15th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that it is not hard to know the Lord’s expectations for us. We’re the ones who complicate things. The difficulty comes in doing what Our Lord expects of us. Why?

In today’s First Reading Moses, in his parting words to the Israelites, encourages them to see that what the Lord expects of them is not hard to know or achieve: it is turning to God with all their heart and soul. The Lord had come to them when they were slaves in Egypt, led them to freedom, and constituted them as his people at Mt. Sinai, giving them the Ten Commandments that we live even today. When they rebelled, the Lord had Moses lead them through the desert for forty years, but his expectations never changed. They resisted for a long time, but he’d already told them at Mt. Sinai what he expected of them. When Moses speaks to them in today’s First Reading, just before they would finally enter into the Promised Land, he is almost pleading them to turn to their Lord with all their heard.

The Lord has made this even easier by sending us his Son, the image of the invisible God, as Paul describes in today’s Second Reading. Moses in the First Reading describes the Lord’s commandment as close, already in their hearts and lips, waiting to be carried out. With the coming of Christ, the Lord’s expectations become even closer: we see them in the flesh, in the Son. Paul reminds us that all things were created in, through, and for the Son. By conforming ourselves to Christ we are conforming ourselves to what humanity is truly meant to be, turning away from any confusion or disfiguration due to sin. This is not just a process of aligning our goals with Our Lord’s. We were created in the image and likeness of God, so by conforming ourselves to the “image of the invisible God” we conform ourselves to the pattern of life the Lord wants for us. It is the best lifestyle for which we can hope. Through the Son we are aided in turning to God with all our heart and soul; he not only leads by example, but also empowers our charity through his act of love on the Cross.

In today’s Gospel the scribe shows wisdom in seeing that love for God and for neighbor are the path to fulfillment in life. He just wants to know one point of fine print: who should we consider our neighbor? The answer is not hard: everyone is our neighbor, as the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches. The man waylaid on the way to Jericho was heading from a “good part of town” to a “bad one” (Jericho often symbolized turning your back on Jerusalem and heading into sin); anyone could have rationalized that when you head to a bad part of town you deserve what you get. The Samaritan was overcome with compassion at the sight of his neighbor bleeding and half dead alongside the road. In Luke’s Gospel the scribe asks in the context of asking what he needs to do in order to inherit eternal life. That Samaritan’s goodness and compassion, by extension, despite all the bad blood between Jews and Samaritans, won him eternal life. It’s not complicated. We make it complicated. Strive to love God and every neighbor and you will accomplish something in life and achieve everything truly worthwhile.

It’s not uncommon that when we hear Our Lord’s expectation that we love our neighbor one or two people come to mind that make us shudder (“Love him? Love her? No way!”). The Good Samaritan today was moved with compassion at the sight of the beaten man. Sacred Scripture doesn’t say what the Levite felt, only that he kept his distance. Whether someone invokes compassion or revulsion in us, Our Lord expects us to love them. Love is a conviction, and, at times, there won’t be feelings to back it up. Anyone who has experienced love has experienced how strong it is when it is not backed up by pleasant feelings. If there is anyone in your life that your feelings are keeping you from loving, make the resolution to love them and wish for them whatever will make them healthy and holy. Your feelings may not change, but your love will.

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:10–14; Psalm 69:14, 17, 30–31, 33–34, 36, 37; Colossians 1:15–20; Luke 10:25–37. See also 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, 3rd Week of Lent,Friday,  9th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, and 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today’s readings remind us that we, like the apostles and prophets, have been chosen and sent into the world to share the Gospel. One way in which we share the Gospel is through spiritual poverty, which puts the goods of this world into perspective.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Amos is accused by the priest in charge of the shrine at Bethel of prophesying as a scam to get some food. Amos responds that he owned a flock and sycamore trees: he had property and possessions and was not a beggar being creative in order to get some food. Amos was a prophet because the Lord chose him and sent him to prophesy, and, like the Twelve in the Gospel today, being a prophet doesn’t involve being well equipped or focused on making a living. Amos was chosen to be a prophet and leave his possessions behind. He may have been mistakable for a beggar, but he had everything he needed to accomplish his mission.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul teaches us that we were not chosen to become rich in the material sense of the term, but to be holy and without blameless before God the Father, thanks to Our Lord. Only a worldly person sees a holy person as poor just because they are not swayed or burdened by material well-being. The Lord lavishes spiritual treasures upon the holy: the second chance of the Redemption after the Fall, the call to become his adopted children, forgiveness for our sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In choosing us he has also revealed his plan of salvation and our part in it. When we accept his calling we receive all these treasures and the opportunity to help others to receive them too.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches the Twelve that to be an apostle means to give a Gospel example in order to foster a more effective proclamation. One example is poverty. Today he tells them to take what they need, but to keep it simple. Our testimony of Gospel simplicity in the things we use is also a way we evangelize. We live this poverty in order to fulfill our mission as apostles.

