29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

In today’s readings we’re encouraged to persist in our prayer and insist on our convictions of faith. The Church’s mission to spread the Gospel in the world depends on it.

In today’s First Reading Moses persists in prayer with a little help from his colleagues. Moses arms are raised in supplication to the Lord while the Israelites battle the forces of Amalek. Moses keeps his arms raised as long as he can, but soon needs to sit to conserve his strength. The Lord is hearing his prayers. Soon his friends must support his arms to keep them raised. This image evokes how our shepherds try to persevere in their intercession on our behalf, but they need our support too. With the staff of God, the authority of God, in his hands, Moses keeps his arms upraised in prayer, and Joshua and the Israelites triumph over the Amalekites. We are grateful to God for the Pope and all the bishops who ceaselessly raise their arms in prayer for the people of God in battle for the world’s soul. They count on our persistence and insistence in the faith.

In today’s Second Reading Paul encourages Timothy, who is taking up the mantle of shepherding the flock, to insist on the right teaching that Paul shared with him. Paul had known and taught Timothy since he was a child. He had big shoes to fill. Paul tells him to remember what he has been taught and to persist in teaching it even when it may not be popular or conditions may not be as favorable as they could be. Persistence in teaching the faith goes hand in hand with insistence. That requires our firm conviction that we are teaching the truth that we embraced and let shape our lives. If we are not convinced we won’t insist on anything.

The widow in today’s Gospel wants justice in her case. She insists on it, since Our Lord uses this parable to teach the importance of persistence in prayer. He also questions, since we can give up so easily, whether he’ll find any faith left upon his return in glory. Widows and orphans are repeatedly mentioned in the Old Testament as those deserving special care, since they represent those who have no one to care for them, and the Lord gives dire warning to those who’d abuse them. The widow today can only get justice through a judge who cares nothing for those things; he only cares about himself. Yet the widow’s persistence starts to wear on his obstinacy; he doesn’t do justice for the right reasons, but he does do justice in the end, albeit for a little peace and quiet as well as a concern for his own hide. In the face of maximum injustice and little hope of attaining it the widow continues to ask for it and in the end is heard.

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” are Our Lord’s prophetic words at the end of today’s Gospel, and we have to ask ourselves: is that a rhetorical question?  They are prophetic words because, by referring to himself as the Son of Man, he is referring to his return in glory. These words should cut right to our hearts. We know Our Lord means what he says: he is saying we must do our part. Does society find faith today as the judge in today’s Gospel parable found it in the widow? Her persistence made an impact. He, as thick-skinned as he was, didn’t say simply that he would decide in her favor. He said he wouldn’t rig the trial: he said he would judge justly on her behalf. Both the First and Second Readings remind us that our persistence and insistence make or break the Church’s mission in the world.

Are you praying daily? Are you part of a prayer group? Prayer pays off if you stick to it. If the widow today gave up at the first refusal of the judge she would have failed. We shouldn’t condition our prayer on getting immediate results. Don’t be shy about asking your family and friends to support you in prayer. Be sure to return the favor.

Readings: Exodus 17:8–13; Psalm 121:1–8; 2 Timothy 3:14–4:2; Luke 18:1–8. See also 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

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29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel James and John want glory, and Our Lord wants to show them the path they did not expect would achieve it: suffering for the sake of others. Our true glory comes from the degree in which we give ourselves to others, just like Our Lord.

Today’s First Reading speaks of the Suffering Servant and the fruits of his suffering for himself and for others. The Suffering Servant is a prophecy of Our Lord, and the “cup” to which he refers in today’s Gospel is the suffering he knows he must endure for us. Suffering has a purpose in this case: through Christ’s suffering, his “descendants” will receive a long life, the Lord’s will is accomplished, and many are justified. Our Lord too shall “see the light in its fullness”: the light of eternal glory. No one likes needless suffering. We seek to alleviate it, but it is not needless if it has a purpose.

