20 SEPTEMBER 2020: TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Rembrandt 1637, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[The landowner said], am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? 
Are you envious because I am generous?’    Matthew 20:15.

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Last Sunday I mentioned that forgiveness runs like a golden thread through the gospels. There is another: generosity, beginning at the top: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And we are reminded that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). And on and on: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have…” (Hebrews 13:16). And so the message is clear, especially if you live in a wealthy country and are comfortably off. In fact, there is even another parable about that, Lazarus the beggar at the gate of the rich man who gave him nothing (Luke 16:20). And remember, even if you are poor, there is the story of the impoverished widow who gave her last penny to the Temple (Luke 21:1-4). So to be a good Christian is to be a generous person, and to do it joyfully! Today’s gospel underlines this teaching rather spectacularly. As a parable, there is an underlying reality represented by the elements in the story. The vineyard is the world, the workers, us, the payment at the end of the day, the heavenly reward, and the landowner, God. In any city, I imagine, it is not difficult to find groups of men hanging around on a street corner in a poorer part of the city, waiting to be hired for the day to do manual work. That is the setting for today’s parable. Although most of us will have a job, a career, a calling of some sort, we would not be used to hanging around hopefully in the early morning waiting to be hired. But in another sense, we might well be. It is the landowner who approaches the laborers and enquires why they are hanging around. He then invites them to work in his vineyard. Wouldn’t that be God asking our souls why they are hanging around doing nothing, slowly starving for spiritual nourishment? The ones who are hanging around later in the day might be those who have tried various spiritual adventures, and have found them all lacking. To work for the landowner in his vineyard is the vocation they have been after all their lives, and at last here it is. They remain there, and receive their rewards. It was the answer to their hopes and prayers. “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near” says today’s first reading. St. Paul says “If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me” in the second reading. So the message is pretty clear. We work for the Lord, we happily share what we earn, and we anticipate a generous welcome when our days are done. 

And then there are the others in the parable: “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.” I think it is pretty easy to understand the outrage of those workers who have slaved since dawn and received the identical wage as those who joined them an hour or so before the day ended. Surely they should receive more? The landowner, with clear logic, explains they all agreed to the wage offered; he was happy to give that to everyone; where’s the problem? (Some scholars point out that a full day’s wage was necessary for everyone so that they could feed their families). He also asks if they are upset at his generosity…. Clearly, yes they are. I am reminded now of the criminal crucified alongside the Lord, who understood why he was so barbarically punished, who asked forgiveness for his sins, which the Lord readily gave, and he entered paradise that day. There is the other Scriptural message which states, “…there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:10), or should we say “who think they do not need to repent…”? It is very easy to justify lack of generosity in troubled times, and to forget that story of the widow’s mite….

So we are called to help others, the practical side of loving one’s neighbor, in obedience to God’s call. Generosity is the measurable way, as it were, to estimate how good we are at being Christian. As Catholics, be aware of the research which states we are among the least generous of Christians, and this from research conducted at Notre Dame University! So today we are all called to a brutal self-examination of where we stand in light of today’s gospel. How practical in fact are we in living out the Number One Rule: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Pretty clear.

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Heaven’s Balcony, Ron DiCianni 2003, ChristCenteredMall

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

13 SEPTEMBER 2020: TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Self-Forgiveness, VeryWellMind. 

To read today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.   Matthew 18:21-22.

