The Second Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings

What would you give up for love?

Today’s first reading puts poor Abraham in an awful position. Remember, he and Sarah were childless well into their old age. And it is only upon entering into relationship with God that that changes. God gives them a son, along with a promise, that he would be the father of many nations.

And so put yourself in Abraham’s place. After rejoicing in the son he never thought he’d have, God tells him: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.” It’s not a suggestion, it’s not an invitation, it’s an order. Abraham knows that it’s only because of the gift of God that he has Isaac to sacrifice in the first place. But many of you are parents: what would you do?

The reading omits a chunk in the middle that is perhaps the most poignant part. Abraham packs up his son, travels with some servants, and he and Isaac haul the wood and the torch up the mountain. Isaac asks him: “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” Can you even begin to imagine the anguish in poor Abraham’s heart? And yet he responds in faith: “My son, God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.” Which, of course is true. God had provided Isaac, who was intended to be the sheep. But Abraham couldn’t have known that God would intervene.

We could get caught up in the injustice here and call God to task for asking such a horrible thing in the first place. Why would God test poor Abraham so? Why would he give him a son in his old age, only to take him away?  What purpose did that have? But we have to know that the purpose of the story is to illustrate that God does have salvation in mind. Yes, God would provide the lamb. It was never going to be Isaac; it’s not even the sheep caught up in the thicket – not really. We know that the sheep for the burnt offering is none other than God’s own Son, his only one, whom he loves. The story is ultimately about Jesus, and his death and resurrection are what’s really going on in today’s Liturgy of the Word.

But let’s also be clear: Abraham trusted God and was willing to give up the thing he’d probably die for – his own son. So what are we willing to give so that we can demonstrate – to ourselves if no one else – our trust in God’s ability to love us beyond all telling? For Lent, we’ve given up chocolate, or sweets, or even negative thinking or swearing. Maybe we’ve not done well with them, or maybe we have even given them up.  But we need to see in Abraham’s willingness that our sacrifices are important; they mean something.

Jesus goes up a mountain in today’s readings too – and he too sees that he is to become the sheep for the sacrifice – sooner rather than later. That was the meaning of the Law and the prophets of old, symbolized by Moses and Elijah. But knowing that, and knowing what’s at stake, he does not hesitate for a moment to go down the mountain and soldier on to that great sacrifice. He willingly gives his own life to be the sheep for the sacrifice, because leaving us in our sins was a price he was not willing to pay.

There are a lot of things out there for us that seem good. But the only supreme good is the life of heaven, and eternity with our God. Think of the thing that means everything to you: are you willing to sacrifice that to gain heaven? Are you willing to give everything for love of God?

Because, for you, for me, God did.

God did that for us.

Friday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This morning we have to wrestle with the question: is there something in my life that distracts me from living my life as God intended that I need to cut out?  It’s a ruthless image that we find in our Gospel reading: gouge out an eye, cut off a hand – all of that is better than taking the road to hell.  And it really does need to be that ruthless.  Because hell is real and it’s not going to be pleasant.  So we really need to attach ourselves to Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life.  And whatever gets in the way of that needs to be brutally ejected from our lives.

Yes, that might hurt sometimes.  But, as the cliché goes, whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  Saint Paul is a good model of that:  he was constantly subjected to torture and imprisonment and death, but he considered that as gain so that he might have Christ.  And in today’s first reading, he testifies that all he endures is manifesting the sufferings of Jesus in his flesh, for the benefit of the Corinthian Church.

So in like manner, we too need to be willing to put to death in us anything that does not lead us to Christ.  The pain of it can be joined to the sufferings of Christ for God’s glory and honor.  It is something that we can offer to our God, as our Psalmist said, as a “sacrifice of praise.”

Monday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Sometimes God’s blessings can be challenging.  For example, we might not think that those who are meek and those who mourn are blessed.  And we certainly wouldn’t celebrate the blessings of those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, would we?  It’s even more challenging when we remember that the word “blessed” in Scripture could also be translated as “happy.”  Would we think of those people as happy?  Probably not, but God does.

Paul and Timothy in our first reading write to the people of the Church at Corinth that, when they are afflicted – as they surely were! – it was for the Church’s encouragement and salvation.  Paul knew well that following Christ meant going to the Cross.  He realized that, for him, it probably meant death, but for all of us, it means some kind of mortification, some kind of sacrifice.

