the Baptist” or “Elijah” or “Jeremiah” or “one of the prophets.”  So this is an easy question for the disciples to answer.  But when he gets to the extra credit question, “But who do you say that I am?” there’s a lot more silence.  And, as often happens with the disciples, it’s the impetuous Peter who blurts out the right answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Very good, Peter, you have been paying attention.

But here’s the thing: that answer is going to require much of Saint Peter.  You see, his answer not just a liturgical formula or a scriptural title or even a profession of faith in the formal sense that Jesus is looking for here.  He is looking for something that goes quite a bit deeper, something that comes from the heart, something integrated into Peter’s life.  He is looking for faith not just spoken but faith lived, and that’s why Peter’s answer is so dangerous.  If he is really convinced that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” then that conviction has to show itself in the way Peter lives.  He can’t just believe that and keep it under his hat.  If Jesus really is the One who is coming into the world, the Promised One of all generations, the salvation of the world, then Peter has to proclaim it from the rooftops.  He has to be the rock on which Jesus will build his Church.  And some people are just not going to want to go there.

So I’m very sorry to tell you all this, but we have all gathered here on a very dangerous Sunday.  We too, you know, are being asked today, “But who do you say that I am?”  And Jesus isn’t asking us just to recite the Creed, the Profession of Faith.  That’s too easy; we do it all the time.  He doesn’t want to know what you learned at Bible Study or what you read on Facebook.  Those things are nice, but Jesus isn’t going for what’s in your head.  Jesus is calling all of us today to dig deep, to really say what it is that we believe about him by the way that we act and the things that we do and the life that we live.  It’s the dangerous question for us, too, because what we believe about Jesus has to show forth in action and not just word.  Our life has to be a testament to our faith in God.  And if we cannot answer that question out of our faith today, if we are not prepared to live the consequences of our belief, then we have a lot of thinking to do today.

Because if we really believe – really believe – that Jesus is who he says he is, then we cannot just sit on the news either.  Like Peter, we are going to have to proclaim it in word and deed.  In our homes, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our communities – we must be certain that everyone knows that we are Christians and that we are ready to live our faith.  That doesn’t mean that we need to interject a faith lesson into every conversation or badger people with the Gospel.  But it does mean that we have to live that Gospel.  In St. Francis’s words, “Proclaim the Gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words.”  People absolutely need to be able to tell by looking at our lives that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  If they can’t, then our faith is as tepid as the Pharisees’ and that’s certainly no cause for pride!

Every part of our Liturgy has consequences for us believers.  “The Body of Christ.”  When we hear that proclamation and respond with our “Amen,” we are saying “yes, that’s what I believe.”  And if we believe that, if we are then filled with the Body of Christ by receiving Holy Communion, then we have made a statement that has consequences.  If we truly become what we receive, then how does that change the way that we work, the way that we interact with others?  “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord with your life.”  “Thanks be to God.”  If we accept that command, then what?  What does it mean to glorify the Lord with our life?  Does it mean that we just do some kind of ministry here at Mass?  Absolutely not.  The first word in the command is “Go” and that means we have to love and serve the Lord in our daily lives, in our business negotiations, in our community meetings, in our interactions with peers or the way that we mentor those who work for us.

So if we really believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, then our lives just became a whole lot more complicated.  We may have to give up some of our habits and vices, we may have to make a concerted effort to be more aware of Christ in our daily lives, we may have to learn to treat other people as the Body of Christ.  We may have to do all this preaching in a hostile environment, because sometimes people don’t want to hear the Good News, or even be in the presence of it.  And this is dangerous, because if we really believe, then we have to preach anyway.  Peter did, and it eventually led him to the cross.  What will it require of us?

So I don’t know just how dangerous this will be for me or for you.  I’m not even sure how we will all answer the question right now.  But one thing is for sure, all of us sitting here today have the same one-question test that Peter and the disciples had.  Who do you say that the Son of Man is?

The Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There’s a little Christian Science church in the town where I grew up, on Main Street, just north of the downtown area.  They don’t anymore, but they used to list their upcoming sermon topic, followed by the line “All are welcome.”  Imagine my surprise when one day, the topic was going to be eternal punishment.  So the sign read: “Eternal Punishment.  All are welcome.”  Yeah, I had to drive around the block to make sure I read that right!

