HOLY FAMILY SUNDAY, December 27, 2020
SIRACH 3:2-7 COLOSSIANS 3:12-21 LUKE 2:22-40
About 30 days after Jesus’ birth Mary and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem to perform two religious rituals, the redemption of the firstborn and the purification of the mother. It was common belief that every firstborn male belonged to God. This may be a remnant from the ancient days when the first born was sacrificed to the gods. This was abhorrent to the Jewish psyche, and so it evolved the pagan practice into a simple ritual of offering a “ransom” for the child by giving a small donation to the priests.
The purification of the mother ended the period of time after the birth of a child when a woman was considered ritually unclean – forty days for a boy and eighty days for a girl. A sheep was generally sacrificed for her purification. However, the poor could offer two turtle doves or two pigeons. This was Mary’s offering.
By noting these rituals Luke, who was writing to people who weren’t Jewish, was making it clear to his readers that Jesus was totally integrated into Jewish life and culture. He had already noted that Jesus was a descendent of King David. Simultaneously, Luke was stressing that, with the birth of Jesus, Israel was on the brink of a new time – the Messianic time. He illustrated this by introducing five characters into his infancy narrative.
The first three were Zachariah, his wife Elizabeth and their son, John. Zachariah represented the old time. He was a priest of the old covenant. His wife, a symbol of Israel, was barren as Israel seemed to be. However, their miracle baby, John, was to be the first sign of new life for Israel. He would be Israel’s last prophet. He would announce the coming of the new time and prepare the people to welcome it.
The scene we read today introduces Simeon and Anna. They both recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Simeon was a good and righteous man who prayed that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Messiah. As he took Jesus into his arms he broke into a prayer declaring him “a light of revelation for the Gentiles and the glory of your people, Israel.” The new time had certainly arrived. But it would be a time of challenge, too. Simeon turned to Mary and continued his prophecy. “This child is destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Luke then introduced Anna into the scene, an eighty-four-year-old prophetess. She was the symbol of Israel’s long and dedicated fidelity to God’s covenant. “She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” She announced the arrival of the new time to “all who were awaiting the redemption of Israel.”
What’s Luke trying to say to us in this passage? He’s reflecting on the birth of the new Israel. This has nothing to do with a country. Israel is a people – God’s people – God’s chosen people. Simeon and Anna are the old Israel – loyal and faithful but tired. There was a time when the prophets spoke God’s word to them. But it had been four hundred years since God had spoken through a prophet. John the Baptist would break that silence. His words would usher in the new time.
Everything we’ve read from Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus gives definition to the new time. It’s shocking, and maybe even disturbing, because it’s not what anyone of us would have expected. The Messiah was to be a king and a savior, but in our earthly assessment he was powerless. He wasn’t like the kings we’ve known or the military figures who brought peace by conquering nations. He was poor. He was homeless. His bed was a feeding trough. The message he preached was love.
Luke is telling us that in the new time we can no longer trust the things we’ve always trusted. The structures of power and control that we’ve relied upon for so long to maintain order and promote a spotty prosperity are obsolete. The new time is to be marked by the power
of selfless love. It will be modeled by a Messiah king who will pour out his life for others. He will even become the bread of life for anyone who hungers for life in the new time.
We call this Sunday Family Sunday. But it’s not so much about a mother and a father and the children. It’s about the new family in the new time. But if self-giving is the hallmark of the new time, what does the family look like? In the new time the family isn’t only a small unit, it’s also global, its people caring for each other and pouring out their lives in love for one another.
Since the birth of Jesus, we’ve been struggling to let the new time reign, but we’ve been hanging on to the old time, its values and its methods. Every Christmas Season the scriptures remind us to let go! To begin to envision the new time. To take your first steps into that new time. I’ll conclude my reflection now. I encourage you to contemplate these scriptures taken from our Advent and Christmas scriptures. As you do so, open you heart to the new time.
