27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

A common thread of today’s readings is that the Lord’s disciples, old and new, are looking for more of what they need in order to fulfill their mission, perhaps discouraged by a lack of immediate results. The Lord’s response is an invitation to renewed patience, zeal, faith, and service.

Habakkuk in today’s First Reading laments the injustice he sees and the prayers to the Lord to do something about it seemingly remaining unanswered. The Lord’s response is to remind Habakkuk, as the Lord’s prophet, do continue doing his duty. Impatience makes us question why we do the things we do, and in the spiritual life that impacts our zeal and service. We are able to learn even today thanks the words Habakkuk wrote down at the Lord’s command. He didn’t give up his duties as the Lord’s prophet just because it seemed there were no results. The Lord reminds him, as us, that his designs (described in the reading as his “vision”) continue moving to fulfillment. The Savior has now come in our midst. The battle against sin continues, but Our Lord has already won the war. When we see the final outcome in Heaven we will see that it was all worthwhile.

Today’s Second Reading is part of a letter of encouragement that Timothy receives from his imprisoned mentor Paul, who encourages him to be brave and re-stoke the flame of zeal that he received at ordination. Timothy has big shoes to fill, and Paul, whom he esteems greatly, is now in prison. That’d give anyone cause for discouragement. When Paul refers to a flame given through the imposition of hands he is referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit handed down through administering the sacrament of Holy Orders. The Holy Spirit gives all the gifts described by Paul: power, love, and self-control. We add zeal and courage to the mix. Both zeal and courage are needed by Timothy as he transitions from a priestly role to the tasks now expected of a bishop. Timothy needs to muster enough courage and zeal to inspire those same qualities in his flock too.

The disciples in today’s Gospel ask for more faith and Our Lord responses that even a little faith would go a long way; the apostles are asking for more faith because the little faith they have doesn’t seem to be enough to do their job. Our Lord tells them a parable to put things into perspective. A servant doesn’t expect some special reward for just doing his job; he just does it. Faith is not just an attitude; it is action and struggle, and only grows with prayer and effort. Our Lord invites us today to focus on the task at hand of our current mission, not the imagined resources we may be lacking, the possibility of failure, or the other missions we could be doing. Habakkuk is told to write down his prophecies and thanks to that we now have them. Timothy is told to be a good shepherd of souls and the Church, thanks to him, continued to grow. The apostles are told to do their duty expecting nothing other than the satisfaction of a job well done, and we all have the apostles to thank for receiving the faith. The prophecies were fulfilled in Christ and the Gospel has triumphed in so many lives and will continue to do so. Whatever your state of life–laity, consecrated, ordained–focus on how you can best serve Our Lord right here, right now, with the resources, spiritual and material, that you have at your disposal and Our Lord will ensure that you succeed.

Make some extra time this week (or soon) to renew yourself spiritually. Spiritual reading, extra Eucharistic adoration, or just some extra quiet time in conversation with Our Lord are all ways to re-ground yourself and renew your desire to live a good and holy life. If your parish organizes evenings of reflection or retreats, don’t neglect these moments to take time out and work out things with Our Lord, not on the fly.

Readings: Habakkuk 1:2–3, 2:2–4; Psalm 95:1–2, 6–9; 2 Timothy 1:6–8, 13–14; Luke 17:5–10. See also 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Today’s readings remind us that men and women are called to leave their parents, marry, and become one flesh. This image of a married couple as one flesh has captured the imagination and the spiritual convictions of believers from the dawn of creation.

