“This Sunday’s Gospel contrasts two different religious attitudes. First, the self-righteous Pharisee. Here is a man who seems to impeccably follow the law. In some terms, he is the model citizen! Honest, fiscally generous, and faithful to his marriage vows. But something else lurks in his heart: pride. “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity … or even like this tax collector.” For the Pharisee, no fault can be admitted. The only way to stay on top is to preserve one’s image — even to God, it seems! — and point out the flaws of others from the pedestal.
In the back of the temple, hidden and bowed down, is the tax collector. “O God, by merciful to me a sinner.” This man’s prayer is one of supplication and petition. He isn’t afraid to express his sinfulness and misery. This, Jesus says, is the one who “went home justified.” How many times have we heard the mission of Jesus to seek and save the lost? Jesus is the one who dines with sinners and invites every heart to repentance. But how can we return to him if we don’t know we’ve left? How can we receive God’s grace when we’re adamant we don’t need it?READ MORE
“Render a just decision for me against my adversary.” Today’s Gospel features a persistent widow who ekes out justice from a notoriously cold-hearted judge. Why does she win the day? “Because the widow keeps bothering me.” Jesus’ recommendation to the disciples is to be persistent in prayer, because surely God the Father is far more attuned to their needs than this judge. If only it were that easy, right? We’ve all experienced the unanswered prayer, the silence after our cries. When this continues, sometimes it can be difficult to have faith in God or believe He answers prayers. It can be easy to lapse into a sense of His distance. We want Him to do something “fair,” which — in our limited view — typically means that something works out in our favor.READ MORE
“Ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance …” In the ancient world and into the Middle Ages, there was no treatment for leprosy. People thought it was wildly contagious and were suspicious of any skin diseases. Lepers were isolated from civil society. This isolation was uphold by the Mosaic Law. Should there be a healing from leprosy, the former leper was to present himself to a priest to certify the healing. Like Jesus commands, “Show yourselves to the priests.” The person would then undergo a religious rite to be formally reintroduced to society. In other words, a leper got their life back. So why didn’t they come back?READ MORE
Compartmentalization or consistency? In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus tells a strange story of a sneaky, savvy steward that raises questions about our personal virtue. “How much do you owe? Here is your promissory note, write one for eighty.” This parable isn’t advice for money management. Historically, there were many positions that acted on behalf of their masters regarding money, like customs agents, household stewards, and tax collectors. Often these workers over-charged and skimmed off the top.
Usurious practices like this were not in line with the traditional Jewish understanding of money lending, which strictly forbade them from to taking interest or making a profit off of their own people. As the steward reduced the debt, he was likely writing out the amount he originally intended to take for himself. Before the steward can be commended, he needs to right the wrong done.READ MORE
“Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain…” In this Sunday’s Gospel, we learn the context for the forthcoming parables about the lost and found. A great mixed crowd surrounds Jesus. The religious elite are present, along with all manner of local lowlifes. The Pharisees seem a bit upset that this wasn’t the lecture series they were hoping for. Why would Jesus welcome sinners?
Jesus responds as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep … rejoice because I have found the coin that I lost … let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine … was lost, and has been found!” Each of the parables features a dramatic example. Of 99 sheep, one has gone astray. Of 10 coins, one has gone missing. The welcomed son has previously been a covetous scoundrel. Jesus’ point to the Pharisees is clear. If the Gospel really is “good news,” if our faith really has the power to save, why wouldn’t we want everyone drawing near? Why wouldn’t we do everything in our power to eke out that possibility for every single person, no matter where they have wandered? After all, if this message is not of value to everyone, why is it of value to anyone?READ MORE
It’s said that upon reading the Gospels, Gandhi commented that he very much liked Jesus Christ. It was Christ’s followers he found troublesome. One wonders who Gandhi had met and if these Christians had truly counted the cost of their faith. Following Jesus, really following Jesus, is much more challenging than we may think. He emphasizes this with strong language in this Sunday’s Gospel. He compares discipleship to the carrying of one’s own execution device — “his own cross” — and for the need even to “hate” what could disrupt one’s commitment. Some of this is standard hyperbole, exaggeration for effect common to the time period. Some of this should make us wonder how deep our discipleship goes.READ MORE
If God is one, how can He be three? The most intelligent theologians have racked their brains over the problem, and the most prayerful ones have surrendered to the mystery. How it can be, we can't explain. But what it means, we can join! Our God is an ever-unfolding relationship. Theologians speak of the immanent and economic Trinity. The Trinity is immanent in the sense that the Persons are close and entirely sufficient within Godself. In other words, God doesn't require us for God to exist. The word economic is rooted in the Greek word for management of a household or family. The Trinity is economic in the sense that God has invited us to be part of Him. He's growing the family! We see the dynamic here in today's Gospel.READ MORE
"God is always more." Have you ever heard that? If we truly believe that He is infinite, then this statement is worth exploring. Today, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in power upon the early Church. But Pentecost wasn't the first time the disciples received the Holy Spirit. The Gospel actually occurs chronologically before Pentecost. Soon after the Resurrection, Jesus already "came and stood in their [the disciples'] midst... he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'"READ MORE
Think of what it's like to wait a long time. Can you imagine what it would be like to wait for centuries? No one person lives that long, of course. But for the Israelites, they had heard the stories from generation to generation. They had been conquered time and time again, and now "the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ."READ MORE
"Behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying 'Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.'" How strange to journey so far for perhaps so little. Of course the magi go to the capitol city. Of course they entreat with King Herod. Of course this is where they expect newborn royalty to be. But where is the child? "In Bethlehem of Judea," the scribes say. And so the magi go on to what is yet another Christmas miracle.READ MORE
Fearful things can sometimes happen in family life. The local evening news often has stories about the struggles a family may be facing. Maybe it's a fire that drove a family from its home. Or it may be an illness that strikes a child and severely affects the entire family. Or the news story may be about an accident that incapacitates the wage-earner in the household. These kinds of problems seem even more tragic at this time of year, when families gather together and often feel a certain security and warmth in being united.READ MORE
Here we are, mere days from Christmas, and we hear a Gospel anticipating the birth of another child. Mary has received word that her cousin Elizabeth is with child. Pregnant as she is, Mary "set out and traveled to the hill country in haste." She has recently received the greatest news of her life - that she is to be mother to the Messiah by the power of the Holy Spirit - but her concern is for her cousin in need. Through God's grace, Elizabeth turns it into an opportunity to honor the coming Christ. "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." Yet Mary's example of selflessness should inspire us.READ MORE
In Christianity, we hear often about the "Good News." We might often associate it with Jesus' compassion to the poor, his healings and miracles, and the salvation he won for us. In today's Gospel, we read of John the Baptist. "Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people." Yet as we examine the rest of the reading, we see examples of John's preaching. If you have two cloaks, give one away. Don't cheat others out of their money, extort, or lie. And, of course, the warning that the Messiah is on the move and "his winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Merry Christmas?READ MORE