25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel Our Lord invites the apostles, and us, to revisit what we consider to be the path to greatness.

Today’s First Reading imagines the resentment of the wicked when faced with someone who follows the path of wisdom and tries to share it, a path they don’t follow. The wicked have decided to break with tradition and head out in a different direction, but the wise man teaches them that they haven’t taken a different path, but, rather, gone off the right path. In today’s culture we speak of respecting other outlooks and life styles, but that doesn’t mean not telling someone they’re about to walk off a cliff or ruin their life. However, we also experience, when we do try to intervene, or simple show a different way of living, the same attitude as the wicked in today’s First Reading: jealously, resentment, and a desire to teach a lesson and show them who’s really right.

St. James reminds us in today’s Second Reading that jealously and selfish ambition only lead to discord. James teaches us that outer conflicts stem from inner ones. Wars rarely remain within the confines of where they broke out; they always strive to spread and conquer new terrain in order to fuel their ambitions. Similarly, our selfish ambitions don’t just remain in our hearts or in our living rooms; they put us on a path to clashing with others pursuing their own selfish goals. As St. James reminds us today, that path only leads to frustration, because seeking vain things is seeking empty things, and if those things can never satisfy us, we will always be at conflict within ourselves and with others. It’s a recipe for endless conflict with no end in sight. Loving the world to the exclusion of God is a road to nowhere; if we set our sights on the world, we set our sights on something that ultimately will fade away.

Our Lord in today’s Gospel describes the path to greatness today as one of service, and not just any service: the humble service willing to lay down your life for the benefit of another. Even an ambitious person can seek to perform some service to achieve his ends. When Our Lord gives the example of serving a child, it’s like a cold bucket of water dumped on the disciples’ selfish ambitions. Babysitting is not high in anyone’s book in terms of a career, nor nanny, and, sadly, even in some circles of society the vocation to be a parent is avoided. But God reveals himself in terms of family relationships, and Our Lord tells us today to serve that child in his name in order to serve not only him, but Our Heavenly Father who sent him. No matter how great we become in the eyes of society we can never neglect even the least members of it, because our only ambition should be to serve. Nor can we forget that if we achieved anything in our life it was thanks to our parents.

In olden times when you met someone for the first time you’d introduce yourself with your names and the words, “At your service.” That seems to have disappeared from modern vocabulary unless you’re hired to do it. Why not do some small act of service this week for someone from whom you’ll get nothing material or self-interested out of it at all? Good friendships often start with disinterested love.

Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17–20; Psalm 54:3–8; James 3:16–4:3; Mark 9:30–37. See also 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that if we want to understand God’s outlook on life we need to not only understand the depths of his love and generosity, but imitate them.

In today’s First Reading we’re reminded that the Lord’s thoughts and ways are miles above our own. He is always close to us, just like a loving parent whom we can always call. He is not just close to the just, but to “scoundrels” as well, ready to help them turn away from their evil ways and thoughts. He is generous in forgiving. Pope Francis on more than one occasion has reminded us that the Lord never tires of forgiving us; rather, we tire of seeking his forgiveness. He will forgive anything for which we are truly sorry. Anything. It’s our limited human attitudes on love and generosity that make us doubt that sometimes.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that the generosity of Christ is not just something to admire, but to imitate. Paul had every right to hope for a heavenly reward at the end of his life: being with Christ. He longed for it. However, he also knew his flock still needed him. He still had work to do on earth. His flock can show gratitude for him “putting off” Heaven for their benefit: by showing that his generosity was worth it. The way we show Our Lord that his generosity was worth it is by conducting ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ, just as Paul encourages his flock to do today.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us that it doesn’t matter when we start to help to extend the Kingdom of heaven, but that we extend it. We’ll be rewarded fairly, even generously, for our labors, and we shouldn’t fall into envy if it seems someone has had an easier time of it or came late to the party. In Jesus’ time a day’s wage was exactly that: it enabled the worker to live for a day. There was not much surplus wealth, and charging someone interest for borrowing something was a sin known as usury. The workers who came late to the vineyard needed a full day’s wage in order to provide for themselves and for their families. Anyone who is trying to support their family through a part time job knows it is not the same as a full-time job.

