Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I really don’t like that over-used phrase “at the end of the day.”  But I can’t help but think about this tired old phrase when I read the Scriptures for the Liturgy in these last days of the Church year.  Because the Liturgy is calling our attention to the fact that the end of the year is near, and asking us to reflect on our experience in the year gone by.  Have we been changed?  Are we responding to the Gospel?  Is our relationship with God any different?

God is always ready for the harvest, with the sickle at the ready.  But our Scriptures today take care to point out that we must not be overly-anxious to jump the gun.  We may hear of Nostradamus prophecies, or revelations from some very obscure mystic that lead us to fear the end is upon us.  Lots of people will read the newspaper with dark glasses to misinterpret all of the things that are happening in the world.  But God wants us to know that he is still at work, redeeming the lost, calling those who have strayed, binding up those who are broken.  So much has to happen before the end of days, so many still need to be redeemed.

But at the end of the day, are we any different?  Have we been changed?  Are we responding to the Gospel?  Is our relationship with God any different?  If not, we have a new opportunity next week as we being a new Church year.  We can allow Christ to be the ruler of our lives.  We can be intimately connected with God through prayer and acts of peace and justice.  Seeking the Lord, we need not fear the great winepress of God’s fury.  We can instead cling anew to our Lord who, as the Psalmist says, “shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with his constancy.”

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel calls us to examine our perspective. Jesus asks, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?” Well, those men he talked to were shepherds, or had shepherds in their family, so they would have responded “nobody would do that!” Why on earth would they risk losing the other ninety-nine sheep to find the lost one?

And as far as the coin goes, why bother staying up all night? It would probably have cost more to light the lamp and search all night than the coin was worth. It would be wiser to wait until she had the morning light and could find it easily.

But here’s the perspective part: God is not like us. Every sheep among us is important, and he will relentlessly pursue us individually until he has us all in the sheepfold. And if we’re lost, he’s going to light a lamp and stay up all night until he has us back. For him, one of us is every bit as important as the other ninety-nine. Even if our own self-image is poor, we are a treasure in God’s eyes.

And that’s all well and good, but we always have to ask ourselves why the Church gives us this reading again in the closing days of the Church year. We hear these kinds of parables typically in the summer months, when the Church wants us to see that God loves us and wants us to be his disciples. But hearing the parables in these days, there’s a little more urgency. Time is running short, and it’s time for the lost ones to be found and gathered up and celebrated. These waning days of the Church year are a foreshadowing of the end of time, and so we need to cooperate with God in making the urgent message of God’s love known in every time and place.

And so that’s what the Kingdom of heaven is like. It’s a relentless pursuit and a flurry of activity until we are all back where we belong. Once we are all with God, the joyful celebration can continue, knowing that we are all back where we were always meant to be.

The Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time: Going “All In”

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel has some rather obvious applications, not all of which are entirely accurate. For example, many may hear this Gospel reading as a condemnation of the rich or a warning against having too much money. Indeed, riches can be a distraction and an obstacle to a relationship with the Lord. Saint Paul says to Timothy that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) But having money is not in and of itself evil; in fact, having money can be an opportunity for holiness if one uses one’s money to build others up. But I really do not think that Jesus was using this opportunity to condemn greed.

Another application of this reading might be to encourage stewardship. Here the idea would be that virtuous stewardship consists of giving sacrificially and not just pledging some of one’s surplus wealth. There’s something to be said for that, because the requirement to be a good steward does include the notion of sacrificial giving, giving from one’s need. In giving from our need, we trust God with our well-being, and he never fails in generosity. So maybe Jesus is calling on us to give more so that he can give more – when we create want in our lives, there is space for God to give more grace.

So in both of these applications, the subject is money and its use. But when it comes down to it, I don’t think Jesus intended money to be the subject here. I think instead, he was focusing on the sacrifice.

Look at what he said the widow did. She put into the treasury a small amount, but it was all she had: Jesus says, “but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, hew whole livelihood.” Not so different from that is the sacrifice of the widow of Zarephath in the first reading. Elijah had prophesied a drought over all of the Land, God’s punishment for the wicked acts of their kings. And so water and food were in scarce supply, and God sends Elijah to the widow. She’s just about to use up the last of her flour and oil to cook a meal for herself and her son, when Elijah meets her and asks her to make him some food. He encourages her to trust God, and when she does by giving all that she has, she finds God faithful to feed all of them for some time.

