19th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

In today’s Gospel Our Lord warns us to be vigilant, but also promises that we will be rewarded if we serve him well. Peter’s question might be our own: to whom is he referring in this parable? Just some or all of us? That servant is you.

Today’s First Reading recalls that Passover night in Egypt when the Israelites celebrated the Passover in their homes as the Angel of Death passed through Egypt striking down the first born of those who did not serve the Lord (see Exodus 11:1-12:36). This was the last plague that represented the last straw for Pharaoh: he didn’t just release them from slavery in Egypt; he drove them out, along with all the other Egyptians. The author of the book of Wisdom sees this obedience by the Israelites to what the Lord had instructed them (the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb and Passover meal, the placing of the sacrificed lamb’s blood on the door) as faithful service to the Lord. It was also a moment for vigilance: their liberation from slavery and death was at hand. Their faithful obedience in this matter saved their lives and won them their freedom.

In today’s Second Reading we are reminded that, like Abraham, even in this life we have already received something of the faith that the Lord has promised us. It describes Abraham as having died without having seen the promises made to him by the Lord completely fulfilled. Before his death he received the land, an heir, and descendants, just as the Lord had promised. He even passed the great trial of faith by being willing to sacrifice Isaac at the Lord’s command, which would have killed two of the promises. The Lord’s promise went beyond Abraham’s family and blood descendants: Abraham’s faith paved the way for believers in Christ to call Abraham our father in faith, and to serve now with our eyes set on the true Promised Land that awaits us in the future: Heaven. Abraham’s countless descendants are all believers in Christ, more descendants that he could have ever imagined. We too have faith because the Lord has already done great things for us, whether we recognize them or not, and his promises are already being fulfilled, until the Last Day when they are completely fulfilled.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord encourages his disciples regarding his return at the end of time: the “wedding” of the Lamb is fulfilled in Heaven after his Ascension, and the master’s return in the parable refers to Our Lord’s Second Coming. He exhorts them to vigilance: to be ready to serve at any time, under any conditions, day or night (hence the lamp), at home or travelling (hence girded for a trip). He tells them his return could be quick or be long, but that they should be ready, whether late at night or early in the morning. He also describes how pleased he’d be to find them ready: can you imagine someone after a long trip making his servants sit down and waiting on them instead of the other way around? He considers himself the servant-in-chief. He wants his servants to share in the joy of a job well done in service to Our Heavenly Father. Peter asks Our Lord to explain the teaching about vigilance; was it only for the Twelve, or for everyone? Our Lord repeats the need for vigilance, and then explains the fate of servants who do not their master’s will. As believers we are servants of God and servants of others, but that doesn’t take away our freedom: we can be faithful servants or rotten ones. The choice is ours, but with that freedom comes responsibility.

Our Lord will return at the end of time, but for each of us, at the end of our life, we can expect an encounter with him as well. Ask yourself today how you’d react if Our Lord showed up right now on your doorstep. Is there anything to which you should have attended, but haven’t? Are you excited at the thought of his return? Persevere in hope, trust, and service.

Readings: Wisdom 18:6–9; Psalm 33:1, 12, 18–19, 20–22; Hebrews 11:1–2, 8–19; Luke 12:32–48. See also 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday and Wednesday.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel God himself, the Son, has come to encourage the faithful, and today he tries to teach them that he is the Bread of Life who will sustain them in their pilgrimage toward eternal life. It’s difficult for the crowds to understand this teaching: they know Jesus, where he is from, who he parents are, so it’s hard for them to believe he has come down from Heaven. Their earthly knowledge and reasoning are not enough: it’s time for faith.

In today’s First Reading Elijah is dejected and ready to give up when it seems his mission has failed and his life is in danger. Forty days and nights before reaching Horeb Elijah had worked a powerful sign showing the Lord was God, had overthrown a veritable army of false prophets, and witnessed the end of a long punitive drought that was imposed on the unfaithful Israelites. Despite this, his life was in danger and it seemed the evil and infidelity in Israel was as strong and powerful as ever, spearheaded by Jezebel, who pledged to kill him after he’d humiliated her prophets and pagan religion.