The landowner is helping people who really need it. An attitude of envy sees someone else’s gain as our loss. We should be thankful for the ability to earn a living for ourselves and our families, and be grateful when someone else in difficulty receives a little help too. We’ve all been the recipients of a disproportionate love and generosity on the Lord’s part, no matter how long we’ve served and followed him. The grace of our salvation, which we receive at baptism, was not merited by us in any way whatsoever. Most of us were drooling, happy infants when our parents brought us to the baptismal font. The workers hired in today’s Gospel weren’t entitled to getting work, no matter what time of day they started working.

Sometimes we think the Lord must be very measured and calculating in his generosity, but nothing is farther from the truth. He is constantly trying to be generous in our regard. We don’t see it sometimes because his generosity is rebuffed. His generosity is not conditioned by our actions or selfishness. If we really want to share Our Lord’s outlook we need to show that same liberality in our generosity. Commit one senseless act of kindness this week. Don’t condition it by what outcome you foresee, whether the recipient deserves it or appreciates it. It’s not an investment; give expecting nothing in return.

Readings: Isaiah 55:6–9; Psalm 145:2–3, 8–9, 17–18; Philippians 1:20c–24, 27a; Matthew 20:1–16a.

25th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Qoheleth encourages the young to enjoy their youth, but to not be deluded into thinking it is eternal or that they are immortal. He makes a stark contrast between the young person, enjoying life and unconcerned about the future, and the person aware of his mortality and how brief and fragile life can be.

When we’re young we often can’t wait to grow up, and once we get there, we lament our lost youth and how we squandered it. Both the young and the old striving to be the other only manage a caricature of what they once were, or what they will grow up to be. The lesson Qoheleth wants to impart today for young and old is that our actions and decisions always have consequences. Our Lord in today’s Gospel knows his actions and decisions will lead to the Cross; he warns his disciples, but they are too immature to face the facts.

We may not have so dire a cross facing us, but young and old must now that there are moments of difficulty and decision in life that either help us to mature or show us how immature we really are. Let’s examine our life today and see how we can grow in maturity at the right pace, never coming up short.

Readings: Ecclesiastes 11:9–12:8; Psalm 90:3–6, 12–14, 17; Luke 9:43b–45. See also 25th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday and 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

25th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Qoheleth invites us to consider the meaning of all the moments in our life: our birth and death, our up moments and our down moments, times of change, times of adversity, times of joy, and times of sadness. There is a time for everything, and the Lord has established that, not only so that there may be some order in life, but also to make our thoughts turn to whether anything is timeless, anything is eternal.

Eternity is not just a mental construction that we extrapolate from contemplating finite, temporal situations. Eternity is where we find God, at least until he became man, and even then he bridges the gap for us between time and eternity and consoles us with the certainty that one day all our toil will end, having achieved its purpose.

Many people today “live for the weekend”; let’s ask Our Lord to help us live for eternity.

Readings: Ecclesiastes 3:1–11; Psalm 144:1b, 2a–c, 3–4; Luke 9:18–22. See also 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle CFeast of the Chair of St. PeterThursday after Ash Wednesday25th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, and 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

25th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year II

In today’s First Reading, the beginning of the book of Ecclesiastes, its author, Qoheleth, begins a survey of his experiences and his perceptions in an attempt to answer the question of life’s meaning. Ecclesiastes is part of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, so it is eminently philosophical, and one of the most central questions of philosophy is the meaning of life. I society today the thought of considering the meaning of life is the butt of many jokes, but it is a question every person should ask.

In today’s First Reading Qoheleth is just beginning his inquiry, and the results so far are not encouraging. When he considers the things of this world, the natural things, the human things, and the course of history, he finds a monotony and ultimate lack of novelty that makes him question their significance. This is only a source of discouragement if we forget that this world does not have the last word in the question of life’s meaning; with the Lord, we know there is something beyond this world that gives it meaning, but Qoheleth is not there yet.

Herod in today’s Gospel is also trying to measure up Our Lord using his narrow-minded experiences and perceptions, but doesn’t have the faith or the wisdom to see that with Jesus something truly new has come into the world. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help our faith and our reason seek and find life’s meaning in Christ.

Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2–11; Psalm 90:3–6, 12–14, 17bc; Luke 9:7–9. See also 4th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday25th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, and 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.