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.

16th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that contemplation and hospitality are like love and service: they go together and enrich one another. In today’s readings it seems one person might be getting the brunt of the grunt work (Sarah and Martha), but when it is understood from the perspective of communion, a perspective Paul reminds us of in today’s Second Reading, we know that whether we are in a moment of contemplation or hospitality, love or service, we are benefiting the whole Mystical Body of Christ.

Abraham in today’s First Reading had a special encounter with the Lord through three visitors. He’d been told to wander to new lands as a nomad with the promise of a land and children of his own. Sarah had been there every step of the way for years, just as she was now by preparing food for the unexpected visitors. Now the Lord, in the three mysterious visitors, promises that Sarah will bear a son. Sarah receives the blessing, a blessing for her and her husband, that both had been striving for in different ways. Sarah let Abraham take the lead, but both reaped the benefits.

Paul in today’s Second Reading speaks of making up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church. Greco-Roman philosophers spoke of society as being like a body, with its members doing things, glamorous and unglamorous, for the good of society. Paul may have been inspired, in part, by this understanding of a society as like a body, but the Body of Christ for him was something much more profound, perhaps from the moment the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus (when he was still Saul, the persecutor of Christians) and said “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). As Saul persecuted Christians he was persecuting Jesus himself.

As members of the Body of Christ we can benefit our brothers and sisters in the faith, and they can benefit us, just as our sins can adversely impact the whole Body. Our Lord took upon himself the toughest part, on the Cross, to teach us that we too can take on the hard things for the spiritual benefit of others. Some always have the tougher part; as believers they can be consoled by knowing that doing their part, easy or hard, will result in blessings for them and the entire Body.

Mary in today’s Gospel seems to have left her sister Martha in the lurch, sitting at Our Lord’s feet, and Martha is not shy about bringing that up to Our Lord. We all are tempted from time to time of being envious of what others are doing when our part seems burdensome or unfair. Our Lord reminds Martha that everyone has a part to play, be it love and contemplation or hospitality and service. Mary may have had the “better” part, but Martha had an important part to play as well. In the end, both Mary and Martha would be blessed when Our Lord raises their brother Lazarus from the dead thanks to their love and faith.

The story of Martha and Mary in today’s Gospel also helps us take stock of our prayer life. Martha, through serving the Lord, is making her life a prayer; she’s busy, but she is doing it for him. The first step in any prayer life is the desire to know and to serve the Lord. At the same time, Martha’s prayer life is tainted with activism: focusing on doing so much that she loses sight of why she is doing it. This is proved when she comes to Our Lord to complain and judge her sister: a lack of charity is a symptom of a lack of prayer life. Our Lord is well aware of this, which is why he presents Martha’s sister Mary as an example of contemplative prayer: Mary just sits at the Lord’s feet, apparently “doing” nothing, but she is loving the Lord. Everyone needs this kind of prayer too: prayer not so much of reciting words or doing things as simply “sitting” in the Lord’s presence and listening to whatever he has to say, or simply just being there and loving him while he loves us.

Martha wanted to serve the Lord, but when she got cranky about how she served him she had taken her eyes off what was the most important in her life. The Lord had to remind her. Activism is when we keep doing things but lose sight of why we are doing them, eventually crowding out the people for whom we’re doing them. If you’re in a position of service, whether work, parish, or family, take a moment to remember whom you are serving and why.

Readings: Genesis 18:1–10a; Psalm 15:2–5; Colossians 1:24–28; Luke 10:38–42. See also 16th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, St. Martha and 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that it is not hard to know the Lord’s expectations for us. We’re the ones who complicate things. The difficulty comes in doing what Our Lord expects of us. Why?

In today’s First Reading Moses, in his parting words to the Israelites, encourages them to see that what the Lord expects of them is not hard to know or achieve: it is turning to God with all their heart and soul. The Lord had come to them when they were slaves in Egypt, led them to freedom, and constituted them as his people at Mt. Sinai, giving them the Ten Commandments that we live even today. When they rebelled, the Lord had Moses lead them through the desert for forty years, but his expectations never changed. They resisted for a long time, but he’d already told them at Mt. Sinai what he expected of them. When Moses speaks to them in today’s First Reading, just before they would finally enter into the Promised Land, he is almost pleading them to turn to their Lord with all their heard.

The Lord has made this even easier by sending us his Son, the image of the invisible God, as Paul describes in today’s Second Reading. Moses in the First Reading describes the Lord’s commandment as close, already in their hearts and lips, waiting to be carried out. With the coming of Christ, the Lord’s expectations become even closer: we see them in the flesh, in the Son. Paul reminds us that all things were created in, through, and for the Son. By conforming ourselves to Christ we are conforming ourselves to what humanity is truly meant to be, turning away from any confusion or disfiguration due to sin. This is not just a process of aligning our goals with Our Lord’s. We were created in the image and likeness of God, so by conforming ourselves to the “image of the invisible God” we conform ourselves to the pattern of life the Lord wants for us. It is the best lifestyle for which we can hope. Through the Son we are aided in turning to God with all our heart and soul; he not only leads by example, but also empowers our charity through his act of love on the Cross.

