30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s readings the work of redemption, which is ultimately a work of reconciliation with God and with others, is described as a new Exodus where no one should be left behind.

In today’s First Reading Jeremiah describes the gathering of the scattered Israelites in exile as a sort of new Exodus, a new pilgrimage, where even the weak, sick, and helpless will not be left behind. Yet not everyone makes it. The language of this reading refers to the exiles Israel underwent, always involving exile to the “north” of the Promised Land. Jeremiah is addressing the Babylonian exile in particular.

The Israelites were exiled due to their sins, just as sin alienates us from God and from others. Not everyone returns from exile, only a “remnant,” and that’s not due to the journey being too hard. The Lord makes a point of saying that even those who’d have difficulty making such a journey—mothers with their children, the pregnant, blind, or lame—will be able to make the journey. They’d have a smooth journey and abundant water, not like the harsh conditions of the first Exodus from Egypt.

Those who don’t come are those who didn’t want to. They let an opportunity pass them by. He also describes the remnant returning as an immense throng. The faithful remnant of Israel was the seed from which the new People of God, the Church, began. This prophecy does not just refer to the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian exile; it also looks forward to the Church assembling and heading in pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

In today’s Second Reading the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that the Lord, our High Priest, in becoming man took up the human condition in order to make it easier for us to identify with him in his humanity and turn to him as our priest. In assuming human nature through his Incarnation Our Lord knew first hand the “weakness” of living in a fallen world. The Church, like her High Priest, has striven to imitate this “outreach” of Christ’s humanity to the world so that it can regain the sense of what is truly means to be human. The Heavenly Father called the Son to become our High Priest so that he could mediate between us and God. In his human nature Our Lord has bridged the gap between us and the Father left by sin. We gather around human because he restores our humanity to its full potential.

In today’s Gospel we see the prophecy of Jeremiah taking shape. Our Lord starting to gather together everyone, heal them, and lead them. Yet there is still some blindness, some weakness and ignorance, to overcome. Crowds are starting to follow Our Lord, and in Biblical symbolism moving away from Jericho is often considered as moving away from sin, especially when heading from there to Jerusalem. In the midst of all the excitement we find poor and blind Bartimaeus, who is stuck. He ekes out an existence begging and knows with his blindness that going anywhere on his own is difficult if not impossible. He hears the commotion and doesn’t know it is Jesus of Nazareth passing by, but when he does, he starts to beg Our Lord for mercy. He may be physically blind, but spiritually he is seeing things more clearly than those who are following Our Lord.

The people in the crowd try to silence him, probably thinking he’s giving the same old line he uses for begging from others. They are spiritually blind to what’s necessary: no one who wants to come should be left behind. Jeremiah in today’s First Reading said the blind would not be left behind, and Our Lord is fulfilling that prophecy and curing the crowds from a spiritual blindness toward another’s needs. Jesus restores Bartimaeus’ sight and Bartimaeus joins the pilgrimage too: the Lord leads him to a more joyous life.

If we get lost on the way to the Promised Land, Heaven, it’s not Our Lord’s fault: he always gives us a chance to come along, whether we recognize it or not. Bartimaeus did, the crowd didn’t. It’s very salutary in prayer to go over those things, reasons excuses that prevent us from following Our Lord and imagine on the day of our Judgement whether they would hold water. No matter how many opportunities we’ve squandered, Our Lord as long as we live on this earth always gives us another chance. Take it.

Readings: Jeremiah 31:7–9; Psalm 126:1–6; Hebrews 5:1–6; Mark 10:46–52. See also 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

In today’s readings we’re reminded that there’s real love and other ideas of love that pale in comparison. The best measure of love is how we treat others, including God.

In today’s First Reading the Lord reminds us not the mistreat the disadvantaged or we’ll soon be one of them. Woe to the Israelite who forgot that he was once a foreigner abused and mistreated in Egypt and decided to treat a foreigner in the Promised Land in the same way. Widows and orphans were especially weak and helpless in the times of the Old Testament. Mistreating them was equivalent to kicking someone when they were down. Making a living was so precarious that charging interest in a loan was a sin called usury: people literally had no money to spare, and not many had a surplus of possessions to loan either.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he imitated the Lord and taught them to do the same. They were such good disciples that they became a model of belief for the entire region. Paul starts some his letters chiding his listeners and pointing out their flaws in imitating the Lord and sharing his word. He not only gives them an A+, but tells them their listeners gave them an A+ too.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds the Pharisees, and us, that if we truly want to understand the ways and desires of God we need to see things through the lens of love. Love for God and love for neighbor are intimately linked, which is why extremists of any religion who claim to harm their neighbor in the name of God are about as far from the truth as can be imagined. Some people try to project themselves on God, and paint him as aloof, distant, cruel, or self-absorbed. Others in the face of suffering and evil question whether God loves us at all, or why he would allow bad things to happen.

