The Anniversary of the 9-11-01 Tragedy

Today’s readings

Seventeen years ago today, I sat in my room at seminary waiting for my first class to begin.  My classmates were already in their first classes; I had taken that particular class in college, so I didn’t have to take it again in seminary.  While I waited for class to begin, I flipped on the morning news, and just caught the end of something about a plane colliding with one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  I tried to get more information on the internet, but Yahoo news was running slow because of all the people trying to find out what happened.  Later, as I watched on television, I learned of the tragic events of four plane crashes that day and the thousands of lives that were lost.  Our world, in those tragic hours, was changed forever.

And so today, it can be very hard to hear the words Saint Paul speaks to the Corinthians today.  He speaks about letting ourselves be cheated and allowing the injustice that sometimes happens to us, rather than fighting it by committing the same sins ourselves. He exhorts us to treat each other as brothers and sisters.  And yet, when we look at an injustice like the tragedy of 9-11, it can be hard to see our persecutors as brothers and sisters.  It’s almost unthinkable to just let it happen to us and not lash out. But his point is that fighting against it by perpetrating injustice to others is sinful too, and he’s right.

The point is that we have to live the peace and justice and righteousness that we want to see in the world.  If all we do is respond to evil with evil, we don’t ever change anything.  But if we respond by making our corner of the world a better place, it can change everything. The Gospel Verse today says, “I chose you from the world, that you may go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.”  And evil never lasts, because Christ has conquered it.  Peace, justice, and love – those things last, because their source is God himself.

So I think we have to look at ourselves.  Have we been sources of peace or sources of anger, hate and violence?  And I don’t even mean that on any grand scale. Maybe we’ve just been jealous in petty ways, or have held on to the occasional grudge.  Maybe we have decided not to call the relative whose phone only seems to accept incoming calls.  Maybe we have sent a nasty email without stopping to consider it for any due time.  Maybe we have made or laughed at a racial joke, or have decided not to confront a person who uses racial slurs.  To whatever extent we have not been peaceful, we have added to the hatred and evil of which our world is already full.

And so today we pray for ourselves, that we might be more forgiving, for our world that it might be more peaceful, for our enemies and ourselves that we might come to know each other as children of God, for an end to evil and terrorism and murder and injustice of every kind.  Toward all of that, I offer today the prayer that Pope Benedict offered ten years ago at Ground Zero:

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost …
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

Amen.

Monday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reading is from the very challenging portion of Matthew’s Gospel in which we hear Jesus use the formula: “You have heard it said … but I say to you…”  Basically, in all of these instructions, Jesus is taking the old Jewish law and cranking it up a notch.   He teaches that anger, vengeance and libel are as disastrous as murder; that lust is as morally reprehensible as adultery.   In today’s reading, Jesus takes on the concept of justice.

In the days before Jesus, justice was met by inflicting on the one who had wronged you what they had done to you.  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; you steal one of my sheep, I take one of yours, that kind of thing.  It’s a very primitive sort of justice, but to be honest, I think, one that still kind of resonates in our society.  People might not like to say they believe this sort of thing, but you see it all the time.

Jesus isn’t into defining justice in this way.  For Jesus, true justice consists in rendering to God what he belongs to God; it means giving to others as God has given to us.  In a way, it’s the primordial form of the whole “pay it forward” idea.  If God has been generous to us, then, in justice, we need to be generous to others.  So we don’t argue about our tunic, but instead give our cloak as well.  We go the extra mile, and never turn our back on those in need.

We believers have to get our heads around the idea of true justice.  We have to be willing to give without counting the cost.  We have to remember that in justice, we should be condemned for our many sins, but instead we have salvation in Christ Jesus.  Because God has been merciful and generous to us, then in justice we must do the same for others.

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Today’s readings

The prophets of the Old Testament were always pretty clear about the fact that God was sick and tired of people trying to claim righteousness but not really being righteous. The idea of keeping the letter but not the spirit of the Law, of fasting and praying with the express idea of getting these things over with so one could return to cheating the poor was repugnant – is repugnant – to our God. The prophets cried out full-throated and unsparingly that worship of God was not a part-time endeavor, that the time for “business as usual” was over.