So it’s important for us to remember, I think, that while God never promises to make our lives free and easy, he does promise to bless us.  He will bless us with whatever gifts we need to do the work he has called us to do, the work for which he formed us in our mother’s womb.  We may be reasonably happy in this life, but the true happiness must come later.  Our reward, which Jesus promises will be great, will surely be in heaven.

The Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Loving Communities of Faith

Today’s readings

Today’s second reading is certainly familiar to anyone who has been to a church wedding. It’s easy to see why so many couples would choose that reading: the romantic nature of the love they have for one another wants a reading as sweet and beautiful as this to be proclaimed at their wedding. But I always tell them that they should be careful of what they’re asking for. Because the love that St. Paul speaks of is not something that you feel, it’s more something that you do. Or, even better, something that you are.

Because, in any relationship, love is a choice. If it were just a feeling that you automatically had for someone close to you, it would be so much easier. If love happened automatically like that, there would be no abusive relationships. Young people would never turn away from their families. Parents would never neglect their children. Spouses would never separate. We wouldn’t need the sixth commandment, because no one would ever think to commit adultery. Priests would never leave the priesthood because their love for their congregations and the Church, and above all, for God, would stop them from any other thoughts.

So as we hear that reading from Saint Paul today, I believe he’s giving it to us to show us how to be a community of faith. Because, in community, love absolutely has to address pomposity, inflated egos, rudeness, self-indulgence, and much more. All of us, no matter what our state of life, must make a choice to love every single day. If you are married, you have to choose to love your spouse; if you are a parent, you have to choose to love your children. Children must choose to love their parents; priests have to choose to love their congregations, and the list goes on. Love is the most beautiful thing in the world, but love is also hard work, and it is that hard work that makes us a community of faith.

As today’s Liturgy of the Word unfolds, we can see that love makes demands on us, demands that may in fact make us unpopular. In the first reading, Jeremiah is told that he was known and loved by God even before he was formed in his mother’s womb. That love demanded of him that he roll up his sleeves and be a prophet to the nations. God gives him the rather ominous news that his prophecy won’t be accepted by everybody, that the people would fight against him. But even so, Jeremiah was to stand up to them and say everything that God commanded him, knowing that God would never let him be crushed, nor would God let the people prevail over Jeremiah.

For Jesus, it was close friends and neighbors who rejected him. In the Gospel today, while the people in the synagogue were initially amazed at his gracious words, soon enough they were asking “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” as if to say, “Who is he to be talking to us this way?” When Jesus tells them that his ministry will make God’s love known to the Gentiles – those whom God had supposedly not chosen – it is then that they rise up and drive him out of the city, presumably to stone him to death.

So love has to endure all of that. Jeremiah had to weather the storm for love of God. Jesus had to eventually go to the cross for love of sinners, you know, like you and me. In a community, we will have to work hard to love one another and help one another to know God’s love and care for them. We will have to extend ourselves and take a step of faith so that love can be proclaimed and lived and shared.

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.

The Second Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings

What would you give up for love?

Today’s first reading puts poor Abraham in an awful position. Remember, he and Sarah were childless well into their old age. And it is only upon entering into relationship with God that that changes. God gives them a son, along with a promise, that he would be the father of many nations.

And so put yourself in Abraham’s place. After rejoicing in the son he never thought he’d have, God tells him: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.” It’s not a suggestion, it’s not an invitation, it’s an order. Abraham knows that it’s only because of the gift of God that he has Isaac to sacrifice in the first place. But many of you are parents: what would you do?

The reading omits a chunk in the middle that is perhaps the most poignant part. Abraham packs up his son, travels with some servants, and he and Isaac haul the wood and the torch up the mountain. Isaac asks him: “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” Can you even begin to imagine the anguish in poor Abraham’s heart? And yet he responds in faith: “My son, God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.” Which, of course is true. God had provided Isaac, who was intended to be the sheep. But Abraham couldn’t have known that God would intervene.

We could get caught up in the injustice here and call God to task for asking such a horrible thing in the first place. Why would God test poor Abraham so? Why would he give him a son in his old age, only to take him away?  What purpose did that have? But we have to know that the purpose of the story is to illustrate that God does have salvation in mind. Yes, God would provide the lamb. It was never going to be Isaac; it’s not even the sheep caught up in the thicket – not really. We know that the sheep for the burnt offering is none other than God’s own Son, his only one, whom he loves. The story is ultimately about Jesus, and his death and resurrection are what’s really going on in today’s Liturgy of the Word.

