12th Week of Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year II

In today’s First Reading the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, emboldened by his victories, makes the mistake of not just taunting and calling out King Hezekiah of Judah, but the Lord himself. As we saw yesterday, the Assyrians had completely conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and now they had invaded the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

Any general will tell you that expanding your war is foolish. Sennacherib declared war on the Lord, obviously to demoralize Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem. Unlike the Northern Kingdom, King Hezekiah took it to the Lord and entrusted his kingdom to the one who could save it and would save it, because it was the Lord’s Kingdom, and Hezekiah was simply its steward. Just as the prophet Isaiah brought a word of encouragement to Hezekiah, the Lord sent a message to Sennacherib by striking down a huge portion of his army and forcing his retreat.

The moral of this story is that if you wage war on the Lord, you will lose. If you ally yourself with him, no matter how dire the odds, he will defend you. Entrust yourself to him. He gave you life itself, and he will defend and bless it if you let him.

Readings: 2 Kings 19:9b–11, 14–21, 31–35a, 36; Psalm 48:2–4, 10–11; Matthew 7:6, 12–14. See also 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.

12th Week of Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II

In today’s First Reading the Israelites have split into two kingdoms due to tax disputes: the Northern Kingdom of Israel, with its capital in Samaria, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem. Today’s Gospel warns us against being fixated on the faults of others when we have big problems of our own: the Northern Kingdom had been so fixated on the Southern Kingdom that it underestimated the threat of Assyria, and, as a result, it was conquered and absorbed into the Assyrian empire.

Even while trying to assert its Israelite identity the Northern Kingdom was abandoning the customs of its forefathers, probably to stand out in contrast against Judah, and the very identity it tried to preserve was lost. The Kingdom of Judah was not flawless, but the Northern Kingdom turned a blind eye to its own faults because it was too busy judging Judah’s. It’s a reminder to all of us to avoid judging another altogether, as Our Lord teaches us in today’s Gospel, but to especially focus on any cause for condemnation we may find in ourselves before sizing up and condemning others.

Let’s ask Our Lord today to enlighten us regarding our own faults so that we may better help others to over come theirs.

Readings: 2 Kings 17:5–8, 13–15a, 18; Psalm 60:3–5, 12–13; Matthew 7:1–5. See also 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Friday and 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

12th Week of Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C

The Church Fathers, contemplating the passage of John when the soldier pierced Our Lord’s side on the cross, see the blood and water flowing form his side as symbolizing the birth of the Church, the sacrament of the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Baptism. The Church is born through the sacraments of initiation. In today’s First Reading the prophet Zechariah speaks of the pierced one, and a fountain being opened to purify from sin and uncleanness. The pierced one is Christ, and the fountain of baptism flows from his Cross.

Paul in today’s Second Reading describes those who have believed in Christ and been baptized as clothed in Christ. Their ethnicity, social status, and sex are now clothed with something that puts an end to any enmity between them: they now share communion with God and with each other through Christ. The pierced one on the cross has become that fountain from which every reconciliation is achievable when hearts are open to it.

Christ’s suffering and death powers the cleansing waters of baptism. He washes all our sins away with his blood, if we let him. If we follow him in times of peace, let’s also take to heart his teaching in today’s Gospel to take up our own crosses every day in order to follow him.

Readings: Zechariah 12:10–11, 13:1; Psalm 63:2–6, 8–9; Galatians 3:26–29; Luke 9:18–24. See also Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Thursday after Ash Wednesday25th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, and 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

12th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday

It is no small feat to impress Our Lord, but in today’s Gospel the Centurion, a Roman officer and not a Jew, manages to do it. The Centurion was making an incredible act of faith against all odds. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, members of the chosen people, had been prepared, spoon fed, for centuries to achieve the level of faith that the Centurion is showing in today’s Gospel, and, as Scripture often reminds us, they often lacked faith in the Lord. The Centurion in approaching Jesus even knows that by Mosaic law he is not worthy to have a Jew enter his house, since for a Jew it would mean ritual defilement. He’s not entitled to be a Jew, and so he shouldn’t, in the mentality of the time, be entitled to any benefits of the chosen people. Yet even as a “fan” of the Jews and their religion something moves him in his heart to approach this rabbi who is more than a rabbi and ask that someone dear to him be healed. This episode in Jesus’ earthly life was a prelude to to moment when the Gospel begins to be proclaimed beyond the confines of Judaism.

The Centurion also shows us that when we ask Our Lord for something in prayer we need to acknowledge that he is under no obligation to grant it, but with the confidence that he will. If the Centurion did not have this simplicity and confidence he would have asked Our Lord if he could heal his servant, have him come to his house, pepper him with repeated pleas along the way, and perhaps pace around nervously as Jesus attended to his friend. In another moment Jesus teaches us that Our Father knows what we need before we ask (see Matthew 6:8). It is also the faith of the Centurion that gives him the simplicity and confidence to know that Our Lord doesn’t have to do a lot of things to perform the miracle. Faith helps us to not wring our hands in anxious prayer, but to simply ask for what we need, with humility, and to be grateful for whatever we receive from Our Lord.

Let’s ask Our Lord today to grow in a faith that trusts in him and knows that we only have to ask him for what we need and our prayer will be heard.

Readings: Genesis 18:1–15; Luke 1:46–50, 53–55; 8:5–17.

12th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday

In today’s Gospel it may seem that a simple, albeit miraculous, healing has taken place, one of many during Our Lord’s earthly ministry, but considering the cultural attitude and Mosaic law at the time regarding lepers we are witnessing a great act of courage and faith on the leper’s part as well as a great act of compassion on Jesus’ part. Leprosy was considered a punishment by God for sin by the Jews of the time (see, for example, the punishment inflicted on Miriam when she grumbled against her brother Moses’ leadership in Numbers 12). Lepers were to avoid appearing in public and to announce they were nearby to warn off those who might come in contact with them. Because of this they were also considered ritually impure: no Jew would want to go near them, much less touch them. It’s not clear whether the “crowds” are witnessing this too, but the leper was breaking the law by approaching a rabbi in this way. Any Jew would have expected Jesus to reject him outright, but Jesus doesn’t hesitate to touch the unclean and impure leper and may him clean and pure again.

How embarrassing, even humiliating, it can feel when we go to Confession, and that just involves getting in line with maybe a few people who are more or less strangers and then, in the silence of the confessional, coming clean about our sins knowing the priest will keep it completely confidential (even to the point of martyrdom). Leprosy may not have been sin, but it continues to symbolize it even today because of its appearance in Sacred Scripture. Sin makes our lives decay and rot spiritually: if it could be seen, not only would it horrify us, but it would repulse others as well. Our Lord has the same attitude toward us, sinners, as he did toward that leper: he does not hesitate to draw near us, or let us draw near him, and to reach out and touch us with healing and forgiveness.

Let’s examine the spiritual leprosy afflicting our lives–sin–and muster the faith and courage to approach Our Lord in the sacrament of Confession and receive healing and forgiveness.

Readings: Genesis 17:1, 9–10, 15–22; Psalm 128:1–5; Matthew 8:1–4.