26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings are an invitation that go far beyond the fashionable pastime of bashing on the rich in the face of the world’s needs and problems. They remind us that complacency is not just an affliction of the rich: we all run the risk of being complacent, no matter how much is in our bank account, because we can be complacent in the use of our time and talent, not just our treasure.

The word of today’s First Reading could almost describe the day spas and boutiques of modern society, but should put couch potatoes on guard too. People with the wealth and the time to help society are couch potatoes too, just on fancier sofas with better meals and more expensive hobbies. Amos is warning the influential of Israel that the Assyrian’s threatening their nation will take them into exile right alongside their afflicted people if they don’t act. In referring to Joseph he is referring to the two main tribes of Israel at the time, who were descended from Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh (see The ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL 2008, 1670). Society was in trouble and they were doing nothing. The option to stop the party and get to work instead of having the party ended for them is in their hands. They opted to party and Israel was conquered and absorbed into the Assyrian Empire.

St. Paul in the Second Reading encourages St. Timothy, who is taking up the mantle of pastoral leadership, to strive for what is truly excellent in the eyes of the Lord, no couch involved. Timothy had worked closely with St. Paul and was now taking on the responsibilities of a bishop, a successor of the Apostles. His pursuits will be in great contrast to those of today’s First Reading: “devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” All these pursuits are not self-centered; they’re related to others and can be difficult to master. Paul encourages him to compete well for the faith, drawing from the athlete metaphors of his other letters to remind St. Timothy that he is called to discipline himself, to train, and to strain for the prize he should “lay hold” of: eternal life. As a bishop he’ll lay hold of eternal life by helping others attain it too.

The rich man in today’s Gospel converted too late, but his late conversion should be a lesson for us to consider that one day we may too hear those dreaded words, “too little, too late.” There may be people in the world who live in plush mansions with everything they could want, but the rich are not the only people in society today endangered by abundance. There are lots of couch potatoes out there who are parked on their sofas when they can do something to help make our world a better place.

The poor are not just at the gates of mansions; they’re in our towns and neighborhoods. It is our society that runs the risk of falling apart due to selfishness and sin. Each of us can take inventory of the plenty with which the Lord has blessed us and ask him how we can use that plenty in a way pleasing to him. A surplus of time, talent, or treasure should never stay a surplus for long, otherwise we run the risk of drowning in our abundance due to our complacency and apathy. Let’s ask Our Lord today to give us the nudge to get off our sofas and help shape society for the better.

Take stock of how much time you dedicate to leisure every week. There’s planned leisure and leisure that we fall into when we know we should be doing something else. How much time do you dedicate each week to bettering our world (not just your world; our world)? If you don’t have a regular commitment to outreach or works of evangelization (or both) it is time to start. If health problems prevent you from more direct action you can always pray and offer up your sufferings for the conversion of sinners.

Readings: Amos 6:1a, 4–7; Psalm 146:7–10; 1 Timothy 6:11–16; Luke 16:19–31. See also 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C and 2nd Week of Lent, Thursday.

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today’s readings remind us that sin is like a weight that just pulls us down, but charity, even in the smallest details, buoys us up and liberates us from those sinful attachments that threaten to drown us for good.

Just as the Lord poured out his Spirit abundantly on the elders in today’s First Reading, so he wants to pour out a Spirit of charity on all believers. The Holy Spirit is not easy to track by radar at times. He’s seen in what believers do when inspired by him. The two elders who decided to “skip” the meeting where also chosen to help Moses lead the people in the desert, so the Spirit of the Lord descended on them too. This reading was chosen today because it alludes to the first part of today’s Gospel, when someone not directly in Jesus’ immediate group of disciples is casting out demons in his name. Our Lord knows that someone is trying to help him, not hinder him. Any good done in his name will lead others to him.