But that sign came to mind this week as I was preparing the readings for today.  There is a strong theme of welcoming, of hospitality, in today’s Liturgy of the Word.  But it’s not just a matter of saying to someone who’s new, “Hey, how are you?  Welcome here!”  The hospitality that we’re being called to in the readings today is a welcome of the Word of God.  And that sounds much easier than it actually is, so hang on to that, because we will come back to it.

In our first reading from the second book of Kings, Elisha the prophet is extended hospitality by the Shunemite woman.  Beginning by giving him food, eventually she builds a little room on the roof of her house so that Elisha could stay there whenever he was travelling through town.  We don’t know if she was a believer or not, but she recognizes that Elisha is a holy man and uses her influence and means to see that his prophetic ministry could flourish.

The true prophet, of which Elisha was one, always brings the Word of God.  The Shunemite woman reacted to the Word of God by making it welcome, in the person of Elisha.  She is a model for us of the hospitality and welcome of the Word that we are asked to consider this day.  So we too have to feed the Word and make a home for the Word.  We can feed the Word by exposing ourselves to the Scriptures in prayer and reflection.  I had a professor in seminary who used to beg us to read the Bible every day – even just a few verses.  He would say, “Then, brothers, when you close your eyes in death, you will open them in heaven and recognize where you are!”  When we feed the Word, we are able to grow in our faith and the Word will bring life to our souls.

From feeding the Word, we then have to build a little room for it, on the roof of our spiritual houses.  It’s instructive that Elisha’s room was build on the roof, because then the Word of God was over everything in the Shunemite woman’s life.  The Word of God was the head of her house and the guiding principle of her family life.  When we build that room, figuratively in our own lives, it must take top precedence for us too.  Jesus makes that a commandment in today’s Gospel.

And so we feed the Word and give it a home in our lives, and then it becomes the guiding principle of our own lives, as it should be.  But here’s the thing about that, and maybe this is why so many people don’t want to do this.  Because there is a cost to welcoming the Word of God.  Remember that the prophets were not always as welcome as Elisha was in the Shunemite woman’s house.  The prophets were often berated, ridiculed, even imprisoned, beaten and murdered, because the Word of God isn’t always welcome.

Because the Word of God calls us to live a certain way.  The Word of God wants us to be open to change, the Word of God actually usually demands that we change.  The Word of God wants us to be Christ to others, because Christ is the Word of God.  And so we must be forgiving of those who harm us, loving to those who test us, reaching out to those who need us (even when it’s inconvenient, or they’re not the people we want to be around), welcoming of those who are different than us.  Welcoming the Word of God means that we have to take up our cross and follow our Lord, meaning that there will be death involved and we might have to give up a whole lot.

We may have to die to what we think is important, die to our own self-interests, die to what makes us feel comfortable.  That’s what giving up one’s family meant in Jesus’ day: being cast out of the family was a form of death.  So not loving mother and father and son or daughter more than Christ meant dying to life in this world.  And dying to life in this world is exactly what welcoming the Word of God will cost us.

But giving up our lives will not be without its reward.  The Shunemite woman was rewarded with a child, even though her husband was advanced in years.  Jesus says the same.  Giving the Word of God even just a cup of water to nourish it and let it grow will be rewarded in ways we cannot even imagine.

So welcoming the Word of God will definitely cost us something, but it will also change everything.  Are you willing to embrace the cost and build a home in your life for the Word of God?

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter 

Today’s readings 

Today, Jesus has for us good news and bad news. The good news is that he is eventually going to send the Holy Spirit upon the world. The Holy Spirit will be a new Advocate for us, and will testify to everything that Jesus said and did. The Spirit’s testimony will be further evidence of God’s abiding love for us, a love that did not come to an end at the cross or the tomb, but instead triumphed over everything to make known his salvation to the ends of the earth. The testimony of the Holy Spirit, combined with the testimony of the Apostles, would be the birth pangs of the emerging Church, given by Christ to make the Gospel known in every land and every age.

But the bad news is, that glory won’t come without a price. Those Apostles would be expelled from the synagogues and misguided worshippers would think they were doing God’s will by killing them. Jesus knew this would be the lot of his baby disciples and he cares for them enough to warn them of what is to come. It is an important aspect of their discernment to know what is to come. Also, by warning them, he is preparing them for what is to come so that when it does happen, they may not be flustered or frightened, but might instead hold deeply to their faith, knowing that God’s providence had foreseen these calamities and they might know that in God’s providence, these calamities would not be the end of the story.
We are beneficiaries of the good news and bad news of today’s Gospel. We have heard the testimony of the Spirit and the Apostles, have been nourished by the Church they founded, have been encouraged by all that they suffered to bring the Good News to us. It is important that we too know that there is good news and bad news in the future of our discipleship. The Spirit continues to testify and the Apostles continue to teach us – that’s the good news. The bad news is, sometimes our faith will be tested, and sometimes our faith with cost us something. But in the end, it’s all Good News: even our suffering will not be the end of the story. God’s love triumphs over everything.

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Sometimes when God speaks to us, it doesn’t immediately seem like such good news.  We may well have had a call or even a gentle moving from the Lord, and are afraid to act on it.  Today’s Scriptures speak to those of us who are sometimes hesitant to do what the Lord is calling on us to do.

I think St. Paul must have been exhausted by this point in his life.  As we hear of him in our reading from Acts today, he is saved from one angry mob, only to learn he is to go to another.  Out of the frying pan and into the fire.  He has borne witness to Christ in Jerusalem, but now he has to go and do it all over again in Rome.  And underneath it all, he knows there is a very real chance he is going to die.

In the Gospel today, Jesus prays for all of his disciples, and also for all those who “will believe in me through their word.”  And that, of course, includes all of us.  He prays that we would be unified and would be protected from anything or anyone who might seek to divide us from each other, or even from God.  He says that we are a gift to him, and that he wishes us to be where he will be for all eternity.

What we see in our Liturgy today is that God keeps safe the ones he loves.  If he calls us to do something, he will sustain us through it.  Maybe we’ll have to witness to Jesus all over again or we’ll have to defend our faith against people in our community or workplace – or wherever – who just don’t understand.  We might well feel hesitant at these times, but we can and must go forward, acting on God’s call.  When we do that, we can make our own prayer in the words of the Psalm today: “Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.”

The Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary time [C]

Today’s readings

Jesus tells us some things about discipleship today that, quite honestly, I think might make a person think twice about becoming a disciple.  The first two come right at the beginning of the gospel reading: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  And then, right at the end, he says: “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”  He’s pretty clear: if we’re not willing to do these things, then we cannot be his disciples.

How does that make you feel?  Are you willing to hate those closest to you for the sake of the Gospel?  Would you take up your cross, knowing what happened to him when he did it, and come after him?  Think of the things that you have that you love: are you willing to renounce them in order to follow Christ?  Today’s Gospel is incredibly challenging, to say the least.  Maybe I should say it’s incredibly unsettling.  We might find ourselves totally willing to be Jesus’ followers, but at what cost?

And that’s the point of the parables he tells.  Who is going to build a building without first calculating how much it would cost to build it to be certain there is adequate funding?  Most of us have probably passed by some commercial buildings that started going up, only to be later abandoned, or that took quite a bit of time to build, possibly because the funding dried up.  So we’re not unfamiliar with the metaphor here.  Or if you were a military leader going into battle, don’t you estimate what the adversary is brining to the battle to be sure that you can be victorious?  Bringing it down a notch, think of a coach scouting out the other team to see how they play.

In any of these situations, it is absolutely necessary to calculate the cost.  Not to do so would be foolish.  The same is true of discipleship.  There is a cost to discipleship.  Those first disciples, almost without exception, paid for it at the cost of their lives.  Preaching in the name of Jesus was a dangerous thing to do, but they calculated the cost and realized it was worth it, and they did die.  Praise God for their faithfulness to the mission despite the cost; had they not been faithful we might not have the faith.

For us modern disciples, should we choose to follow him, there will be a cost too.  We might not get nailed to a cross as some of those early disciples did and have to pay for it with our lives.  But there will be a cross to bear.  We might have relationships that get in the way.  We might have things that we own that tie us too closely to the world and get in the way of our relationship with Christ.  Those will have to go.  That is the cost for us, and today we’re being asked if we are willing to pay it.