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“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. O house of Jacob, come, walk in the light of the Lord!” (1st Sunday of Advent)
“Let us, then, throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (1st Sunday of Advent)
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify God, the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (2 nd Sunday of Advent)
“Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand!” (2nd Sunday of Advent)
“Be patient, my brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” (3 rd Sunday of Advent)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners…” (3 rd Sunday of Advent)
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, upon those who dwell in the land of gloom a light has shone.” (Midnight Mass)
“In times past, God spoke to us in partial and various ways through the prophets; in these last days he has spoken to us through the Son…” (Christmas Day)
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FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 20, 2020
2 SAMUEL 7:1-5, 8B-12, 14A, 16 ROMANS 16:25-27 LUKE 1:26-38
We generally think of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary as the one and only annunciation reported in the Gospels. However, there are three annunciations in the Gospel of Luke. Each one is unique and important for our reflection.
The first annunciation was to a priest, Zachariah. While he was in the temple taking his turn to offer incense in the sanctuary, Gabriel appeared to him. He was told not to be afraid.
Even though he was an old man and his wife, Elizabeth, barren, he was promised a son. Their son, John, filled with the Holy Spirit, would be the last prophet of Israel and would prepare the people for the coming of the redeemer.
The second annunciation was to Mary. She, too, was counselled not to be afraid. Though a virgin, Gabriel told her that she was chosen to have a child through the power of the Holy Spirit. His name was to be Jesus which means savior. He would be a great king, and his kingdom would last forever.
The third annunciation was to shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth. Gabriel, speaking from the divine glory, warned them not to be afraid and directed them to the new-born king. They found him
wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
These three announcements cover all of salvation history. Zachariah and Elizabeth represent Israel, old and barren, yet ever faithful. Mary, young and fertile, is the New Israel, bravely committing herself as the handmaid of the Lord to the divine invitation. The shepherds, God’s poor ones, are the first to see, the first to believe, and the first to announce the birth of the redeemer. Today, we renew our faithfulness to the God who loves us and who has journeyed with us throughout history. Today, we pledge our commitment to the plan God has laid out for humankind. Today, we see; we renew our belief; we commit to announce the good news we’ve discovered.
Lord, how can this be? How it is that you have found me and called me by name? What is your will for me? What do you ask of me? May the Spirit heal me of my fear that I might say with Mary, “I am the servant of the Lord.” Amen.
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THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 13, 2020
ISAIAH 61:1-2A, 10-11. 1 THESSALONIANS 5:16-24 JOHN 1:6-8, 19-28
Hope is the theme of this Sunday’s scriptures. Isaiah puts it in context. St. Paul rejoices in it. And John the Baptist proclaims it to anyone with open ears and a welcoming heart.
Isaiah begins the reflection. He looks into the future and sees a powerful figure, anointed with the Spirit of God, whose mission it will be to bring a message of good news to the people – the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and the prisoners. Isaiah is describing people like you and me. We may carry the scars of personal tragedy. We may grieve the loss of loved ones or our physical deterioration. We may be healthy and secure, but we may still feel that life is burdensome. Isaiah is telling us that the day is coming when all of us will be directed to a vision of light and liberation. A day is coming when our hope will blossom into joy.
In the second scripture St. Paul tells the community of Christians in Thessalonica to make thanksgiving, joy and prayer the center of their lives. He’s making reference to the Eucharistic gathering – the great Prayer of Thanksgiving. The Eucharist heals the community of despair and hopelessness. It’s the mystical banquet of the kingdom of God that we celebrate. At the Eucharistic table we’re nourished with the very source of joy and hope, Christ himself. Once in our hearts, no one or no thing can take this joy and hope from us.
The passage from the Gospel of John continues to focus the theme of hope as it recounts the testimony of John the Baptist. “A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light. He was not the light but came to testify to the light.” Light, in the Gospel of John, is the divine presence. Throughout his Gospel he juxtaposes light and darkness. Light is love and harmony and peace – all that God is. Darkness is division and malevolence, and the energy of hate.
John’s message of hope assures that the light is very near. He’s encouraging everyone to abandon the mindsets that strengthen the darkness. Hope is the pathway to the light. He invites each of us to clothe ourselves in the light. Each of us have the power to change the way we think and live, and by doing so we can abandon the darkness and step into the light.
Let’s conclude this reflection by returning to Isaiah’s poetic description of hope. Let’s use it as a prayer of thanksgiving for hope fulfilled.
“I rejoiced heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels. As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.”
