17th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that the reason we pray is because we expect good things from Our Lord, although sometimes we pray to him because we expect bad things to come from him instead. Throughout salvation history Our Lord has shown us that we should expect good from him, not evil.

In the First Reading the Lord sends angels to confirm that Sodom and Gomorrah are as bad as reports say, and Abraham knows what that means: annihilation. The Lord speaks of hearing an outcry over Sodom and Gomorrah. What just souls had already clamored in prayer for the evil taking place there to be ended? Abraham’s cousin Lot lived there, and Abraham knew his cousin was a good man, so he feared the Lord would wipe him and his family out along with the wicked.

It’s almost comical that in his prayer Abraham is trying to give the Lord an ethics lesson: he doesn’t speak specifically of Lot, just the apparent injustice of good men being struck down with wicked ones. Abraham questions whether the Lord will do the just thing or not, which is why he couches his potentially insulting questions with such humility and self-deprecation. The Lord humors Abraham in his discourse, but also says he will spare the city if good people are still there. The Lord is as good as his word, but he doesn’t spare the city. He rescues Lot’s family before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and Sodom and Gomorrah fail their last chance to do the right thing (see Genesis 19). Abraham had already dealt with the Lord for years when this incident takes place, but he shows his faith and trust in the Lord is still a little weak.

In contrast to the First Reading, where wicked men are about to be destroyed, in today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that Jesus took all the wickedness upon himself, wickedness for which he was not responsible, and surrendered himself to destruction on the Cross to destroy that sin as well and any debt owed to God for it. How would Abraham have responded to a good man being struck down for the wickedness of others? That is exactly what Our Lord underwent on the Cross.

Spiritually we face a death sentence for our sins, just as physical death awaits us one day as the consequence of our sins and the sin of Adam and Eve. In Baptism we go down into the depths of death, symbolized by going under the water, but Our Lord leads the way, just as he leads the way for us to arise from the waters into new life. For us this involves a sacramental and spiritual death; for him it meant a physical one, which he undertook to destroy our sins and to free us from sin’s bondage. Jesus, especially on the Cross, continues that conversation with God that Abraham had so long ago by showing us how far God in his justice and mercy is willing to go for us. As we go deeper in prayer, we come to understand that God is a God of justice, but one of love and mercy as well.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord explains the willingness and commitment of Our Heavenly Father toward us using the examples of friendship, persistence, and paternal love. A good friend knows that if he is in a fix he can count on his friends to help him out. The friend asking for bread today is passing along the opportunity to be a good friend: he welcomed a guest into his home in the middle of the night, and he needs help to provide for that guest. Yet even if his friend refused at first, his persistence would pay off: that shows the friend, even if inconvenienced, is a friend who’ll come through.

It is the friendship that gives the confidence to ask, repeatedly if necessary. God is our friend; we can ask him for whatever we need, and he’ll respond as a friend should. However, Our Lord reminds us today that our relationship with God goes even farther: he is Our Father, and no father would give his child misfortune instead of a blessing. Ask today and you will receive; maybe not on your timetable, maybe not as you’d have expected, but the Lord as friend and Father will provide for you what you truly need. He showed that to Abraham in today’s First Reading and he showed it dying on the Cross for us.

In today’s readings we have two examples of persistence in prayer: Abraham in the face of Lot’s possible destruction and the midnight friend seeking aid. Often it is perseverance in prayer that helps us understand ourselves and the motivations for which we are praying. Jesus tells us that the friend in bed does it due to the persistence: he does it to get his friend off his porch. He gives that example to show how much more God answers our prayers when we persist, because we can ask a million times and God never stops loving us. He always listens to our prayers.

Readings: Genesis 18:20–32; Psalm 138:1–3, 6–8; Colossians 2:12–14; Luke 11:1–13. See also 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, First Week of Lent, Tuesday and Thursday27th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday; and 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

17th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

Today’s readings remind us that when it comes to distinguishing between the messenger and the message the important thing is to focus on the message. It doesn’t matter what state the envelope is in when you start opening it; what matters is the message.

