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.”

Monday of the Twenty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So the readings that we have today are not meant to be of comfort to the afflicted; rather their intent is to afflict us who have been just a little to comfortable.  It seems that the Church at Corinth had enthusiastically accepted Paul’s preaching of the Gospel, but while the cat was away, well, you know the rest.  It seems they had become known not so much for their integrity and faithful living of the Gospel, so much as for their degenerate actions, actions that apparently would have made the pagans blush.  Paul, as the father of their community, comes down on them pretty harshly, and well does he do so, so as to save them from the fires of hell.

In the Gospel reading, we see those scribes and Pharisees once again on the lookout for anything they can use to discredit and condemn Jesus.  They know that the man’s withered hand would not be something Jesus the healer could overlook.  So Jesus asks them if it is okay to do nothing on the Sabbath and so let evil continue to reign, or would it be better to actually do some good, to actually reach out in compassion to bind up the broken and heal the sick?  One would think the call for true justice would stir somewhere in their hardened hearts, but obviously their penchant for legalism allows them to use the letter of the law to condemn the One who came to manifest the spirit of the law.

So if we feel a little uncomfortable having heard the proclamation of these readings, they we certainly have experienced them in the spirit they were offered.  The Liturgy of the Word today calls us to look at our own lives and root out everything that is contrary to the Gospel.  In the quiet places of our day today, a rather honest examination of conscience would do wonders for our lives of faith.

It is the Psalmist today who allows us to pray that we might not fall into the traps of degeneration, apathy and self-righteousness:  “Lead me to your justice, Lord.”  Lead us to your justice, indeed.  Help us to live lives of integrity that proclaim the Kingdom of God with its call to repentance.  Help us to remember that Sabbath rest is supposed to strengthen us for Gospel service.  Help us to embrace the spirit of the law by loving others as you love us.  Lead us to your justice, Lord.