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SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 6, 2020
ISAIAH 40:1-5, 9-11. 1 PETER 3:8-14 MARK 1:1-8
“Comfort, give comfort to my people.” These words are as important for us to hear today as they were when they were first spoken more than two and a half millennia ago.
The situation seemed hopeless when the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II, invaded Judah and attacked Jerusalem in 608 BC. The King of Judah was slain during the seige, Jerusalem was destroyed, its temple burned to the ground and the remaining royal family and the prominent people of the city deported to Babylon. They and their descendants remained there until Cyrus, the king of Persia, defeated the Babylonian armies and liberated them in 538 BC. Isaiah’s words of comfort were directed to these exiles.
“Comfort, give comfort to my people…Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated.”
Throughout those seventy years of exile, a small, dedicated group of Jews remained faithful to God and their traditions. Their memory of the temple in Jerusalem was the buoy they clung to – the image that gave them strength and perseverance. Psalm 137 reflects the intensity of their devotion. “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. May my tongue cling to my palate if I do not remember you; if I do not exalt Jerusalem above all my joys.”
It may seem strange at first, but we’re being encouraged to identify with these exiles today. But we actually do this quite frequently. When we recite the rosary, we clearly unite with these exiles when we pray: “To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.”
We carry these sentiments as we look at the Advent crèche. The two stories of the birth of Jesus are brought together in the scene. Matthew’s magi are there ready to offer their symbolic gifts. Luke’s shepherds are there ready to be the first to see the savior king. But in the Advent crèche, though all the figures look longingly at the manger bed, the child is absent from the scene.
The empty manger evokes our deepest hopes and longings. The scene promises us a kingdom so very different from anything humankind has ever known, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom in which all are family caring for one another, a kingdom devoid of killing and violence, of hostility and vengeance, a kingdom in which all life is sacred and joyfully celebrated from the moment of conception to the moment of Passover.
Today we’re invited to join the shepherds and the magi for a moment and to contemplate the empty manger with them. We’re invited to envision the new world Jesus preached. Pray the prayer he taught us. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Hope! Hope for the day “when the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all the people shall see it together.”
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FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, November 29, 2020
ISAIAH 63:16B-17,9B; 64:2-7. 1 CORINTHIANS 1:3-9 MARK 13:33-37
We’re beginning this Season of Advent thinking about judgment. In the first reading of the day, the prophet Isaiah describes the sins of the people who have hardened their hearts and wandered away from God. He puts it this way. Speaking for them he says “we have become like unclean people, all our deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.” His words give us much to think about. His prophecy invites us to take an honest look at our personal lives and our corporate lives.
Often, when we think of sin, we only think of what we’ve done that offended God. This approach to sin comes from that part of our spiritual lives that’s still in its infancy. Our relationship with God is based on fear of punishment as a child would fear a strict parent.
Sometimes, when we think more deeply about these same sins, we come to the realization that we’re not offending God directly. When we sin, we sin against other people. We hurt them. Sin is the opposite of love. When we sin against another person we sin against love, and so we sin against God who IS love. This isn’t so much an offense as it is a refusal to love. This is a more mature way to think about sin in our lives.
When I make my examination of conscience, I can question myself about the decisions I make concerning my own well-being. Is
everything I do beneficial for me? Do I smoke? Do I drink too much? Am I overweight? Do I care for my health? I can also judge my interactions with others. Am I kind, understanding, compassionate, supportive, loving?
This is a productive way to examine our consciences. However, there’s another element to sin that we rarely acknowledge – corporate sin. It’s as worthy of judgment as any of our sins against ourselves and others. What is corporate sin?
Corporate sin is like a hidden fire that’s smoldering without our being aware of it. Until we personally see flame and are personally threatened by the fire we ignore it.
We need to recognize that we’re citizens of a city, a state, a country, and we’re citizens of the world. We tend to turn our attention away from our corporate responsibility and so we don’t include it in our examination of conscience. Corporate sin is society’s sin. Each of us is part of society and so we can never absolve ourselves from the sins of society.
To the great delight of the evil one – Americans are hating each other almost as much as we did during our Civil War. Hate is the direct opposite of love. This is sin – corporate sin. Here’s another example of corporate sin.
Our government, that’s us, is presently taking children from the arms of their parents, putting them in cages, ignoring their trauma, their terror, their illnesses. Our government hopes that these human sacrifices will teach a
lesson to anyone who want to cross our southern border illegally. Corporate sin deludes us into thinking that this isn’t my sin – it’s the sin of the people running my government. That sin is screaming out to God. My refusal to hear that scream is corporate sin. It’s as much my sin as the person who tears that child away from her parent’s arms.
As we end one liturgical year and begin a new one, I believe it’s most appropriate and important to make a serious examination of conscience on a mature level, and through the lens of our corporate responsibility. It takes tremendous bravery because acknowledging the sin isn’t enough. As the old catechism taught, a sin wasn’t forgiven until I “confessed my sin, did penance, and amended my life.” As a nation we’re not unified enough to even confess our sin. Never mind doing public penance. Never mind amending our corporate life.
Isaiah, speaking God’s message to us, gives us a word of hope in the darkness of our corporate lives. “There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt. Yet, O Lord, you are our father. We are the clay and you are the potter. We are the work of your hands.”
Let go! Don’t cling to what can’t heal our sin. Our government, our democratic party, our republican party, our socialist party, our green party isn’t ready to confess, do penance and make amends. The prophecy is telling us our only hope is for each of us to put ourselves in God’s hands – like clay in the hands of a potter. We’re being challenged to trust God. To believe that God is the father of love. To submit to love. To allow ourselves to be molded into a new person, individually and corporately. Let’s lift up Isaiah’s prayer every morning, every noon and every night.
“Lord, you are my father; you are our father. We are the clay; you are the potter. I submit myself to your creative hands. Mold me as you will. Use me to heal the world. Amen.”
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LAST SUNDAY OF THE LITURGICAL YEAR, November 22, 2020
EZEKIEL 34: 11-12. 1 CORINTHIANS 15: 20-26 MATTHEW 25: 31-46
“The great shofar is sounded, and a still small voice is heard. The angels tremble. Fear and dread seize them, and they exclaim: The Day of Judgment is here! All created beings pass before You, one by one, like a flock of sheep. As a shepherd examines his flock, making his sheep pass under his staff, so do You cause every living soul to pass before You. “(From a prayer recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur)
Jesus uses the imagery of the sheep passing under the shepherd’s crook from this wellknown prayer as the basis of his teaching on the Last Judgment. He paints a picture of “the Son of Man” separating humankind the way a shepherd separates sheep from the goats. The sheep enter eternal life, the goats, eternal punishment.
What’s so interesting about this teaching is Jesus’ criteria for judgment. It isn’t what immediately comes to mind. When I think of the great judgment day, I think of God judging sins like pride, greed, murder, theft, adultery, deception, pride, anger. But Jesus doesn’t go that way at all. Instead he, as judge, intimately links himself to suffering humanity. “I was ill. I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was a stranger. I was in prison. I was naked. You didn’t care for me. You didn’t feed me. You didn’t give me something to drink. You didn’t welcome me. You didn’t visit me. You didn’t clothe me.”
What he seems to be teaching is that the primary commandment that the human family is expected to adhere to is to care for one another’s basic needs. Maybe he’s saying that what we think of as sins are actually symptoms of a more profound sinfulness humanity’s disregard of the
Jesus presents this commandment that calls us to care for one another in a very personal and intimate way. I was hungry. YOU didn’t give me something to eat. He’s not condemning us for not setting up a welfare state to assure that everyone has enough to eat. He’s commissioning ME and YOU to reach out, to touch the lives of our suffering brothers and sisters.
The welfare systems we’ve constructed are dehumanizing and humiliating. My mother, a teenager during the great depression, told me of the times she wept because her family was forced to beg for food stamps. Is the situation any better today? Our welfare system has no compassion, no humanity, no heart.
On this Feast of Christ the King each of us stands in judgment before Christ. Each of us are being asked the same question. “When I was hungry, did you feed me?” Standing before him and hearing that question, how do you think you’ll be judged?
Whatever the answer may be, hopefully, he’ll give us another chance. Hopefully, he’ll say to us what he said to the adulterous woman he saved from the condemnation of the religious leaders, “Go, and sin no more.”