In the Old Testament and the New, when a man and a woman come together in marriage they become “one flesh”: each becomes a part of the other. Eve is fashioned from the side of Adam to teach this profound mystery in today’s First Reading. When a man and a woman come together in a love of total mutual self-giving, it reflects the inter-Personal love within the Most Holy Trinity: when Adam sees Eve for the first time he recognizes a part of himself, someone without whom he would be incomplete, someone who was missing in his life. For those called to marriage God has blessed two people with someone out there with whom they can be complete, be whole. The Lord respects their freedom to enter into the marriage covenant with each other, and, for believers, promises to help them with the spiritual graces of the sacrament of matrimony. It is a big step not to be taken lightly, requiring preparation, but when that step is taken it will be a life-changing blessing for the couple and for everyone they love. Their parents wish them well as they start their new life together and, God-willing, become parents themselves. The beauty of marital love is why marriages in difficulty are so dramatic and tragic: something that is now “one flesh” is trying to pull itself apart. In the difficult moments it is important to remember not just the emotions of first love, but the fact that God has joined man and woman, and God will help them remain united; they just have to keep striving to seek each other’s good.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us about marriage in response to some sticky questions posed by the Pharisees about divorce to trip him up. Marriage was a complex issue back then, and it has not grown any easier in today’s society. This is one of the few Gospel passages where Our Lord sees the need to correct an interpretation that Mosaic law made; usually Our Lord exhorts a more profound observance of the Law, not a correction to it. He teaches in today’s Gospel that marriage is something established between a man and a woman, but it is also bond forged by God. As a bond forged by God the married man and woman also receive spiritual help in remaining faithful to each other. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time were debating whether divorce was allowed for either a serious reason or a less serious reasons, as two Rabbinical schools at the time were contending, trying to interpret Mosaic law’s concession of divorce in some cases. Jesus responded that neither school was correct: divorce was not part of God’s plan “from the beginning.”

Let’s pray today for all marriages. Especially for those spouses who are suffering from a separation, and that marriages experiencing difficulty may receive the grace, counseling, and insight they need in order to resolve their differences and be faithful to the bond God has forged between them until death do them part. If you’re married, pray the prayer of Tobit and Sarah with your spouse before turning in for the evening (Tobit 8:5–9).

Readings: Genesis 2:18–24; Psalm 128:1–6; Hebrews 2:9–11; Mark 10:2–16. See also 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that the more we hoard things for ourselves, to more miserable we make ourselves and others.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah describes the misuse and abuse of the people of Israel by their leaders as being like vines ripe for cultivation and left unattended. Vineyards evoke images of careful cultivation by skilled vintners with the expectation of fine vintages of wine. The Lord had prepared Israel like a fine vineyard, and Israel’s leaders like vintners with everything at their disposal to be fruitful and successful. What the Lord received instead were wild grapes. Grapes with no cultivation, left to grow or die by chance, depending on weather and other conditions, were not very good grapes. If anything good grew at all it was not thanks to the vintners, and what grew in such an unfavorable situation was not of much worth. The leaders of Israel were expected to cultivate justice and peace in their subjects, and they didn’t.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul teaches that the peace of God and the shelter of our hearts and minds in Christ depend on our attitude and the things we value as important. Envy and greed can lead to inaction, but anxiety can have the same effect. Paul counsels us in moments of anxiety to ask God for what we need, but in a spirit of gratitude for what the Lord has already done. That’s the best remedy to a warped sense of entitlement when things don’t go as we’d like. Our Lord has promised us that the Heavenly Father knows what we need before we even ask (see Matthew 6:8), so there is no need to worry. If we occupy ourselves with truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, graciousness, and excellence we’ll not only experience the peace of God, but help to spread it.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord invites us to imagine a group of men given the opportunity of a lifetime, both professionally and personally: not only a good place to live, but a great way to make a living. Imagine a business at a good location, with an abundant clientele, a great lease, and the job of making a lot of people happy (the vineyard is for producing wine, throughout Scripture, symbolizes joy). If that weren’t enough, the men running the business also have a wonderful place to live and a great landlord. Any outside observer would say that professionally and personally the owner has been very good to his tenants, even going beyond what a tenant would expect or deserve. All the owner asks in return is a share of the joy that he hoped the tenants would produce.

This is where the mystery of sin enters: mystery in the sense of sin, ultimately, following no logic but its own, a twisted logic that bends everything around it and denies greater truths eventually at its own expense. The tenants start beating up the people coming to collect the owner’s fair share and leaving him empty handed. There’s no remorse: gradually they start killing them too. The owner shows a kindness that the tenants, to any outside observer, do not deserve. He keeps giving them opportunities until one day he gives them the greatest and most definitive opportunity: he sends the heir himself, a reminder that he is the owner and they are the tenants, and an extension of his very self.

In their twisted logic they convince themselves that by eliminating the heir any trace of ownership will die with the owner, and he’ll also stop bothering them (the son was the last one he could send, as the parable narrates). The chief priests, scribes, and elders pronounce judgment on this “theoretical” case and their own words condemn what they themselves are doing. Our Lord is the cornerstone. You can’t even speak of having a structure, having a building, without a cornerstone–it joins two walls together. Many “tenants” who’ve received so much kindness, personally and professionally, from God want to monopolize the joy they could give to God and others, and as a result impoverish any joy they could really give.

