The Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So often, when someone thanks us for something, we might say, “It’s the least I could do.”  As if it were some kind of badge of achievement to do the least thing possible.  I think it’s human nature to try to do as little as possible, without being perceived as lazy or something.  Sometimes we want to do as little as possible, and have others feeling good about it.

Well, I think it’s that kind of attitude that is behind today’s Liturgy of the Word.  Certain things are expected of believers, and over the course of history, people have tried to get away with doing as few of those things as they absolutely need to do.  The first reading sets the stage: Moses places the law before the people and tells them that they are a great nation, because they have a God so close to them, and who loves them enough to give them the whole law that they have received.

Now the whole law is more than we might think.  Perhaps when we hear that, we think of the Ten Commandments, to which we also are bound in our discipleship.  But for the Jewish community back then, there were a total of over six hundred laws and precepts that made up the law.  Because of that, there was always this constant discussion over which of the laws was most important, and often people would be concerned more about a tiny little precept than about the whole big picture that God was trying to accomplish.

This is the attitude Jesus came to address with the Gospel.  He wanted the people to get it right.  He wanted them to have concern for people more than for semantics in the law.  He wanted them to love as God loves, because if we do that, we’ll be keeping the law anyway.  But people didn’t always accept that teaching. If they did, Jesus wouldn’t have had to go to the Cross, and there would have been no need to preach the Gospel.

So in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes a major correction.  There was a law of purifying vessels before festivals, which is not unlike the way the priest washes his hands before the Eucharistic Prayer or the way that the vessels for Mass are purified after Communion.  But somewhere along the way, the precept got mangled, and everyone was bound to scrupulously wash themselves and every vessel they owned before a feast.  And Jesus chastises them for having more concern about a human tradition than about the real intent of the law.

The real intent of the law was obviously something way more important, way more personal.  The real intent of that purification was the purification of our hearts.  Jesus gives a rather horrifying list of sins at the end of the Gospel reading and notes that these are the things that defile; not some dirt on the outside of a cup or hands that had not been scrupulously cleaned.  If we want to really purify ourselves for the festival, which is to say the Eucharist, then we have to be cleansed of our sins.  That’s why we have the Sacrament of Penance, right?

James, in the second reading, picks up on the theme.  If we really want to be thought to be wise in regard to keeping the law, then we have to keep ourselves unstained by the world, which would be the same thing as Jesus was saying, but also to care for those in need, with which Jesus would certainly not disagree!  Indeed, that’s what was really at stake in the Gospel reading: people were more concerned about the minutiae of the Law than they were for securing justice for all God’s people.

The thing is, we are hearers of the Word.  We have experienced the love of our Lord in so many ways.  Everything that we have is a gift to us.  We have to be wise in regard to all that, and to be certain that we keep the whole of the law.  Not just those little minutiae, but the very spirit of the law, the law of love which binds all disciples and all people of good will.  Because when we lose sight of that, the whole Church can go off the rails.  And we have certainly seen the rotten fruit of that in these past weeks, haven’t we?

So our reflection in these days has to be on where and how we need to realign ourselves with the Law of love and resolve to live it more faithfully. Because, as the Psalmist says today, it is they who do justice who will live in the presence of the Lord. And that’s just where we all want to be.

Saturday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time: My Soul is Thirsting

Today’s readings

Jude, perhaps the relative of Jesus and James (not James the apostle!), writes some words of exhortation in today’s first reading. He calls on his hearers to build themselves up in the faith, and show that by extending mercy and correction to sinners.  All of this is a development, of course, of the Law, in the spirit of the Gospel.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus tangles with the keepers of the Law again, those chief priests, scribes and elders who were more zealous for the Law’s minutiae than for actually keeping its spirit.  It’s a problem that developed over time for the Jews: those who kept the law, they felt, are chosen and blessed by God and are indeed God’s chosen people. So much of the Old Testament is devoted to the Law: the giving of it, the interpretation of it, singing the praises of it, and well, the breaking of it.  If the Scriptures show us anything, they show us how our ancestors in faith were people who fell short of keeping the law – wonderful as it was – time and time again.

But did that lack of faithfulness remove from them the great promises of God?  No, of course not.  God intervened in history often to bring his people back and to help them to realize that the Law was for their benefit and helped them to become a holy nation, a people set apart.  God in justice could certainly have turned his back on them, but in his mercy, God didn’t.

Instead, in the fullness of time, God sent his only Son to be our Redeemer.  He paid the price we so richly deserved for our lack of faithfulness.  His death not only paid the price but also freed God’s people from the bonds of the Law if they would but believe in Jesus Christ.  That’s why Jesus chose not to quarrel with the chief priests, the elders and the scribes in today’s Gospel reading.  He knew that keeping the Law was something that could only be accomplished by God’s mercy, and they refused to acknowledge that.  So they would never come to believe in the Gospel he was preaching.

But we do.   And we are invited to renew our love for God’s Law. Yes, we have been delivered from it, but that Law is still the joy of our hearts.  Because following God’s ways leads us to his truth, and his truth leads us to his salvation.  That is why we can rejoice with the Psalmist today by saying, My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.

Friday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It could have been jealousy.  Or maybe they just felt threatened.  Either way, the Pharisees had lost sight of the mission.

You could see how they would have been jealous: here they are working long and hard to take care of the many prescripts of their religion, attending with exacting detail to the commandments of God and the laws that governed their way of life.  But it is Jesus, this upstart, and not them, who is really moving the people and getting things done.  People were being healed – inside and out – and others were being moved to follow him on his way.  That had to make them green with envy.

And, yes, they probably felt threatened.  The way that he was preaching, the religion he was talking about – well, it was all new and seemed to fly in the face of what they had long believed and what they had worked so hard to preserve.

But how had they gotten here, how did they lose the way?  Because what Jesus advocated was really not a different message: it was all about how God loves his people and that we should love God and others with that same kind of love.  That message was there: buried deep in the laws and rules that they were so familiar with, but somehow, the laws and rules became more important than the love.

The Pharisees wanted to preserve their religion and the way of life they had lived for so long.  Jesus wanted to make manifest God’s love, forgiveness of sins, and true healing.  It’s not that the rules of religion are not important, but the underlying message and the greatness of God cannot be overshadowed by legalism.  That is the argument in today’s Gospel; that is the argument that ultimately brought Jesus to the cross.  He would rather die than live without us; he paid the price that we might be truly healed and might truly live.  As the Psalmist reminds us today: Praise the Lord!

Thursday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings 

Would that we all would be, as St. Paul said, transformed from glory into glory. But the problem is, we get caught up in all the wrong kinds of things. Which is exactly what he was cautioning the Corinthians against, and what Jesus was condemning the Scribes and Pharisees for doing in today’s Gospel. When Moses was read among the Corinthian Church, St. Paul tells them that it was always with a certain veil over it all. And that veil kept the people from understanding the Mosaic Law’s true intent. The same could be said for the Jews in Jesus’ time. The Scribes and Pharisees had the law down to a science. But they always missed the spirit of the law. And of that Spirit, St. Paul says: “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

And for those who follow the spirit of the law, there really is true freedom. There is freedom from getting caught up in all the minutiae. There is freedom to really serve God and other people. There is freedom to do what we were created for.

It’s always scary when Jesus starts out saying “you have heard it said that…” because he always follows up with “but what I say to you is this…” What he is doing here, though, is freeing us from the strictness of the law and opening our eyes to the spirit. So in Christ, it’s not enough just not to murder, we must also respect life in every way. We can’t just be content with not murdering or aborting, although that’s certainly a good start, but we must also be sure to tear down any kind of racism, hatred, or stereotyping. We must care for the elderly and sick and never let them be forgotten. We must never be so angry that we write people off and hold grudges. Murdering takes many forms, brothers and sisters, and we must be careful to avoid them all or be held liable for breaking the fifth commandment in spirit.

We should shine the light of God’s spirit on all of our laws and commandments and be certain that we are following them as God intended. As St. Paul said in today’s first reading, “For God who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ.” May we all be free to follow the spirit of God’s law and be transformed from glory into glory.

The Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So often, when someone thanks us for something, we might say, “It’s the least I could do.” As if it were some kind of badge of achievement to do the least thing possible. I think it’s human nature to try to do as little as possible, without being perceived as lazy or something. Sometimes we want to do as little as possible, and have others feeling good about it.

Well, I think it’s that kind of attitude that is behind today’s Liturgy of the Word. Certain things are expected of believers, and over the course of history, people have tried to get away with doing as few of those things as they absolutely need to do. The first reading sets the stage: Moses places the law before the people and tells them that they are a great nation, because they have a God so close to them, and who loves them enough to give them the whole law that they have received.

Now the whole law is more than we might think. Perhaps when we hear that, we think of the Ten Commandments, to which we also are bound in our discipleship. But for the Jewish community back then, there were a total of over six hundred laws and precepts that made up the law. Because of that, there was constant discussion over which of the laws was most important, and often people would be concerned more about a tiny little precept than about the whole big picture that God was trying to accomplish.

This is the attitude Jesus came to address with the Gospel. He wanted the people to get it right. He wanted them to have concern for people more than for semantics in the law. He wanted them to love as God loves, because if you do that, you’ll be keeping the law anyway. But people didn’t always accept that teaching. If they did, Jesus wouldn’t have had to go to the Cross, and there would have been no need to preach the Gospel.

So in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes a major correction. There was a law of purifying vessels before festivals, which is not unlike the way the priest washes his hands before the Eucharistic Prayer or the way that the vessels for Mass are purified after Communion. But somewhere along the way, the precept got mangled, and everyone was bound to scrupulously wash themselves and every vessel they owned before a feast. And Jesus chastises them for having more concern about a human tradition than about the real intent of the law.

The real intent of the law was obviously something way more important, way more personal. The real intent of that purification was the purification of our hearts. Jesus gives a rather horrifying list of sins at the end of the Gospel reading and notes that these are the things that defile; not some dirt on the outside of a cup or hands that had not been scrupulously cleaned. If we want to really purify ourselves for the festival, which is to say the Eucharist, then we have to be cleansed of our sins. That’s why we have the Sacrament of Penance, right?

James, in the second reading, picks up on the theme. If we really want to be thought to be wise in regard to keeping the law, then we have to keep ourselves unstained by the world, which would be the same thing as Jesus was saying, but also to care for those in need, with which Jesus would certainly not disagree!

The thing is, we are hearers of the Word. We have experienced the love of our Lord in so many ways. Everything that we have is a gift to us. We have to be wise in regard to all that, and to be certain that we keep the whole of the law. Not just those little minutiae, but the very spirit of the law, the law of love which binds all disciples and all people of good will.

Because, as the Psalmist says today, it is they who do justice who will live in the presence of the Lord. And that’s just where we all want to be.

Friday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s readings ask us to ponder the question, “what do we have to do to remain in covenant with God?”  And the question, I think, is an important one.  We would want to respond to God’s gracious act of making covenant with us first.  We see in today’s readings that he chose us first, and calls us out of love for us.  Moses recites the mighty acts of God in which he remembered the promises made to the people’s ancestors and kept them, even though the people certainly didn’t deserve it.  Even though they often broke the covenant, God still kept it anyway, loving the people even when they were unlovable.

So for Moses and the people Israel, the response to God’s gracious act was to keep the law.  The law itself was wonderful, given to the people out of love, to help them walk the straight and narrow, and to remain in relationship with God and others.  Moses contends that no other nation had gods that were loving and wise enough to provide something like that for their people.

Jesus, of course, takes it several steps further.  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  Following the law was the first step, but it was pretty basic.  Even if the people obeyed it – which they often did not – it was still a matter of will mostly, and not heart.  The Pharisees especially took pride in keeping the minutiae of the law.  Jesus, however, calls us to make the same sacrifice he did: lay down our lives for one another out of love.

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  And isn’t that the truth, really?  When we get so caught up in ourselves and our own pettiness, how quickly life slips away and we wonder what it all meant.  But when we lose our lives following Christ and loving God and neighbor with reckless abandon, well, then we have really found something.

God loved us first and best, and always seeks covenant with us.  The law is still a good guide, but the cross is the best measure of the heart.  How willing are we this day to lose our lives relentlessly spending the love we have received from our God with others?

Friday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel story, the Pharisees are supposedly defending the law that the Sabbath was a day of rest, in accordance with the Third Commandment.  What the disciples were doing though, was to provide food for their own hunger.  The disciples weren’t rich men, and so we can probably surmise that they depended on the generosity of those with means who had been touched by Jesus’ message or ministry.  The Law itself provided that grain in the fields that was not taken up by the first pass of the harvest was to be left in the field for the poor.  But the Pharisees mostly didn’t care about the poor, so they wouldn’t have seen that application.  But even worse than that, they didn’t see that Jesus was inaugurating a whole new Law – one that God always intended – one that provided for the needs of people rather than just the minutiae of the law.

So we have to hear this too.  Because there is always the temptation to defend the rules instead of seeing how the rules apply to people.  Even our own Canon law, with its many rules and regulations, provides that the most important part of the law is that it is to assist in the salvation of God’s people.  The law is meaningless in and of itself.  Law is there to help people on the way to salvation, to help people to know Christ, who is certainly greater than the temple, greater than the law.  And so, whenever we’re tempted to bind ourselves with our own interpretation of the law or rules of the Church, we should instead submit ourselves to the Gospel, which is the only authentic interpreter of the Law.  For disciples of the Lord, there is something greater than the temple here.

Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The requirements of discipleship cannot be reduced to mere observance of law, and a checklist of things to do.  Paying tithes and keeping feast days are important, but eclipsing them in importance is loving others as Christ does.  We disciples are called to bear others’ burdens, loving God and neighbor, setting aside our own honor and glory for the honor and glory of God.  And we are called to do all this while not neglecting our duty to tithe and keep feast days, and all the other requirements of our religion.  The disciple who loves God considers none of this a burden, and would never consider not taking care of it all.

Friday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word asks us to ponder the question, “what do we have to do to remain in covenant with God?”  And the question, I think, is an important one.  We would want to respond to God’s gracious act of covenanting with us first.  We see in today’s readings that he chose us first, and calls us out of love for us.  Moses recites the mighty acts of God in which he remembered the promises made to the people’s ancestors and kept them, even though the people certainly didn’t deserve it.  Even though they often sought to break the covenant, God kept it anyway, loving the people even when they were unlovable.

But what should our response be?  For Moses and the people Israel, the response was to keep the law.  The law itself was a wonderful document, given to the people out of love, to help them walk the straight and narrow, and to remain in relationship with God and others.  Moses contends that no other nation had gods that were loving and wise enough to provide something like that for their people.

Jesus, of course, takes it several steps further.  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  Following the law was the first step, but it was pretty basic.  Even if the people obeyed it – which they often did not – it was still a matter of will mostly, and not heart.  Jesus calls us to make the same sacrifice he did: lay down our lives for one another out of love.

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  And isn’t that the truth, really?  When we get so caught up in ourselves and our own pettiness, how quickly life slips away and we wonder what it all meant.  But when we lose our lives following Christ and loving God and neighbor with reckless abandon, well, then we have really found something.

God loved us first and best, and always seeks covenant with us.  The law is still a good guide, but the cross is the best measure of the heart.  How willing are we this day to lose our lives relentlessly spending the love we have received from our God with others?

Friday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Maybe you remember memorizing the Ten Commandments as a child.  I do.  I sometimes think that memorizing things is a lost art.  Certainly memorizing things like the Ten Commandments doesn’t happen as much as it used to, and that’s too bad.  The Psalmist is the one who tells us why today: “The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart.”  The commandments are not meant to be burdensome.  They are meant to give us a framework for life that allows us maximum freedom by staying in close relationship with our Lord and God, and in right relationship with the people in our lives.  Certainly the Ten Commandments, with all their “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” have gotten a negative reputation over the years.  But if we would have true freedom, then we must give them another shot at our devotion, for they are indeed the words of everlasting life.