In Hebrew, the word for “righteousness” is tseh’-dek, which has the connotation of right relationship. This was the theme of the prophets: that right relationship, a relationship directed toward God and toward others, was the only thing that could ever deliver true peace.

This is the call of Isaiah in today’s first reading. God makes it clear through Isaiah that showy fasting, mortification and sacrifice is not what God wants from humankind. God, who made us for himself, wants us – all of us, and not just some dramatic show of false piety, put on display for all the world to see. God doesn’t want fasting that ends in quarrelling and fighting with others, because that destroys the right relationships that our fast should be leading us toward in the first place.

So, if we really want to fast, says Isaiah, we need to put all that nonsense aside. Our true fast needs to be a beacon of justice, a wholehearted reaching out to the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. As we get into our Lenten practices these days, we too might find that our self-sacrifice ends up pushing us away from others, and ultimately from God. That’s not a sign to give it up, but maybe more to redirect it. If we give up something, we should also balance that with a renewed effort to reach out to God and others. Right relationship should be the goal of all of our Lenten efforts this year. And we can truly live that kind of penitence with joy because it comes with a great promise, says Isaiah:

Your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings Susanna’s story is one of the most eloquent in the Old Testament Scriptures: in it we see the wisdom of the prophet Daniel, as well as the mercy and justice of God.  Her story is certainly echoed in our Gospel reading about the acquittal of the woman caught in adultery, although Susanna was actually innocent.  In the Gospel reading, we are treated to the wisdom of Jesus, brought about as it is with the mercy and justice of God.  But sadly, we see in both stories also the fickleness of the human heart and the evil and treachery that makes up some of our darker moments.

To those who seek to pervert justice and to collude with others against some other person, these readings expose those evil thoughts and flood the darkness with the piercing light of God’s justice.  No one has a right to judge others when their own intentions are not pure.  Only God can give real justice, just as only God brings ultimate mercy.

To those who are the victims of oppression, these readings give hope that God in his mercy will always walk with those who walk through the dark valley, and give to the downtrodden the salvation which they seek.  God is ultimately very interested in the kind of justice that is characterized by right relationships with one another and with Him.  It is the desire of God’s heart that this kind of justice would be tempered with mercy and would go out and lighten all the dark places of the earth.

Today we are called upon to right wrongs, to be completely honest and forthright in our dealings with others, to seek to purify our hearts of any wicked intent, and most of all to seek to restore right relationships with any person who has something against us, or against whom we have something.  Our prayer this day is that God’s mercy and justice would reign, and that God’s kingdom would come about in all its fullness.

Monday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

People often balk at the mere suggestion of being called to personal holiness.  Oftentimes, this is wrapped up in a kind of misplaced and false humility; that kind of humility that says that I’m no good; there is no way I can even come close to being like God.  Yet the fact of the matter is that we are made good by our Creator God who designed us to be like himself, perfect in holiness.

And if that seems too lofty to attain, Moses and Jesus spell out the steps to getting there today.  Clearly, personal holiness is not merely a matter of simply saying the right prayers, fasting at the right times, going to Church every Sunday and reading one’s Bible.  Those things are key on the journey to holiness, but using them as a façade betrays a lack of real holiness.  Because for both Moses and Jesus, personal holiness, being holy as God is holy, consists of engaging in justice so that hesed – right relationship and right order – can be restored in the world.

All the commands we receive from Moses and Jesus today turn us outward in our pursuit of holiness.  Our neighbor is to be treated justly, and that neighbor is every person in our path.  Robbery, false words, grudges, withholding charity, rendering judgment without justice, not granting forgiveness and bearing grudges are all stumbling blocks to personal holiness.  All of these keep us from being like God who is holy.  And worse yet, all of these things keep us from God, period.

The law of the Lord is perfect, as the Psalmist says, and the essence of that law consists of love and justice to every person.  If we would strive for holiness this Lent, we need to look to the one God puts in our path, and restore right relationship with that person.

Monday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We have been reading the last several days from the very challenging portion of Matthew’s Gospel in which we hear Jesus use the formula: “You have heard it said … but I say to you…”  Basically, in all of these instructions, Jesus is taking the old Jewish law and cranking it up a notch.   We heard that anger, vengeance and libel are as disastrous as murder.   We heard that lust is as morally reprehensible as adultery.   Today, Jesus takes on the concept of justice.

In the days before Jesus, justice was met by inflicting on the one who had wronged you what they had done to you.  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, you steal one of my sheep, I take one of yours, that kind of thing.  It’s a very primitive sort of justice, but to be honest, I think, one that still kind of resonates in our society.  People might not like to say they believe this sort of thing, but you see it all the time.

Jesus isn’t into defining justice in this way.  For Jesus, true justice consists in rendering to God what he belongs to him; it means giving to others as God has given to us.  In a way, it’s the primordial form of the whole “pay it forward” idea.  If God has been generous to us, then, in justice, we need to be generous to others.  So we don’t argue about our tunic, but instead give our cloak as well.  We go the extra mile, and never turn our back on those in need.

We believers have to get our heads around the idea of true justice.  We have to be willing to give without counting the cost.  We have to remember that in justice, we should be condemned for our many sins, but instead we have salvation in Christ Jesus.  Because God has been merciful and generous to us, then in justice we must do the same for others.

Memorial Day

Today’s readings: Isaiah 32:15-18, Philippians 4:6-9, Matthew 5:1-12a

Memorial Day originally began in our country as an occasion to remember and decorate the graves of the soldiers who died in the Civil War.  Later it became a holiday to commemorate all those who had died in war in the service of our country.  Today is, above all, a time to remember.

One of the aspects of human nature is that we tend to look for heroes.  People we can look up to, who have buoyed our spirits in difficult times, who have turned our attention to the best parts of our humanity.  These are the people we wish to emulate, the people who bring us hope in a darkened world.  The problem is, the heroes our popular culture would give us tend to be pretty unworthy of the title.  How many political heroes have turned out to be corrupt?  How many great athletes have given in to drug abuse?  How many entertainers have done horrible things to people close to them?  We need true heroes on this day, and every day.

Maybe the ones we should look to are not people who are great from afar like all those other flawed characters of popular culture.  Maybe we should look a bit closer, to loved ones or people in our communities who have done great things.  People who have sacrificed for the good of others.

On this day we especially look to those who have been heroes in war.  People who have given their lives for peace, justice, and righteousness.  The beatitudes that we just heard in the Gospel proclaim them blessed: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are they that are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.  We have heard these before, but it’s so important that we hear that these people are blessed, these people are true heroes because of what they sacrifice and stand for and fight for.

I am hardly the person who is going to glorify warfare.  I think our Church’s teachings counsel that war is not the way to peace and that developed societies like ours can and must use our resources to seek other ways to solve problems.  But I certainly acknowledge that there are and have been times in our nation’s history that have called on good people to fight for our freedoms and to fight for justice.  Today we honor their memory with immense gratitude, because without their sacrifice we might not enjoy the blessings we have today.

Those who have been part of our lives, and the life of our country, who have been people of faith and integrity are the heroes that God has given us.  These are the ones who have been poor in spirit, who have mourned, who have been meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, peacemaking, and all the rest.  If we would honor them on this Memorial Day, we should believe as they have believed, we should live as they have lived, and we should rejoice that their memory points us to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is our hope of eternal life.

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Susanna’s story is one of the most eloquent in the Old Testament Scriptures, in it we see the wisdom of the prophet Daniel, as well as the mercy and justice of God.  I think when we hear it, we can’t but help think of yesterday’s Gospel reading about the acquittal of the woman caught in adultery, although Susanna was actually innocent.  In that Gospel reading, we are treated to the wisdom of Jesus, brought about as it is with the mercy and justice of God.  But sadly, we see in both stories also the fickleness of the human heart and the evil and treachery that makes up some of our darker moments.

