“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms…for where your treasure is there you heart will be.” This message just about says it all. We would do well to listen to it with and open mind and open heart.
Fear is an issue in the Christian experience. The New Testament was written between the year 50 AD when St. Paul began writing his letters to the churches, and the year 110 AD when the writings of John were completed. In that body of literature, the phrase “do not be afraid” occurs 365 times! Let’s look over this period of time.
Christians endured two waves of persecution during this period. The first wave came from the Jewish authorities. St. Paul, before his conversion, and other ultraorthodox Jews were opposed to the messianic movement within Judaism which came to be called Christianity. The second wave began after the Christians were expelled from membership in the synagogue in 50 AD. Until the 4 th century AD Jews held a unique position in the Roman empire. They were exempt from the obligation to offer incense to the Emperor if they paid a special yearly tax. When the Christians were excommunicated from Judaism, they lost the privilege of not having to offer incense to the Emperor. This initiated periodic persecutions until the emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD legalizing Christianity.
During those 60 years while the New Testament was being written, the Christian community was experiencing various levels of persecution throughout the Roman Empire. Fear was a part of everyday life then. But even today, large segments of Christians live with the fear of persecution. North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, India, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Cameroon, South Sudan and Ethiopia are at the top of the list.
We’re lucky to be able to believe what we believe, and to feel perfectly safe to gather for meetings and worship. But his message goes beyond a fear of persecution. Jesus’
words are directed to us, too. So, let’s ask, right now, what ignites the spark of fear in us. Is it lack of financial security? Is it illness? Is it a deteriorating relationship? Is it moving to a new city? Is it losing a job? Is it the death of a loved one? Is it the political situation? Is it violence? Is it the threat of war? Is it famine? Is it global warming? It is all of these and more? What’s Jesus offering us instead of fear? I believe it’s peace.
Looking at Jesus’ last days we see him battling his own fear. Witness the suffering he experienced in the garden of Gethsemane. Three times he prayed, “your will be done.” When he finished his prayer, he submitted to his arrest. He was at peace with himself and with his Father.
A few hours before his arrest Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” He was saying this from the place of his inner peace. His world was coming down around him. He knew his closest disciples would soon abandon him. He knew that his death was near. He knew he would suffer horribly, but he had deep inner peace – the peace that came from uniting with his Father’s will. At his last supper Jesus gifted this peace to his disciples. It would manifest itself during the Pentecost event.
The Spirit brought the flame of courage, and the mighty wind of strength to the disciples. They would preach Jesus to their enemies. They would joyfully suffer for his name. With his peace in their hearts they would bravely confront every obstacle and threat.
We would do well to ponder Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock.” We’re afraid of so many things. We need to return to the Pentecost experience. We need to pray for courage and strength. It may not eliminate the existential threats that challenge us, but the Spirit’s gift of peace can prepare us to confront them. In spite of the fears that threaten us we can be courageous, we can remain strong. Today, let’s pray for the peace Jesus promised us – peace of mind and heart.
It was common practice in Jesus’ day, and still today in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities, to bring legal issues to a rabbi. However, Jesus made it clear to the person who asked him to mediate an inheritance issue that he would not be a judge or arbiter. What he did, though, was to spin a parable about a rich farmer who had a super bountiful harvest. He prefaced the parable with a caution. “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
The farmer built new barns to store the excess grain that his harvest yielded. It was such a great harvest that it would set him up for life. The rich farmer had lived a great life, and due to this particular harvest, he could continue the lifestyle he was enjoying until his death. From now on, he could strut down Easy Street. He was very pleased with himself! But there was something he didn’t know. This would be his last day on earth. I’m sure that everyone in the audience let out a collective sigh when they heard this. Jesus then ended the parable with a with a moral. “Thus, will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
This particular parable often falls on deaf ears because it seems to go against our instincts. Nobody wants to be poor. Nobody wants to be financially insecure. Today, the media puts us all on alert by reminding us every hour of the day that the money we have is worth less as inflation rises. If we’re lucky enough to have savings, we’re panicking because the stock market is so volatile. Banks are paying almost no interest on deposits.
Poor families and the elderly are deeply anxious as they hear talk of ending Social Security and cutting food stamp programs and welfare.
Though this parable is aimed at the rich, everyone, rich and poor alike, would do well to contemplate the bottom line of Jesus’ message. We’re all called to be “rich in what matters to God.”
You may have noticed that the man in the parable is thinking only of himself. He had a great harvest and was ready to set up a comfortable life for himself. He wasn’t doing anything that was bad in itself. He was just self-centered. He was like the rich man in the parable of the man who feasted every day while Lazarus, a poor, sick beggar, sat outside longing for the food that dropped from the table. His sin wasn’t that he feasted every day. His sin was that he never saw the poor man starving at his doorstep.
Jesus is calling to all of us, rich and poor alike, to be conscious of one another. We’ve trained ourselves not to see the person lying in the street. We’re annoyed and put off by a relative or friend who asks us for financial help. We don’t want to get involved. We want to be comfortable, and we definitely don’t want to get involved in other people’s problems.
Today’s parable is reminding us that life is a communal experience. “Being rich in what matters to God” means being aware of those around us. It means being rich in compassion. It means that our wealth isn’t stored in barns or banks; it’s stored in the heart.
We’re thinking about prayer today. In the first reading from the book of Genesis we see an interesting form of prayer. Abraham is having a conversation with God, or perhaps it might be more correct to call it an interrogation.
Things look very bad for the corrupt city of Sodom. God has shared with Abraham that he’s planning to destroy it as punishment for its sins. In this prayer, Abraham, who has only recently come to know God, is trying to get a handle on God. Is this a capricious, undisciplined God or a just God? So, Abraham begins what seems like an endless string of questions. Will you destroy the city if there are 50 good people there? 45? 40? 30? 20? 10? The prayer, conversation, interrogation, ends when God says that the city will not be destroyed if there are 10 righteous people living there.
So, the prayer leads Abraham to a deeper understand of God. In this scene, we see Abraham’s inner child engaging his heavenly Father. His conversation reveals God’s fatherly patience and loving acceptance.
This example of prayer reminds us that when we don’t understand the terrible things that happen in the world we can question God. It doesn’t mean that we have a lack of faith; it means we’re troubled, and looking for answers to our questions. When we were children we asked lots of questions of our parents. Some answers we received we understood and accepted, others didn’t satisfy us; they only brought up more questions. So, we asked more questions. This is one type of prayer.
In the gospel passage Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples. He begins with a blessing: “Father, hallowed be your name.” This is the opening line for all Jewish prayers: “Baruch ata Adonai.” Blessed are you, Lord. Our offertory prayers over the bread and wine follow this structure. “Blessed are you Lord God of all creation for through your goodness you have given us this bread to offer which earth has given and human hands have made.” We bless God and then acknowledge God’s blessings to us. Jesus’ entire prayer may be prayed in that way.
Father, hallowed by your name – your kingdom come.
Father, hallowed be your name – give us each day our daily bread (bread for our table and the bread of the Eucharist.)
Father, hallowed be your name – forgive us our sins because we forgive everyone’s sins against us.
Father, hallowed be your name – do not subject us to the final test. (the agony you suffered in the garden.)
Jesus continues his teaching about prayer by emphasizing the importance of persistence in prayer, as Abraham was persistent. He concludes with a teaching we all know by heart. So, today, as we reflect on prayer, let’s takes that final teaching to heart. Blessed are you, Lord our God, for you have given us this teaching on prayer.
“Ask and you will receive. Seek and your will find. Knock and the door will be opened for you.”
We begin our reflection with one of the most famous biblical stories about hospitality. Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent trying to catch a bit of breeze. He suddenly saw three men standing nearby. He rushed to them, greeted them, and pleaded with them to stop to refresh themselves with some water and some food. He called for the servants to wash their feet and told Sarah to make bread. Then he ran to his herd of cattle and picked out a choice steer for dinner. When all was prepared, Abraham waited on the three visitors. His extravagant hospitality was rewarded with a monumental promise. Sarah would give birth to a son in a year’s time.
We continue our reflection with a second famous story about hospitality, the story of Mary and Martha. But this story has a twist. Jesus was teaching in their home. Martha, attuned to the obligation of hospitality, was frantically trying to prepare food and drink for all the guests. Her sister, Mary, had abandoned her and was scandalously sitting with the men who were listening to Jesus. Martha, quite brazenly, marched up to Jesus, interrupting his teaching. She then reprimanded him for not sending Mary back to assist her.
Jesus told Martha that she was “anxious and troubled about many things.” Maybe her problem wasn’t a hospitality issue. Could it be that she was jealous of Mary, the rebel, who had, as Jesus told Martha, “chosen the better part?”
The reward for Martha’s hospitality – opening her home to Jesus and offering water and snacks to his guests – had a built-in reward. She had a chance to listen to the teaching of Jesus, his proclamation of the kingdom of God.
Our lesson for today. Hospitality from the heart is a sacred labor blessed by God. Hospitality, though difficult at times, brings with it a blessed reward. If we only take a look, we might see the reward staring us in the face.
A FINAL THOUGHT FROM THE SCRIPTURE
“Let your love for one another continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:1)