So how far do we take this?  Do we really have to hate our families?  Do we have to sell everything we own?  Do we have to take up the cross in such a way that we become doormats for those whose views are different from ours?  How much of the cost do we ourselves really need to pay?
We certainly know that Jesus – who loved his mother and father very much – did not mean that we were to alienate ourselves from our families.  But there may be relationships in our lives that are obstacles to the Gospel.  Maybe we’d gossip less if we didn’t hang out with people who brought that out of us.  That would certainly help us to be better disciples.  Maybe we’re in friendships or casual relationships that lead us to drink too much, or see the wrong kind of movies, or that draw us away from the healthy relationships we have.  Those relationships have to end if we are to follow Christ more fully.  Anything that gets in the way of our relationship with God and our ability to follow him in whatever way he’s called us has to go right now.  Ruthlessly put an end to it now, because otherwise we give up the life to which we are called, the life that is better than even these things that we might enjoy very much.

Our first reading speaks about God’s wisdom.  It’s so hard for us to understand that our own world most days, let alone understand the things of heaven.  We just don’t have the mind of God.  Our minds are very good, the best on the planet, but they aren’t enough.  Steven Hawking is one of the smartest people in our world right now, but when he talks about religion, he’s an absolute fool.  His current contention that the world doesn’t need a God to create it and run it is absolutely backwards, but that’s another homily.  The point is that we cannot ever understand the things of this world, or the world to come, unless God reveals them.  We have a deep and unquenchable need for his wisdom.  The more of it we have, the more we know that we need it.

God’s wisdom can help us to put our relationships, our possessions, the cost of discipleship, in proper perspective.  We have to beseech God day and night to give us the wisdom to live life the right way.  If we think we can go without it, we are fools too.  Wisdom is the tool that we are being offered for our discipleship toolbox today; we just have to gratefully accept it.

Our Liturgy of the Word today reminds us that following the Gospel on our own terms is not possible. The call to discipleship is one that calls us to step out of our comfort zone, leave behind whatever ties us to the world and separates us from God, and follow our Savior wherever he leads us. So if our only sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom of God is maybe getting out of bed and coming to Church on Sunday, then Jesus is telling us today that’s not enough.  It is a good start, but we have to reflect with wisdom on those things that are getting in the way, because it’s time we gave them up.

As we present our gifts today, God gives us the gift of wisdom.  How we live our lives this week will be the test of the way we’ve put that gift into action.

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Today, Jesus has for us good news and bad news. The good news is that he is eventually going to send the Holy Spirit upon the world. The Holy Spirit will be a new Advocate for us, and will testify to everything that Jesus said and did. The Spirit’s testimony will be further evidence of God’s abiding love for us, a love that did not come to an end at the cross or the tomb, but instead triumphed over everything to make known his salvation to the ends of the earth. The testimony of the Holy Spirit, combined with the testimony of the Apostles, would be the birth pangs of the emerging Church, given by Christ to make the Gospel known in every land and every age.

But the bad news is, that glory won’t come without a price. Those Apostles would be expelled from the synagogues and misguided worshippers would think they were doing God’s will by killing them. Jesus knew this would be the lot of his baby disciples and he cares for them enough to warn them of what is to come. It is an important aspect of their discernment to know what is to come. Also, by warning them, he is preparing them for what is to come so that when it does happen, they may not be flustered or frightened, but might instead hold deeply to their faith, knowing that God’s providence had foreseen these calamities and they might know that in God’s providence, these calamities would not be the end of the story.

We are beneficiaries of the good news and bad news of today’s Gospel. We have heard the testimony of the Spirit and the Apostles, have been nourished by the Church they founded, have been encouraged by all that they suffered to bring the Good News to us. It is important that we too know that there is good news and bad news in the future of our discipleship. The Spirit continues to testify and the Apostles continue to teach us – that’s the good news. The bad news is, sometimes our faith will be tested. But in the end, it’s all Good News: even our suffering will not be the end of the story. God’s love triumphs over everything.  That’s our Easter faith.