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It could be said that the theme of forgiveness runs like a golden thread throughout Jesus’ ministry. From Peter’s confession upon meeting Jesus for the first time, ” Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8), which he clearly meant, but which Jesus ignored, thus forgiving him, through to the cross itself, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34), it is a constant theme. The parable Jesus tells today clearly shows that forgiveness is expected of everyone no matter what. To be Christian is to be one who forgives. To be a follower of Christ means revenge is an unknown. When Jesus says you must forgive seventy times (or “seventy times seven times”, a translation I think is preferable), Jesus means always, without exception. That means that even though we might be in utter turmoil over that which must be forgiven, or that there is crushing pain involved, even then, a Christian forgives. It ain’t easy – especially if you try applying all this to forgiving yourself!  The fact that once in a while forgiveness springing from a heinous act is seen, it usually makes headlines. Look at what happened in May 1983, when Pope St. John Paul II visited Mehmet Ali Ağca in prison, the man who tried to kill him, and forgave him. Take a look at the entry for Sunday Mass Readings, 23 February 2020: the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, describing the horrific event at Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where the Amish people forgave the man who had shot dead their children. Or the forgiveness of Nobuo Fujita, the Japanese pilot responsible for the single World War II enemy attack on the USA mainland, bombing Brookings, Oregon. He asked for, and received the town’s forgiveness in 1962. Or, from the opposite angle, the infamous but mistaken US napalm attack on Vietnamese children, immortalized by the photograph of the little girl, Kim Phuc, running from the horror. She has forgiven those who planned the attack, and even founded a charity dedicated to caring for children affected by violence. Forgiveness sometimes seems completely impossible given immense cruelty and suffering, but as Christians that is what we are ordered by Jesus himself to do. The alternatives are horrible: hatred, malice, enmity, revenge. These are all negative, making any horrendous situation even worse, despite what comes out of Hollywood! 

“Revenge is a dish best served cold” is a popular expression offered as a way of getting back at someone who has done you wrong. A thousand movies have been based on this thought, making for great entertainment, but not for good example. It even goes up to state level, with capital punishment, still legal in many states of the USA. Apart from the lack of forgiveness, it is illogical. How do you reconcile killing someone in cold blood, which is what capital punishment is, with the idea that murder is wrong? The church has rightly declared such a punishment utterly evil, to be abolished. Compare the “death chamber” with the prison cell of Mehmet Ali Ağca being forgiven by his victim, who then turned his life around. Capital punishment is in no possible way forgiveness! It is the exact reverse! And take a look at today’s parable; the man who did not display forgiveness, he who had received it himself, was handed over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt! So this is not to say that evil people committing evil acts should not be punished (look at last week’s SundayMassReadings.com), but they do unwittingly and no doubt ignorantly provide Christians with an unwanted opportunity to display proper Christian behavior. Scripture is quite clear on the matter, even in the Old Testament – look at today’s reading from the Book of Sirach, written 2,200 years ago. Now look at today’s secular take on the response to hatred and malice, this one from the Mayo Clinic, stating that “if you don’t practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.” Finally, what if you cannot forgive? Well there are some lesser remedies. One is to be merciful, namely, to be compassionate to someone who does not deserve it. That is not forgiveness, but it is a step towards it. Another is to try empathy – putting yourself into the other’s shoes, with their background and almost certainly suffering. Although you would not do what they did, it might provide some understanding at least as to why. Then, in the end, there is always prayer.

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Police Officer Steven McDonald, a beacon of forgiveness. (He came to my school once and made an enormous impression, even though he had to wait for each breath to be pumped into his lungs so he could speak).

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

6 SEPTEMBER 2020: TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

The Four Presences of Christ, National Catholic Educational Association. 

[Jesus said] “…where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”  Matthew 18:20.

To read today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s had a great deal to reflect on, and enacted a large number of reforms in the Church. Not least among them was replacing the use of Latin in the Mass with the language of whatever place the Mass was said. For someone like me, this was a breathtaking change. The Latin Mass was something which had been in place for over 1000 years, something which would never change. But it did. The consequences of this still resound in the church today. The Council stated this was not only to enable a greater understanding of the central and most sacred liturgical action in the Christian Church, but also to enable other Christians to see and understand what the Roman Church meant by it. Remember that the “Real Presence” of the Lord in the consecrated bread and wine at Mass was one of the most divisive factors in the Reformation. The Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy also stated the Church’s strong belief that the presence of the Lord is also to be found in the sacred writings, in the presence of the priest at Mass and in the gathering of the faithful, “two or three” to use Jesus’ own words today. Primarily, however, the consecrated elements of bread and wine are the ultimate foundation of this belief. In fact, the greatest privilege a priest has is to preside at Mass. Ask any bishop, ask the Pope himself, and you would get the same answer, to preside at Mass. So the Mass should be the supreme demonstration of Christian love, celebrating Jesus’ love for us, fulfilling his promise to be with us forever until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). Given that, but knowing human frailty, Jesus tried to create a model which would help achieve that goal even when there is division. It is all shaped, I believe, by possibly his strongest of all commands, that we forgive, forgive and forgive again. So if our brother sins against us, we are obliged to forgive him, but also to address him directly, a confrontation devoutly to be avoided most of us would say. But there it is, from the lips of the Savior himself. If there is no admission of guilt, then further action has to be taken, and ultimately, given no change, he is to be “treated as you would a Gentile or a tax collector”, which is to say, to be excommunicated from the community. That is to be done even though you have forgiven him, unsaid by Jesus, but fully in line with his teaching on forgiveness. 

