24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that in this life moments may come when we are down, but, as Our Lord reminds the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, with his help we are not out.

In today’s First Reading the freshly minted people of Israel falls into idolatry almost immediately after entering into a covenant with the Lord by making and worshiping a golden calf, something worthy of condemnation. The Lord had revealed himself to Moses and send Moses and Aaron to liberate them from Egypt and become a people. The Lord sounds out Moses about whether a “do over” was called for: should the idolaters be punished, and a new people be founded on Moses? It is a testimony to Moses’ famous humility that he did not accept the invitation to become another patriarch. It would have gone contrary to the promises he and the Israelites had heard for generations: countless descendants from the patriarchs and a land to call their own. The people of Israel were down, but, thanks Moses’ intercession and the Lord’s mercy, they weren’t out.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul recalls when he was down, but thanks to the Lord’s mercy he was not out. He remembered very well when he persecuted the Christians and, as a result, persecuted the Lord. We can only imagine how Our Lord looked down upon him as he took the completely wrong direction in life, persecuting the disciples. Paul was struck down on the road to Damascus because the direction he was taking was so mistaken that the Lord in his mercy chose to intervene. Paul could have gone down anonymously in history as just another sinner redeemed by Our Lord, but the Lord had bigger plans for him, making him an apostle and a witness to the fact that when we’re down we’re never out as long as we live.

The Pharisees and scribes criticized Jesus in the Gospel today because he is spending time with people who are sinners: tax collectors, who robbed them by charging unfair taxes and serving their Roman oppressors, and sinners, who did evil and did not come worship at the Temple. So Jesus asks the Pharisees and scribes to think of how happy they would be if they found something valuable that they’d lost.

Imagine if you lost your spending money for the week, and after searching and searching your locker you give up and take your books to class and there it is, stuck between two books! Wouldn’t you be happy? Imagine if you lost your cat and you searched for hours and hours and came home sad and suddenly heard him scratching at the door to be let in. Wouldn’t you be happy? Now imagine if it were your brother or sister or aunt or someone in your family who went missing. You would never stop looking. Never. You would always be waiting to hear from them.

In Heaven God knows that sinners are lost, and he wants to find them so badly, but they hide from him and go far away from him, just like the son in the Gospel today. Like the Father of the Prodigal Son, God waits and waits for them to come back. Our Lord teaches us that all of Heaven shouts for joy when a sinner is found and comes back and gets on the road to Heaven again. Our Lord goes to the sinners in the Gospel today because if he doesn’t help them find God the Father again, they will never find him. Like the son today in the Gospel, they go far away and become poor and miserable, but when they come back, sorry for what they have done, all of Heaven is happy and God welcomes them back as if nothing had happened.

When we hurt others, it is so hard to say we are sorry, but when we don’t, we are left poor, alone, and lonely, because it is like we have left someone in our family. The other son in the Gospel today didn’t want to forgive his brother and look how angry and alone he was. The Prodigal Son, the tax collectors, and the sinners in today’s Gospel were all down, but the Lord was ready to pull them back onto their feet again.

When we do bad things, all we have to do is say we’re sorry and ask God to forgive us. It is not complicated, even though it may be costly at times. Go have a good Confession for the big things. For the little daily things, just tell him (and whoever else you’ve hurt) that you are sorry. If you remain down in this life (and the next, for that matter) it is because you didn’t take the Lord’s extended hand to pull you back onto your feet.

Readings: Exodus 32:7–11, 13–14; Psalm 51:3–4, 12–13, 17, 19; 1 Timothy 1:12–17; Luke 15:1–32. See also 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C2nd Week of Lent, Saturday, and 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today’s readings remind us that hearing something and listening to it are two different things.

In today’s First Reading, part of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant, Our Lord reminds us that sometimes he needs to open our ears, just like he did to Peter in the Gospel today. Sometimes we can take that for granted, and if we don’t put it into action, soon we stop listening to God’s Word in our lives, and instead it is just more noise in our ears. The Suffering Servant takes the blows received for serving God, knowing that God is on his side and that his service has a greater meaning. He doesn’t complain or give God a hard time about what he’s suffering to fulfill his mission, because he knows the Lord is at his side. Our Lord also teaches his disciples in the Gospel today that the prophecy of the Suffering Servant refers to him. Suffering is part of Christian life, and that suffering leads to salvation.

