Gospel Reading: MT 7:7-12
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.
“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the law and the prophets.”
“Love and Snakes”
As a math teacher, I see this passage as two parts:
1) an algorithm (a step-by-step rule to get the right answer, like solving an equation for x)
2) a proof (an argument that shows if one thing is true, another must be true as well.
Jesus’ Golden Algorithm is for the messiness of our lives, not for algebra. “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” We can’t take the Golden Rule literally. I can’t buy my 5-year-old size 10 shoes because that’s what I want her to buy me. We must think of our neighbors, not for them. We must put ourselves in their place. (I believe God may have done something similar for us.)
But why? Because it is “the law and the prophets.” Ever wonder what Jews call the Old Testament? They call it the TaNaKh, literally an acronym for:
Torah (“Law”: first five books, from Creation to the 10 Commandments.)
Naveem (“prophets”: books by the prophets)
Khetuveem (“writings”: songs, proverbs, and historical books)
It appears the Golden Rule is the Bible, minus the “writings.” Why leave those out? I think it is because the Law and the prophets came directly from God. The writings, however, were about the (often terrible) things people did. King David was not thinking of his most loyal soldier Uriah, when he had him killed to steal his wife Bathsheba. The Golden Rule summarizes God’s message of love, not human history (unfortunately). Still, here we are, hoping to write a better chapter. In this election year, with danger overseas and controversy at home, let us remember Christ’s algorithm as we approach the problem.
So, to the proof. Given: I love my family, friends, and some other stuff too. Prove: Even though I can lose everything, I will be ok.
We say life can give you “lemons,” but Jesus went further – “snakes” and “stones.” We fear what God plans for us. How dare we question the gifts of the Giver of everything? But, I want my loved ones to stay safe. I want the good I do to pay off. It may not be in God’s plan, but is it wrong to want these things?
I think what Jesus says here is don’t worry! If I love my family, God loves us more. He thinks of us. Next to God, I am a child. Children can’t pick their dinner, or put it on the table, but it gets there, and it’s not all brussels sprouts either. Don’t even worry if you do worry, because that’s praying. We need not fear His answer either, but it’s ok if we do. I can’t tell a 5-year-old why a flu shot is really a good thing, but I can’t judge her for fearing it either! Our lives are not in our hands; they’re in better hands. Still, pray for me, and I’ll pray for you (and I’ll cross my fingers too).
Gospel Reading: LK 11:29-32
While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them,
“This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
At the judgment
the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation
and she will condemn them,
because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
and there is something greater than Solomon here.
At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it,
because at the preaching of Jonah they repented,
and there is something greater than Jonah here.”
“Jews, Gentiles, and Jaded Spirituality: The Lessons of Jonah and the Queen of the South”
Jesus’ excoriation of the crowd in today’s gospel seems unrelatable and enigmatic, however with a little background it proves very useful for anyone who is more focused on the specific technique of their spirituality than the relationship with God that such technique should yield. The utility rests on a basic understanding of the “sign of Jonah” and the “Queen of the South”.
As stated in the text, Jonah was a prophet to the city of Nineveh. The important point for our purposes is that this city is the capital of Assyria, a blood thirsty gentile empire coming out of Mesopotamian, known for harsh cruelty in war. The Assyrians were no friends of the Israelites. Just before arriving in Nineveh Jonah is famously swallowed by a large fish. If you pay attention to his prayer in chapter 2, it transitions from how God saved him from the “whale belly situation” that he was in to how God saved him from the “death situation” that he was in, praying as if he had actually died. This is not an out of place literary leap given that there are many references to sub-aquatic states being death states in the Judeo-Christian tradition, not the least of which is full immersion baptism, where one dies to this world and rises in Christ. And indeed Jonah emerges from the whale after three days, just as Christ emerges from the tomb after three days, so it would seem that the “sign of Jonah” is the resurrection.
But there is a more biting and uncomfortable sign that Jesus is actually making reference to, that is, the full conversion of the wicked gentile city of Nineveh. Jonah only makes it one third of the way through the city before the entire town converts from the king to the cattle. In fact, Jonah is the only Prophet in the entire Bible whose is successful in his mission while he is performing his mission. He is the only prophet who lives to see the fruit of his labor, fruit that ripens in absurdly rapid fashion according to the narrative. The story implies that the gentiles are more open to conversion from any source even the Jews. A similar openness is suggested by “Queen of the South”, which is Egypt. That mighty empire’s queen, Sheba, came to King Solomon to hear his wisdom as recounted in 1Kings 10. In each case the gentiles accepted the message and experience of God by any means necessary.
In this passage from Luke Jesus seems to be referring to how the messiah was accepted by the gentile world with such fervor and how the Jewish people were first slow, then unwilling to accept the messiah because he did not exactly suite what they thought the messiah should be. The sign Jesus seems to be talking about is the sign of grace and salvation as played out in the gentile world while spiritual stagnation is presented in Judaism, just like in Assyria, just like in Egypt.
