The Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Come and Rest a While

Today’s readings

I think a lot of us can identify with what’s going on in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus and the Twelve had been working hard: they had just been out on mission, proclaiming the Gospel and the Kingdom of God, casting out demons, and healing the sick.  It was hard work.  Some of it was successful, sure, but probably some of it wasn’t, because everyone probably wasn’t ready to hear what they were preaching.  So, coming back to the Teacher now, they were tired, but they were excited.  Jesus calls them together to go to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while, maybe have something to eat.  But as soon as they arrive, they find that the crowds figured it out and got there ahead of them.  The crowds clamored for Jesus’ attention, bringing to him as they always did, their needs and brokenness and pain.

If you’re a parent, that might sound familiar.  When’s the last time you had a minute to yourself, only to find out that the children have figured out where you were and needed something right now?  Or at work, you finally have five minutes to take care of your own projects, only to have a coworker come and ask for help with something they are doing?  We know the experience.  Responsibility for whatever we are charged with never really ends, no matter who we are.  We have so many things to do, we don’t have time for ourselves, for our spiritual lives, for those things that are ultimately important.

And Jesus doesn’t want it to be so.  He wants to shepherd all of us to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while, to rest in him.  He wants to feed all of us with the best of food: his own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, that we might have strength to take care of those crowds clamoring around us for our attention.

So we have to let him.  We have to give him five minutes of our day, if we haven’t been giving him anything at all.  We have to give him a little more now, so that he can use that space to help us rest a while, to refuel, to recharge, to grow and become more.  I know that seems like pie-in-the-sky: surely, it won’t be easy.  If we can’t find five minutes for ourselves, how on earth are we going to find five minutes for Jesus?  But it is possible.  I think maybe it’s too much at the end of the day when we’re dog tired.  So we have to find another, better time.  Maybe we can get up five minutes earlier just to read a verse of Scripture and put ourselves in the presence of our Lord for the day.  Maybe at work, we can put our spiritual lives on our to-do lists, keeping a little devotional book or prayer book in our desk drawers or back pockets so that we can rest for five minutes and refocus.  It will make everything we do better.  I used to put prayer on my to-do list every day in the days before seminary when I was working at a print company.  One day I was out sick, and my co-worker who filled in for me wrote a note on the to-do list at the end of the day: “I don’t think it helped!”  But of course it did.  Prayer always gives us more than we give to it.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus can do a lot with five minutes.  In these summer days, those five minutes can be the refreshment we need to move forward in our relationship with God and with the people in our lives.  They can help us to not be resentful of what we’re called to do for others.  They can help us to give more than we think we can.   They can help us to give better than we can all on our own.  Five minutes can help us in good times and in bad.

Jesus wants to be our shepherd, spreading the table before us and making our cups overflow.  And he will if we carve open a space for him to do that in us.  Give Jesus five minutes, go to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while.

Monday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The leader of the synagogue had it all wrong, and he of all people should have known what was right. God always intended the Sabbath day to be a day of rest, yes, but also of healing, also of mercy. There is no way that we can rest if we are in need of those things. The woman in the story was plagued by a demon that kept her bent over for eighteen years. Some translations of this passage say that she was “bent double.” So she wasn’t just slouched over or bent part way, but more like this, bent in half, for eighteen years! For eighteen years she never had a moment’s rest from this demon. Not only that, because she was bent double, people never even really saw her – really looked her in the eye.

We find great healing when we rest, and so the healing of a person who had been plagued for so long by a demon that she was bent over double from the weight of it, that healing had every right to take place on the Lord’s Day, the Sabbath Day of rest. Who are we to decide when someone should be healed? That grace comes from God, and his mercy comes on his timetable, not ours. The Sabbath has come and gone for us this week, but as we head into the workweek this day, it would be wonderful if we could take a moment to plan for the coming Sabbath day of rest. We too are offered healing and mercy if only we would ask for it, if only we would rest in the Lord.

(Image by Doris Klein)

The Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think a lot of us can identify with what’s going on in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus and the Twelve had been working hard: they had just been out on mission, proclaiming the Gospel and the Kingdom of God, and healing the sick. They were busy, they were tired, but they were excited. Jesus calls them together to go to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while, maybe have something to eat. But as soon as they arrive, they find that the crowds figured it out and got there ahead of them.

If you’re a parent, that might sound familiar. When’s the last time you had a minute to yourself, only to find out that the children have figured out where you were and needed something right now? Or at work, you finally have five minutes to take care of your own work, only to have a coworker come and ask for help with something they are doing? We know the experience. Responsibility for whatever we are charged with never really ends. We have so many things to do, we don’t have time for ourselves, for our spiritual lives, for those things that are ultimately important.

And Jesus doesn’t want it to be so. He wants to shepherd all of us to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while, to rest in him. He wants to feed all of us with the best of food: his own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, that we might have strength to take care of the crowds clamoring around us for our attention.

