13th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C (2)

A superficial reading of today’s First Reading and Gospel may give us the impression that Elijah is easier on his disciple than Our Lord is with his, but the Second Reading can shed a little light on the apparent difference.

In today’s First Reading we see Elisha called by Elijah to follow him and become a prophet. The Lord sent Elijah to invite Elisha to follow him. Every call comes from the Lord. Elisha asks Elijah if we can put his affairs in order before leaving. Scholars differ about what Elijah meant when he responds, “Have I done anything to you?” It seems he is simply saying that Elisha has not started following yet and is free to do what he wants. Elisha does a last gesture of kindness and concern for his family before dedicating his life to the Lord’s service.

Paul reminds us in the Second Reading that life is a battle between the flesh and the Spirit. The Christian life presents a new way of living, living in a way that you are not enslaved to things and situations, but alive in the Spirit and focused on the spiritual goal. Even good things, if sought for the wrong reasons, can oppose a life of the Spirit. The ultimate measure of Christian living is whether you are truly loving your neighbor or not. Every direction we take in life is measured by our intentions in taking the next step.

A common denominator in today’s First Reading and Gospel is that the disciple asks to do something before following his master. The subtle difference is that, unlike Elijah, Our Lord can always read hearts and see whether that heart is speaking from the flesh or from the Spirit. Elisha is “liquidating his assets” and doing one last gesture of love for his family before departing. The hearts of disciples in today’s Gospel are only known to Our Lord, and it is in his response to them that we see a potential conflict between Spirit and flesh that he is trying to help them address.

The first disciple in today’s Gospel perhaps doesn’t understand that following Our Lord is a lifelong commitment: he’s not just headed to the Rabbi’s house instead of his own, he is committed to permanently follow Jesus, just as every Christian is called to do, and go wherever he leads them.

The second disciple wants to attend to important family business, but sometimes following Our Lord requires sacrifice and self-denial: in telling the dead to bury their dead Our Lord perhaps is telling him too that the family business he is concerned about can already be handled by another member of his family. Remember here that, unlike Elijah, the Lord can read hearts.

The last potential disciple wants to go home and say goodbye first: Our Lord sees something in that request that would put flesh over Spirit. Perhaps the disciple would go home and stay there. Perhaps his father or mother would convince him not to leave. Following Christ is the best thing we can do for ourselves and our family, and we must never lose sight of that.

Most Acts of Contrition today include the promise to avoid the “near occasion of sin” or “whatever leads me to sin.” We all know there are places both physical and virtual that we should not go, and many of them have no warning signs posted, because there are people out there who want you to fall into danger so that they can profit from it. Certain situations can also lead us to sin, situations we must strive to avoid. Lastly, certain attitudes can make us skate on thin ice when it comes to living a life of virtue and holiness. They should raise yellow flags or red flags in our conscience depending on how close they bring us to spiritual ruin. Take some time this week with the Holy Spirit’s help to assess your moral “early warning system” and whether there are certain places, situations, or attitudes that you need to weed out of your life.

Readings: 1 Kings 19:16b, 19–21; Psalm 16:1–2, 5, 7–11; Galatians 5:1, 13–18; Luke 9:51–62. See also 13th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C, 10th Week of Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II and 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today’s readings remind us that in desperate situations even a drop of faith in Our Lord is enough to make the outcome exceed our expectations.

In today’s First Reading we’re reminded that death may be something we expected, but it was not something Our Lord wanted. The Lord created everything as good, something that would help us to grow and thrive. Death is a lack of something, so we can’t pin death on the Lord. Sin entered the world because the devil, already fallen, couldn’t stand that anyone wasn’t. Envy is best summarized as seeing someone’s gain as your loss. Sin introduced a destructive element into Creation, and that destruction led to death. Physical death is a consequence of the spiritual death cause by Original Sin and by mortal sin. If physical death is terrifying and horrible, spiritual death is far worse.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that Our Lord did the exact opposite of the devil, and his response to sin and death exceeded everyone’s expectations. When we basically spit in the Lord’s face due to our sin he was gracious enough to forgive us and give us another chance. However, he didn’t stop there. He took the consequences of sin and death upon himself to destroy them. If envy is seeing someone’s gain as your loss, Our Lord saw our loss as his loss and left aside all the riches he enjoyed in Heaven and took death upon himself so that we could regain life. Paul talks about helping others when we’re enjoying abundance. Our Lord always has an abundance to share, if we believe in him.

In today’s Gospel we see two acts of desperation mixed with faith that need a little encouragement. Jairus, despite his position in the synagogue, is not afraid to throw himself at Our Lord’s feet to beg the healing of his daughter. The hemorrhagic woman has tried everything and decides to take a risk on Our Lord being able to help her, but without exposing herself. Our Lord permits circumstances that help them close the gap between what they want–healing–and what they need to get it: faith.