In today’s Gospel the scribe shows wisdom in seeing that love for God and for neighbor are the path to fulfillment in life. He just wants to know one point of fine print: who should we consider our neighbor? The answer is not hard: everyone is our neighbor, as the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches. The man waylaid on the way to Jericho was heading from a “good part of town” to a “bad one” (Jericho often symbolized turning your back on Jerusalem and heading into sin); anyone could have rationalized that when you head to a bad part of town you deserve what you get. The Samaritan was overcome with compassion at the sight of his neighbor bleeding and half dead alongside the road. In Luke’s Gospel the scribe asks in the context of asking what he needs to do in order to inherit eternal life. That Samaritan’s goodness and compassion, by extension, despite all the bad blood between Jews and Samaritans, won him eternal life. It’s not complicated. We make it complicated. Strive to love God and every neighbor and you will accomplish something in life and achieve everything truly worthwhile.

It’s not uncommon that when we hear Our Lord’s expectation that we love our neighbor one or two people come to mind that make us shudder (“Love him? Love her? No way!”). The Good Samaritan today was moved with compassion at the sight of the beaten man. Sacred Scripture doesn’t say what the Levite felt, only that he kept his distance. Whether someone invokes compassion or revulsion in us, Our Lord expects us to love them. Love is a conviction, and, at times, there won’t be feelings to back it up. Anyone who has experienced love has experienced how strong it is when it is not backed up by pleasant feelings. If there is anyone in your life that your feelings are keeping you from loving, make the resolution to love them and wish for them whatever will make them healthy and holy. Your feelings may not change, but your love will.

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:10–14; Psalm 69:14, 17, 30–31, 33–34, 36, 37; Colossians 1:15–20; Luke 10:25–37. See also 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, 3rd Week of Lent,Friday,  9th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, and 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday.

14th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings are such a big sell for welcoming the Gospel when it is preached to us that we have to scratch our heads at why anyone would not accept it. The benefits are described as the peace and security you felt as a child on your mother’s lap (First Reading), joy (Second Reading), healing from illness (Gospel), liberation from the power of evil (Gospel), and your name being written in Heaven (Gospel). Today’s readings teach us that welcoming the Gospel means letting it shape our lives and, above all, sharing it with others.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah reminds us of the joy, peace, and security that will come from welcoming the Gospel. In the latter part of the Book of Isaiah he speaks above all of the times to come. In speaking of Jerusalem his prophecy also speaks of the Church. In speaking of Jerusalem as mother he also speaks of the Church as our mother. It was not all roses: Isaiah says at one point the misfortunes of Jerusalem were cause for mourning. The sadness will give way to abundance and joy, and just as children share in the misfortunes of their mother they’ll also share in her blessings. Hearing and welcoming the Gospel leads us to Baptism, which not only makes us children of God, but children of the Church as well, leading from the dark sadness and poverty of a world in sin to a new life, full of hope. Even as members of the Church today there is some sadness and poverty, but in the future, as Isaiah teaches us, those things will pass.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reveals the “fine print” of the arrangement and why we don’t always welcome the Gospel, despite all the benefits it offers. We have to be crucified to the world, and the world crucified to us. Our Lord in today’s Gospel describes the fate of those rejecting his disciples as worse than that of Sodom, which was the epitome of debauchery and depravity. It’s not easy to become crucified to the things of this world; it means not letting those things have sway over us or they’ll only lead to our destruction. In faith and hope we have to focus on the benefits of welcoming Christ, following him, and making him known.

In today’s Gospel Luke recalls a moment not narrated in the other Gospels: the sending out of 72 disciples. In Luke’s time the Church and her mission were starting to spread far and wide. Just as Our Lord’s ministry was taken up by the Twelve, little by little, with the passing of the Apostles, the other disciples had to take up the mission too. Luke reminds us that this didn’t just happen after Our Lord had ascended. He sent out those disciples too. We’re all called to go out and share the Gospel, just not necessarily in the same way and under the same circumstances. The instructions Our Lord gives for effective discipleship are very similar to those he gives the Twelve. Don’t get bogged down in having everything you “might” need. Keep it simple and stick to the essentials. Stay focused on where Our Lord is sending you. Don’t make it tourism with a lot of needless side stops. Wish peace toward others in everything you do, even when it is not reciprocated. Don’t abuse the hospitality you are offered as a disciple of Our Lord. If you welcome the Gospel and help others know and welcome it your name will be on the only wall of fame that matters: Heaven’s.

Being Christian means being commissioned to spread the Gospel, like the Seventy-Two. It is the Lord himself who sends us out. What’s your mission? Your family? Your friends? Your colleagues? Your neighbors? All of the above. Don’t count on anyone else bringing the Gospel if you are standing right there.

Readings: Isaiah 66:10–14c; Psalm 66:1–7, 16, 20; Galatians 6:14–18; Luke 10:1–12, 17–20. See also 14th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, TuesdayWednesday ,and Thursday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time; 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle BThursday and Saturday of the 26th Week in Ordinary time, and 1st Week of Advent, Saturday.