So we have to let him. We have to give him five minutes of our day, if we haven’t been giving him anything at all. We have to give him a little more now, so that he can use that space to help us rest a while, to refuel, to recharge, to grow and become more. It won’t be easy. If we can’t find five minutes for ourselves, it’s going to be hard to find five minutes for Jesus. But it is possible. Maybe it’s too much at the end of the day when we’re dog tired. But maybe we can get up five minutes earlier just to read a verse of Scripture and put ourselves in the presence of our Lord for the day.

Jesus can do a lot with five minutes. In these hot days of summer, those five minutes can be the refreshment we need to move forward in our relationship with God and with the people in our lives. They can help us to not be resentful of what we’re called to do for others. They can help us to give more than we think we can. They can help us in good times and in bad. Give him five minutes, go to an out-of-the-way place to rest a while.

Labor Day

Today’s readings:   Genesis 1:26 – 2:3, Psalm 128; Matthew 6:31-34

Today, we’ve gathered to celebrate and bless human labor.  Human labor is a cornerstone of our society and our world, dating all the way back to the creation of the world, as today’s first reading shows us.  We know that, at the completion of the creation of the world and everything in it, God sanctified the whole of it through rest.  That’s an important point that I think we maybe don’t get the way we should.

We know that we don’t get enough rest.  We are sleep deprived, we take working vacations, we very often don’t take all the vacation we’re allotted, and some don’t take a vacation at all.  And so our lives are out of balance and I think, very often, we don’t do our best work when we’re working.

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that this kind of thing is just crazy.  Worrying about work isn’t going to add a single moment to our lifespan.  In fact, it will more likely reduce them.  We are told very clearly: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.  Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

We are certainly required to work hard and always give the best that we have to our employers or employees.  That’s a matter of justice.  It’s also a participation, the Church tells us, in the work of creation.  Work is sacred and always has been, because, as the Genesis reading today shows us, work was instituted by God who told us to fill the earth and subdue it, having dominion over every living thing.  We work because it is a sharing in what we were created for, the very imitation of God.

But there is that matter of balance.  And we do have to step back and realize that God did indeed sanctify the whole of creation by blessing it with that seventh day, with that day of rest.  And so we do our spiritual lives no favors when we ignore the commandment to observe the Sabbath through rest and worship.  So much of our lives is consumed in labor; may we never fail to sanctify that labor by observing rest and worship.

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s first reading, King Solomon is asked a question that seems to me something like the fabled question that people get asked when they find a genie in a bottle.  Make a wish, and it’s yours.  Solomon has a relationship with the Lord, and so he treats the opportunity as something quite more than a chance to get rich quick.  Instead, he asks for the spiritual gift of understanding, which he knows that he will need in his ministry of governing the people Israel.  He gets that, and much more besides.

Jesus offers the Apostles an opportunity, too.  They were so busy, they had no opportunity to eat, let alone rest.  So he invites them on retreat: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”  He gives them a chance to recharge, to rest and grow.  Meanwhile, Jesus continued the ministry of preaching and teaching.

So we too, have opportunities today.  Those of us gathered for the Liturgical Minister Day of Renewal have the opportunity to come away and rest a while, to reflect on what we do and why we do it, and why it’s important that we do it well.  We come to be fed by the Eucharist and nourished in prayer, we come to receive the gifts that we need to do our ministries well.

Opening ourselves up to our Lord today, we are asked what it is that we need.  For each of us the answer is probably quite different.  We may need to go deeper in the spiritual life, or we may need to learn more about the Liturgy and our faith.  We may need more time for prayer.  Whatever it is, our God presents us with the opportunity today.  Sometimes I think we underestimate God or don’t want to bother him, or we may even think we can do our ministry or handle whatever life throws at us alone.  But we can’t and we don’t have to.

God speaks to us today: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”  How do you answer?  Choose wisely.

Monday of the Thritieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The leader of the synagogue had it all wrong, and he of all people should have known what was right.  God always intended the Sabbath day to be a day of rest, yes, but also of healing.  We find great healing when we rest, and so the healing of a person who had been plagued for so long by a demon that she was bent over double from the weight of it, that healing had every right to take place on the Lord’s Day, the Sabbath Day of rest.  The Sabbath has come and gone for us this week, but as we head into the workweek this day, it would be wonderful if we could take a moment to plan for the coming Sabbath day of rest.  We too are offered healing if we would rest in the Lord

Saturday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So what was at stake here?  Was it the Sabbath?  Not really.

For Jesus, there wasn’t such a thing as a Sabbath breath from healing, and teaching, and bringing people to salvation.  So as he walked along with his disciples, it didn’t bother him that they were “working” by picking heads of grain to eat.  They were hungry.  And Jesus was all about feeding peoples’ hunger, no matter what kind of hunger it was, and no matter what day it was – Sabbath or not.

He would be widely criticized for teaching on the Sabbath, but people were hungry for news of salvation.  He would be called blasphemous for calling God his Father on the Sabbath, but people were hungry for relationship with their God.  He would receive death threats for healing on the Sabbath, but people were hungry for wholeness.