But let’s also be clear: Abraham trusted God and was willing to give up the thing he’d probably die for – his own son. So what are we willing to give so that we can demonstrate – to ourselves if no one else – our trust in God’s ability to love us beyond all telling? For Lent, we’ve given up chocolate, or sweets, or even negative thinking or swearing. Maybe we’ve not done well with them, or maybe we have even given them up.  But we need to see in Abraham’s willingness that our sacrifices are important; they mean something.

Jesus goes up a mountain in today’s readings too – and he too sees that he is to become the sheep for the sacrifice – sooner rather than later. That was the meaning of the Law and the prophets of old, symbolized by Moses and Elijah. But knowing that, and knowing what’s at stake, he does not hesitate for a moment to go down the mountain and soldier on to that great sacrifice. He willingly gives his own life to be the sheep for the sacrifice, because leaving us in our sins was a price he was not willing to pay.

There are a lot of things out there for us that seem good. But the only supreme good is the life of heaven, and eternity with our God. Think of the thing that means everything to you: are you willing to sacrifice that to gain heaven? Are you willing to give everything for love of God?

Because, for you, for me, God did.

God did that for us.

Monday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the great problems that many people have with living the spiritual life is that they want it on their own terms.  So often, we think we know what God wants, or even worse, we want God to want what we want.  And so we act according to our own desires instead of God’s, and then we’re surprised when it doesn’t work out.  If we’re honest, we all struggle with this on some level from time to time in our lives.

Certainly Saul struggled with it.  Anointed as king over Israel, he was given very clear instructions as to what God wanted.  God wanted Saul and his army to overtake the Amalekites and destroy them from the face of the earth.  This sounds harsh, but we need to read it spiritually.  The Amalekites represented the worldly, sinful influences that the Israelites – and we! – struggle with, so they have to go.  But Saul allowed his soldiers to do what they wanted: they kept the livestock and justified it by sacrificing the best of them to God.  But God didn’t ask for sacrifice, he asked for obedience, and that disobedience will prove to be their undoing.

Similarly, the Pharisees expected the disciples of Jesus to fast.  But Jesus hadn’t asked for fasting, he asked his disciples to follow.  The Pharisees couldn’t see that, and so they too acted in disobedience.

We are all asked by God to do something all the time.  It’s not up to us to decide what God wants or how he wants us to do it.  Our task as disciples is to follow, to obey the Lord.  Because that’s the only way we’re ever going to triumph over sin and death, the only way that we will ever be truly happy.

Monday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Sometimes God’s blessings can be challenging.  For example, we might not think that those who are meek and those who mourn are blessed.  And we certainly wouldn’t celebrate the blessings of those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, would we?  It’s even more challenging when we remember that the word “blessed” in Scripture could also be translated as “happy.”  Would we think of those people as happy?  Probably not, but God does.

Paul and Timothy in our first reading write to the people of the Church at Corinth that, when they are afflicted – as they surely were! – it was for the Church’s encouragement and salvation.  Paul knew well that following Christ meant going to the Cross.  He realized that, for him, it probably meant death, but for all of us, it means some kind of mortification, some kind of sacrifice.

So it’s important for us to remember, I think, that while God never promises to make our lives free and easy, he does promise to bless us.  He will bless us with whatever gifts we need to do the work he has called us to do, the work for which he formed us in our mother’s womb.  We may be reasonably happy in this life, but the true happiness must come later.  Our reward, which Jesus promises will be great, will surely be in heaven.

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?

Monday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Give them some food yourselves,” Jesus says to the disciples.  Yes, it would be easier to send the people away so they can fend for themselves.  But that’s not how God wants to feed them, and Jesus won’t hear of it.  “Give them some food yourselves.”  All they have are five loaves and couple of fish, hardly enough for the incredible crowd.  But, that sacrifice in the hands of Jesus is enough to feed all of them and then some.  What meager offering will you be called upon to sacrifice today so that others can be fed?  Our little service might not seem like much, but in Jesus’ hands it is more than enough.  “Give them some food yourselves.”