To those who seek to pervert justice and to collude with others against some other person, these readings expose those evil thoughts and flood the darkness with the piercing light of God’s justice.  No one has a right to judge others when their own intentions are not pure.  Only God can give real justice, just as only God brings ultimate mercy.

To those who are the victims of oppression, these readings give hope that God in his mercy will always hear the cry of the poor and give to the downtrodden the salvation which they seek.  God is ultimately very interested in the kind of justice that is characterized by right relationships with one another and with Him.  It is the desire of God’s heart that this kind of justice would be tempered with mercy and would go out and lighten all the dark places of the earth.

Today we are called upon to right wrongs, to be completely honest and forthright in our dealings with others, to seek to purify our hearts of any wicked intent, and most of all to seek to restore right relationships with any person who has something against us, or against whom we have something.  Our prayer this day is that God’s mercy and justice would reign, and that God’s kingdom would come about in all its fullness.

Monday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

People often balk at the mere suggestion of being called to personal holiness.  Oftentimes, this is wrapped up in a misplaced and false humility, that kind of humility that says that since I’m good for nothing, and so there is no way I can even come close to being like God.  Yet the fact of the matter is that we are made good by our Creator God who designed us to be like himself, perfect in holiness.

And if that seems too lofty to attain, Moses and Jesus spell out the steps to getting there today.  Clearly, personal holiness is not simply a matter of saying the right prayers, fasting at the right times, going to Church every Sunday and reading one’s Bible.  Those things are a good start and are key activities on the journey to holiness, but using them as a façade betrays a lack of real holiness.  Because for both Moses and Jesus, personal holiness, being holy as God is holy, consists of engaging in justice so that hesed – the Hebrew word meaning right relationship and right order – can be restored in the world.

Every single command we receive from Moses and Jesus today turns us outward in our pursuit of holiness.  Our neighbor is to be treated justly, and that neighbor is every person in our path.  Robbery, false words, grudges, withholding charity, rendering judgment without justice, not granting forgiveness and bearing grudges are all stumbling blocks to personal holiness.  All of these keep us from being like God who is holy.  And worse yet, all of these things keep us from God, period.

The law of the Lord is perfect, as the Psalmist says, and the essence of that law consists of love and justice to every person.  If we would strive for holiness this Lent – and we certainly ought to do so! –  we need to look to the one God puts in our path, and restore right relationship with that person.

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today we begin a little excursion into the Wisdom Literature of the Scriptures.  The first readings this week will be from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, two of the strongest pieces of Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament.

Wisdom literature in general was intended to praise God and heroic virtue.  For the Jews, the source of this wisdom was from God himself. Wisdom literature in general used several distinctive forms, such as the proverb, the riddle and fables.  But in Hebrew, it is mostly the proverb that is common.  The proverb could distill the wisdom of the ages into a practical, memorable, pithy line or two that had a bit of sermon in it as well.  The proverbs had to be memorable because it was by memory that most of them were handed down across the generations and perpetuated in the society.

Today’s bit of wisdom is one that finds its praise in justice.  That justice consisted of concern for the needy among us.  “Say not to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give,’ when you can give at once,” we are told.  We are exhorted to keep peaceful lives, finding our path not in lawlessness but in uprightness and truth.

The Gospel reading gives us some of Jesus’ own wisdom.  That truth will eventually win out and all that is hidden will be revealed.  Nothing will be hidden but instead will be revealed in the light of God’s kingdom as a lamp on a lampstand.

So today finds us to be wisdom-seekers.  As we begin our study of the Wisdom Literature this week, we may indeed find that God is pointing out a path to us, one that perhaps we had not seen before.  May we all be open to follow that path to justice, knowing, as the Psalmist tells us, “The just one shall live on your holy mountain, O Lord.”