If we want to truly understand who God is, we must look at him from the perspective of love and imitate him in his love for us. If we contemplate God on the Cross, the Son nailed to the Cross, depicted on every crucifix, wounded out of love for us, as Christians we need no further answer. God loved us so much that he sent his son to save the world, and his son saved the world through submitting to the worst cruelty that evil and sin could inflict: injustice, torture, and death. He subjected himself to that out of love for us. Yet he doesn’t throw that in our face: he is silent on the cross, but he speaks volumes to our hearts: he doesn’t say, “how dare you,” but “I love you.”

Let’s try to see things through the lens of charity today in order to grow in love for God and love for others. That means caring about God and about others. Spending time with God and with others. Helping God and others in every human way possible. Always wanting what’s best for God and for others.

Readings: Exodus 22:20–26; Psalm 18:2–4, 47, 51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c–10; Matthew 22:34–40.

 

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

Christians sometimes get accused of spiritual egotism because they seem to only be concerned with their own salvation. Pope Benedict XVI addressed this in his encyclical Spe Salvi (n. 28) when addressing a conception of hope that saw salvation as nothing more than striving for “my” salvation:

Our relationship with God is established through communion with Jesus—we cannot achieve it alone or from our own resources alone. The relationship with Jesus, however, is a relationship with the one who gave himself as a ransom for all (cf. 1 Tim 2:6). Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into his “being for all”; it makes it our own way of being. He commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole.

Paul in today’s First Reading is torn between just wanting to die and be with Jesus or remaining on earth for the sake of his flock, and he makes the noble choice because he knows well that he’s not going to be saved on his own, nor should he expect others to be. His flock needs him. Would it be beautiful, full of Christian hope, to die and to be with Our Lord forever? Yes, but since we won’t get there alone we should also focus on helping others to get there as well first.

Our life should be suffused with a hope that fills us with a joy no one can dampen. Let’s ask Our Lord to help us to help others to believe and hope as well so that we can all enjoy Heaven one day together.

Readings: Philippians 1:18b–26; Psalm 42:2–3, 5c–f; Luke 14:1, 7–11. See also 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 30th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year II

Today’s First Reading may seem like a drastic shift in Paul’s thought, since until now he’s been speaking of married life and family, but this shift of emphasis underscores something many believers have forgotten: that while we live on this earth we are waging spiritual warfare. We can lament hunger, armed conflict, and violent persecution afflicting the world, but all these sad events have a spiritual foundation: sin. There is an active evil presence in the world, beyond the human, that seeks to separate us from God and leave us in misery forever out of spite for the paradise he lost for himself and the fallen angels in league with him.

We’re only left vulnerable and exposed to evil if we don’t fight with the weapons provided by Our Lord. Our salvation, our victory (the helmet) is assured if we keep fighting, if we live a sacramental and prayer life that help us to maintain and grow in sanctifying grace (a breastplate of righteousness), if we are alert in avoiding occasions of sin and seizing opportunities to practice virtue (feet shod in readiness), and if we not only keep on the defensive, but go on the offensive wielding Scripture, Tradition, and our faith (the sword and shield ). Sometimes we may feel like we’re bringing a knife to a gunfight, but our secret weapon is that our arms are powered by God, whom nothing can withstand.

Are you on the battlefield or parked on the couch spiritually? Defense or offense? It’s never too late in this life to take up arms and defend yourself and those you love. Christ has won the war, but we must battle to ensure a share of his victory.

Readings: Ephesians 6:10–20; Psalm 144:1b, 2, 9–10; Luke 13:31–35. See also 30th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Paul continues to give advice to the Church at Ephesus on various categories of relationship, and today he focuses on the relationship between parents and children, as well as master and slave. It’s no surprise that Paul reminds children of the Commandment to honor their father and mother, but he adds that this is a source of blessing. This duty of honoring goes from the crib to eternity: as parents get older the roles often get reversed, and children should love and care for their parents with the same love and care that they received. This mutual love breaks down when the parents don’t treat their children as they should, which is why Paul also reminds parents not to lord their position over their children.

For slaves Paul encourages them to spiritually “transfer ownership” to Our Lord. Slavery is a great injustice, but in Paul’s time it was so prevalent that he didn’t see the need to question it. For Paul, we’re all slaves of the Lord anyway: he owns master and slave alike, and both answer to him, therefore neither is entitled to abuse the relationship they share. Slaves in Paul’s time could be freed as well, and even in then, as his other letter to Philemon shows, Paul’s hope was that believers would go from master and slave to brothers in the Lord, either spiritually or otherwise. Thankfully most of the world today doesn’t suffer the scourge of slavery, but we can follow Paul’s advice as employer or employee too.

Let’s ask Our Lord to help us today be a fair and loving parent, child, employer, or employee. Or all of the above.

Readings: Ephesians 6:1–9; Psalm 145:10–14; Luke 13:22–30. See also 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, and the 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday and Thursday.