The thought occurs here that this confronts a frequent criticism hurled at Christians that we forgive anybody for anything and even let people get away with murder. But in today’s gospel we have a wrongdoer being punished for his evil act, whatever it was. In fact, if you transpose this gospel teaching to the supernatural world, it seems to say that the wrongdoer will end up in hell, an existence I have always equated not with devils, fire and pitchforks, but with a solitary existence, a solitude, a loneliness forever, forever without any hope ever. If you put yourself always first in this life, then that’s what you get after. Jesus is very clear on something else too: that the facts, as stated by two or three witnesses, have to indicate clearly the guilt of the sinner. So it is clearly the stubbornness of the guilty party that is the reason for his punishment. We often read of court cases where the accused shows no remorse over the crime committed. That always seems to have a huge effect on the ultimate punishment. One might think prisoners at the bar might make at least an attempt at remorse, but some do not, which makes Jesus’ words today even more understandable, though bear in mind that God will know the difference between remorse and show acting… So the lack of remorse displays defiance, a “me first and always” attitude, leading to self-destruction, as suggested above. As the second reading states clearly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law, and, one might add, the pathway to life and love eternal. Surely that is worth remorse, shame and admission of guilt and the hope of forgiveness? Continue reading

30 AUGUST 2020: THE TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Jesus gives Peter the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, Perugino 1481, the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City State.

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Temptation of Jesus Christ, Repin 1895, Private Collection.

Today’s Sunday Mass Readings can be found here.

[Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”   Matthew 16:23.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

Last week’s gospel showed Peter proclaiming Jesus to be the Anointed of God, the Son of God. Jesus in return acknowledged this to be true, and gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Today’s gospel follows directly on that scene, as reflected in the two illustrations above. Jesus then proclaimed, to the staggering bewilderment of all his disciples present, that as God’s Chosen One, he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed….. Peter again was the first to respond to this unwelcome news, saying “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Understandable from a human point of view, but according to Jesus, utterly wrong, to the extent of being contrary to God’s will, therefore sinful, hence his extraordinary repost to Peter, shown pictured above. Jesus’ own words explain this; it is thinking as the world does, not as God does. In fact, though Peter did not realize this, Jesus was being tempted to act contrary to God’s will. His vocation, given to him at his baptism, was to fulfill all the messianic prophecies, not just the “good” ones; if he succumbed to Peter’s wishes, the “suffering servant” prophecies would not be fulfilled. So what on earth is going on here?

The Hebrew people had been dominated by unclean Gentile foreigners for about 500 years up to the time of Jesus. Indeed, throughout their history to that time, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians and the Romans had each controlled their land, sometimes benignly, sometimes disastrously. Yet through all that, God, through the prophets, had promised delivery from such slavery, and that there would be a Messiah, an Anointed One of God, who would change it all. Such messianic promises kept them going in hope, but….. There were two sides to this picture. Yes, the Promised One would be called king, greater even than David, but would also be mocked and spat on. He would heal the afflicted but would also bear our sins. Well, the bad side was quietly ignored over the centuries, and the hopes of the people rested on the more positive side, the conquering hero angle. That is what Peter was thinking of when he was aghast at Jesus’ words, and that is why Jesus turned on him, declaring him to be Satan! Of course it was a temptation, to be glorified as the new king, to conquer the hated pagan occupying forces and restore the glory of the kingdom of David; Jesus did indeed have the power to do all that. But that would be to ignore much of the body of prophecy which his disciples chose to ignore. Jesus did not however. Hence his own prophesy that he must be killed in Jerusalem in fulfillment of his claim to be the Messiah (but not the one to call everyone to arms). It seems only Jesus had this insight, to the horror of all who followed him. But then, look at today’s first reading, “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped…” 