In today’s Second Reading St. James reminds us that faith and works go hand in hand. They show we have not just heard Our Lord’s word but listened. The Word of God is a call to repentance and baptism, but it is also a call to action. As St. James reminds us today, listening to God’s Word leads us to action. If we remain passive, just hearing God’s word, our faith will remain weak and will not transform our life or anyone else’s. When our works reflect our faith it shows we’re listening.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord gives the disciples a pop quiz to see how much they’re listening. Peter is never shy about speaking up, and answers Jesus’ question straight away: you are the Christ. Peter has listened to the first part of the message. The disciples have taken a step closer to Our Lord, they’ve been active, they’ve been listening, and that has drawn them closer to Our Lord. The crowd, on the other hand, doesn’t need to do much more than be there. They’ve “heard” things about Jesus, they’re curious, but they haven’t tried to draw closer to him yet.

Jesus’ disciples have passed the first test, and Our Lord opens his heart to them and explains how salvation will work. It was time for another lesson. Our Lord is the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah, and he reveals to his disciples something the Jews never would have imagined just by reading the Old Testament: the Messiah had to suffer and die to save the world. Peter’s response to this revelation is something that stirs up, to one degree or another, each of our hearts when the Lord opens our ears and we listen to him.

Peter couldn’t imagine that Jesus could do anything other than become a great military and political ruler. He was hearing, but he still needed to do a little more listening to Our Lord. After Our Lord had seen his disciples believed he was the Messiah, he opened his heart to them, and St. Peter spoke a little for all of them and basically said the Messiah didn’t act like Jesus said he would. Therefore, the disciples failed the second test. God had opened their ears, like the Suffering Servant in the First Reading, but, unlike the First Reading, they were rebelling about what they were hearing.

Jesus knew that this lesson, the lesson of the cross, was the most important lesson of Christian life. It’s so important a lesson that Jesus says something shocking to Peter when he tries to convince him not to take the path of suffering and the cross. He tells him he is thinking as men do, not as God does, and tells him he is like Satan: that little whisper in our ears that tells us that life should be lived without suffering, without crosses. Jesus backs up his lesson about the cross with a promise: whoever loses their life for Him and for the Gospel will save it. Everything we sacrifice in this world, big and small, will lead us to a life that is fuller and more fulfilling.

Isaiah’s prophecy in today’s First Reading also reminds us that we must forgive the injustice of our neighbor if we don’t want to be consumed by a sinful wrath that will cause our own condemnation. We have all experienced the temptation to nurse a grudge against someone and to be too angry to forgive. As we nurse a grudge we stop listening to our better judgment or the counsel of friends and family who are not fuming. Our anger drowns out good advice. Let’s not forget that Cain heard the Lord, but stopped listening to him when he slew Abel (see Genesis 4:1-10).

Readings: Isaiah 50:5–9a; Psalm 116:1–6, 8–9; James 2:14–18; Mark 8:27–35. See also 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

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24th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year I

In today’s Gospel the Lord has pity on the widow of Nain and raises her young son from the dead. There are abundant reasons for compassion toward the poor widow. The Old Testament is full of exhortations to not exploit widows and orphans; widows were in a very vulnerable situation, and even more so without children to help them. The Promised Land for the Jews was also linked to heritage; your line determined your tribe and your right to a portion of the Promised Land, and the widow’s birthright without a son would die with her.

The pain a parent experiences at having to bury a child is beyond words. We can wonder if Our Lord looked upon her in her grief and imagined the pain his own mother would soon experience as he was taken down, lifeless, from the cross at Calvary. The Blessed Mother couldn’t be spared this sorrow, but this poor woman could. Finally, Our Lord took pity on everyone who witnessed this scene. Death was the ultimate source of hopelessness. In his earthly life Our Lord did not raise many from the dead, and it was the raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel that signaled the final decision of the Sanhedrin to kill Jesus (see John 12:9-10). If word spread like wildfire of this miracle it was because death was revealed to not be the last word.

This miracle was the crack of dawn of what would soon blaze in the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. Death no longer has the last word. Let’s strive to be compassionate toward others, especially those who have lost a loved one, and encourage them with the certainty that, thanks to Christ, death does not have the last word.

Readings: 1 Timothy 3:1–13; Psalm 101:1b–3b, 5–6; 7:11–17.