So I’d like to suggest that both of these widows had gone “all in” for their relationship with God. They trusted Him with their very lives by giving everything had to give. It’s a super-scary thing to do, isn’t it? We are ones who love to be in control of our lives and of our situations, and so giving up all of that gives us more than a little pause. But honestly, it takes that kind of a leap of faith to get into heaven. If we still are grasping onto stuff, then our hands are full, and we cannot receive from God the gifts and the grace he wants to give us.

Look at that cross. That too is going “all in.” And our God did that for us. Jesus went “all in” by giving his life, suffering the pain of death that we might be forgiven of our sins and attain the blessings of heaven. God is faithful and he will not leave us hanging when we go “all in” for him.

And the time is short. The Church gives us this reading very purposely on the third-to-last Sunday of the Church year for a reason. Because if we’re still hanging onto the stuff that keeps us bound to this life, we may very well miss our invitation to eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. To get to heaven, we have to choose our relationship with God over everything else in our lives. We have to empty our hands of all this earthly wealth so that we might obtain heavenly wealth. We have to go “all in” or we’ll be left out.

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel calls us to examine our perspective. Jesus asks, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?” Well, those men he talked to were shepherds, or had shepherds in their family, so they would have responded “nobody would do that!” Why on earth would they risk losing the other ninety-nine sheep to find the lost one?

And as far as the coin goes, I guess it depends on what the coin is worth. If it’s a denarius – a day’s wage – then yes, it would be worth staying up all night and searching carefully. But if it’s just a small coin, why bother? It would probably have cost more to light the lamp and search all night than the coin was worth.

But here’s the perspective part: God is not like us. Every sheep among us is important, and he will relentlessly pursue us individually until he has us all in the sheepfold. And there are those among us who don’t see themselves as worth much. For some, their own self-image is so poor that they think they are dirt. But God does not; and if we’re lost, he’s going to light a lamp and stay up all night until he has us back. For him, one of us is every bit as important as the other ninety-nine. Even if our own self-image is poor, we are a treasure in God’s eyes.

And that’s all well and good, but we always have to ask ourselves why the Church gives us this reading again in the closing days of the Church year. We hear these kinds of parables typically in the summer months, when the Church wants us to see that God loves us and wants us to be his disciples. But hearing the parables in these days, there’s a little more urgency. Time is running short, and it’s time for the lost ones to be found and gathered up and celebrated. These waning days of the Church year are a foreshadowing of the end of time, and so we need to cooperate with God in making the urgent message of God’s love known in every time and place.

And so that’s what the Kingdom of heaven is like. It’s a relentless pursuit and a flurry of activity until we are all back where we belong. Once we are all with God, the joyful celebration can continue, knowing that we are all back where we were always meant to be.

Friday of the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

As many times as we may hear the parable in today’s Gospel, I think we always end up scratching our heads and wondering what point Jesus was making, precisely.  It’s just so unlike anything we would expect him to preach, this idea of the steward basically cheating his employer and making friends with the customers in order to save his own neck.  Even the whole idea of money changing was so foreign to anything that Jesus ever took time to deal with.  So the question is, why now?  Why does Jesus suddenly have this interest in money, and dishonest wealth at that?

I think the answer to that question is why the Church gives us this Gospel reading, from just past the middle of Luke’s Gospel, right here at what is just about the end of our Church year.  Jesus is telling us that time is running short.  We don’t know when the end will come, but we know that it will come some day, and is would be best for us to be hard at work for the kingdom so that we might enter into it.  Not that we should attempt to cheat God as the steward did his employer, but that we might seize the day and take advantage of the time we may have in order to assure the eternity we definitely want.

Many scholars conjecture that the steward was basically writing off his own commission, and not really cheating his employer.  That makes sense if we think about it; what good is a commission he wouldn’t be able to collect anyway?   Better to have the good will of those customers to help him when he really needs it.  And for us, what good are the temporal things of this world?  We can’t take them with us.  Better to write them off and have an eternity to go to.

The days are shorter now, aren’t they?  It’s dark way too early, and the days are getting colder.  Winter will be with us for a while, and so we turn our thoughts to the end of time.  As we do so, maybe it’s time for us to think about what are the things we need to write off so that eternity can be ours.  When we do that, our Lord may congratulate us too for acting so prudently.

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Jesus says to us today, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”  This includes all of us, past, present and future.  We will all live, in some way, to see the end of days, either here on earth, or from the joy of heaven.

So what will we see; what things will take place?  We will see the signs of a new creation.  Just like the first buds of the fig tree and other trees that Jesus spoke about, all of which signaled the beginning of summer, so the signs of the new creation are evident among us.  Sins are forgiven, people return to God, miracles happen.  Granted, all these are imperfect in some ways now, given that they happen to us fallen creatures, but one day they shall be brought to perfection in the kingdom of God.  Then, we will see “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

And so, in these closing days of the Church year, we pray for the coming of the kingdom, and hope for the salvation of the world as Jesus promised.

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Jesus says to us today, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”  This includes all of us, past, present and future.  We will all live, in some way, to see the end of days, either here on earth, or from the joy of heaven.

So what will we see; what things will take place?  We will see the signs of a new creation.  Just like the first buds of the fig tree and other trees that Jesus spoke about, all of which signaled the beginning of summer, so the signs of the new creation are evident among us.  Sins are forgiven, people return to God, miracles happen.  Granted, all these are imperfect in some ways now, given that they happen to us fallen creatures, but one day they shall be brought to perfection in the kingdom of God.  Then, we will see “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

Saturday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

When time runs short, we often worry about the silliest things. Maybe the reason for that is we don’t know what to do, so taking care of the small stuff makes it seem like we are getting someplace. Only we’re not. For example, I have this kind of big impending move to take care of in less than a month.  But the obstacle is that I hate to pack.  So I’m making myself do at least one packing project a week.  So far the projects have been pretty small.  So, at this rate, I’ll need a year to make my move!

For the Sadducees, the silliness surrounded what seems like a game of trivial pursuit or some early version of a math story problem gone bad. If a woman married each of seven brothers, only to have them die before they could have children, whose wife would she be in the afterlife? I think the more important question would be, if the first six brothers died before they could have children, why would the seventh one marry her in the first place? Now that’s a question worth asking!

And Jesus makes it clear that the answer to their question involves focusing on what’s really important. And that is eternal life. Now the Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death. One of my professors used to tell us that that’s why they were sad, you see. But Jesus’ message to them is that they are dead wrong on their belief that there is no afterlife, and it’s time they got it right. The most important thing worth striving for is eternal life, and Jesus is there to give it to them, and us, if we will but ask the right questions and live the Gospel.

So as the year nears its end and time is running short, we have to ask the right questions and attend to the important stuff. Maybe this involves reprioritizing our preparations for Thanksgiving or spending less time in the mall Christmas shopping, and spending more time with our families, or in prayer, so that the real message of the end of the year – eternal life through the incarnation of our Savior – can be first in our minds and hearts.

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our worshipping in these last days of the Church year is often difficult, I think.  And the reason is that these readings are just hard to hear.  The readings from Revelation this week have been confusing, to say the least, and maybe even a little frightening.  And even if we could ignore the fright of the Revelation, well the Gospel is a bit more violent this morning than we’d like to experience at 8:00 in the morning, I think.

But there is a spiritual principle at work here.  We are being called to mindfulness.  If during this liturgical year we’ve been a little lax, or even have become complacent, these readings are calling us to wake up lest we miss what God is doing.  God is bringing the whole world to its fulfillment, and we are called to be witnesses of it.  We dare not be like those who missed the time of their visitation.  We have been given the wonderful gift of Christ’s presence in our lives all year long, and we are asked to look back at where that wonderful gift has taken us.

And if we haven’t come as far as we should, then we are called to wake up and realize what’s slipping away from us.  We must not be left out of the kingdom, all our hopes smashed to the ground, all because we didn’t recognize that our greatest hope was right in front of us all the time.  We know the time is running short.  The days are shorter, and night approaches more quickly than we’d like.  The leaves have gone from the trees.  The nip in the air has turned to cold and even frost; and we know there are very few days until we see some snowflakes.  These are the physical manifestations of creation groaning to come to its fulfillment.

If the coming winter leaves us empty and aching for warmth, then these final days of the Church year might find us also aching for the warmth of the kingdom, that kingdom we were created to live in all our days.  Let us not be like Jerusalem; we dare not miss the time of our visitation!