And then look at the second reading today, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” That is certainly a recipe asking for trouble. Not to conform to the values of any age will encounter conflict. Look at today’s world, worshiping fame, money, power, drugs, instead of love of neighbor, peace, justice, care of the poor, widows, orphans. Christians have always been counter-cultural. One very clever take on this situation can be found in the 1989 French-Canadian movie Jésus de Montréal. There is even a scene where our Jesus figure, a highly accomplished but penniless actor, is being conducted around the top floor of a Montreal skyscraper by a wealthy lawyer. This man looks out over the city and declares that all this could be his because of his talent, if he but embrace the super-profitable Hollywood world of acting for money and fame rather then pursue the impoverished role he has undertaken instead.

Temptation is perhaps the theme here today. If we stripped away all the restrictions, if you want to call them that, of the Christian life, and lived another life of all for me and nobody or nothing else, one does wonder what it would be like. Charities would presumably vanish, widows and orphans would be ignored, starvation might well be unavoidable, and so on. The world of Ayn Rand would become a reality, and woe betide any of us who fall down in such a world. So two thoughts occur. One, am I a source of temptation to anyone else in any way at all? Do I flaunt my wealth or position? Am I considered to be “The Big I Am”? Or am I a victim of temptation, having brought misfortune upon myself and possibly others by giving in to it? That can range from something like eating the wrong things, to financial ruin for me and my family. If neither of these apply (and let’s hope that is true), then today’s readings will reinforce those Christian precepts we have freely embraced as life-giving and life-receiving. Note the strong language of Jesus today. Temptation can be so destructive that it can guide us into the jaws of eternal damnation. We must be ever alert to its presence, and be ever grateful for God’s help to battle and defeat it. Remember that the children of God, us, are always in the presence of our divine Father, always protective and always willing to guide.

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God the Father Blessing, Raphael 1508, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia, Italy.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

23 AUGUST 2020: THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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Flag and Coat-of-Arms of the Vatican City State (the “Holy See”).

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus said to Peter] “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and ……. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”   Matthew 16:18-19.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

Have you ever stood under the spectacular dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and looked up? In clear capital letters you will see the Latin words: “Tu es Petrus and super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum” “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven” all taken from today’s gospel.

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This passage from Matthew is the locus classicus for the claim that the Pope is the legitimate successor of Peter, believed to have been the first Pope, and is therefore the primary leader of the Christian Church, just as Peter was 2000 years ago. It also contains a pun in Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek and no doubt other languages, but unhappily not in English. For example, in French, the gospel reads “Tu es Pierre et sur cette pierre je bâtirai mon église” In all those languages, “Peter” and “stone” or “rock” are the same word. Jesus is equating Peter with the foundation of the Christian community which will continue after him. In the original, with Jesus speaking Aramaic rather than the Greek of the gospel writings, he nicknamed Peter Cephas, meaning rock (or Rocky?). The dome of St. Peter’s also stands directly over what is believed to be the tomb of Peter, three stories down from the high altar, and so the church is literally built on him! (Note that the only connection in English between Peter and rock is the word “petrification” and “petrified”, or turned to stone; not helpful, even though the name Peter is indeed derived from the Latin word Petrus). His tomb, underneath St. Peter’s, is near what was once a narrow lane through a pagan necropolis open to the sky. Take a look:

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Tomb of St. Peter. (This video takes a little bit of learning to operate, but persevere…)

Additionally, today’s gospel from Matthew is also the origin of the keys in the arms and flag of the Vatican City State, as you can see above, the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Also, any church statue of a man holding two keys means it is St. Peter, as they are his symbol.

So what does today’s gospel mean for us today? Jesus seems to be doing a sort of review of progress so far. I think many of us could understand this in terms of an annual job review, with compliments on what has been done well, and goals set to improve the rest. His disciples gave him that, reporting that some say he is John the Baptist returned from the dead, or, even more spectacularly, Elijah or Jeremiah. After that, Jesus wanted to check on them: “Who do you say I am?” One can imagine a moment of silence, as they all presumably thought he was the long awaited Messiah. Peter stepped forward and stated it out loud and clear: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Remember that “Christ” means the Anointed One, or Messiah. So at that moment Jesus must have thought that they had understood everything about his mission, his vocation, and declared Peter to be the very foundation of this new community. Today’s gospel ends at that point. The very next verses prove, unhappily, that they did not understand his mission! They firmly believed he was the messiah of Jewish hope and expectation, the one who would restore the kingdom of David and expel the hated occupying pagan forces from the land of Israel. On the contrary, when Jesus stated that his mission would end in disaster and death, Peter objected strongly, to which Jesus replied “Get behind me Satan…” (Matthew 16:23), this same Peter who had just been given the keys of heaven! Jesus then said that his followers must be prepared to take up the cross and follow him; his call to all of us is just as strong today as it was then. Note the hidden lesson here. How many parents and teachers have there been who have tried to decide what their children and students should be rather than pointing out their strengths and talents, and allowing them to figure it out? Jesus strenuously rejected his disciples’ false image of him as he already knew what the prophecies concerning  the Messiah meant. Our children and students are still finding this out. All we should do is praise their strengths, their gifts and perhaps indicate all the possibilities they might consider, rather than thrust our own choice on what they should become instead of just suggesting it as a possibility.

As we are currently confronted with Covid 19, we must act as true followers with strength, dignity and conviction that ultimately truth, good health, will prevail. But we too, almost despite all that, must declare our belief in Jesus’ identity and vocation, as it is also ours. Remember we are adopted daughters and sons of God, with our vocation to be Christ to the world. So, following today’s gospel, perhaps it’s time for some personal introspection; what progress have we all made along that path? Do we seek glory and power in our own world, or the profound satisfaction that we are doing our best to be servants of all, as Jesus was, offering all to God?

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Arms of Pope Francis, Vatican City gardens.

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Arms of Pope Francis explained.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

16 AUGUST 2020: TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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“Crumby Dog”, Ally Barrett 2017, @Reverendally.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”    Matthew 15:27.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

A very interesting gospel today, seemingly showing Jesus reluctant to help a desperate woman seeking help for her young daughter. Let us do a sitz im leben analysis of this scene to begin to understand it. Today’s gospel begins by stating where Jesus was, “in the region of Tyre and Sidon”. If you look those two places up in the atlas, you will see today they are located on the Lebanese Mediterranean coast, south of the capital of Lebanon, Beirut. Just as a drama is depicted in today’s gospel, there is a major drama in that same area right now. A few days ago, Beirut suffered a gigantic explosion of dangerous chemicals which has killed and maimed hundreds of people in a huge area of the city. The president has appealed for help from the whole world, just as our “Canaanite” woman did to Jesus 2000 years ago. She would be Lebanese today. Just as Jesus was reluctant to respond to her then, we might be reluctant to help the Lebanese today. But as Jesus did, in fact, respond positively to her, so should we help them today…..