This Gospel poverty also helps us to see the true treasure we possess, a treasure so eloquently expressed today in the Second Reading by St. Paul. Holiness is the ultimate happiness, even if it seems tough at times, and a great peace comes from having our sins forgiven, making us blameless before Our Heavenly Father. Let’s thank Our Lord today for all the spiritual wealth he has lavished upon us, and ask him to show us, in the light of those spiritual treasures, what things we really need, what things we don’t, and how we can best share them with others.

We can easily get bogged down by our creature comforts, if we let them. What’s something you could give up for a few hours, a day, or a week to practice voluntary Gospel poverty? Consider the one material thing you think you couldn’t live without and try living without it for as long as your resilience permits. Our sacrifices are just as fruitful as our prayers.

Readings: Amos 7:12–15; Psalm 85:9–14; Ephesians 1:3–14; Mark 6:7–13. See also 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that the soul, like soil, must be good if we expect good things to grow from it.

In today’s First Reading we’re taught that God’s word comes down like the rain to nourish the earth and help good things grow. Throughout salvation history the Lord has rained down many words (the Old Testament, for example) to help his creation thrive and grow, but with mixed results. Isaiah reminds us today that those mixed results are not the Lord’s fault; they’re ours. The rain produces fields ripe for cultivation, but it takes work to reap the seeds that will keep the crops going, and keep bread on tables.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that sin did not just mess up agriculture; it messed up the designs of creation itself by diverting it from its purpose. The Lord created many things for us to love and serve him as well for loving and serving others. Yet, as we saw in the First Reading, the results were mixed due to an inadequate response on our part to his designs. Paul goes beyond the fertile fields described by Isaiah: all of creation is a fertile field that will reap a glorious harvest: eternal life. Sin tried to frustrate that glorious harvest, but the Word came to show us how to follow God’s plan for a glorious harvest once again and help creation achieve its purpose again.

Today’s Gospel is the Parable of the Sower, and the seed being sown is the Word of God trying to make its way into a soul. Through the parable Our Lord explains the obstacles to the Word of God bearing good fruit. Our Lord invites us to see the difference between hearing something and listening, between looking at something and seeing it. Just as farmers till the soil we have to be active in letting the Word of God bear fruit in our life by cultivating the soil of our soul.

We shouldn’t be afraid of welcoming and nourishing the seed of God’s Word, because God has sown it for a good purpose and he will continue to watch over the soil and cultivate it. He may ask for something demanding, but he’ll be with you every step of the way and he has plans for something good to grow out of your generosity and sacrifice. Parables present something from daily life, but are also doorways to other spiritual and divine insights about God, the “knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven.” It’s not enough to look at the door: it must be opened to discover what lies beyond. When we see parables in this way, when we see the Word of God in this way, we see something from which we can draw profound truths regarding ourselves, our world, and Our Lord, not just once, but constantly. That requires an effort in faith to listen and to see, an effort to open our hearts and open that door into the greater world Our Lord wants to reveal to us.

If we don’t understand what he is telling us, his Word stays on the surface and doesn’t penetrate our hearts, and the Evil One can easily sweep it away before it has any effect. There is an active Evil presence out there that would like us to remain shallow and superficial and someday lose eternity with God, which is why we always need to watch and pray in moments of temptation and seek to understand God’s Word with profundity.

There’s a moment where an insight into his Word causes sensible consolations and warm feelings, but sentiments are often skin deep and change direction like the wind. If we only listen to feel good, when we start feeling bad we’ll stop listening–enthusiasm only lasts so long. God’s Word wants to be with us and help us in our ups and downs; he always has something to say, so whether we’re exultant about something or despondent, we need to keep listening, harder if needed.

We must till our soil so that God’s word can produce a good harvest in our lives, but environmental factors can impact the quality of our soil too. There is a lot of “noise” that can try to drown out his Word, and not all of it is self-generated. We live in a culture today that can be shallow, superficial, and base: all those things can form a sort of screen on our hearts that prevents God’s word from getting in. There can also be a moment where we let our anxiety about something separate us from his Word: we become more concerning with the passing things of this world and not about the Kingdom: we worry about money, power, or pleasure. If we become attached to those things they won’t just drown out God’s Word, but they’ll make us deaf to many other things as well. What comes to mind in moments of silence? Concerns that come to mind in a quiet and peaceful moment often help us analyze and address our attachments. A bad environment can choke out the Word in our lives, so we need to always consider whether there are certain places we should no longer go, certain people we should no longer see (if we’re too weak to change and to help them), certain things we should no longer do.

Readings: Isaiah 55:10–11; Psalm 65:10–14; Romans 8:18–23; Matthew 13:1–23.


15th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Micah paints the portrait of those who scheme to get what they want. They are so obsessed with gaining something that they lay awake at night (the “couches” of the reading) and are ready to put their schemes into action first thing in the morning. It doesn’t matter who they cheat; they want what they want. In the context of today’s First Reading their greed for land is even worse, because it means taking people’s birthright simply to increase their wealth. The allusion to marking out boundaries by lot in the assembly of the Lord refers to the fact that it was the Lord himself who parceled out the Promised Land when the Israelites first arrived; losing your land meant you had no share in the Promised Land.

The Lord warns schemers through Micah that scheming narrows your vision so much that you become blind to greater threats. In this case, all the conspiring is swept away when the land for which they were willing to sell out their brothers is taken by invaders and they go into servitude. When we are driven by greed the Lord is almost obliged, for our own good, to strip away from us that which we covet.

Compare the schemers of the First Reading to Our Lord in today’s Gospel. He is at the mercy of schemers too, and is prudent in doing his work, but his work is focused on healing others and striving quietly and gently for justice to reign in the world. It is no coincidence that we call him the Prince of Peace. Let’s always side with the real winner and not be schemers.

Readings: Micah 2:1–5; Psalm 10:1–4, 7–8, 14; Matthew 12:14–21. See also 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

In today’s First Reading King Hezekiah seems to have an unspoken question and an unspoken request, and the Lord addresses both. The unspoken question is whether his illness is terminal, and the Lord responds through Isaiah that it is time for Hezekiah to put his affairs in order. Hezekiah doesn’t get angry with God; he doesn’t ask why, even though he has done many good works in his lifetime. He accepts what the Lord has told him with sadness, but without bitterness or recriminations.

He offers those good works to the Lord, as well as his life. His unspoken request is that he might be healed, but he knows that he is in the Lord’s hands. It may seem that the Lord changes his mind, but the Lord often sends a messenger to elicit a response on our part, just as he told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but in the end didn’t let him go through with it. Similarly, Hezekiah is invited to trust in the Lord no matter what the outcome may be; he shows acceptance and trust in the Lord, after having led a good life, and is blessed with fifteen more years of life and protection against the Assyrians.

When we are afflicted and we see Our Lord’s hand in it somehow, how do we respond? If we haven’t lived as good a life as Hezekiah then the first step is conversion, to start doing good works, expecting nothing in return, as Hezekiah did. We know Our Lord reads our hearts and gives us what we need, even when sometimes it is not what we want. Let’s trust in him and he will act.

Readings: Isaiah 38:1–8, 21–22; Isaiah 38:10–12d, 16; Matthew 12:1–8. See also 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday and 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.