The Lord takes the initiative and encourages him, sending him food and drink, persisting when Elijah was not ready to get up and continue on to Mount Horeb to consult the Lord. That nourishment and encouragement sustained him for a long journey, just as Our Lord, through the Eucharist, nourishes us and encourages us in the journey of life. Elijah needed encouragement to keep believing, and sometimes we need it too.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that faith in Our Lord and all the benefits that come from it is not a question of a moment, but, rather, a process. In today’s Gospel Our Lord tells the incredulous crowd that the Father called and prepared them even before he was sent so that they would believe that he truly is the Bread of Life. It’s that faith that begins a process in the believer of leaving aside bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, and malice so that he or she can live a life of kindness as a child of God, imitating Our Lord in his service toward others, even when it is costly.  This process of faith, conversion, and purification is then “sealed” by the Holy Spirit to help us never consider turning back to our fallen past and way of life.

In today’s Gospel God himself, the Son, has come to encourage the faithful, and today he tries to teach them that he is the Bread of Life who will sustain them in their pilgrimage toward eternal life, just as Elijah needed help in today’s First Reading. It’s difficult for the crowds to understand this teaching: they know Jesus, where he is from, who his parents are, so it’s hard for them to believe he has come down from Heaven.

Their earthly knowledge and reasoning are not enough: it’s time for faith. It’s not just a faith born in a vacuum: they’re receiving grace to help them believe and be open to the Heavenly Father’s messenger. If they open their hearts to the Father, the Father leads them to take the next step. They must believe in his Son, not just as a sure guide in their pilgrimage to eternal life, but as their nourishment to be able to undertake the journey and as their “sponsor:” his self-offering makes the journey possible at all.

A lot of people stick with the minimum necessary: Mass every Sunday. If the Bread of Life is so helpful on life’s journey, why not “stock up” once in a while? Consider going to Mass on a weekday or two or participating in Eucharistic adoration at your parish.

Readings: 1 Kings 19:4–8; Psalm 34:2–9; Ephesians 4:30–5:2; John 6:41–51. See also 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B and 3rd Week of Easter, Thursday.

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

In today’s readings we see an apparently harsh encounter turn into a lesson of humility and faith that points the way to the manner in which we, the People of God, are not just united in blood lineage, but by faith. The People of God were not called to embrace all nations overnight, but gradually.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah reminds us that the people of Israel, gathered into one nation and worshipping in the Temple on the “holy mountain” were just phase one of God’s desire to be the God of all nations. To Isaiah’s first listeners the foreigners had no chance of inheriting the blessings or the promises offered to the people of Israel by the Lord. Through the prophet the Lord reveals that through their fidelity and worship other peoples, “foreigners” would be drawn to the Lord and be considered worthy to come to him in worship together with the Israelites. Even in Our Lord’s earthly time non-Israelites had a place in the Temple if they feared the Lord, called the court of the Gentiles. They could observe, but not participate more closely in worship.

In today’s Second Reading Paul laments that, while the Gentiles (non-Israelites) had believed and accepted the Gospel, so many of his brother Israelites (Jews) had not, despite all the Lord had given them. Paul himself at first did his ministry among the Jews, and was frustrated by their rejection of the Gospel. Based upon those experiences and as he worked to spread the Gospel he realized that the Lord had called him to be the apostle sent to the Gentiles, a mission not carried out during Jesus’ earthly life. In Jesus’ time a smattering of Gentiles came to him, not the other way around. Paul tries to explain today that the Jews’ loss was the Gentiles’ gain. Israel had been called to first receive the Gospel, with mixed results, but the Gentiles did accept the Gospel, even though they’d not been prepared for it like the Jews had been.

In today’s Gospel on face value it seems Our Lord is being very harsh with the Canaanite woman, but he is actually showing what an expert reader of hearts he is. There was bad blood between the Israelites and the Canaanites: the first generation of Israelites were so scared of them that they didn’t enter the Promised Land and continued to journey in the desert for forty more years.

Jesus is not just being driven by the prejudices of his time: when the Centurion asked him for help, another pagan, he didn’t hesitate (see Matthew 8:5–13). Jesus during his earthly ministry concentrated on the Jewish people; later his Apostles and disciples would bring the Gospel beyond the confines of Judaism, as is narrated in the Acts of the Apostles. Therefore the conversation with the Canaanite woman is very similar to the Wedding Feast at Cana when Mary asked him to do something about the wine situation and he said, “my hour has not yet come” (see John 2:4).

The Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel shows a lot of courage in the quest to free her daughter from being afflicted by a demon. Our Lord was a Jew, but also a miracle worker, so she decided to try. In her first attempt to greet Our Lord she even used the Messianic title, “Son of David”: for the people of the time it was not clear that the Messiah would be a good thing for anyone who was not a Jew. Perhaps she was trying to butter him up a little. Our Lord responds as she probably expected: the cold shoulder. However, we know Our Lord can read hearts, so this was not a simple brush off; something more profound was going on.

When the disciples pressed him regarding the matter, he told them it was not yet time for his ministry to go beyond the children of Israel. Israel had a special role in the plan of salvation and Our Lord was sent to attend to them; the rest would be attended to later. In a sense, the Canaanite woman was trying to skip the line. When Our Lord rebuffs her again she is not shy about acknowledging that she is not entitled to what she is requesting.

Sometimes we forget that Our Lord doesn’t have to give us anything. Yet Our Lord rewards her faith and humility in the end. Our Lord is having this conversation in front of all his disciples so that they could see that even someone who’d not been prepared to believe could believe. Like his response to Mary in the Wedding Feast at Cana, here he was inviting the Canaanite woman to offer something more: greater faith and humility. The Canaanite woman rose to the occasion and Jesus congratulated her on her faith and healed her daughter, not only to her benefit but to that of the disciples as well.

Our Lord rebuffed the Canaanite woman twice. How many of us would have stomped off fuming after being treated that way? She is not shy about acknowledging that she is not entitled to what she is requesting, and she is rewarded in the end for her faith and humility. Sometimes we forget that Our Lord doesn’t have to give us anything. He has given us everything we need, but not always what we might have wanted. Didn’t our parent do the same many times, especially in those moments when we were immature and selfish about what we wanted? Let’s ask Our Lord for what we need, thankful that he’ll consider our petition and humble enough to recognize that we aren’t entitled to it.

Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6–7; Psalm 67:2–3, 5–6, 8; Romans 11:13–15, 29–32; Matthew 15:21–28.

19th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year I

Today’s First Reading is a concluding testament of Joshua as the Israelites settle in the Promised Land. When they renew their commitment to serve the Lord and leave other gods behind, including the gods of the peoples the Lord displaced on their behalf, Joshua sets up a stone in memorial of the pledge the people of Israel made to serve the Lord. Imagine the years passing by as they saw that stone and remembered how faithful or unfaithful they were. Joshua warned them before they pledged their devotion to the Lord that it would not be easy.

Have you ever returned to the fount where you were baptized? Like the Israelites it is thanks to generations of Christians who preceded us, especially our family, that we were baptized and became members of the People of God, set on the path toward our Promised Land in Heaven. Not only the Church’s monuments and cultural achievements remind us of what the Lord has done for us, but the existence of the Church herself, not just as buildings and institutions, but as a People of believers.

In an ever-secularizing society we need these reminders of what the Lord has done for us, and for those we love. Let’s make Joshua’s pledge today our own: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Readings: Joshua 24:14–29; Psalm 16:1–2a, 5, 7–8, 11; Matthew 19:13–15. See also 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II.

19th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year I

Moses in today’s First Reading reminds the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Promised Land how privileged they are to have been chosen and blessed by the Lord. Everything in creation belongs to the Lord, yet the People of Israel are a prized possession. In other moments of the Old Testament the Lord has promised to be as a father to Israel, and we know now that in the Lord’s eyes we are far more than a prized possession; we are his cherished sons and daughters.

The Lord is not only perfectly impartial, he is also perfectly compassionate, and Moses invites the Israelites to do the same, reminding them of everything the Lord has done for their ancestors to lead them to this moment. Long before the new Pharaoh enslaved them in Egypt they were a small group invited by their brother Joseph to settle in Egypt, and now, at the threshold of the Promised Land, they are a numerous nation, just as the Lord had promised to the Patriarchs. Through Baptism we form part of the new People of God, a people of faith, hope, and charity spread throughout the world for no other reason than Our Lord’s compassion toward us.

It’s salutary to count your blessings once in a while. Ask the Lord to help you today to see all the blessings he has given you.

Readings: Deuteronomy 10:12–22; Psalm 147:12–15, 19–20; Matthew 17:22–27. See also 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II.