In today’s Second Reading we see the glory that Our Lord received for drinking the cup of suffering: he became our High Priest by sacrificing himself. Although not mentioned in today’s passage, the Letter to the Hebrews explains that Our Lord, in sacrificing himself, is consecrated a priest. A priest mediates between God and others and offers sacrifice to God on their behalf. In imitation of Christ, a priest also sacrifices himself for others, the greatest sacrifice. Suffering and trials are the path to glory for a disciple of Christ, but not senselessly: through suffering and trials we too serve others and give our lives for them to be “ransomed” from sin.

In today’s Gospel James and John are seeking glory, but they don’t entirely understand the path to it or the kind of glory to be won. Our Lord works with them; he doesn’t simply tell them they’re being ambitious and should focus on other things. Followers of Christ will be glorified if they persevere in the faith, but it’s the Lord who sets the terms as to what that glory consists of and how to get there.

We can contemplate earthly glories and they pale in comparison to what awaits us in eternity. James and John think they know exactly what they want, but it is a vision of glory tainted by their ignorance and by visions of earthly glory. Yet they are eager. When Our Lord asks them if they’re prepared to do what it takes to achieve glory, he speaks of a cup to drink and a baptism to receive: both refer to his Passion.

James and John were bold in seeking glory, and we have an advantage over them: we have seen the path to glory that Our Lord has traced out for us. Let’s seek the glory that not only benefits us, but others as well: a glory only won through suffering and trials for the sake of others in imitation of Christ.

As the other Apostles started to complain about James and John’s ambition, Our Lord taught them that they should serve and give their lives in ransom for many. All believers are called to do this. Through our service and sacrifice we help others. Make an extra effort this week to serve others.

Readings: Isaiah 53:10–11; Psalm 33:4–5, 18–20, 22; Hebrews 4:14–16; Mark 10:35–45. See also 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

 

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

In today’s readings Our Lord is encouraging us to reflect a little more deeply on what we owe the world – “Caesar’s” and what we owe God. One doesn’t exclude the other, nor should it, but they are not on the same level.

The prophecy of Isaiah today is addressed to the Israelites in exile after Babylon had conquered Jerusalem and the Temple. As they hear God’s words through the prophet, they remember another prophecy they received, through Jeremiah, a prophecy they didn’t believe. They’d put their faith in the Temple, since it was God’s house, and they didn’t think the Babylonians would conquer Jerusalem, because the Temple and they as a People were founded by God. However, through the prophets God had warned them that they had stopped giving God his due, which led to disaster, exile, and the destruction of the Temple they’d relied on. Cyrus was the new king of Persia, and was defeating the Babylonians who had taken the Israelites into exile. God told the Israelites that he was using Cyrus, even though Cyrus didn’t realize it, to send them back to Israel and to rebuild the Temple. Cyrus later did exactly that. The Israelites had learned the lesson of the need to give God his due.

In today’s Gospel the Pharisees and Herodians are trying to trap Jesus in something they considered a conflict of interest between what was due to God, and what was due to Caesar. For the Pharisees, paying taxes to Caesar meant saying Caesar was a greater ruler over Israel than God, therefore greater than God. The Herodians didn’t see that as a problem, because they didn’t see paying the census tax as acknowledging anything divine about Caesar. They saw no way out of the situation, so they could trap Jesus in whatever position he took. If he sided with the Pharisees (no tax), he was against the Romans. If he sided with the Herodians (pay the tax), he was a traitor to Israel.

So Christ asks to see the coin, and tells them to clue in that God and Caesar are not on the same level. They were putting Caesar on the same level as God just because Caesar minted a coin saying so. Caesar minted his coins and set up his taxes and temples. By putting his image on the coin, he was saying, “Look what I’ve accomplished and what you owe me.” God permitted him to accumulate all this, because he knew that however Caesar used his gifts, God could use that ultimately for good. If Caesar wanted his coins and recognition, he could have them.

Caesar may have minted coins and set up taxes and temples, but God minted Caesar, and minted us: just like those coins that bore Caesar’s image, we bear the image of God, and we owe him everything because he has literally given us everything. God didn’t just construct a civilization or a set of tax laws: he created everything seen and unseen, as we pray each Sunday in the Creed. Caesar needed armies and miners and minters to produce his coins and make them worth something; God created everything out of nothing, and unlike Caesar, God expects nothing in return for all he has given us.

Let’s reject efforts to mint the truth. God doesn’t play politics: he is the lord of life and history. To consider him a political player is simply beneath him. The Pharisees and Herodians were trying to trap him into expressing a political opinion on paying a census tax to Caesar, which some saw as sacrilegious and others saw as their civic duty. To be fair, in Our Lord’s time on earth the lines between civic and religious duty were blurred. By giving to Caesar what is his and to God what is God’s, Jesus is reminding us that each of those two things are important on their own level, but they are not on the same level.

The real danger comes when civil authority tries to go beyond minting coins and thinks it can mint the truth. Declaring the state as all-knowing, just as imposing one expression of religion as the definitive one, ignoring the freedom to believe as you choose, is an attempt to mint the truth, and it is trying to give to Caesar what is really God’s. God is the source of all truth, and he has woven the truth into his creation so that all men of good will can find it and follow it.

Sadly there are still many attempts today to mint the truth: religious fundamentalism imposed by force, attempts to redefine basic natural institutions, such as marriage, etc. Let’s ask for the wisdom and the courage to always see what is due to God, what is due to Caesar, and to fulfill our true obligations to both.

Readings: Isaiah 45:1, 4–6; Psalm 96:1, 3–5, 7–10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1–5b; Matthew 22:15–21.

29th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Paul describes the Church as the Body of Christ. In his time Greco-Roman culture explained how all the members of society fit together using the image of a body, and Paul might have received some inspiration from this philosophy, but he goes beyond it to emphasize that the Church is the Body of Christ because the Church has Christ as her Head, giving her life and direction. What later reflection would describe as the Body of Christ is not a moral body, people just united by some external purpose, or a physical body, where the parts lose their individuality in the whole. Rather, it is a Mystical Body that depends on her Head, Christ, in order to have direction and life, made possible by the Holy Spirit, who unites her spiritually.

We don’t stop being individuals by being members of the Body of Christ, but we do receive life from it and must perform our function for its life and growth as well. Paul describes various figures in the early Church comprising the Body and helping to edify it: Apostles, prophets, teachers, and so on. Each has a role, like a part of a body, but not all have the same role. The important thing is that the parts work together for the good of the Body, and remain united to their Head, otherwise they’ll not get very far.

Paul describes the signs of the Body working well: unity, charity, and maturity. Let’s ask Our Lord to help us edify his Mystical Body in whatever role to which he has called us.

Readings: Ephesians 4:7–16; Psalm 122:1–5; Luke 13:1–9. See also 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

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29th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Paul encourages the Ephesians to practice the virtues that will ensure their unity in serving the Lord, in the faith, and in baptism: humility, gentleness, patience, and love. Christians have not always lived these virtues and it has not only undermined our unity, but also undermined our mission. We still all share one Lord and one baptism: every Christian through Baptism is incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, but through historical disagreements in East and West we no longer agree on the fullness of faith and how it should be lived and put into practice. We don’t all share the same articles of faith, worship, or governance; those three elements all stem from our faith in how Our Lord has handed on the faith to the Apostles and to us through the centuries.

Paul’s exhortation today is a call to duty to all Christians today. We must be one. To strengthen and full restore Christian unity we must come together in humility, gentleness, patience, and love, just as Paul teaches us, and we will overcome our differences and disagreements because the mission demands it and it is not just Paul’s desire, but Our Lord’s as well. Let’s pray and work that one day we’ll once again profess one faith, celebrated on Eucharist, and be united under the same pastoral guidance.

Ecumenism involves discussion and frank dialogue, but it starts with virtue. Ask Our Lord to help you practice some “virtuous” ecumenism today. Every bit helps rebuild unity.

Readings: Ephesians 4:1–6; Psalm 24:1–4b, 5–6; Luke 12:54–59. See also 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.