Now, today’s gospel indicates Jesus’ whereabouts for a good reason. Jesus has moved out of a predominantly Jewish area into a Gentile area. Perhaps it was to get a bit of peace and quiet after the dramas related in the gospels of the last few weeks. It was not to be, of course. His fame had clearly spread even to these pagan lands, as we see. It might well have been the first time that Jesus had left the Jewish lands where he had grown up. His confusion can be seen clearly in how he handled this situation. He understood his baptism in the Jordan as giving him his identity as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. Although messianic prophecies indicated that Gentile lands would also bow down to him, this was understood that they would come to him, not he to them. He had traveled to the coast for a little vacation, it can be assumed, not to bring his mission to the pagans. I think this was at the root of his untypical response to this desperate woman. He first kept silence, ignoring her completely. She persisted. Even his friends told him to tell her to clear off. He seems to agree with them, recalling his mission from God was exclusively to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”. She persisted still, again calling him “Lord” as if she were Jewish herself! She then collapsed into begging him for help. He now characterizes his mission as “Food for the children” not food for dogs, again a reference to his Jewish mission and the common attitude of the Jews towards Gentiles. She, even more desperate, grabs this as a possible chink in his armor, and, lawyer-like, states baldly that even dogs can eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table….. And that did it. At that moment Jesus saw through the fog of discrimination and hatred to the truth of hope and belief in every person, recognized her sincerity and authenticity, and granted that which she wanted more than anything else. He might even have thought of today’s first reading from Isaiah, supporting his action. The woman’s daughter was released from her crippling state. You might recall a similar desperate mother in that terrifying film, The Exorcist. It seems that the true story on which it was based happened to a Lutheran family. In desperation their minister sent them to a Catholic priest, a Jesuit it seems, for help. This also resulted, I believe, in a restoration of the child to normal life. Jesus’ outreach to everyone, as shown in the gospel, continues down to this day.

It could be said that this positive but hesitant step by Jesus towards the Gentiles was the foundation of the revolutionary outreach his followers were to show in the early years of the church. Indeed, the acceptance of Gentiles into the early, Jewish-Christian church almost led to its destruction. It took a council of that early church to handle the situation and come to a final decision to admit Gentiles as full members of the church. This has led to a present-day, world-wide church membership open to anyone, the modern Christian Church. The Jewish tradition has hardly ever called for missionary activity aimed at increasing converts. So Jesus’ hesitancy can be understood more easily when you consider the weight of tradition against which he embarked, beginning with today’s gospel passage. Had he not done so, think of the ways in which our lives and our world might have been utterly different, and almost certainly not for the better.

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The Canaanite Woman, Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, c.1489, Condé Museum, Chantilly, France.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

9 AUGUST 2020: NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Jesus Walks on the Water, Aivazovsky, 1888, State Museum of Religious History, St Petersburg, Russian Federation.

Click here to see the (revised USCCB) webpage for today’s Sunday Mass Readings. 

[Jesus] said to [Peter], “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”   Matthew 14:31b.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

Last week I mentioned the scholarly aversion to miracles, and offered their interpretation of the loaves and fishes miracle. Today, however, we have something entirely different. Remember a miracle is a work of God which confounds the natural laws under which we all live. One is that if you try to walk on water, you will sink! Well scholars are in a pickle when it comes to today’s gospel story of Jesus and, to some extent, Peter, walking on the water. One “explanation” is that Jesus projected a self-image of himself walking on the water (but no suggestion on how this could have been done)….. Another is that the disciples in the boat saw Jesus on the shore but with the tempest and mist and wind and darkness around them, they confused the shore with the water….. Another is that this began as a simple reunion story embellished with an Old Testament theme of God taming the waters in the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. Other scholars, probably in the majority, say that Jesus, Son of God, was above such laws of nature, and hence did, indeed, walk on the water. Well, the choice is yours. Remember that the Catholic Church still accepts miracles as divine intervention even today, but they have to be 1) instantaneous, 2) inexplicable, and 3) permanent. For example, the 2012 miraculous cure in France of Sister Marie-Simon Pierre of the French order of the Little Sisters of Catholic Maternity. Remember also that Catholic believers are not required to accept them as miracles, but it is hoped that they do strengthen our faith and hope in God. Well, given all that, what is today’s gospel message?

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Sea of Galilee looking west to the hills where Jesus went to pray.

But today’s gospel is indeed heavy with symbolism and meaning. The parallel with the book of Genesis is one such example. The waters of creation are in the very first words, verse 2: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” It is the ancients’ idea of total chaos. Their control over such waters was basically zero when at sea, and in storms they would be almost always begging God for delivery from imminent death. Now look at today’s gospel. The boat was being “tossed about by the waves” and the “Wind was against it”. They were way out at sea, by about a “few miles”, which is a long way. This event is recorded in two other gospels, one of which describes them as rowing (John 6:19), which is what you have to do if the wind is dead set against you. In other words, they were in a perilous situation presumably blown by the wind in the wrong direction as they were rowing, the situation where you start crying to God for help. And Jesus appears, walking over the very waves threatening them with death. When he gets into the boat, the “wind died down”. Anyone who has been through a life situation which was desperate and with little hope, and has appealed for God’s help, it comes. Now that not might be the help which is obvious – Jesus walking on the waves was not an obvious remedy – but the simple presence of the Lord, afforded by faith, makes any situation tolerable, for it carries the promise of eternal life and happiness, greater than any human crisis. All this is mirrored in the gospel; the wind died down as soon as Jesus got into the boat, prompting the confession of faith from his disciples: “Truly you are the Son of God”, the first time they had declared this. Note that they originally thought he was a ghost, not real. In other words, their fear of their perilous situation blinded them to God’s presence, another dynamic in the story. It seems that overwhelming fear might well crush any thought of God’s presence, another lesson from this story. Look at the first reading and see the clear parallel from the first reading, taken from the First Book of Kings. The second reading is connected also. St. Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, laments that his fellow Israelites had the Lord in their midst but did not recognize him even after he had performed miracles before their very eyes, something only God can do. Paul seems to offer himself and even his faith for the sake of their conversion.

So we have a remarkable gospel message today, one that should occupy a special place in our Christian identity. Whenever things seems utterly overwhelming, desperate and hopeless, we should always be aware of the Lord walking clearly above such a turbulent maelstrom which no earthly power can control, but which he can, for he carries with him the ultimate hope and refuge for all who believe.

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Slide Player.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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Roger

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2 AUGUST 2020: EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, Tintoretto 1581, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice, Italy.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus] ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.  Matthew 14:19.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

There is a strange dichotomy in today’s gospel. It begins with a report of the death of John the Baptist, the man who had heralded the arrival of the Messiah at Jesus’ baptism, had recognized him as the Lamb of God and had declared that he, John,  was not worthy enough even to unbuckle this man’s shoes. Clearly John was a herald of the good news that Israel had been waiting for for centuries. It was no wonder Jesus wanted to withdraw from everything and everyone and simply grieve. It was not to be. He had entranced the crowds with his teachings which had authority, the gospels tell us, such had never been heard before. Perhaps they wanted to hear about what God wants of us when someone close to us dies. Anyway, they would not leave him alone. Typically Jesus responds with generosity and understanding. Instead of telling them to leave him alone, he performs an action which seems to be an anticipation of the heavenly banquet, the famous multiplication of the five loaves and two fishes to feed a crowd of thousands. Everyone benefits. Tying this in with today’s second reading, not even the death of a dedicated friend and supporter can create a chasm between the Lord and us. If we are prepared to stand with the Lord, no matter what, the Lord will stand with us.

Most of us, very likely, wish never to upset any of our friends and neighbors. The Lord tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and as we love God. Pretty clear. If we do in fact sinfully create dissention, the road to recovery can be long and tiring. But when we die, whether we like it or not, wounds and pain and weeping and grief might well result among those we leave behind. It probably cannot be avoided. In my own will, I have instructed my executor make sure my favorite hymns are sung at the Requiem Mass of the Resurrection (many of them almost unknown to Catholics in the States, but huge favorites of mine from growing up in England; Christ is Made the Sure Foundation to the tune Westminster Abbey, for example: see below), all verses to be sung so that everyone gets to know them at least by the last verse and hopefully fall in love with them, encouraged by a  professional tenor to join in. Afterwards there is to be a party, a sort of parallel to today’s gospel, I hope (though miracles are not guaranteed). In fact, it all seems to be so much fun (to me) that I’m tempted to have a dry run! As the Requiem Mass says, in death, life is changed, not ended. If we can embrace that, accept it and live this life with it, there should be great comfort when the time comes. Should… Today’s gospel does not tell us about Jesus’ demeanor but I suspect it was not in any way happy; he might have thought that as John’s death was political in origin (it was ordered by King Herod), perhaps his would be too. That is a sobering thought, quite different from the peaceful death I am imagining here.

One final note. Many theologians are very uncomfortable with the notions of Jesus’ miracles. Anything which smacks of direct divine intervention in the normal world invites their skepticism and discomfort. Today’s miracle of the loaves and fishes, for example, is explained away by saying, well, these people would not have gone out into the country without some preparation, such as a picnic basket. In the presence of Jesus, it is said, they are so overcome with feelings of generosity and good will, or at least not willing to munch away surrounded by hungry looks from the others who had not brought anything, that they all shared what they had with everyone. But, you might think, if that were true, wouldn’t even that have been a miracle? Either way, it shows what the presence of the Lord can generate within us and around us. Hence all three readings today hold together very well. Surely a testament of life over death, of hope over despair.

Stretching things a bit, and expanding on that thought a little, and reflecting on the divisions in the Christian family, the light of hope, the presence of the Holy Spirit, even shines there occasionally. On 17 September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI, visiting the United Kingdom, was invited to a prayer service in Westminster Abbey, one of the central shrines of the Church of England. Together with Dr. Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England, the service began with my favorite hymn mentioned above….. (words to be found in the prayer service you can access here). This strikes me as a hopeful sign of Christian unity, just as the crowd in today’s gospel was unified in seeking the Lord out and hearing his message and acting accordingly.

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Church of the Feeding of the Multitude, Galilee, Palestinian Authority.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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Roger

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26 JULY 2020: SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Holy Wisdom, 1170s Hildesheim, Germany, artist unknown, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field…..”  Matthew 13:44.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

Jesus often begins a lesson on holiness with the words “The kingdom of heaven is like….” as he does in today’s gospel. We are so used to hearing that, that it might simply pass over our heads as a simple intro. But look at the words. It answers the question “what is the kingdom of heaven like?” And here is the answer. If we find a treasure, we should do all we can to possess it. Now we are not talking about detectorists here, the new name for those people who scan fields with metal detectors hoping to find, literally, buried treasure. There are thousands of them in Great Britain, and indeed occasionally they do unearth fantastic treasures. No, Jesus I think, has other endeavors in mind. He is, I believe, talking about the divine treasures given to each of us, the gifts given to every one of us by God. Some of us have more, some less; some are very rare, some not, but they are all the means by which God wishes us to navigate through life in obedience to his will. If we are doing that, according to Jesus’ words today, in some sense we have the kingdom of God with us here and now. No wonder, in the parable, the one who discovers such a treasure does everything possible to gain ownership; translation: develop this treasure into a skill which will power you through life in obedience to God’s will. To each of us, legitimate pride in such a gift of God developed into a splendid skill is a very satisfying navigator through life. I am reminded of the superintendent in my apartment building. If I have a plumbing problem which to me seems an insuperable challenge almost to the level of panic, he comes by and fixes it as if he has a magic wand! In his turn, he looks at me doing something like this webpage, and is in awe. Such are God’s wonderful gifts as they play out in life, and we all have gifts. In the longer gospel today, they are a treasure buried in a field, a pearl of great price, a great catch of fish, all meaning, I believe, the discovery of our own talents and the inherent joy of developing them and using them as God wishes of us is the true recipe for a happy life leading to eternal bliss. Solomon in the first reading asks for wisdom, but taking Jesus’ words today, I suspect he already has that talent, and God gently reveals the truth him as good news! The result is to be found in the second reading. Doing what is required of us justifies us in our proper and good use of our skills. Paul tells us we will be judged on what we have done to please the Lord, a message Jesus spells out in the gospel, referring to the Last Judgement.

So today’s readings are a call back to basics. Are we using our skills in an appropriate and acceptable way? If we are called from this life today, could we humbly offer our life history to God in the knowledge we have done our best to obey the call to be our best in this life? If so, wonderful. If not…. well, use the time left to do something about it!

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The Last Judgement, Pacheco, Goya Museum, Castres, France.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

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