St. James in the Second Reading warns those who’ve profited at the expense of others that any gain at the expense of charity is the deepest loss for them. The “millstone” for the unjust wealthy in the Second Reading is the wealth they accumulated and hoarded at the expense of others. The Catholic Church teaches that Purgatory is a period of final purification from earthly attachments before a soul passes into the glory of Heaven (see Catechism 1472). The unjust wealthy will die unable to detach themselves from the very riches and lifestyle that is decaying and passing away before their eyes. If they’d used their wealth for the good of others they’d have done a far greater good for themselves in the bargain. That’s just good “business.” What they saw as gain was really their deepest loss.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us about the power of charity and the gravity of sin. Something as simple as offering a cup of water in acknowledgement of Christ is pleasing and powerful in his eyes. This should re-dimension the power of charity in our own lives. It doesn’t mean being minimalist—just sticking with a refreshments table—but being generous, aware of the power of charity on a greater scale to move hardened hearts, jaded cultures, and a cynical society. Charity provides enough “buoyancy” to keep us afloat and more: it lifts us up and breaks the chains of sin in our lives. Our Lord also warns us about the gravity of sin. Sin puts a spiritual millstone around our necks that one day will drown us in our bankrupt lifestyle unless we seek his help to liberate us. When we find ourselves in a situation of spiritual life and death a radical response is necessary to survive: it may feel like we’re hacking away a part of ourselves, but in that moment that piece of us to which we’re attached could cost us our spiritual life, because we want to hang onto it at the expense of our soul. Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us make a radical response in the face of our sins and return to the path of charity in order to unleash its power for others.

If the Mafia is infamous fitting people for “cement overshoes,” it’s even more tragic to realize that our sinful attachments are like putting on those shoes ourselves, pouring in the cement, and jumping off a pier all by ourselves. The Spirit inspires us to take little steps to divest ourselves of those things that spiritually weigh us down. Our Lord doesn’t just leave us to try and strip off all this dead weight, especially if we’re drowning. He buoys us up with his grace and mercy. Ditch the dead weight before you start drowning.

Readings: Numbers 11:25–29; Psalm 19:8, 10, 12–14; James 5:1–6; Mark 9:38–43, 45, 47–48.

26th Week of Ordinary Time, Friday, Year I

Imagine someone really important that you wanted to meet. If you ignored his representatives when they introduced themselves and tried to arrange a meeting, or his son, do you think he’d be interested in meeting with you? In both of today’s readings we see the dire consequences of that attitude.

In today’s First Reading the Israelites in exile remember all the Lord had given them, and all they had squandered by turning their backs on him and his prophets. When they were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses warned them that they choice between a blessed life and a cursed one depended on them: “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods which you have not known” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). They chose a life without the Lord or those sent by him, and they suffered for it.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord warns those who think they can spurn his disciples or him that in doing so they cut themselves off from the one who sent them all: God the Father. Many people today try to come up with “creative” ways to associate themselves with divinity that don’t imply the mediation of anyone else, human or divine, and it’s no surprise that often they lose sight of the fact that God is not just something, but someone, if they have any thought of God at all.

God the Father has sent his Son, and his Son has sent us, his disciples, to lead us to both Father and Son, not to mention Spirit. Let’s not shy away from bringing others to Our Lord so that they too can receive the blessings that come from truly knowing God.

Readings: Baruch 1:15–22; Psalm 79:1b–5, 8–9; Luke 10:13–16.

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that we have two fundamental choices in life when the Lord asks something of us: obedience or rebellion. Rebellion is a choice, but it is the wrong choice.

In today’s First Reading Ezekiel reminds us that those who blame the Lord for their destructive path and decisions are only deluding themselves. Rebellion is usually egged on by an injustice we have suffered. Today Ezekiel debunks any claim that God is unjust in letting the wicked perish and the virtuous live due to their actions. The most fundamental principle of ethics doesn’t even require the Bible. Aristotle in his ethics described it as “do good and avoid evil.” We’re free to do either, but we’re also responsible for the outcome. The Lord has simply established the “rules of the game.” He knows what is truly good, and he knows what is truly evil.

The wicked do evil, and many people suffer the consequences of their evil, not just them. The virtuous do good, and many people benefit from that good. The Lord has created us with the freedom to do good or to do evil. He wants us to do good, because he knows a virtuous life is a successful and beautiful life. He also knows the flipside of freedom: we’re free to blow it and choose evil. He doesn’t want us to do it, but he permits us to do it out of respect for our freedom. No one can honestly say the Lord hasn’t tried throughout salvation history to dissuade us from taking the wrong path. In the end our decisions are our own.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul traces out a simple path for us to follow. It is the path Our Lord himself followed. He summarizes it very well: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.” Everyone upon hearing those words experiences a little twinge of rebellion at the thought of it, which speaks directly to today’s Gospel.

Why do we say “yes” and not deliver? Because the thought of obeying and denying ourselves provokes inner rebellion. Mankind’s entire history of sin is a history of rebellion, so it’s no surprise that rebellion is deeply rooted in us. Our Lord gives us a different example: that of a profound obedience to the Father, and obedience that leads to his death, but also to his glory. It is a difficult path, so it is no surprise that we are hesitant at times to take it, but it is the most fulfilling one.

Our Lord in today’s Gospel reminds us that the true measure of success is not what we say, but what we do. That’s the determining factor of whether we let rebellion or obedience triumph in our life. Conversion is not letting that inner rebellion due to sin shape our decisions and actions. Rebellion can be pretty wild, even exciting, but in the end it doesn’t really lead us anywhere. A believer who says “yes” to God’s will but doesn’t do it, in the end, lets the rebellion win and, therefore, goes nowhere. His lips may have said “yes,” but in the end his heart said “no.”

A believer who says “no” in the throes of rebellion but obeys in the end has conquered and won. The Pharisees in today’s Gospel said “yes” to God’s will, but, in the end, didn’t do it. They maintained a façade of obedience that was revealed to be a façade when God came in Person and showed them a different path to follow. The tax collectors and prostitutes, on the other hand, saw the opportunity at the coming of Jesus to quash the rebellion that had been enslaving them even as it had promised to empower them.

Ditch the rebel without a cause this week. Is there anything you’re struggling this week that’s making you say “no” to God when you should be saying “yes”? It’s never too late to put the rebel without a cause in its place. Meditate on the words of Paul in today’s Second Reading and try to put them into practice.

Readings: Ezekiel 18:25–28; Psalm 25:4–9; Philippians 2:1–11; Matthew 21:28–32.

26th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

Throughout the first readings of this week we’ve considered excerpts from the Book of Job  as he struggles with the reason for his suffering and questions God about why it happened. As we saw yesterday, God finally answers Job’s prayers, and Job’s response is a renewed awareness of the wonder of God, a foreshadowing of the wonder the Holy Spirit instills on Our Lord in today’s Gospel at the thought of how wonderful the Lord’s revelation is. Jesus’ disciples were amazed at their power over evil, invested in them by Our Lord, but he knew the true source of wonder was a place reserved in Heaven and to have lived to see and experience the Messiah.

In Job’s case his renewed wonder and love for the Lord became a source of blessings for him. He thought he’d lost everything, but with the Lord he had everything and proved the very virtue the Lord had seen in him at the beginning of his tale. The Lord blesses him for his fidelity in the face of adversity, just as he will bless us. Job’s blessings at the conclusion of his story are a foreshadowing of the blessings we’ll receive in Heaven if we persevere in faith, hope, and love. Even if the Lord has already done wonders for you in this life, you haven’t seen anything yet.

If you are experiencing trials in this moment, ask Our Lord to reveal himself to you. You’ll be amazed by the response.

Readings: Job 42:1–3, 5–6, 12–17; Psalm 119:66, 71, 75, 91, 125, 130; Luke 10:17–24. See also 14th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, 16th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, and 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.