Jesus’ point here is that the Sabbath is never important just for itself.  The Sabbath was an opportunity for people to rest in God, and it was God, not the Law, that could decide how that happened.  The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

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Today’s Scripture readings have some “sound bytes” that I have found most meaningful in my prayer life.  Isaiah’s profession of faith today says, “For it is you who have accomplished all we have done.”  What a beautiful thing for us to remember.  This one statement, if we integrate it into our prayer life, will keep us from both false humility and excessive pride.  Because we have no right, when we are called by God to do something, to say, “Oh no, I could never do that.”  That might be absolutely correct, but it’s still completely meaningless.  If God calls us, he will make miracles happen from our willingness to follow.  For it is he who has accomplished all we have done.

And we have no right to be puffed up and call attention to ourselves, and say, “Now look how wonderful I am.”  Because the really good things that we do we could never possibly do on our own: whether that’s becoming a priest and preaching the Word, or becoming a parent and raising children, or whatever our vocation consists of.  That we are willing is cause enough for celebration, but let’s not forget to celebrate the miracle that happens when God does what he needs to do in us.  For it is he who has accomplished all we have done.

And the three verses in our Gospel reading are verses that have long stuck with me.  I have an old Bible in my office that my aunt gave me when I was probably in high school, so like a million years ago!  That Bible has these verses outlined in ink because I went back to them so often.  We all go through trials sometimes, but we can never give ourselves to despair because our Lord is so willing to help us shoulder the burden, and longs to give us the rest we all need to recuperate from the world’s trials.  All we need to do is to come to him for that rest, and to be willing to take up the burdens he offers us, knowing that we will never shoulder them alone.  For it is he who has accomplished all we have done.

Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

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This isn’t a rural, agricultural area – although of course, it once was.  And your preacher today is a city and suburb boy, so some of the rural and agricultural themes of today’s Scripture readings threaten to pass us by.  And that would be too bad, because these themes are at the root of our call to worship, of our need for growth in faith, and our invitation to holy recreation.  And all of these themes are perfect ones for our observance of summer.

Someone asked me recently how I was enjoying my summer, and noted that things must be slower during this time of year for me.  I thought about my schedule of weddings, complete with preparing the couples for the sacrament, I thought about the fact that we still worship all summer long, day in and day out and that we still have to give a homily, however brief, on these warm days.  I thought about the appointments I have for pastoral counseling, the projects I’m working on for the fall, and all the daily emergencies that come up.  Slower in the summer?  Not so much.

And how many of you find yourselves in similar situations?  If you have children, then you have them more in the summer, and they’re going more places and doing more things.  Working for any company these days hardly ever allows for slow seasons, since every workplace is working leaner, or even completely understaffed.  Even professions like teaching, which traditionally pause in the summer, only give people the chance to pick up summer jobs.  And with the price of gas and the difficulty of air travel, how many of us are even traveling as much as we might these days?  Slower in the summer?  Not so much.

Full disclosure here: I am just today returning from a week’s vacation with my family.  It was nice to have the time off, and I really did appreciate the opportunity to recharge.  And that’s as it should be for all of us, because there really is a need for a Sabbath.  That’s what we’ve been telling our staff these days.  We encouraged every ministry to pause during July so that we can clean the buildings, touch up the paint, wax the floors, make repairs, and even just take a break from the normal hustle and bustle of parish life.  Even the Church needs a Sabbath now and then.

From ancient times, farmers would observe a pattern of crop rotation.  They would plant soil-enriching crops a year after soil-depleting crops.  And one year they would leave the land fallow – that is, they’d leave it crop-free, so that it would have a chance to rest and re-charge.  And that’s crucial in order to avoid a field that isn’t good for anything except to harbor rocks, weeds, and thorns – all those things that prevent a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold crop.

Isaiah prophesies a time when the word of God comes down to settle on fertile ground, a ground that lets that word accomplish the end for which God sent it.  This is a ground as fertile as a field enriched by rain and snow, “making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats.”  Clearly he was thinking about that good soil that can be sown with the seeds of God’s word, that will produce that harvest of a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.  And this is the kind of soil God wants all of us to be.  We need to be fertile ground so that God’s word, sown in us, can grow up to feed multitudes.

But clearly that takes a certain care of the soil that is in us.  It has to be kept from the poison of the world: profane entertainment, relationships that kill the soul, poor use of free time, becoming embroiled in the things of the world instead of the people of the world.  That soil has to be watered with quiet time, reflection on our faith, and yes, given that fallow time, that Sabbath that allows us all to recharge.

And so this summer provides us the space for all of that.  Whether our situations provide for extended vacations, or even stay-cations, or whether we keep on going doing what we always do, we need to take time for a Sabbath.  Even if that’s fifteen minutes of quiet in an otherwise chaotic day. Worship, faith growth, and holy recreation cannot happen if we don’t take time out to let God’s word permeate our being.  We have to give the Lord time to let his word fertilize and water us, so that we can become fertile ground for anything God wants for us, or anything God wants us to do.  Because the Psalmist is right: “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”  Blessed are we when we pause to become that good, fertile, fruitful ground.