This may lead the Christian reader to some off based idea of triumphant supersessionism, but the applicable point here is not that “Christians replaced Jews”. As I said, any of us can be more focused on our personal spiritual techniques then our relationship with God and openness to his grace. It doesn’t speak poorly of the technique, just the attitude and openness of the person practicing it. For example if one were to go to adoration every day, that is a great practice. But if the practitioner is hyper-focused on the action, thinking it was the only way to know God (for themselves or anyone else) when someone else experimenting with a different method has an amazing experience of the divine and a renewed conversion, it is off putting to the one who took pride in their rigid practice. The “sign” is a legitimate conversion experience by someone who is open to that experience by any means God may throw at them. Our task during this season of lent, is to remain watchful and open to the grace of God.
Gospel Reading: MT 6:7-15
Jesus said to his disciples: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “This is how you are to pray:
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
“Listening to God”
A couple of years ago I was going through a rather trying time, dealing with panic attacks and anxiety that, well, as severe anxiety often is, was irrational. This was the beginning of the school year, and I really wondered how I was going to make it through any of my prep work and meetings, much less, if this continued, how I would conduct classes. I literally couldn’t go an hour without crying, my heart racing, fear, etc. To say that my days were terrible is an understatement; they were downright painful and scary. To me, there was seemingly no reason for the irrational thinking and no end in sight. “Would I have to live like this forever?” and “Why is this happening?” were questions I was constantly asking myself. However, I am a true believer in signs from God, and I remember at one point, in a moment of clarity, thinking specifically, I wonder if all of this is happening so that I might return to a closer relationship with God.
So, when it all got dark, and it was just me and my irrational mind, I turned to prayer. At first, I didn’t even know what I was praying for, other than comfort. I would literally just repeat, “please bring me comfort, please bring me comfort”. And then, as signs from God do, one came right when I needed it. It came in the form of a quote stating that “Praying is talking to God. Meditation is listening to God.” The funny thing is that I always heard about meditation as a remedy for dealing with anxiety, but it was nothing that I had ever felt I needed to do. But this time, I was desperate, and rather that just asking, asking, asking, I listened.
And that is what I believe St. Matthewl is reminding us to do in teaching us how to pray in today’s Gospel. Yes, he is teaching us the “Our Father,” words that we often speak (out loud or silently) to proclaim our adoration for God, but I wonder if he taught us those words (that we could recite without actively thinking) as a means to center ourselves before then listening to what God has to tell us. As St. Matthew states, our Father knows what we need before we ask him, so why not listen to our Father more often? I know for myself, when things are seemingly out of control, I feel out of sync, and I don’t know what to do next, meditation brings me back to myself and back to God. This listening, this attention and adoration by sitting still is when I feel closest to God. It is how I have transformed my relationship with my Maker and how I know God’s active presence in my life.
Gospel Reading: MT 25:31-46
Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
A major question in life as we journey through the stages of the life cycle recurs in different ways through different experiences, but remains for us to live through the answer rather than answer the recurring question: “What is the purpose and meaning of my life?” Many generations learned the Baltimore Catechism answer: “To know, love and serve God in this life, and to be happy with God in heaven.” This leaves us pondering how to do this to be ready for the comma which means die, so we can enjoy heaven. Jesus gives us the answer in this passage about the Judgment of the Nations.
In this “Year of Mercy”, Pope Francis has suggested to us that we practice the spiritual and corporal works of Mercy. It is no wonder that works of Mercy are referred to by Jesus as the way to reach heaven. As you read the passage ask God to guide you to find ways to actively practice the things which will have Jesus say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you…” If we remember this then food drives, clothing drives, collections for the poor, helping those in spiritual and bodily need takes on new meaning. Perhaps we will be motivated to give sacrificially, and not just from our surplus, helping to guarantee our ticket to heaven. Begin today making small changes in your life: a phone call or visit to the homebound, a sandwich or some money to the person standing on a corner hungry and homeless, a smile or a hug for the lonely or sad, praying for those in need and sharing the blessings in your life with the less fortunate. These small acts of kindness, which is one of my themes for the girls, will make someone else's life better. It's just that simple.
Gospel Reading: LK 5:27-32
Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying,
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
“Preaching to the Choir”We often hear the expression “preaching to the choir.” This phrase implies that one is speaking to those people who already believe in a certain thing or who already behave in a certain manner. The same idea is present in today’s Gospel; Jesus says “those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” Jesus was not sent to “preach to the choir” so to speak. In the same respect, in our efforts to be more Christ like, we should not only associate with those who are like us or who think like us. We are called to share God’s message with everyone, and sometimes this is best done through actions rather than words. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to all mankind.” During this time of lent we have an opportunity to not just give something up, but to take action. Sacrificing a little bit of our time to help someone in need or to attend a weekday mass are good examples of a different kind of Lenten sacrifice. This year I am challenging myself to go beyond only giving up things, such as soda or chocolate. I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.
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