In today’s First Reading, when Jeremiah brings the message of the Lord to the people of Israel, they questioned the “envelope.” They questioned the messenger when what they really should have been doing was focusing on the message. In today’s Gospel we see that as well, because Our Lord comes to his hometown to his synagogue and they’re so stuck on it being Jesus, whom they’ve known for years, that they’re not paying attention to the message that he is trying to share with them.

The question that we should really ask is whether the message is true and, in the case of the things of God, even more importantly, whether the message comes from God. The way that we know that something comes from God is the faith, just as Our Lord mentioned in today’s Gospel. The people in his hometown lacked that faith. The faith helps the word of God when we hear it resonate within our hearts. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, talks about all the faithful having sort of a sixth sense when it comes to the things of faith and morals (n.12) and with the sixth sense it helps them to recognize something is coming from the Lord.

Let’s ask our Lord today to help us recognize his voice in the people that we meet and share his Word and message with others.

Readings: Leviticus 23:1, 4–11, 15–16, 27, 34b–37; Psalm 81:3–6, 10–11b; Matthew 13:54–58. See also 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B and 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.

Image result for damaged envelope

 

9th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year II

Today’s First Reading invites us to hasten the end of the world as we know it. Why would we want the world to end? It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. As believers the Lord has promised us, as St. Peter reminds us, “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” If we do want this new world to come St. Peter today also answers the question of, “why wait?”

In the face of so much struggle and evil in the world, why not just end it all? Because of the people who’d be left out. The Lord’s waiting for us, and for others, to welcome the Gospel. The patience of Our Lord is always for the purpose of salvation.

We “hasten” that day by sharing the Gospel and working for the conversion of sinners. Let’s help spread the Gospel so that the Lord’s righteousness reigns.

Readings: 2 Peter 3:12–15a, 17–18; Psalm 90:2–4, 10, 14, 16; Mark 12:13–17. See also 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A and 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.

6th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year II

In today’s First Reading St. James reminds us that temptation does not come from God: God created us as good creatures who sought to do good things. After the Fall of Adam and Eve man’s tendency toward the good was twisted into an unhealthy and unholy attraction to seek and use good things in sinful ways, corrupting us instead of helping us grow in virtue and holiness.

In today’s Gospel the disciples are put on guard against the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Herod. Leaven produces a fermentation in bread that the Jews saw as corruption, which is why in worship they used unleavened bread. Metaphorically, leaven meant moral corruption. For the Pharisees it was hollow, loveless, religious observance without compassion: religious hypocrisy. For Herod, and the Sadducees, religion was just another tool to get what you wanted: worldliness and hedonism.

Temptation always comes across as something small, under the guise of something good or reasonable. When we consent to temptation we start leavening ourselves with corruption. Let’s ask Our Lord to detect and address any “leaven” impacting our lives in a sinful way.

Readings: James 1:12–18; Psalm 94:12–13a, 14–15, 18–19; Mark 8:14–21.

 

6th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II

Today’s readings teach us the right things to ask from Our Lord, and the right way to ask them, as well as the wrong ones. The Pharisees in today’s Gospel are arguing with Our Lord and demanding a sign to test him. Mark says in the face of this that Our Lord “sighed from the depth of his spirit.” They could have studied his teachings. The could have taken the many miracles he had already performed as signs. Instead they demanded a sign from him on their terms. In short, they didn’t believe in Our Lord, what he was doing, or what he was teaching.

James in today’s First Reading teaches us what we should ask for and how: we should ask for wisdom, an insight into the bigger picture that helps us understand, in the light of God, the world, man, and ourselves. We always need wisdom, and Our Lord is happy to give it if we ask in faith. The Pharisees demanded a sign and showed neither wisdom nor faith. James also teaches the wisdom Our Lord wants to share: to help the poor see how blessed and loved they are, and to help the rich to see how fleeting their pursuits can be if they are not in the service of God.

Our Lord is willing to share all the wisdom we could ever want or need, if we believe in him. Let’s humbly turn to him in faith and ask for just that.

Readings: James 1:1–11; Psalm 119:67–68, 71–72, 75–76; Mark 8:11–13.