The hemorrhagic woman wants something good, and she received it, but she didn’t entirely go about it the right way. Touching a rabbi in her state was considered under Mosaic Law a ritual defilement of Jesus. She sought healing from Jesus but wanted it on the sly: she didn’t want to be his disciple. Imagine her fear and shock when Jesus knew that someone had touched him and received healing from him. She couldn’t remain anonymous; God is not an ATM, and we shouldn’t treat him like one.

In this case, being open about her need and the miracle had another purpose: Jairus’ hopes had been dashed by the news that his daughter had died. Seeing what the hemorrhagic woman had received with little effort and, after a little coaxing, great courage, helped Jairus to have the faith and courage he needed for Jesus to work the miracle for his daughter as well in the face of an impossible situation.

Desperate times are supposed to call for desperate measures but turning to Our Lord in faith should not be an act of desperation; rather, it should be par for the course. That involves taking a risk at times. Jairus risked his reputation as a synagogue official, trusting in a Rabbi with miraculous powers with the hope of healing his dying daughter. The ailing woman risked being the fool when she believed she could touch Our Lord’s cloak and receive healing unseen. The hemorrhagic woman didn’t expect she’d have to explain herself in front of the crowds. Jairus didn’t expect that he’d be asking for his girl to return to life. They took a risk and had faith in Our Lord, and he blessed them beyond their expectations. Let’s also take a risk of faith. We won’t be disappointed.

Readings: Wisdom 1:13–15, 2:23–24; Psalm 30:2, 4–6, 11–13; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13–15; Mark 5:21–43. See also 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.


13th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year I

In today’s readings we see the first steps of two connected legacies being assured. In the First Reading Sarah’s death and Abraham’s old age show a generation passing and the need to ensure a legacy of blessings for the generations to come. Abraham paves the way for his son Isaac, the inheritor and custodian of the promises of God, to marry and become a patriarch in his own right. His inheritance is not just material wealth; it is to transmit the faith and promises that the Lord made to Abraham, promises underway: a great nation, and a land to call their own. Isaac himself is the first sign of God fulfilling his promises.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord calls Matthew to be one of his apostles. Our Lord himself would be the one to definitively fulfill the promises made to Abraham: beyond the earthly promised land and simply biological progeny, Our Lord would become a blessing for all nations, gathering them in the Promised Land of Heaven for all eternity. The Apostles would be entrusted with this inheritance, including Matthew, and transmit it to future generations of believers: the Gospel.

Both Abraham and Matthew knew that if they turned back to their past they’d lose all the Lord had given them: Abraham was called out of the land of his birth and his kin in faith and insists that Isaac not return there for any reason. It’s as if doing so would be turning his back on the faith and promises that had taken him so far. Similarly, Matthew turned his back on sin and never looked back.

We are the inheritors of the Gospel too. Let’s transmit it to future generations as our legacy and never look back to the life we lived before we received it.

Readings: Genesis 23:1–4, 19, 24:1–8, 62–67; Psalm 106:1b–5; Matthew 9:9–13. See also St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist.



13th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Amos evokes imagery that could take us back to the Garden of Eden: a time where the earth’s blessings were abundant and effortless, before, as a consequence of the Fall, Adam and Eve condemned themselves and their posterity to having to eke an existence out of an unforgiving soil (see Genesis 3:17–19). Amos invites us to dream of a lasting and fertile land ready for a plentiful harvest that almost cultivates itself.

We don’t have to just envision such an image as one of the end times. When we live a spirit of Gospel poverty we see the things of daily life as blessings, and we are content with far less. We don’t fall into the rat race of always wanting the latest iPhone, a better car than our neighbors, or a mansion. In short, we realize how blessed we are to have anything at all.

Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us count out blessings and dream in Christian hope of the blessings that are to come.

Readings: Amos 9:11–15; Psalm 85:9ab, 10–14; Matthew 9:14–17. See also Friday after Ash Wednesday22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, and 13th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

13th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

In today’s First Reading Amos warns those who’d cheat Israel for their own benefit that they’ll incur the greatest famine of all: a lack of the word of God in their lives. That may seem on the surface to be fine if the food and drink keep coming, but not having the word of God in your life is basically having no true or lasting meaning to call your own. Eventually the Old Testament prophets fell silent in the few centuries preceding the coming of Christ; Israel had to await its savior with no more prophets until John the Baptist.

In today’s Gospel we see the Word of God coming into Matthew’s life in a simple but powerful way. The fast from God’s word is over for Matthew and he eagerly accepts the word of God by following Our Lord and becoming not only his apostle, but one of his evangelists. In turn he brings the Word of God to his friends, who also have the opportunity to break the fast of their distance from God.

Fasting from the Word of God is never a good thing. If you’re feeling the emptiness, ask him to feed you with his Word and his sacraments again.

Readings: Amos 8:4–6, 9–12; Psalm 119:2, 10, 20, 30, 40, 131; Matthew 9:9–13. See also Saturday after Ash Wednesday1st Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, and  St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist.