For the past two weeks we’ve been reading chapter six of Luke’s gospel, the presentation of Jesus’ central teaching, the kingdom of God is here. He began with four beatitudes and four contrary woes. They were followed by a string of practical interpretations: a call to love our enemies, to lend without expecting repayment, to forgive people who have hurt us, to cease all condemnation of others, to be as merciful as God.
These beatitudes and teachings spotlight the characteristics of the citizens of the kingdom. If we’re brave enough to listen to them with the ears of our hearts, these teachings will pose an existential challenge to us because these life principles are in total opposition to our most natural inclinations. But they can liberate us from the prison we call the world. They’re the keys to the kingdom of God.
This last portion of the teaching that we read today, takes on a different energy. The gentle principles of the beatitudes suddenly rise up clad in armor ready to do battle with the world along two fronts: our every-day, secular life and our personal, interior life.
The first battle. “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall in to a pit?” How many wars do we have to fight, and how many millions have to suffer and die, before we realize that no one wins a war? It seems, at times, that we want to make sure that the poor are always with us. What will it take for us to feel responsibility for each others welfare? The world is filled with blind guides who convince us that they have all the answers. When will we take off our blindfolds and begin to walk by the guiding light of the kingdom?
The second battle. “No disciple is superior to the teacher.” Insight and understanding are an eternal quest. Never stop questioning. Never stop learning. Never stop changing.
The third battle. “Remove the wooden beam from your own eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” The world possesses each of us. We’ve come to call this our original sin. It convinces us that the problems we have, and the suffering we experience, are caused by other people, other nations, other ideologies. To free ourselves from this cycle of scapegoating and suffering, each of us must fight a battle for liberation within ourselves. Only to the extent we battle our own demons will we be able to celebrate the freedom of the kingdom of God with others.
A final litmus test. “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit.” This calls for an honest assessment of ourselves, first of all, then of the guides we’ve chosen to follow, and finally, the society we live in. This will be a painful exercise if we do it honestly. The world has taught us to scapegoat. The world has taught us to accept our blindness. Seeing the light of truth can be painful, like walking out of a dark tunnel into the brilliant light of day. It may take a while for the eyes of our hearts to adjust, but when they do, we’ll get the first glimpse of the kingdom of God. We’ll be able to begin nourishing ourselves with the wisdom of the beatitudes.
Recently, I was given a copy of the first and second seasons of the TV series, The Chosen. It is a series dramatizing the life and teachings of Jesus. It can be streamed on YouTube. It’s absolutely wonderful. I’m sure many of you have seen it. The person portraying Jesus was mesmerizing. He presented Jesus as a real person, laughing, crying, loving, angry, sometimes tired, or even exhausted by the work he was doing. He only spoke a few words at the end of the first episode but they gripped my heart. I listened to the words he spoke, words I’ve read so many times. Somehow, they touched me in a way they never have before. I teared up with emotion. I’ve spoken with others who have had the same reaction.
This experience made me realize something. I’ve studied the teachings of Jesus. I know them, and I teach them. But somehow, I’ve never really connected them to the living person of Jesus. There was something about Jesus that drew people to him, something that made a deep impression on them. They listened to his little stories and heard a
message that changed their lives. If I was moved to tears listening to an actor speak them, I would truly have been a basket case if I heard the teaching coming directly from his lips.
As I read the scripture passages for today I realized that the entire gospel passage consisted of quotes, short teachings of Jesus’ that were meant to root the beatitudes in the lives of the everyday people he was addressing. His teachings are concise and easily remembered.
I made the decision that, today, I wasn’t going to deliver a traditional homily to shed MY light on the gospel passage. Since the entire gospel passage consists of one short teaching after another, I thought I would get out of the way and simply read the teaching. There’s nothing I could possibly add to make his teaching more profound.
So, I’m going to invite the congregation to close their eyes and imagine the face of Jesus. Bring him down to earth through this visualization. Look at his face and listen while he speaks. I believe that God will reveal the face that each one needs to see.
Then slowly, and with utmost respect, I’m going to read his teachings. I’m going to ask the congregation to try not to be distracted by my voice, a voice that they’re all too familiar with. I’m going to ask them to try to look at the face of Jesus and to listen to HIM share a teaching with each one of us.
WE’LL BEGIN WITH A PRAYER:
Jesus, my Lord and my God, I close my eyes and gaze on your face, an infant face with closed eyes and moist lips. I see your face wide with teenage laughter. I see your face dripping sweat as you dance at a wedding in Cana. I see your face reflecting candlelight as you divide the loaf of bread. I see your face wet with pain. I see your face ablaze with resurrection light. Lord Jesus, open my eyes that I might see your lips as you speak your message to me.
To you who hear, I say…
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.
(pause – look at the face of Jesus and listen)
Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do
not demand it back.
(pause – look – listen)
Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.
(pause – look – listen)
If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful as your Father is merciful.
(pause – look – listen)
Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.
(pause – look – listen)
Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.
And so it is. Amen. Thank you Lord.
Let’s begin with Luke’s chronology leading up to the sermon on the mount, the focus of our reflection today. Jesus had left his group of close disciples and retired to an isolated area atop a high hill where he spent the night in prayer. In the morning he returned only to find that his group of disciples had been joined by many more. In addition, inquisitive Jews from Judaea and Jerusalem joined them along with Gentiles from the coastal areas of Tyre and Sidon, today’s Lebanon. Many came to him seeking healing. Some believed that if they could only touch him, they would be cured by the power that came out of him. But before he addressed the crowd, he chose twelve men out of this large group. He called them apostles.
It might be helpful to clarify the difference between a disciple and an apostle. A disciple is a student who has been invited by a rabbi to join his group of students. An apostle, apostolos in Greek, is an envoy or ambassador, one who is sent on a mission to a foreign country. Jesus was beginning to assign roles among this new community of followers.
“Raising his eyes toward his disciples,” Jesus began his most important teaching. The beatitudes, and the woes that follow, laid out the fundamental principles of the
new society that Jesus envisioned. He called it the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. What he envisioned was a total reversal of the world as we know it.
For your reflection, I’m going to match each beatitude with its woeful counterpart. That will give us the black and white of his teaching. I’ll follow that with a related teaching from the Gospel, and a question or two that might assist your reflection. Here is a suggested guide for your reflection.
The first teaching:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
“No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:13)
The first reflection. Do you think you’re poor? Do you think you’re rich? How does your gut react to this teaching?
The second teaching:
“Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.” “But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.”
“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. (Luke 12:22-23)
The second reflection: Have you ever been in a situation when you didn’t know where your next meal was coming from? What was it like when things changed? If you haven’t been in that position think about what it might be like for the millions who face this situation every day. What are the feelings that arise from this beatitude?
The third teaching:
“Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.” “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.”
Teaching three. “Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of a Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.” (Luke 7:36-38)
The third reflection. Are you weeping? What are you weeping about? Are you laughing? What’s the source of your joy? How do you share in the sorrows and joys of others?
The fourth teaching:
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.” “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in the same way.”
“They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony.” (Luke 21:12-13)
The fourth reflection. Have you ever suffered because you’re a disciple of Jesus? Has it ever been painful for you to give testimony to the Truth?
The beatitudes and their corresponding woes are Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of God. He taught that it was already here in germinal form, slowly manifesting itself on earth through sacrificial love. He modeled that love in his life, and his death on the cross.
Jesus didn’t give us an easy path to follow. He was serious when he taught us: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke:9 23)
The cross we wear around our neck isn’t just a pretty talisman. It’s a reminder to the one who wears it, and the people who look at it, that the kingdom of God is near. It challenges us to manifest the kingdom by loving as Jesus loved – sacrificially.
The story of the call of Simon and the miraculous catch of fish is the subject of our reflection today. Here’s how we get to this account. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is just beginning his ministry. He announced himself as the Messiah in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. The people rejected him and even tried to kill him. He left Nazareth and went to Capernaum. The people in that synagogue accepted his teaching. While he was there he liberated a man possessed by an unclean spirit who cried out, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” From that moment on, the word about Jesus began to spread like wildfire. He left the synagogue and went to Simon’s house and cured his mother-in-law who was very ill with a fever. He continued his travels through Judea. He cured many people along the way. Demons often witnessed to him as he exorcised them by crying out, “You are the Son of God!”
He began preaching along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, a large body of water, thirteen miles long and eight miles wide and very deep, six hundred and eighty feet deep at its lowest point. Many fishing towns surrounded the lake.
As the crowd listening to Jesus began to grow, he looked around and saw two boats along the shore. They belonged to Simon and his partners, Zebedee and his sons, James and John. He asked
Zebedee and his sons, James and John. He asked to use one of the boats as a stage so that the people might hear him better.
When he had finished teaching he told Simon to take the boat out to deeper water and to cast his nets. Fishing was often done at night and Simon was just coming off a very unsuccessful night. He had caught nothing. Reluctantly, Simon obeyed the request. To everyone’s surprise, there was such a tremendous catch that Simon had to call his partners to bring their boats over to assist him. The catch filled both boats!
The event threw Simon and the others for a loop. Simon fell to his knees overwhelmed by an intense sense of sinfulness. The others stood there, struck with astonishment. Jesus reassured them telling them, “Do not be afraid.” He then said something they probably didn’t quite understand at the time, “From now on you will be catching men.” But the event, and Jesus’ words, were so powerful that “when they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.”
Why did Jesus tell these fishermen not to be afraid? It seems a bit strange, doesn’t it? After a bit of research, I discovered that the phrase is used 365 times in the New Testament. What’s so frightening? Jesus cured people, and liberated people from demonic possession. His message was one of love and compassion, of forgiveness and inclusion. This account can throw some light on the question.
In the account of the great catch of fish, Jesus called Simon and Andrew, and James and John, to follow him. They didn’t know what that would entail. They were awestruck by the miracle. The invitation seemed like a privilege; the teacher was calling THEM. But they would discover that following him for the next three years wasn’t going to be a piece of cake. It would take them from their families. They would have no place to call home. They would survive on hand outs or little jobs they got along the way. They would be hated by some just as Jesus was. They would suffer persecution and be expelled from the synagogues. Eventually, eleven of the twelve apostles would suffer martyrdom. Meeting Jesus was wonderful, but saying yes to his invitation was going to be the greatest challenge of their lives.
Pope John Paul II, addressing the massive crowds that attended his Masses and gatherings around the world, often quoted Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid.” Pope Francis repeats those same words. They’re directed to every person who hears in his or her heart, the invitation, “Follow me.” It’s the greatest moment in a person’s life, but it’s the scariest, too. Where will the path lead?
In his call to follow fearlessly Jesus was asking the apostles, and us, to trust in God – to trust totally and completely. The catch of fish was a prophetic act. It was teaching us that by placing ourselves in God’s hands, and allowing ourselves to be guided by God, we would see tremendous and unheard-of things. Through our faith, God would gather humankind in an embrace of divine love.