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THIRTHY-THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, November 15, 2020
PROVERBS 31:10-13. 1 THESSALONIANS 5:1-6. MATTHEW 25:14-30
The Gospel reading today is the well -known parable of the talents. It tells of a man who was going on a long journey. He divided his possessions among three of his servants. Two of them invested what was given to them and doubled it! They were rewarded for their work; they were given greater responsibilities. The third buried what was entrusted to him. He was punished by being thrown “into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
The key to our understanding the message of this parable is bound up with our definition of “talent.” Today we see the word “talent” and immediately think of our God-given abilities. It’s OK to interpret the parable that way, but it tends to limit the teaching by focusing it too much on our artistic, mental or physical abilities.
In Jesus’ day a talent was a measure of weight, about 75 of our pounds. Its value depended on what was being weighed, copper, gold or silver. In the parable one servant
Though this parable doesn’t begin with the well -known phrase, “the kingdom of God is like,” it IS a parable about the kingdom. God assesses our abilities and apportions the kingdom of God among us with the expectation that we’ll make our portion grow. It’s interesting that what God gives us needs to be given away if our portion of the kingdom is going to expand and grow.
Here’s another way of putting it. The kingdom is in each one of us. When we pour out our lives for the good of others, the kingdom begins to manifest itself. If we bury the kingdom within us, we’ve not only lost the opportunity to partner with God in transforming the world into the kingdom, the portion of the kingdom that was given to us will stagnate within us. We ourselves will be left outside the kingdom where we will mourn our missed opportunity with “wailing and grinding of teeth.”
PRAYER My Father in heaven I freely offer myself to you as your servant. I pray that I may assist you in transforming this struggling earth of ours into your kingdom of peace and harmony, of compassion and caring, of mutual respect and love. Amen.
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THIRTHY-SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, November 8, 2020
WISDOM 6:12-16. 1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18 MATTHEW 25:1-13
This time of the year is when we begin to see nature preparing for her winter sleep. It’s also the time when the Church presents us with scriptures that speak to us of death. This Sunday is one of them.
Saint Paul speaks directly to the topic in his first letter to the Thessalonians. “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” He assures us that, if we believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead, if we enter the paschal mystery with him, we’ll walk with him to glory.
The selection from the book of Wisdom adds an interesting nuance to this Sunday’s reflection on death. Wisdom “is readily perceived by those who love her…and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care.” Wisdom is presented as our hearts’ deep yearning for God. Wisdom is our search for God, our pathway to God and the divine reality itself. Wisdom is the light of hope within us.
The Gospel uses a marriage custom to teach a lesson about death. Newly married couples didn’t go on a honeymoon. Instead they celebrated with their close friends for several days or even a week. The festivities began with the arrival of the bridegroom. At an unscheduled time he and his entourage of friends began a procession through the streets. A drummer usually preceded them announcing his arrival to the entire neighborhood. They were greeted in the street by the bridesmaids who carried oil lamps that lit the street as the procession continued to the house where the bride was waiting. Once the bridegroom entered the house the doors were closed and the celebration began. No one was admitted after that.
In the parable some of the bridesmaids were foolish and didn’t bring extra oil for their lamps. Late into the night the bridegroom finally arrived. The wise bridesmaids jumped up, added oil to their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. The foolish ones, their lamps about to burn out, asked their wiser friends for some of their oil but they refused lest they themselves run out of oil. The foolish bridesmaids had to go to the town to purchase oil. It was too late, though. By the time they returned the bridegroom had arrived and the doors were closed. They missed the wedding celebration.
The moral of the parable is simple. At whatever time the bridegroom might come, each of us must be ready to greet him. We can’t rely on others to make up for our personal lack of preparation. We might state the moral this way: Live every day as if it were your last. But, and this is a serious but, this isn’t the same as, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”
For the Christian, being in constant readiness to meet the bridegroom means that we’re prepared to enter the paschal mystery every day and every moment of our lives. This means living in the light of wisdom. This means never fearing to die to my own ego so that I can be more alive for someone else. This is the path of wisdom. This is living the paschal mystery. This is the path to our longed-for glory.