24th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year I

In Luke’s account of Our Lord healing the Centurion’s servant it’s interesting to note that Jesus and the Centurion never met personally. Everything was done through men of good will (the elders of the Jews, who acknowledged the Centurions good will and kindness in helping them build their synagogue), and the Centurion’s friends, who came to meet Jesus even as he was about arrive at the Centurion’s home. This last detail also shows the good will and respect of the Centurion: devout Jews would consider themselves ritually defiled if they entered the home of a Gentile.

Nevertheless, it was Our Lord alone who could help the Centurion’s servant. As the First Reading reminds us today, God wants everyone to be saved and to learn the truth, but he wants to do it through the Son, the one mediator between God and men. In this moment of his ministry Our Lord was focusing on the Jews, but, one day, another Centurion would receive baptism along with his family (see Acts 10:1-48), the first Gentiles to be welcomed into the budding Church after an initial focus on the Jews.

Friendship and good-will may not always help others to connect with Our Lord, but they certainly go a long way toward bringing others closer to Christ. Let’s not shy away from sharing our best friend with others and helping them make a connection of faith.

Readings: 1 Timothy 2:1–8; Psalm 28:2, 7–9; Luke 7:1–10. See also 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday and 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that if we want mercy we should show it, just as we should expect justice for ourselves if we demand it from others. In today’s First Reading we’re reminded that we must forgive the injustice of our neighbor if we don’t want to be consumed by a sinful wrath that will cause our own condemnation. We have all experienced the temptation to nurse a grudge against someone and to be too angry to forgive them for what they’ve done. Sirach reminds us today not only of the penalty for that attitude, but of the danger. If we hold on to anger, wrath, or a desire for vengeance, we shut the door of our hearts not only on the object of our wrath, but on God himself. That ire cooks us on the inside. The Lord respects our freedom, but doesn’t turn a blind eye to anyone’s injustice. A desire for vengeance and a desire for justice are not the same thing, just as a vigilante is not the same thing as a police officer.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that, thanks to the mercy of our redemption, we’ve ceded certain rights in our lives over to our Redeemer. Our Lord died for us, but he lives as well, and we share in that. In his mercy he took the demands of justice upon himself for our behalf. If we turn our backs on mercy we spurn the mercy we’ve received and risk closing ourselves off from the eternal life Christ won for us. We have been forgiven much more than anything someone else may have done to us.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reinforces one of the petitions we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: we ask for forgiveness, but should forgive in turn. Peter asks Our Lord to quantify when enough is enough in terms of forgiving someone. He wants to put a number on it. Our Lord’s response, due to the original Greek, is either seventy-seven (77) or four hundred ninety times (7 x 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 x…): in short, a lot. However, he follows up with a parable that shows we must be unlimited in our mercy.

The servant owed so much (10,000 talents in the original Greek, the equivalent wages of 160,000 years of labor) that not only was his freedom and property forfeit, but that of his entire family as well. With no freedom and no “capital” he’d never be able to repay his debt. The king in today’s Gospel, like the Lord, forgave the whole debt. Everything the servant deserved to lose, he retained, due to the king’s mercy, even though he’d squandered so much. How does the servant respond? He decides to turn a new leaf in life by becoming a loan shark collecting on his old debts. The amount his fellow servant owed him was infinitesimal (one percent) compared to what he’d just been forgiven.His repentance was shown to be short lived.

When we are struggling to forgive someone, or to love someone, we are always tempted to say, “enough is enough.” We ask ourselves whether there’s a fixed rule of thumb, as Peter tried to do today, for limiting our mercy. Our Lord teaches us that “How much is enough?” is the wrong question. The right question is, “Am I going to squander the mercy I’ve received by not showing mercy to others?” The servant was forgiven, and he squandered that forgiveness by not forgiving in return; note that when the king hears of it, only the servant himself is punished, and in a worse way. When someone doesn’t value mercy they not only don’t welcome it into their hearts, but are also unlikely to show much of it to others. When we have wronged someone we want to be forgiven, but we should show our gratitude by forgiving those who trespass against us.

We’ve received a priceless gift of mercy through faith and Baptism. We can never repay that debt. When someone wrongs us, we must remember that no matter how much they’ve wronged us it’s nothing compared to how much the Lord has forgiven us and continues to forgive us. Let’s forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart.

Readings: Sirach 27:30–28:7; Psalm 103:1–4, 9–12; Romans 14:7–9; Matthew 18:21–35.