They deny something fundamental, something structural: that the owner and his heir are what make their life possible, whether they acknowledge it or not, and eventually second chances (and third, and fourth, etc.) are exhausted and mercy has to give way to justice. The parable of the wicked tenants in today’s Gospel is a way of teaching the Pharisees that they had fallen into a warped sense of entitlement over something that didn’t belong to them: the People of God. So when the Son comes on behalf of the true “owner” of the People of God they’re going to reject him and kill him thinking that somehow everything will then return to normal. Our Lord today through the parable is prophesying the outcome of their covetousness and envy: everything they thought was theirs will be taken away and given to those who’ll be worthy stewards of God’s gifts.

Paul reminded us today about how we can pay our Lord his due: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, graciousness, and excellence. Those things don’t just bring peace and joy into our lives, but also in those we know and love. Let’s contemplate today the kindness of God in our lives and ask him to help us to see how we can work with him to bring joy to him, to others, and to ourselves.

Readings: Isaiah 5:1–7; Psalm 80:9, 12–16, 19–20; Philippians 4:6–9; Matthew 21:33–43.

27th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

Today’s Gospel touches on the theme Paul has been developing in the First Readings of this past week: it’s not lineage that puts us in God’s good graces, but faith. That woman in the crowd considers Mary blessed because she is the mother of Christ, but Our Lord knows that the true source of Mary’s blessings is that she has done God’s will, and has done so from the Annuciation to the Assumption and beyond.

The Lord knew that after the Fall humanity would not be able to recover all at once, which is why he gradually prepared them to receive the Gospel in the flesh, his Son. The people of Israel and the Law were means to that end. Humanity had to be helped to achieve a certain spiritual maturity before it could go beyond the Law, which was like someone helping it stay steady as it worked out how to restore the spiritual balance in life.

The “disciplinarian” Paul mentions in today’s First Reading was a mentor in charge of a child’s formation and education in the ancient world. He was like that hand on the back of the bike when you were learning to ride, and some day, perhaps even unperceived, he’d take his hand off the bike and you’d ride alone for the first time and then forever after. When the child grew up the disciplinarian was no longer needed, because he’d been taught how to ride the bike. The laws of balance and gravity would still bring a fall if they weren’t heeded, but now the adult could ride on his own.

A rich life of faith is the same. We are helped to achieve spiritual maturity and then Our Lord lets us roll. That requires faith that if he takes his hand off the bike it is because we are ready. It doesn’t mean we ignore his will, just that we don’t need as much direct help in following it. This is not just a question of physical age: the Galatians were risking immaturity because they were clinging to the Law and losing sight of the Lawgiver. Christian life is a liberation. Ask Our Lord to help you find your balance.

Readings: Galatians 3:22–29; Psalm 105:2–7; Luke 11:27–28. See also 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

27th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

Even the Jews of Paul’s time recognized that people who did not have a Jewish heritage were attracted to their religion, but they didn’t understand it exactly to mean that the blessings the Lord promised to Abraham were meant for more than the people of Israel. Some who “converted” to Judaism in Paul’s time would always be a second-class citizen because they were not blood descendants of Abraham. Paul refers to the blessings promised to and through Abraham in today’s First Reading and explains that to become a descendant of Abraham in the salvific sense all you needed was faith, not lineage.

Abraham was reckoned as righteous because of his faith, not because of his lineage. In the liturgy we refer Abraham as “our father in faith” for this very reason. Paul today is encouraging the Galatians to not treat themselves like second-class citizens. Through their faith in Christ they, and we, connect to that lineage of faith that brings salvation. The “law” to which Paul refers is religious practice done without faith in Christ, as we considered yesterday. Without the grace won by Christ the Jews were not able to persevere in their religious practices, and neither would we.

Our faith will help us weather anything, of we let it. Let’s ask Our Lord to help us grow in faith and stay a part of Abraham’s lineage of faith.

Readings: Galatians 3:7–14; Psalm 111:1b–6; Luke 11:15–26. See also 3rd Week of Lent, Thursday and 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.