I write this reflection not knowing the outcome of our national election. I know, however, that we have a great deal of work ahead of us, no matter who “wins.” We’ll still have to wear a mask. We’ll still have to struggle with social distancing. We’ll still have to suffer a Thanksgiving and Christmas alone or just with our live-in family. We’ll still be challenged to respond to “Black Lives Matter” and “Me Too.” We’ll still have to wrestle with our personal and institutional demons. We’ll still need the light of Wisdom to guide us. We’ll still need to muster all the courage we have to enter the cycle of death and resurrection.
How else can we hope to beat the pandemic? How else can we hope to rebuild our economy? How else can we ever hope to celebrate our equality? How else can we hope to love each other as brothers and sisters, each of us made in the magnificent image and likeness of God? How else can we, as a nation, ever hope to win? How else can we ever hope to become the beloved community? How else can we be light for the world?
- Published in Church Reflections
REFLECTION FOR THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS, November 1, 2020
REVELATION 7:2-4, 9-14 1. JOHN 3:1-3 MATTHEW 5:1
Over the past few weeks the Sunday gospels have led me to scrutinize the present state of our nation in the light of the Jesus message. Each week I grappled with the passage on two levels. How does the passage speak to the present situation of our Nation? And then, what could the passage offer as a healing remedy.
I was wondering what this Sunday’s passage was going to offer when I realized that we weren’t going to celebrate the 31st Sunday in Ordinary time. Instead we’re celebrating the Feast of All Saints. My God! Two days before our presidential election two and a half billion Christians throughout the world will be reading a scripture about the universal judgment! Let’s take a look at all three readings for this feast day.
The first reading is taken from the Book of Revelation. The great day of judgment is about to begin. The visionary, John, relates that the earth’s inhabitants, from the most powerful king to the lowliest slave, have gone into hiding in dread of that day. Four angels are poised to mete out the judgment when another angel arises from the East. He commands them not to begin until he has put the seal of the living God on the foreheads of the servants of God. (Think back to the scene in the exodus story when the angel of death is about to strike down all the first-born
males in Egypt. Moses seals the lintels of the Jewish homes with the blood of the Passover lamb to protect them from the judgment to come.)
The scene expands. John moves into a description of those gathered around the throne of God. It’s a vision of the great and wonderful day when the reign of God begins. There are 144,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel and an uncountable multitude “from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands…These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress: they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
The poetic beauty of this passage touches me each time I read it. The world, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, has gathered at the foot of God’s throne. They’ve been liberated from the enslaving grasp of the world. This is a vision of the new earth. The reign of God has begun. Its people stand redeemed and sealed with the glory of God’s love.
The second reading from the First Letter of John continues this theme. John declares that God’s love has made each of us children of the one God. He explains that the world, which does not know God, doesn’t recognize that we’re
brothers and sisters, the redeemed offspring of God.
The last scripture is the very well-known Beatitudes. Before I say anything about them I want to re-translate the word “blessed.” The meaning of the nine phrases becomes clearer if we translate “blessed” as “How happy!”
Each Beatitude is presented as a couplet. “How happy are…for they will… The first part announces a human reality or longing. How happy are those who are mourning. How happy are the meek. How happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. How happy are the merciful, and so on. The second part of each Beatitude tells us why we would be so happy.
“For theirs is the Kingdom of heaven…for they will be comforted…for they will inherit the earth. The first line of the couplet is spoken from earth. The second line is spoken from within the light of the kingdom of God.
In each of the Beatitudes earth is linked with heaven. Just as the scene from the Book of Revelation acknowledges “the time of great distress,” our battle against the negative energy of the world, so the Beatitudes acknowledges the longing of the human spirit for a world redeemed of selfishness and ego.
On the Feast of All Saints we celebrate our place in the kingdom of God. But we aren’t just thinking about the future when we will have passed over from this world to the world beyond the veil. Our longing for that redeemed and healed world is the beginning of its manifestation in our day and time. Day by day the children of God confront the distress and darkness of our egocentric world. We’re armed with the powerful vision of the new heaven and the new earth and supported by God’s unconditional love.
This feast day is reminding us not to settle for the world we’ve always known. There’s a new, redeemed world waiting to be born. As long as we feel powerless against the world the way it is today with its injustice, inequality, suffering and violence we strengthen that old energy. Jesus’ message in the Beatitudes is that if we look through the eyes of our souls, we’ll see past the old world of selflessness to the new world energized by love and compassion, caring and selflessness. Today we’re being invited to join forces with the Lamb in redeeming and healing the world.
Two days before our general election the Spirit has put these scriptures before us. The Beatitudes are the M.O. of the Christian. We carry within us the seed of the Kingdom of God. No matter how our elections go we must not forget that. A new world is in our vision – how happy are we.
- Published in Church Reflections
THE THIRTIETH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, October 25, 2020
EXODUS 22:20-26 1 THESSALONIANS 1:5C-10 MATTHEW 22:34-40
When asked which was the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus highlighted two verses in the Jewish Scripture. Both were very well known to everyone. This first is called the Shema after the first words of the verse, “Shema Yisrael.” It’s the foundational creed of Judaism and the center piece of every morning and evening prayer. It’s the first scripture every Jewish child puts to memory. It’s contained in the mezuzah that’s placed on the doorpost of every Jewish home. I’ll quote the entire verse. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). This call to love God is so central that Jewish tradition even presented Israel as the bride of God. “For he who has become your husband is your maker.” (Isaiah 54:5) The ideal, unconditional love of husband and wife is the definition of one’s relationship with God; it’s a love relationship.
Jesus added a second scripture verse to the Shema. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) Why did Jesus add this second verse? Wasn’t the verse from Deuteronomy powerful enough to stand on its own? Let’s think about it.
Most people, if asked, would say that they love God. If asked if they loved God with their whole heart, mind and soul, most people would say, “I try.” That’s a truthful, realistic answer because our love isn’t perfect yet.
Let’s think a bit more about this love. In the Christian tradition we confess that God IS love. If we were to say that we loved God with our whole heart, mind and soul we would be in heaven, our humanity purified of anything and everything that might distract our love. We would be one with God. Truthfully, I’m not there, and I don’t know of anyone who is. Here’s where the second verse comes in.
By uniting love-of-God with love-ofneighbor Jesus was giving us the path to heaven. The first letter of John explains the path – but it’s not an easy one to travel. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20-21) Maybe another way of putting it would be to say, “The extent to which I love my neighbor is the extent to which I love God.” Or, “I can’t love God more than I love my neighbor.” This is a tough teaching.
Today’s first reading from the book of Exodus gives examples of loving our neighbor. “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan…” The passage goes on with examples. All of them are challenging.
Right now, in our country and in most of Europe where populism is raising its dragon head, that first command is most a propos. Take note of the violent tribal wars in Africa and the seemingly never-ending PalestinianIsraeli conflict. The ancient wisdom in the book of Exodus needs to be heard today more than ever.
In our country we’ve been witnessing the uncovering of our national shadow. Many are frightened and disturbed by it. Racism and its twin, xenophobia, are the two shadow faces that have emerged. For a long time, we’ve managed to keep the shadow in our national unconscious even though it goes against every ideal we stand for as Americans.
For our nation to come to maturity we must admit that the shadow exists and wields tremendous power in our conscious,
everyday lives. We don’t like hearing about our sadistic immigration policies. But we’re hearing about them. We don’t like hearing about race and gender inequality. But movements like Black Lives Matter and Me Too won’t let us forget it.
As we come face to face with our national shadow we’re in position to address it nationally and personally. We mustn’t allow our fear, guilt and shame to prevent us from creatively confronting our shadow. We’re not in a bad place. We’re in one of the most creative moments in our history.
As a country we’re in the advanced stage of our adolescence. It’s time to begin the healing work of lovingly owning our shadow. It’s the only way we can tame its power. Mature individuals are aware of the good and bad in them, and work to nourish the good and heal the bad.
Jesus showed us the path to personal and national maturity. It’s the path of love. He never said it was an easy path. His cross is a constant reminder of that. It’s our time to stand up and begin the walk to a new and more mature world. Our national shadow is in plain view. We mustn’t be angry or disillusioned about that. We’re in the perfect place and the perfect time to move forward. It’s the perfect time to step out of our adolescence.
It’s never easy to take those first steps. Just take note of the national suffering we’re presently experiencing. But it’s time. The Spirit has brought us face to face with our shadow. It’s the time to heal and grow, to take our first steps toward maturity. The path is so clear and so well lit. Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… and your neighbor as yourself. Hand in hand let’s take our first step into the light.
- Published in Church Reflections