Sunday, November 07, 2021

Homily Notes for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

               Many churches often have Stewardship Renewal drives around this time of year, with St. Michael’s beginning its drive in mid-October. Talks or homilies on stewardship during this time of year often utilize the imagery of the fall harvest season because stewardship is often a time to take stock of God’s bounty-both spiritually and materially-and plan accordingly as to how much a family or individual is willing to commit to giving to the parish in the coming year of their time, talent, and treasure.

The Mass readings today are picked in part to reinforce that theme of the importance of giving to God’s work through the church out of the bounty God has given to us. The question in the back of some people’s minds as they listen to stewardship appeals often is not touched upon in depth by the preacher or speaker discussing the importance of stewardship, however. That question is best summed up as, “If God is all powerful, why does He need my money?” The readings today beautifully answer that question.

In the strictest sense, God does not need material things as He has no physical needs. God created all the resources that humans have turned into valuable commodities like gold, silver, and precious gems. If God does not need wealth, why then does God ask us to give to the poor, the Church, and to charity so often in Scripture?  The answer is found in the poor widows in both the Old Testament and Gospel readings. In both the reading from 1st Kings and the reading from Mark, the widows offer to God what they have. The widow of Zarephath offers Elijah the food she has left. In the Gospel story, Jesus witnesses and later remarks upon a widow putting in her last small coin into the collection basket.

In both instances, these small gifts are all the givers have, and yet they trust God enough that their gift is truly given out of selfless love. In much the same way that a young child picks dandelions as a bouquet for their mothers, these widows offer God all they have. And like a mother who has no material need for a handful of dandelions, God accepts those gifts because they came from the very heart of those widows. The gift itself, while not worth much in the grand scheme of human economics, is given with such great affection as to make it all the more precious in God’s sight than a treasure chest full of gold because as the old saying goes, “money can’t buy you love.” Let us give thanks this season that we serve a God who understands and appreciates the meaning of selfless love because He modeled it for us on the cross.

 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Homily Notes for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

               Today’s readings all center around the great command that God gives to the Israelites through Moses, which is recounted today in the reading from Deuteronomy. This final book of the Torah is a collection of Moses’ great sermons near the end of his life where he recounts the great deeds God has done for His people and reiterates the Law and the 10 Commandments that came to them on Mount Sinai. The command that is given today is known in Judaism as the Great Shema, which is the word in Hebrew meaning “to hear.” The Shema has a very central place in theology and daily prayer practice of Jews to this day.  

The actual words of the command are notoriously hard to translate into English because written Hebrew omits the verbs. The actual words in the command in the original text in Hebrew is only four words. This can be translated any number of ways. The traditional Jewish translation is “The Lord your God, the Lord is one.” The command can also be translated in various ways ranging from “The Lord your God is the only Lord” to “The Lord God is Lord alone.” Regardless of how one parses the words, there does seem to be a central emphasis on the unique oneness of God as well as the fact that God is Lord. This idea was so central that the Bible commanded Jews to recite this command at least twice a day in their morning and evening prayers and are also the last words that Jews are suppose to say as a prayer litany as they are physically dying. 

In the gospel passage from Mark today, Jesus is being tested by a scribe. Mark uses a very unusual title in Greek for this Scribe that other Gospel writers never use with the Scribes. Mark refers to him as a grammateus, which was a specific Roman governmental job of keeper of public documents. While this Scribe was also apparently a devout Jewish man, he also worked for the Romans as what we would now call a registrar of deeds. Jesus boldly proclaims that the greatest of all commandments that God ever gave to His people is the Great Shema where you proclaim that God is your Lord and love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus goes on to say that if you are doing that and truly mean it, then it should be second nature that you love your neighbor as yourself because your neighbor is someone made in the likeness and image of that God you are professing to love with all your being.

The Scribe is very taken with this answer because this is precisely the legal language that was incorporated into legal documents like wills, written oaths, and marriage contracts that would satisfy devout Jews who did not wish to invoke pagan deities in their legal transactions as was common Roman practice but also satisfied Roman law insofar as things sworn on oath like covenants had to invoke the help of the divine in keeping the contract. This is why Jesus responds that the Scribe is “not far from the Kingdom of God” because the Scribe is doing the will of God and helping his fellow men as a secular clerk in the Roman courts. Jesus is implying that you don’t have to be a rabbi or super holy person to do the will of God. You simply do the vocation God calls you to by loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. As Christians, we believe we accomplish this Great Commandment by hearing the words of Jesus and following Him as Lord and loving others as He chose to love. 

 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time homily notes

                 An enigma is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as a mysterious person, event, or thing that is difficult to understand or explain. The Bible readings today are full of themes and images that at first glance appear to be enigmatic. These readings, however, ultimately point to a greater theological truth about God.

                 In the Old Testament reading, the Prophet Jeremiah was often an enigma that the people around him rarely understood. He often came off as gloomy and usually had messages that few people wanted to hear. God was constantly having Jeremiah preach repentance or face the dire consequences of Divine judgment. This was a message that made Jeremiah extremely unpopular. Jeremiah’s words today were preached in the immediate aftermath of God’s judgment that came in the form of military destruction at the hands of a hostile foreign army. Instead of gloating, however, Jeremiah almost inexplicably changes tones and offers beautifully pastoral words of comfort to captives in the form of a reminder that God is in control and will eventually restore the faithful remnant of His People to their rightful place of honor as His holy people.

  The Letter to the Hebrews makes reference to one of the most unusual characters in the whole Bible. Melchizedek appears only briefly in Genesis as Abraham is out wandering. Melchizedek appears to be some sort of king and priest who worships the same God. The Bible even specifically refers to him as “a priest of God Most High.” He offers hospitality to Abraham and gives him a blessing but then completely disappears from the Biblical narrative. Whom Melchizedek was and how God was working through him is a complete enigma. The writer of Hebrews clearly says that Jesus was a priest of the order of Melchizedek, and as such was able to offer Himself as the living sacrifice on the cross to the glory of God the Father.  

The Gospel reading from Mark offers yet another mysterious character in the person of Bartimaeus. The literal name itself is a combination of both an Aramaic and a Greek word. “Bar” in Aramaic means “son of” while Timaeus is a Greek word meaning “honorable person.” Timaeus was also a well known character in one of the Greek philosopher Plato’s dialogues. In that writing of Plato, that Timaeus character is discussing with Plato how the universe came into being and suggests that the first cause of creation must have been set into motion by a “father god.” So, it is not without literary irony that a Blind Bartimaeus, whose name means “Son of Honorable Person,” appears in Mark and points out what everyone with physical sight is missing: that Jesus has the power to bring light to his eyes because that is something only a creator god can do. Timaeus was a faceless, no-name person yet in spite of his blindness, he knows exactly who Jesus is: the Son of David, the promised one. By calling out and being healed by Jesus, Bartimaeus becomes an actual son of an honorable person as a child of the Most High God through His Son, Jesus.

All these readings today point to the mystery that Christ opens our eyes. By Christ’s sacrifice, we can put aside the distracting voices and sins that try to take us away from God’s message. Christ helps us put aside the selfish ideas that keep us from the Gospel. Christ makes us what we are created to be, gives us what we need, and makes us lights for the world for the glory of God the Father.

 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time homily notes

     Servant Leadership became a popular business model in the corporate world some years ago. There are even renowned business schools that offer advanced degrees in the philosophy supposedly grounded in the concept that the goal of the leader is to serve. The modern concept seems to have originated with a secular essay by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970, but government officials and even some monarchs have fancied themselves as public servants for centuries. Christians going back to the 1st Century have long understood this idea because Jesus introduced the very concept of servant leadership to everyday human endeavor by His very words and actions.    

    The problem with the secular philosophy of servant leadership is the fact that servants are often treated very poorly. While the idea sounds very good and selfless on the surface and might even make for great public relations slogans, very few people respond well when they actually get treated like servants. This idea is at the heart of what the Mass readings are speaking about today.

    All three readings today easily fit as readings for Lent because the image of Christ as the suffering servant who freely offers himself as a ransom for many is one of the central images of Christ’s passion that we hear during Holy Week. This image of Christ has roots in passages like today’s reading from Isaiah, which specifically has several chapters that  speak directly about a suffering servant. This unnamed servant “gives his life as an offering for sin” so that “the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.” Christians from the very earliest centuries have always looked to these passages and immediately seen them as a direct foreshadowing of Jesus on the Cross.

    Christian ideals of a servant leader are grounded in the idea that Christ freely and willingly offered Himself. He was not forced to endure the cross nor did He passively accept it. The Letter to the Hebrews today makes clear that Jesus actively offered Himself to perfectly fulfill both the role of high priest but also of sacrifice, as a perfect offering to God the Father, freely given on our behalf. 

    In today’s gospel from Mark, Jesus has just finished giving a prophecy of this upcoming sacrifice of Himself on the cross. James and John blithely offer to share in the same power that Jesus has and become servant leaders without the vaguest idea of what true servant leadership and sacrifice truly means.  Jesus clearly lays out what true servant leadership in the Kingdom of God entails and grants James and John their wish, to the indignation of the other disciples there present. All the disciples will eventually learn that true Christian leadership is, in fact, not about gaining power but fully and freely embracing the same self sacrificial love that Jesus personified with His Passion on the Cross.

 

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time homily notes

    Presumption can often lead people into very dangerous or sticky situations. Humans have a capacity to convince ourselves that as long as we can do the bare minimums and master the basics, we have accumulated a sufficient amount of knowledge to be in control of all situations that can arise in a given context. Sadly, this sense of control is quite often illusory when serious problems arise. The Bible readings for Mass today remind us that this presumption of mastering the bare minimums is especially ineffective with it comes to love because love simply cannot operate effectively in that way.

    The Old Testament reading from the Book of Wisdom is speaking metaphorically about the love of Divine wisdom. The wisdom that God gives is something so precious that this book personifies it, much in the same way as Time is personified as an old man at New Year’s Eve parties or the statue of a blindfolded Lady Justice is found on a courthouse lawn. Divine Wisdom must be loved and accepted in its entirety because simply choosing the parts of God’s Wisdom that we like while rejecting all the parts we dislike is a recipe for folly.

    The Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews likewise personifies the word of God as a two edged sword. Many people take this verse to mean solely the written Bible as the word of God. While the written Old Testament had certainly been compiled by this point, what would become the canon of the New Testament had not been fully written yet and was not fully agreed to by the whole Church for another few centuries. What this passage is referring to is not just the written word of God, but the living word of God made manifest in the person of Jesus. Christ was the logos, the Word, that was made flesh and dwelt among us. We encounter Jesus’ love both in the Eucharist and in the written word, the Bible.

    In the Gospel reading from Mark, a young man runs up to Jesus, kneels before him, and truly wants to embrace the Divine wisdom that Jesus is offering. Jesus is so filled with compassion for the young man, the text says that Jesus looked at him and immediately loved him. The young man enthusiastically longs for eternal life and presumes that he has mastered all the basics of God’s commandments and so therefore is worthy to be given all of Christ’s Divine wisdom. Unfortunately, Christ quickly shows the young man that simply doing the bare minimum is not a path that leads to true love and wisdom because Christ tells him he lacks one thing: to give his wealth to the poor and come follow Jesus. The boy cannot at this point embrace this aspect of what God asks of him and goes away sad. The Gospel never tells us what becomes of the boy, but one early Church tradition says much later in life, the boy as an old man had a change of heart and finally did what Jesus asked in his youth and embraced the true meaning of embracing all of God’s wisdom, not just the parts he liked in his youth. Let us give thanks that God’s wisdom is always there for us to encounter in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh.