Saturday: of the Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary TimeLuke 8:4-15
4 And when a great crowd came together and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5 "A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold." As he said this, he called out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." 9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.
Meditation: How good are you at listening, especially for the word of God? God is always ready to speak to each of us and to give us understanding of his word. Jesus' parable of the sower is aimed at the hearers of his word. There are different ways of accepting God's word and they produce different kinds of fruit accordingly. There is the prejudiced hearer who has a shut mind. Such a person is unteachable and blind to the things of God. Then there is the shallow hearer who fails to think things out or think them through; such a person lacks spiritual depth. They may initially respond with an emotional fervor; but when it wears off their mind wanders to something else.
Does God's word for you go in one ear and out the other?
Another type of hearer is the person who has many interests and cares, but who lacks the ability to hear and understand what is truly important. Such a person is for ever too busy to pray and to listen and reflect on God's word because he or she allows other things to occupy their mind and heart. Whose voice or message gets the most attention from you - the voice of the world with its many distractions or the voice of God who wishes to speak his word of love and truth with you each and every day?
A receptive heart and mind that listens attentively
Jesus compares the third type of hearer with the good soil that is ready to receive the seed of his word so it can take root and grow, and produce good fruit. A receptive heart and open mind are always ready to hear what God wants to teach us through his word. The "ears of their heart" and the "eyes of their mind" search out the meaning of God's word for them so that it may grow and produce good fruit in their lives. They hear with a listening ear and teachable spirit (Isaiah 50:4-5) that wants to learn and understand the intention of God's word for them. They strive to tune out the noise and distractions of the world around them so they can give their attention to God's word and find nourishment in it. They listen in order to understand.
God's word has power to change and transform each one of us if we receive it with trust (a believing heart) and allow it to take root in our inner being (the depths of our heart, mind, and soul). God's word is our daily food to nourish and strengthen us on our journey of faith to his everlasting kingdom. Do you hunger for God's word?
"Lord Jesus, faith in your word is the way to wisdom, and to ponder your divine plan is to grow in the truth. Open my eyes to your deeds, and my ears to the sound of your call, that I may understand your will for my life and live according to it."
FOR THE SUNDAY GOSPEL SEE THE VIDEO FROM THE WORD EXPOSED ON HOME PAGE.
*Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 8, 16-18 he puts it on a lampstand so that whoever comes in can see it. There is nothing hidden that will not be exposed, nothing concealed that will not be known and brought to light. Take heed, therefore, how you hear: to the man who has, more will be given; and he who has not, will lose even the little he thinks he has."
Commentary on Luke 8:16-18
The message today seems clear enough. The Gospel message is not meant to be kept hidden.
We are not a ‘mystery religion’ in the sense that the Gospel is only for initiates. It is a message that is to be proclaimed from the housetops. If what we believe and say is true it will prevail. We understand Jesus to be the Light of the world and his followers are also to be like lamps shining out for all the world to see. An invisible Christian is a contradiction in terms, yet there are strong tendencies for us "to keep our religion to ourselves and not foist it on others".
Forcing others to believe is not on, even if it were possible. Inviting people to "come and see", to hear the message and have a personal experience of living it is something else. We also believe that the Gospel message offers a way of life that brings great happiness into the lives of individuals and of whole societies if it is really followed. So, part of our communicating the message is as much through our lifestyle ("See! it works!") as through what we say.
"Take heed, therefore, HOW you hear," says Jesus today. It has to be a hearing which understands, accepts, assimilates and puts into practice. What is heard and assimilated has to be passed on. Otherwise it dies. But "to the one who has, more will be given". And "he who has not [because he has not been hearing and absorbing properly] will lose even the little he has". To be a Christian is not to reach a certain level and stay there; it essentially means constant growth and development. To stay still or to stagnate is to go back.
Tuesday of The Twenty-fifth Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 8, 19-21 The mother and brothers of Jesus came to be with him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. He was informed, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and wish to see you." He told them in reply, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act upon it."
Commentary on Luke 8:19-21
The mother and brothers of Jesus come looking for him but they cannot get to him because of the crush of people in the house where he is speaking. Jesus was in Capernaum at the time and Nazareth was about 50 km (30 miles) away. The mention of ‘brothers’ would commonly indicate cousins and not just siblings. When the message is passed in to Jesus, he says to all: "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it."
The story is told in harsher terms in Mark. He has Jesus say, for instance: "Who is my mother; who are my brothers and sisters?" It is suggested there that their purpose was to take him away. On the one hand, they thought he was mad and an embarrassment to the family and, secondly, that he might get them into trouble with the authorities because of the provocative things he was saying and doing such as questioning traditional interpretations of the Law. (We see a similar embarrassment on the part of the parents of the man born blind in John chap. 9. They refuse to speak to the authorities about their son: "He is big enough; he can speak for himself.")
Luke’s account is softer and just focuses on the saying of Jesus. In fact, Luke has taken this passage out of its context in Mark (3:31-35) and turns it into a conclusion to his short section on the parables. And he modifies Mark’s "Anyone who does the will of God is my brother and sister" to match the end of his parable of the sower (the seed that falls in rich soil represents those "who have heard the word and take it to themselves", v.15) by having Jesus say: "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it."
To a society which regarded itself as God’s chosen people merely by birth and an external ritual like circumcision Jesus asserts that belonging to God has little to do with blood or race but only with the relationship one establishes with God.
There is a lot of meaning in the words of the message: "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside…" It was clear from their behaviour that they were not, like the seed falling on fertile soil, ‘hearing’ him and so they were outsiders. Those who really ‘hear’, no matter who they are or where they come from, are ‘insiders’ and belong to the family of Jesus.
Of course, we know elsewhere, especially from Luke’s gospel, that Mary is not being condemned here – whatever about other family members. In fact, this is where her greatness really lies. Clearly it partly lies in her being chosen to be the mother of God’s Son but perhaps even more in her saying ‘Yes’ ("Let it happen to me according to your word"), in her unswerving faithfulness to that ‘Yes’ and in her standing by her Son to the very end when all the rest had fled.
When, on another occasion, she was indirectly praised for being the mother of such a Son, Jesus had spoken in words very similar to today: "No, blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it."
Our discipleship, too, is not determined by our being born into a Catholic family or just by being baptised or by observing the external requirements of our religion but by our total commitment to the Gospel and to an unconditional following of Jesus. Only then can we truly be said to be his brother or sister.
Wednesday of The Twenty-fifth Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 9, 1-6 Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority to overcome all demons and to cure diseases. He sent them forth to proclaim the reign of God and heal the afflicted. Jesus advised them: "Take nothing for the journey, neither walking staff nor traveling bag; no bread, no money. No one is to have two coats. Stay at whatever house you enter and proceed from there. When people will not receive you, leave that town and shake its dust from your feet as a testimony against them." So they set out and went from village to village, spreading the good news everywhere and curing diseases.
Commentary on Luke 9:1-6
As we move on to chapter 9, we have left out a number of stories in chapter 8 – the calming of a storm on the lake, the healing of a demoniac, the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the healing of a woman with a haemorrhage. However, they are dealt with elsewhere in our readings from the other gospels. We are now moving into a turning point in the public life of Jesus and in his relationship with his disciples.
This is, in fact, the third tour of Galilee by Jesus. On the first tour he was accompanied just by the four fishermen he had called first – Peter, Andrew, James and John. On the second all the Twelve were with him and, on the third, he was alone after sending out the Twelve on their own mission.
We begin the chapter today with Jesus sending his chosen Twelve on their mission. It is the first time he has sent them out on their own without his being with them. Basically, they are to do exactly as their Master does. They are given power over evil forces and to heal sicknesses. They are also to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
They are to travel in total freedom and so are not to bring anything with them which would make travelling more difficult. No walking staff, or purse, or food, or money, nor even a change of clothing. It is understood that the people will support them in return for the services they render. It is expected that hospitality will be extended to them in the traditional way of the Middle East.
And they are not to be choosy about where they are received; they are to stay in the first house that accepts them. And, in places where they and their message and their services are not welcome, they will shake the dust off their feet. This was a symbolic act which the Pharisees practised when they left an "unclean" Gentile area. In this case, the act signifies that people are not just rejecting the disciples but God himself, Whom they bring with their message and their healing.
And so they went out, from town to town, proclaiming the Good News and restoring people to wholeness wherever they went. It really was the beginning of the Church. And it was the work of making the Kingdom a reality, God’s will being "done on earth".
The same mission is entrusted to each one of us although it will obviously be adapted to our life situation. We are called, individually and in community, to proclaim the Gospel by word and lifestyle. We are called to help liberate people from the negative forces, addictions of all kinds that can enslave. We are called to be sources of healing and wholeness and for this we do not need to be part of the medical profession. We are called to live lives of simplicity, using only those things which we need for life and work and rejecting all superfluity and luxury. As we have already noted: the really rich are those whose needs are the least. It is a message our consumer world needs to hear and see.
Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 9, 7-9 Herod the tetrarch heard of all that Jesus was doing and he was perplexed, for some were saying, "John has been raised from the dead"; others, "Elijah has appeared"; and still others, "One of the prophets of old has risen." But Herod said, "John I beheaded. Who is this man about whom I hear all these reports?" He was very curious to see him.
Commentary on Luke 9:7-9
Today we have a short interlude which is leading to some very special revelations.
Herod the tetrarch (his father Herod the Great’s kingdom had been divided among four sons) is hearing stories about what Jesus is doing. ‘Tetrarch’ means the ruler of the fourth part of a kingdom. This one, Herod Antipas, was one of several sons; the kingdom was divided among four of them. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 BC to 39 AD. Although not strictly speaking a ‘king’ he is called that in Matthew and Mark following popular usage.
Herod is puzzled because he is being told that Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead. At the same time others are saying that Elijah, whose expected return would signal the arrival of the Messiah, or some of the former biblical prophets has reappeared. Herod has recently beheaded John the Baptist and the superstitious king is filled with a mixture of fear and curiosity. He "kept trying to see Jesus".
Luke does not actually record the death of John and, in this short passage, he prepares the reader for the later meeting of Herod with Jesus (23:8-12). So Herod’s wish will be partially fulfilled at a later date though under very unexpected circumstances and in a way that Herod will find very unsatisfactory. He is hoping that Jesus, like some circus dog, will do some ‘tricks’ or ‘miracles’ for him. [In the musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar' Herod asks Jesus to walk across his swimming pool.]
Herod’s desire was almost entirely one of curiosity, it was the desire of the hedonist and the seeker of novelty. To see Jesus, in the full Gospel sense, is something totally other. It can only happen to those who have the eyes of faith and who can see in the person of Jesus the presence and power of God. We may recall the request of some "Greeks" who told Philip they wanted to see Jesus and the reply that Jesus gave about the grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying (John 12:20-26). We have not seen Jesus if we do not know him in his suffering and dying as his way to new life.
Let us ask to see Jesus today, a seeing that leads to a total acceptance of his way of life and following him all the way, through the cross and beyond to a life that never ends.
Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 9, 18-22 One day when Jesus was praying in seclusion and his disciples were with him, he put the question to them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" "John the Baptizer," they replied, "and some say Elijah, while others claim that one of the prophets of old has returned from the dead." "But you -- who do you say that I am?" he asked them. Peter said in reply, "The Messiah of God." He strictly forbade them to tell this to anyone. "The Son of Man," he said, "must first endure many sufferings, be rejected by the elders, the high priests and the scribes, and be put to death, and then be raised up on the third day."
Commentary on Luke 9:18-22
After the incident concerning Herod, which, as we saw, is a pointer to things yet to happen, the disciples return from their mission. What follows is omitted from our readings. In fact, Jesus took them to a quiet place where they could rest and reflect on what they had been doing. However, they were pursued by the ever-hungry crowds and Jesus fed them with the Word of God, with his healing and finally, through his disciples ("You give them to eat") with bread and fish. The story is another step in the Twelve’s involvement in the mission of Jesus and it leads into today’s reading.
We find Jesus praying alone. As we have already seen, it is something that Luke mentions a number of times about Jesus and especially before significant events in his public life. Some people might wonder what Jesus would have to pray about. Such a question could reveal a rather limited idea of prayer, e.g. as something you do when you want to get something from God or when you are depressed or in trouble of some kind.
But prayer is ultimately getting in touch with God and that is something that Jesus would surely want to do a lot. Prayer is also a way of discovering just where God’s will enters one’s life and that is something that was always of supreme importance to Jesus. "I and the Father are one."
Jesus, we are told, was not altogether alone. His disciples were with him. Were they praying too? Later, they will ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.
All of this is Luke’s introduction to a high point in all the Synoptics: the revelation of Jesus’ true identity. From the other Synoptics we know that it took place at Caesarea Philippi, a mixed Jewish-Gentile region outside Herod’s territory.
"Whom do people say I am?" Jesus asks them. They give various answers: John the Baptist (resurrected) or Elijah, expected to return to announce the imminent coming of the Messiah, or some other of the earlier great prophets.
But then he asks, "Who do you say I am?" Peter, answering for all of them, replies simply: "The Christ of God." "Christ" is not a name but a title. It comes from the Greek christos (cristos) which means "anointed". And Christos is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Messiah’. The anointing indicates someone who is king and, in this case, the One who is anointed the Saviour King of Israel.
In short, Peter is saying that the man standing before him is the long-awaited Saviour of the Jewish people. It is a dramatic development in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples.
His next words at first sight seem unexpected and contradictory. He strictly orders his disciples not to say anything of this to anyone. Surely they should be doing the exact opposite? But the people are not yet ready for this revelation. They have a very limited and preconceived idea of what the coming of the Messiah will mean. They see him in very political terms as a kind of national liberator who will drive out and destroy the Romans and all enemies of the Jewish people and restore the past glories of Israel.
Even after the Resurrection Luke has Jesus’ own disciples them asking him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Their ideas, even at this late date, are no different from the ordinary people’s. At this point in the Gospel, they must be secretly proud that they, of all people, are the first to be privileged with this information.
If that was the case, they were very quickly to be disillusioned. Almost immediately Jesus goes on to say that "the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, be killed and raised on the third day".
This is the first time in Luke that Jesus refers to himself as "the Son of Man". It occurs 81 times in the four gospels and is only used by Jesus of himself. In the book of Daniel (7:13-14) we see the ‘Son of Man’ pictured as a heavenly figure who is entrusted by God with authority, glory and sovereign power. Jesus’ use of the title in a Messianic sense is made clear by its close proximity to Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the ‘Christ’.
We know from Matthew and Mark that the disciples – in particular Peter – were dumbfounded when they heard Jesus’ words and wanted to reject them entirely. It was totally against all their expectations of the Messiah, apart from the fact that they could not bear to have those things happen to their Master.
To them, it simply did not make any sense. First, Jesus as Messiah was going to be rejected and handed over by the leaders of their own people. Secondly, he was going to go through a terrible and humiliating death. His "being raised" on the third day – whatever that meant – did little to alleviate their confusion.
But, as Mark indicates, this was a further step in their relationship with Jesus. They now recognised him as the Messiah but now they had to learn just what kind of Messiah he was going to be and how he was going to liberate not only his own people but people all over the world.
We, too, of course, have to keep going through the same process. We have to deepen our understanding of the true identity of Jesus and we have to be able to understand how the suffering and dying Messiah is not only the way he needed to go to reconcile us with God but that we too have to be ready to go the same way. We have to learn to see the redemptive and healing power in the pains, sufferings, disappointments and failures of our lives.
Saturday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Gospel Lk 9:43b-45
While they were all amazed at his every deed, Jesus said to his disciples, “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
Commentary on Luke 9:43-45
After yesterday’s reading where the disciples recognised their Master as the Messiah and are told about the death and resurrection of Jesus, there follows the scene with the three chosen apostles on the mountain where they get a glimpse of Jesus in glory (the transfiguration). This is followed by the healing of the epileptic boy.
The reaction of the crowds to this cure was that “they were all amazed at the mighty power of God”. Not, we might note, the mighty power of Jesus. Even the crowds could recognise the real source of what Jesus was doing.
It is at this high point of Jesus’ popularity that he says just to his disciples, “Let all this sink into your ears, for the Son of man will be handed over into the hands of men.” What Jesus seems to be saying is that they are to realise there is no contradiction whatever between Jesus revealing in himself the unlimited power of God and his being handed over powerless to the power of his enemies. Only when they can see and understand the meaning of a suffering Messiah will they fully know the Way of Jesus.
But, Luke tells us, they were not ready yet for this. “They did not understand what Jesus was saying. It was hidden from them and they could not see it.” At the same time they were afraid to ask him.
To what extent can we say that we understand and accept the idea of a suffering Messiah? We are used to looking at the cross of Jesus but to what degree do we see the place of suffering in our own lives? Can we see that, without pain and suffering in our own lives and in those of others, our lives would be in many ways impoverished? Strange as it may seem, it is pain and suffering that can bring out what is most deeply human in all of us.
FOR THE SUNDAY GOSPEL SEE THE VIDEO FROM THE WORD EXPOSED ON HOME PAGE.
*Monday of the Twenty-sixth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 9, 46-50 A discussion arose among the disciples as to which of them was the greatest. Jesus, who knew their thoughts, took a little child and placed it beside him, after which he said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child on my account welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes him who sent me; for the least one among you is the greatest." It was John who said, "Master, we saw a man using your name to expel demons, and we tried to stop him because he is not of our company." Jesus told him in reply, "Do not stop him, for any man who is not against you is on your side."
Commentary on Luke 9:46-50
Following on Jesus once again telling his disciples that he was going to be "handed over" to suffering and death, we were told in our previous reading that they did not understand what he meant. It did not make sense to them.
Now, almost as an indication of how far they were from Jesus’ thinking, they began arguing among themselves which one among them should be seen as the greatest. Why should they be arguing about this? Was it because, whatever difficulties they had in accepting what Jesus had said about his future, they were wondering what was going to happen after Jesus had been taken away from them? If they were to remain together as a group, which of them would be in charge?
Perhaps Peter was already beginning to think that he should be the one. Perhaps some of the others felt it should be one of them.
But Jesus, who, of course, was not present during these sensitive discussions, was well aware of what was going on. He took a child and put it in their midst. "Whoever receives a child like this in my name, receives me. And whoever receives me, receives him who sent me. For the one that is least among you all is the greatest."
It is interesting that the greatness is to be seen in the child rather than in the one who receives it. The child represents all who are vulnerable and weak and powerless. To "receive" such persons is to treat them with the utmost dignity and respect and to accept them and lift them up.
In Jesus’ eyes, such little people are truly great because, to those who have eyes to see, they are the ones in whom we can especially meet Jesus and love and serve him. St Francis of Assisi, who kissed the leper (a particularly daring thing to do in his time), or Mother Teresa, tenderly picking up a decaying, barely living body off the street knew this well. To find Jesus in such a person is to make direct contact with God himself.
Jesus himself will reach the peak of his own greatness when he hangs dying and helpless on the cross. This is the lesson the disciples will learn to see and accept in time. We have to keep working on it too because it does not come easily to any of us.
The second part of today’s gospel points to another area where the disciples have to change their outlook. John, the brother of James, who both come across in the Synoptics as somewhat hotheaded (they had the nickname "sons of thunder"), tells Jesus they saw someone driving out devils in Jesus’ name. They had told the man to stop because he was "not one of us". (Was there an element of jealousy also? In Mark 9:14ff, we are told that the disciples failed to drive out an evil spirit from a boy.)
Here we have something of the arrogance of the insider, of the elitist. John and his companions felt that the exorcism of evil spirits in the name of Jesus was something only they were allowed to do. Jesus did not agree. "Leave him alone," he told them. And he enunciates a principle for them to follow: "Whoever is not against us is for us."
It is a constant temptation among more devout religious people to set themselves apart from "the others". It can happen to bishops or priests or religious. It can happen in a parish to members of the parish council or some parish group – a prayer group, charismatics, the liturgy committee or whatever.
We can find ourselves developing a two-tier community of "us" and "them". We can find ourselves looking down on those who come in late for Mass and hang around the back door or who only come occasionally or maybe even only turn up at Christmas.
Even more, we can be tempted to set ourselves apart from non-Catholic and non-Christian groups. We can fail to see God working in all kinds of people, religious and non-religious, atheists, agnostics and people who apparently do not believe in anything.
Of course, as Christians, we do have a distinctive understanding of life and its meaning coming from the teaching and life of Jesus and it should not be compromised. But, at the same time, we do not have a monopoly of the truth. No one has. The full Truth is beyond all of us. We are all searching. Still less do we have a monopoly on good works. God can and does use any person to build the Kingdom. And it is our responsibility to work hand in hand with such people. Ultimately, our aim is not to promote our Church but God’s work and God’s plan for the whole world.
Tuesday of the Twenty-sixth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 9, 51-56 As the time approached when Jesus was to be taken from this world, he firmly resolved to proceed toward Jerusalem, and sent messengers on ahead of him. These entered a Samaritan town to prepare for his passing through, but the Samaritans would not welcome him because he was on his way to Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, would you not have us call down fire from heaven to destroy them?" He turned toward them only to reprimand them. Then they set off for another town
Commentary on Luke 9:51-56
We come today to a distinct turning point in Luke’s gospel. It is marked by the opening words of today’s passage: "When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem." The ‘taking up’ or the ‘assumption’ of Jesus refers to his passion and death leading to resurrection and ascension. It corresponds to the ‘glory’ that John speaks of and for whom the crucifixion is a ‘lifting up’ into ‘glory’.
At this point we have now come to the end of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and we move on to a new section – the journey to Jerusalem which ends at chap. 18:27 where we find Jesus in Jerusalem. The opening corresponds to Mark 10:1 where Jesus is seen entering Judea to preach there and which John more specifically describes as a journey to Jerusalem during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-10)
But Luke diverges from Mark’s story with very different material. He now follows Matthew’s source as well as using material of his own. The section consists almost entirely of teachings of Jesus to his disciples. It is all loosely organised within the framework of Jesus making his way to Jerusalem. The section we are entering is a time of preparation for the disciples for their future role as Messengers of the Kingdom.
Jerusalem is the place where it is all going to happen – the ‘exodus’ of Jesus, including his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension leading to the passing on of his mission to his disciples with the coming down of the Spirit of the Father and Jesus on the disciples. And it will be from Jerusalem that the new Church will be established and from Jerusalem it will spread gradually throughout the whole Mediterranean area until it reaches the empire’s capital in Rome and from there to the ends of the earth.
As he set out, Jesus sent some messengers ahead to announce his coming. In order to go directly from Galilee to Judea, where the city of Jerusalem was situated, they would have had to pass through Samaria. Samaritans were particularly hostile to Jews, especially when they were on their way to a Jewish festival in Jerusalem (as Jesus and his disciples seemed to be doing). It would take at least three days to cross Samaria and the Samaritans were refusing the disciples overnight shelter. Because of this situation, Jewish pilgrims and travellers often avoided confrontation by going down the east bank of the Jordan River. There is an irony here that, when the first Christians were persecuted in Jerusalem, they took refuge in Samaria which became one of the first places to accept the Gospel. (Very likely, the evangelist is aware of the irony when telling this story.)
Faced with this hostility, the brothers James and John, whom we described yesterday as hotheads, suggested that fire from heaven be called down to burn them up. Their threat is reminiscent of the fire that Elijah brought down on the emissaries of an idolatrous king. They were indignant that their Master, the Messiah, should be treated in this way. There is a parallel here between Jesus’ negative reception in his home town of Galilee with his rejection by the people of Samaria.
But Jesus distances himself from those disciples and gives them a scolding. This was not Jesus’ way. Instead, they went off to another village where they hoped to find a better welcome. As we see in other parts of the Gospel, Jesus does not normally go out of his way to court trouble. On the other hand, he will not hesitate to speak his mind or do what he believes is right, even if certain kinds of people take offence at it.
It is never Jesus’ way to destroy his enemies. We will see that clearly after he reaches Jerusalem where far worse things are done to him. Jesus’ purpose always is to change people who are against him, to defuse their hostility and help them to see things in a better way. It is something we could try to do more often. It is not at all the "softy’s" approach. On the contrary, it requires great inner strength and security.
Wednesday of the Twenty-sixth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 9, 57-62 As Jesus and his disciples were making their way along, someone said to Jesus, "I will be your follower wherever you go." Jesus said to him, "The foxes have lairs, the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Come after me." The man replied, "Let me bury my father first." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their dead; come away and proclaim the kingdom of God." Yet another said to him, "I will be your follower, Lord, but first let me take leave of my people at home." Jesus answered him, "Whoever puts his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God."
Commentary on Luke 9:57-62
Today’s passage has to be seen in the light of yesterday’s. Jesus has reached an important stage in his public life and mission. He is now irrevocably on his way to Jerusalem and all that that means for him – and us.
But he does not want to go alone. His whole purpose is to have people go with him. Already there are his disciples but there will be more. Today we see three "candidates" coming forward with a lot of good will but Jesus makes them aware of what following him really means. Their responses to Jesus’ remarks are not given so we do not know whether they became followers or not. The point Luke is making is to show what following entails.
a. The first says very generously that he will go wherever Jesus is going. Jesus answers: "Foxes have their lairs and the birds of the air their nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
These words of Jesus indicate not poverty or indigence but freedom. To follow Jesus fully one needs to be free, not to be tied down by anything and not to be anxious about having or not having things.
There is no evidence that Jesus was poor in the sense of being deprived of the necessities of life. He did not own a house but it is never even hinted that he had to sleep out in the open air. He belonged to a group of people who more than willingly shared what they had with him.
b. The second man was actually invited by Jesus to be a follower. But he asked first to be allowed to go and bury his father. This does not mean that his father had just died and he wanted to attend the funeral. It is more likely that he wanted, as a dutiful son, to wait for his father’s death before going off with Jesus.
But that is not good enough. The call of Jesus transcends needs of family, tradition and culture. The needs of the living outweigh those of the dead. His father might not die for years; what was the man supposed to do in the meantime?
Once we are aware of Jesus’ call the only time to answer is now. In spite of that, we should not read these lines too rigidly. Clearly, for example, there would be times when one would want to be present at the death of a parent, especially to provide support for the grieving spouse. That would be in total harmony with respect for parents and love for the neighbour. But the man in the example is in a totally different situation. He is talking about an event in the future whose time and place are not known.
c. Another would-be follower asked first for permission to go home and say goodbye to his family. It was similar to a request made by Elisha when he was called to succeed Elijah as prophet. Elijah’s answer was, "Go ahead." So what we have here
seems a very reasonable request but it is rejected by Jesus who says, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, looking back is fit for the kingdom of God."
Like Jesus himself turning his face towards Jerusalem and all that it means for him, once the decision has been made to serve God and his people, there can be no turning back. Again, the words of Jesus should not be taken literally.
Read in that way, they would be totally at variance with the loving and compassionate quality of Jesus’ character. The point that is being made in all three examples is the absoluteness, the unconditionally that is required in the following of Jesus. It is a theme which is emphasised more than once in Luke’s gospel. We cannot be fence-sitters, to have our cake and eat it. Being a follower of Jesus can never be a part-time affair. It is all or nothing. At the same time, the demands of agape-love are always there. It is a matter each time of discerning where the truly loving act lies.
If we are honest, a lot of us are like these men in our following of Christ and in the living out of our faith. We do have our material wants (distinct from needs), we feel we cannot live without "our little comforts in life".
Let us pray today for a high degree of freedom in being able to accept unconditionally God’s will for us. To have that freedom is one of the greatest blessings and graces of our life.
Thursday of the Twenty-sixth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 10, 1-12 Jesus appointed a further seventy-two and sent them in pairs before him to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them: "The harvest is rich but the workers are few; therefore ask the harvest-master to send workers to his harvest. Be on your way, and remember: I am sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves. Do not carry a walking staff or traveling bag; wear no sandals and greet no one along the way. On entering any house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' If there is a peaceable man there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the one house eating and drinking what they have, for the laborer is worth his wage. Do not move from house to house. "Into whatever city you go, after they welcome you, eat what they set before you, and cure the sick there. Say to them, 'The reign of God is at hand.' If the people of any town you enter do not welcome you, go into its streets and say, 'We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God is near.' I assure you, on that day the fate of Sodom will be less severe than that of such a town."
Commentary on Luke 10:1-12
Two days ago we saw Jesus firmly setting out for Jerusalem and the accomplishment of his mission. Yesterday we saw how he responded to people who wanted to or were being invited to join his mission. During the coming days we will see Jesus preparing his actual disciples for their work.
In addition to the inner circle of the Twelve, we are told today that he appointed another 72 (12×6) and sent them two by two to the places he himself would be visiting. (Only Luke mentions this group.) That is a good description of our Christian role. We are supposed to go first to prepare the ground but then it is Jesus himself who comes to plant the seed of faith.
Jesus then goes on to give an instruction to his disciples. We, too, should be listening to his words:
a. He first points out that the harvest is great and there are very few labourers, few who are willing to do the harvesting work with Jesus.
This is a text which is often thrown at us during "vocation" campaigns. We tend to hear it as a call for more priests, brothers and nuns. It is that, of course, but when Jesus spoke there were no priests, brothers or nuns. The challenge was being thrown out to all his followers to find more people to join in the harvesting work.
We have to be careful as we listen to these words not to exclude ourselves because we are middle-aged, or married, or already have a career. The words are addressed to all of us and call for some kind of response from every one of us. It is never too late to respond to the call.
b. Second, Jesus warns his followers that it may not be easy. "I am sending you out as lambs among wolves." In spite of the message of truth, love, compassion and justice that we bring, it does not mean that we will be received with open arms. On the contrary, we may meet with strong opposition and even persecution. Our message will be seen as threatening. It will be distorted and misunderstood.
c. The disciple is called on to travel light. Jesus himself "had nowhere to lay his head" and he only had the clothes he wore. So many of us are weighed down by the things we own. Some of us have to protect our property with the latest in security devices. In our search for prosperity and material security we have lost the more precious gift of freedom. They are not to stop to greet people in the sense of carrying on lengthy conversations. Their mission was urgent – there are few labourers for a potentially huge harvest.
d. They are to be bearers of peace. Peace, shalom, is much more than an absence of violence. It is a deep inner harmony with oneself, with others, with one’s environment, with God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." We could hardly bring a more precious gift to others than this inner peace. It is, in fact, the heart of our Christian message. Faith, hope and love are the keys to peace.
e. The evangeliser is, first, to stay in the first house that accepts him. He should not be going around looking for better accommodation. At the same time, he is to be provided with shelter and hospitality for "the labourer is worthy of his hire".
This, it seems, was the way Jesus himself lived. And this was the overall ideal of the Christian community: a network of mutually supporting people sharing their resources with each other and with those in greater need than themselves.
f. Their work is primarily to heal the sick in the places they go to. ‘Healing’ should be taken in a wider sense of including body, feelings, mind and spirit. And ‘healing’ should also be seen not just as getting rid of a sickness but of making a person whole again. Bringing healing and wholeness into the lives of individuals and communities is of the essence of the Kingdom and at the heart of Jesus’ work and that of his followers. The sign of that wholeness is inner peace. Today it is no different.
And they are to say, "The kingdom of God has come near to you." This is not just a statement they are to throw out. It is the core of Jesus’ message and an explanation of why people are experiencing healing and wholeness coming into their lives. This is the effect of the coming of the kingdom; this is what the coming of the kingdom means. God’s power is penetrating their lives, transforming them and making them whole again.
Luke mentions the kingdom of God more than 30 times; Matthew more than 50 times. Matthew’s is truly a Gospel of the Kingdom.
The term can have a number of meanings:
- the eternal kingship (basileia) of God
- the presence of the kingdom in the person of Jesus; he is the embodiment, the incarnation of the rule of God in himself, an incarnation he wishes to be found in his disciples and the communities they establish
- the future kingdom in the life that is to come.
In short, the kingdom, the rule of God is intended to be both a present reality as well as a future hope.
g. Finally, if there is any place where they are not received, they are to leave it to its own fate. Even then those people are to know that the kingdom of God is near to them also. There is always the hope that the results of their very rejection of the kingdom will lead to a deeper awareness later on. But by rejecting the messengers of God they have opened themselves to a fate worse than that of Sodom, a city utterly destroyed because of its shameful lack of hospitality to divine visitors. But those hearing the message of Jesus are even more accountable for hearing the message of the Kingdom proclaimed to them and turning their back on it.
Clearly, we cannot literally apply all of these points to our own work on behalf of the Gospel but we need to make the underlying principles and values ours too. It will require some reflection on our part both as individuals and as communities on how we should effectively share the Gospel with those around us and be the harvesters that are so badly needed.
Indeed, let us pray for vocations but let us remember that every single one of us is being called to work in the harvest field and not just some chosen souls who are totally unknown to us.
Friday of the Twenty-sixth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 10, 13-16 Jesus said: "It will go ill with you, Chorazin! And just as ill with you, Bethsaida! If the miracles worked in your midst had occurred in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have reformed in sackcloth and ashes. It will go easier on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And as for you, Capernaum, 'Are you to be exalted to the skies? You shall be hurled down to the realm of death!' "He who hears you, hears me. He who rejects you, rejects me. And he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me."
Commentary on Luke 10:13-16
Strong words today from Jesus against towns where he had preached extensively – Chorazin, Bethsaida and especially Capernaum.
Chorazin is only mentioned twice in the Bible, here and in the parallel passage of Matt 11:21. It was near the Sea of Galilee and probably between 3 and 4 km north of Capernaum. Bethsaida, the home of some of Jesus’ disciples, was on the north-east shore of the Sea of Galilee. It had been built by Philip the Tetrarch, who called it ‘Julias’ after Julia, a daughter of the emperor Caesar Augustus. Capernaum, situated on the north shore of the lake, appears frequently in the Gospel narratives and was the centre from which Jesus did much of his missionary work. His work and preaching would have been most familiar to the people there.
Jesus says that if the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon had witnessed all that Jesus had said and done in those towns of Palestine they would have repented long ago, just as the pagan people of Niniveh had repented at the preaching of Jonah. Tyre and Sidon were towns on the Phoenician coast, north of Palestine (Lebanon today). Jesus was said to have visited the area just once and only very briefly so the people there did not have an opportunity to witness Jesus’ miracles or hear his preaching unlike the people in the towns mentioned above.
And Jesus goes further. Addressing his disciples he says, "He that hears you, hears me and he that despises you despises me" and the Father who sent him. In other words, to listen to the messengers of Jesus is equivalent to listening to him personally; to reject those messengers is to reject Jesus and to reject God.
And, in our own times, perhaps we should emphasise that those "messengers" are not just bishops, priests and religious. They include all those who sincerely proclaim the Gospel by their words and their lives.
It might be no harm then for each of us today to hear those warnings of Jesus addressed to ourselves. How well have we really responded to the call of Jesus in the Gospel? How open are we to hear that message coming to us from different kinds of people in our community? How committed are we to accepting, living and sharing that Gospel with others?
Might it be true to say that there are people in other parts of our world, our country, our society who, if they were given what we have been given, who heard what we hear, would respond much more generously than we have done?
There is never any room for complacency in our Christian life. Because we have been given so much so much more is expected of us. As Jesus says elsewhere we may be very surprised to see others, who never had an opportunity directly to hear the Gospel, go before us into God’s Kingdom.
Saturday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary TimeGospel Lk 10:17-24The seventy-two disciples returned rejoicing and said to Jesus, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy
and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
At that very moment he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Turning to the disciples in private he said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
Commentary on Luke 10:17-24
We saw at the beginning of chapter 10 how Jesus had sent his 72 disciples out to all the places where he himself would visit. Today we see them returning full of joy and satisfaction. “Lord, even the demons were subject to us in your name.” They discovered that, in his name, they were able to do the same things that Jesus did. In reply, Jesus said to them: “I saw Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” The power of evil is being reversed and this was partly the doing of his disciples working in his name. And he further reassures them: “I give you the power to tread on snakes and scorpions and over the power of the enemy: nothing at all will be able to hurt you.” ‘Snakes and scorpions’ more likely represent evil powers and so the statement is not to be taken literally and still less to be tested (as some obscure sects have tried to do with predictably tragic consequences!). It is true that for the committed disciple nothing can really hurt them. Physically, maybe, but not their real selves. Nothing, as Paul says, can separate us from the love of God, that is, the love that God extends to us at every moment of every day. Then Jesus tells his disciples the real reason why they should be happy. It is not because they have special powers over evil spirits but “because your names are written in heaven”. In other words, their blessedness comes not from what they are able to do but because they have been chosen as the instruments for God to do his work, to make the Kingdom a reality. That is the origin of our blessedness too. Then follows a beautiful prayer of Jesus to the Father. He thanks the Father because all that is coming into the world through Jesus is being made known not to the wise and great ones of this world but to “the little ones”, the people who, in the eyes of the majority, are of no account. No one really knows the Son except the Father. And no one really knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son reveals the Father. And, since that day on the lake shore when Jesus called four fishermen to be his followers, he has been calling very ordinary people to know his identity, to hear his message and share his vision. And so he can say truly to them, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see. Many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see and have not seen them, to hear what you have heard and not heard them.” All of this applies to so many of us, too. We, for reasons only known to God himself, have been given knowledge of the Son. We too, by means of the Church, have been given a vision denied to so many, have heard the Word which is the Way to truth and life. Whatever problems we may be facing right now, let us on this day count our blessings and express our gratitude for them. And the only way to do that is to say ‘Yes’ to Jesus and his Gospel. Let us start doing that right now.
FOR THE SUNDAY GOSPEL SEE THE VIDEO FROM THE WORD EXPOSED ON HOME PAGE.
*Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 10, 25-37 On one occasion a lawyer stood up to pose to Jesus this problem: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?" Jesus answered him: "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" He replied: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus said, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you shall live." But because he wished to justify himself he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied: "There was a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell in with robbers. They stripped him, beat him, and then went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road; he saw him but continued on. Likewise there was a Levite who came the same way; he saw him and went on. But a Samaritan who was journeying along came on him and was moved to pity at the sight. He approached him and dressed his wounds, pouring in oil and wine. He then hoisted him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, where he cared for him. The next day he took out two silver pieces and gave them to the innkeeper with the request: 'Look after him, and if there is any further expense I will repay you on my way back.' "Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the man who fell in with the robbers?" The answer came, "The one who treated him with compassion." Jesus said to him, "Then go and do the same."
Commentary on Luke 10:25-37
As we accompany Jesus firmly on his way to Jerusalem we come across this beautiful incident which is only to be found in Luke. (Imagine our loss if this gospel had not been handed down to us. And what other treasures of Jesus have we in fact lost over the centuries?)
We are told that a scribe approached Jesus with the intention of putting him on the defensive and perhaps making him contradict the teaching of the Law. (Was this just a single attack or was it part of a conspiracy?) The question sounded simple, the kind that anyone would put to a religious teacher: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" As so often happens, Jesus throws the question back at his interrogator. In fact, as a scribe, the man should already know the answer and Jesus asks him his opinion.
He replies as a Scribe might be expected to, not in his own words, but quoting two passages from the Pentateuch, from the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus which say we are to love God with all our heart and soul and our neighbour as ourselves. "Well done," says Jesus. "Do that and life is yours."
However, the man is not satisfied. "Anxious to justify himself", he asks for the meaning of the word "neighbour". For him the word meant, of course, only other Jews like himself but did it include every Jew, even those who did not follow the Law? Was he supposed to love them also?
The answer Jesus gave must have come as a surprise, not to say a shock. And it came in the form of a kind of parable. It is the story we know as the Good Samaritan. In the eyes of most Jews of the time such a term would be a contradiction. It would be like speaking in not so distant days of a "good Communist" or in more recent times of a "good terrorist".
It is most likely (for the story to have meaning) that the man who was set upon by robbers and left half dead on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho was a Jew. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a distance of about 30 km and involved a drop from about 800 metres above sea level to about 150 metres below sea level. It ran through rocky and desert country providing ample opportunity for hidden robbers to waylay unwitting travellers.
In the story three people saw him there. Two of them were religious people, people expected to be lovers of God and neighbour. Yet both carefully passed by on the other side. It is most likely that they were going in the opposite direction, that is, they were on their way from Jericho to Jerusalem and the Temple. The injured man would have been covered in blood. No one intending to go to pray in the Temple would dare to contaminate oneself and become ritually unclean by coming in contact with blood. In other words, they ignored the man for religious reasons.
But then a Samaritan came by. He was, in the eyes of the Jews, an alien and a heretic. There was strong hostility between the two neighbouring peoples on historical, geographical, racial and religious grounds. The Samaritan was regarded as a half-breed both physically and spiritually. They were ethnically related and shared some of the Jewish beliefs but were seen as heretics, ‘half-Jews’. We remember how surprised the Samaritan woman by the well of Jacob was when she was spoken to by Jesus, who would have been expected to ignore her.
This despised outsider, presumed to have nothing of the spirit of God’s mercy and compassion, gives the Jew lying on the ground the attention that the two other religious-minded men refuse to give. In fact, the Samaritan went to extraordinary lengths to take care of the injured man, sparing no expense. Two silver coins may not seem very much but it represented two day’s wages and would have been enough to keep someone for up to two months in a wayside inn.
It is difficult for us at this distance to understand the impact that such a story would have had on the traditional Jewish listener, not to mention a scribe. In our world today it would be something like a Palestinian terrorist coming to the help of a militant Israeli who has been abandoned by fellow-Israelis (or vice versa); it would be something like a violently anti-Catholic North of Ireland Protestant being helped by an IRA member while two ardent Unionists do not want to get involved.
Perhaps the reader can think of examples closer to home.
The question of Jesus is interesting: "Which of the three was a neighbour to the man who was waylaid?" The answer of the scribe is equally interesting: "The one who showed compassion towards him."
The answer then to the question, "Who is my neighbour?" is not, as we learnt in our catechism, "Everybody", though that is true. The answer of Jesus is: "A neighbour is someone who shows compassion to another in need – irrespective of who the helper or the person in need may be." It is less a question of seeing every other person as my neighbour but, much more importantly, of my being actively a neighbour to others, not on the basis of their race, nationality, occupation, gender, skin colour, personality but on the basis of need. And who does not need love and compassion?
Finally, in answer to an academic, theological question, "Who is my neighbour?" Jesus tells the scribe not WHAT or WHO is his neighbour but to go and BE a neighbour.
The story has a secondary lesson for us about stereotyping. For the Jews there was the negative stereotype of the Samaritan (which was probably reciprocated). Our world today is full of stereotypes. We have stereotypes of practically every race and ethnic group and skin colour and they can influence our attitudes deeply and often unconsciously.
Certainly, each race can have recognisable characteristics – Jews, Italians, Irish, Germans, French, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Africans – arising from language and traditions but it is an irrational jump to attribute to every member of a group generalised characteristics.
We can never say that "Irish are…", or "Chinese are…", or "Africans are…" There are too many exceptions. Every individual person has to be approached individually and there are good, bad and indifferent people to be found in every group, including our own. But they all have one thing in common: they should be confident of being helped by good neighbours in their time of need.
Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 10, 38-42 Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him to her home. She had a sister named Mary, who seated herself at the Lord's feet and listened to his words. Martha, who was busy with all the details of hospitality, came to him and said, "Lord, are you not concerned that my sister has left me all alone to do the household tasks? Tell her to help me" The Lord in reply said to her: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing only is required. Mary has chosen the better portion and she shall not be deprived of it."
Commentary on Luke 10:38-42
Today we find Jesus in the home of the sisters, Mary and Martha. We know that they have a brother named Lazarus. We meet the sisters again, showing the same characteristics as in this story, in John’s account of the raising from death of their brother (John 11:1-44). They lived in Bethany, a village about 3-4 km from Jerusalem and it seems that Jesus was a familiar visitor to the house for at the time of Lazarus’ illness Jesus is told: "Your friend Lazarus is sick."
The story of Martha and Mary is, in a way, a contrast to the previous story about the Good Samaritan. It restores a balance in our following of Christ. The story about being a neighbour could lead us to think that only if we are doing things are we loving God.
Martha was a doer to the point of being a fusspot. Martha, we are told, was "burdened with much serving". Serving is something that Jesus himself did constantly and he urged his followers to do the same. But it should not be a burden. And, after Martha had complained about her sister, Jesus told her that she was "anxious and worried about many things". A true servant does not experience anxiety and worry. It signifies a lack of peace.
Because Mary seemed to be doing nothing, Martha saw her as idling and even selfish. Martha must have been somewhat surprised when Jesus said that Mary had "chosen the better part" which would "not be taken from her".
What was that better part? Was Mary just sitting at the feet of Jesus and doing nothing? No. We are told that she was "listening to him speak". Listening to his message is something Jesus tells his disciples and the crowd they need to be doing all the time. And we have mentioned before that listening involves understanding, accepting and assimilating that message so that it becomes part of our very selves
If we do not spend time listening to him, how can we know that our activity is properly directed? It is easy for us Christians to be very busy but are we busy about the right things?
To answer that question we have to stop to listen, to discern and to pray. And, ultimately, the highest form of activity in our lives is contemplation, being in conscious contact with God and his Word. If I find myself saying that I do not have time to give some time to prayer or contemplation each day, then there is a serious imbalance in my priorities and in my understanding of what it means to love and serve my God.
This story blends nicely with the parable of the Good Samaritan which went before it. Taken together they express what should be the essence of Christian living – action for others that is guided by what we learn in contemplation. This was the pattern of Jesus’ own life – he spent long hours bringing healing to people’s lives (being a neighbour) but also retired to quiet places to be alone in communion with his Father. The same pattern must be ours too. We call it being "contemplatives in action".
Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 11, 1-4 him, "Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say: "'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive all who do us wrong; and subject us not to the trial.'"
Commentary on Luke 11:1-4
It is surely no coincidence that Jesus’ commendation of Mary for spending time listening to Jesus should be followed by a section on prayer.
Luke’s gospel has been called the Gospel of Prayer. It is in his gospel, more than any of the others, that we are told about Jesus praying, especially before the more important moments of his public life, such as at his baptism, the choosing of the Twelve, before Peter’s confession of his Messiahship and in the garden before his Passion.
Today we see Jesus just praying somewhere and we get the impression that it was something he did quite often. We mentioned earlier that it was perfectly natural for Jesus to pray to his Father, if we understand by prayer being in close contact with God.
Sometimes it will be to ask him for help in our lives or in making the right decision, sometimes it will be to thank and praise him, sometimes it will be to pray on behalf of someone else and sometimes it will just to be in his company. We saw this yesterday with Mary of Bethany sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus listening to him. In fact, a lot of our prayer should be in silent listening. Some people talk so much in their prayer that God cannot get a word in! And then they complain he does not answer their prayers!
After seeing him pray on this occasion, Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. In reply, he gives them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. It is not quite the form we are familiar with, which comes from Matthew’s gospel. It is simpler but the basic structure is still the same.
Matthew’s text has seven petitions (we know how he likes the number ‘seven’) but Luke only five. It is believed that Matthew follows an earlier form which may be closer to Luke’s.
When Jesus taught this to his disciples did he mean that praying meant reciting this formula at regular intervals? In fact, it is (in Matthew’s version) a formula we all know by heart and which we recite regularly during the Eucharist, when we say the Rosary and on many other occasions. But it seems more likely that Jesus intended to do more than just teach them a formula to be recited. It is probably much better to see his words as an answer to their request: "Lord, teach us how to pray." This is not the same as "Teach us some prayers to say/recite."
We will get much more out of the Lord’s Prayer if we take each petition separately and see each one as a theme about which we can pray. We can take each petition separately and spend time praying around each one. When we do that seriously and conscientiously we will see that it is a very challenging prayer.
Let us briefly look at the petitions as they are in Luke:
To begin with, let us not get into arguments about God’s gender. We can address God as either Father or Mother; the basic meaning is that God is the source of life, that God is the Creator of every living thing. In addressing God as Father (or Mother) we are acknowledging that we are children, sons and daughters, of God. But if we are children of the one God, then we are brothers and sisters to each other. And there can be no exceptions to this, not even one.
Is this what I mean when I utter the word "Father"? Am I prepared to see every single person on the face of this earth, irrespective of race, nationality, skin colour, class, occupation, age, religion, behaviour… as my brother and sister? If not, I have to stop praying at this first word. We can begin to see now what teaching his disciples to pray meant to Jesus as well as to them and us.
May your name be held holy:
God’s name is already holy and nothing we can do can make it any more so. In this petition we are rather asking that the whole world recognise the holiness of God, that the whole world sing with the angels, "Holy, holy, holy…" God does not need this but we do. And when we sing like this in all sincerity then we are saying that we belong to him and recognise him as Lord. And it is, in fact, another way of expressing the following petition…
Your kingdom come:
We refer frequently in these reflections to the Kingdom. It is that world where God’s reign prevails in people’s hearts and minds and relationships. A world where people have submitted gladly to that reign and experience the truth and love and beauty of God in their lives and in the way they react with the people around them. It produces a world of freedom, peace and justice for all.
In praying this petition, though, we are not just asking God to bring it about while we sit back and wait. We are also committing ourselves to be partners with God in bringing it about. Our co-operation in this work is of vital importance. To be a Christian, to be a disciple of Jesus is essentially to be involved in this task of making the Kingdom a reality. And it has to begin right now; it is not just to be left to a future existence. (In Matthew’s version we pray: ‘Your kingdom come on earth…’)Like many of these petitions, it is a prayer that God’s will be carried through our involvement. Again it is a really challenging prayer.
Give us each day our daily bread:
A prayer that we will be always provided with what we need for our daily living. There is a highly dangerous word buried in the petition. That word is "us". To whom does "us" refer? My family? my friends? my work companions? my village, town, city, country, nationality, race? Surely it refers to all God’s children without exception.
If that is the case, then we are praying that every single person be supplied with their daily needs. But that cannot happen unless we all get involved. The petition is not simply passing the buck to God. The feeding of our brothers and sisters is the responsibility of all. Yet millions are hungry, other millions suffer from malnutrition as well as being deprived of many of the other essentials of dignified living. Clearly, we are not doing all we could to see that all of "us" have "our" daily bread. So again this is a very dangerous prayer.
It is even more dangerous when we say it in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the sacrament or sign of a community that takes care of all its members and of others in need. It is the sacrament of breaking bread with brothers and sisters. If we leave the Eucharistic table and do nothing about this then our sign has been a sham.
Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is in debt to us:
How easily we say this again and again! Yet it is a very frightening thing to do: to put God’s forgiving us conditional on our forgiving others. Forgiveness and reconciliation must be part and parcel of Christian living and we all know that at times it can be very difficult. Yet, as we see in the book of Jonah (read during Cycle I at this time), our God is so ready to forgive. To be like him, to be "perfect" is to have that same readiness to forgive. Our deepest urge should be not to condemn and punish but to rehabilitate and restore to life.
Do not put us to the test:
We are surrounded by forces which can draw us away from God and all that is true, good and beautiful. We pray that we will not succumb permanently to anything of the sort. We need constantly God’s liberating hand to lift us up as he lifted the drowning Peter. This is the one petition where we depend totally on God’s help.
The Lord’s Prayer is beautiful. It is challenging. It needs to be taken slowly and meditatively so that we have time to enter deeply into each petition. Perhaps as we pray we can stop at just one petition which at this time is particularly meaningful to us and leave the others for another time. It is primarily not a formula to be recited but themes for prayer. Any one petition is enough to last a long time.
Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 11, 5-13 Jesus said to his disciples: "If one of you knows someone who comes to him in the middle of the night and says to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has come in from a journey and I have nothing to offer him'; and he from inside should reply, 'Leave me alone. The door is shut now and my children and I are in bed. I can't get up to look after your needs' -- I tell you, even though he does not get up and take care of the man because of friendship, he will find himself doing so because of his persistence and give him as much as he needs. "So I say to you, 'Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.' "For whoever asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; whoever knocks, is admitted. What father among you will give his son a snake if he asks for a fish, or hand him a scorpion if he asks for an egg? If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him."
Commentary on Luke 11:5-13
Jesus continues his instructions to his disciples about prayer. Today the lesson is one of perseverance.
Jesus gives the parable of a man coming to a neighbour in the middle of the night looking for some food to provide hospitality to an unexpected visitor. The neighbour is not willing to get up and disturb his wife and children who are sleeping with him (which would be very common in a one-room house). But, says Jesus, if the man persists, the neighbour, simply to get some peace, will eventually get up and give the man all he needs. If a grumpy neighbour will listen to an inconvenient request, how much more will a loving God pay heed to the needs of his children?
In another example Jesus asks if a father would give his child a snake instead of a fish or a scorpion instead of an egg. If even a very ordinary father would not think of treating his children so callously, "if you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him".
Of course, a very pertinent question comes to mind: if God is such a loving and caring parent who will only give "good" things to us, why do we have to persist in asking? Why do we have to ask at all? The reason is not because God needs persuading (like the sleepy neighbour). Persistence in prayer is for our benefit.
There are a number of ways of praying persistently. One is to keep begging God to give us something we want or that we think we need. Another is to think that somehow we can manipulate God or put him under some kind of obligation by asking him repeatedly. So, if I do a nine-day novena and say certain prayers each day, I may expect that God or some saint somehow is under an obligation to give me what I am asking for. (In some kinds of novenas or other devotional exercises there are people who tell us that "satisfaction is guaranteed". This, in fact, is very close to superstition – if not heresy.)
The kind of prayer that Jesus is talking about is really something quite different. He seems to presume that what we are asking for is the gift of God’s Spirit – "how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" Is that what we normally ask for? To ask for the Spirit is to ask to have the same Spirit that inspired Jesus in his life and work. It is a Spirit which is totally at one with the will of the Father. In the parallel text in Matthew, it is "good" things which the Father will give. What could be more of a "good" thing than the very Spirit of God?
The other types of asking can be a subtle way of asking God to do our will – "Lord, not Thy will but mine be done." Whatever form our prayer takes, ultimately it must be this: to be like Jesus so that we may grow in the likeness of the Father. "To know him more clearly, love him more dearly, follow him more nearly."
One of way moving in this direction is to make this the constant theme of our prayer. The more we pray for this the more likely it will become a reality in our lives. And it is inconceivable that God should refuse to hear this prayer.
Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 11, 15-26 As Jesus was casting out a devil, some of the crowd said, "It is by Beelzebul, the prince of devils, that he casts out devils." Others, to test him, were demanding of him a sign from heaven. Because he knew their thoughts, he said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste. Any house torn by dissension falls. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom last? -- since you say it is by Beelzebul that I cast out devils. If I cast out devils by Beelzebul, by whom do your people cast them out? In such a case, let them act as your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out devils, then the reign of God is upon you. "When a strong man fully armed guards his courtyard, his possessions go undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he comes and overpowers him, such a one carries off the arms on which he was relying and divides the spoils. The man who is not with me is against me, and the man who does not gather with me scatters. "When an unclean spirit has gone out of a man, it wanders through arid wastes, searching for a resting place; failing to find one, it says, 'I will go back where I came from.' It then returns, to find the house swept and tidied. Next it goes out and returns with seven other spirits far worse than itself, who enter in and dwell there. The result is that the last state of the man is worse than the first."
Commentary on Luke 11:15-26
"There are none so blind as those who will not see."
In today’s passage Jesus frees a person from enslavement to an evil power which had rendered him mute, so that he could not speak. (In Matthew’s version of this story, the man is also blind.) As Christians, many of us can suffer from the same evil influence when we refuse or are afraid to acknowledge openly our Christian faith. We hide and we remain silent, especially when the values we hold are attacked or ridiculed. Once liberated, the man could speak and he did so, much to the amazement of the crowd. Let us, too, pray for this gift of speech, to be able to say the right thing at the right time.
But there were those present who accused Jesus of using the demon’s power to drive out the evil spirit. At the same time, in spite of the extraordinary signs that Jesus was initiating on almost a daily basis – including the one they had just witnessed which caused such astonishment among the people – his enemies asked him for a sign from God.
There is a clear gap between the leaders and the people here. While the leaders keep asking Jesus for his credentials, the people are shown as constantly praising and thanking God for all that is being done among them through Jesus.
Jesus then shows the self-contradictions in his opponents’ charges. A kingdom that is split by internal rivalries cannot survive. Why would evil spirits attack each other and so frustrate their goals? And, Jesus asks his accusers, when their own people drive out demons, by whose power do they do it? "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out devils, then the reign of God is among you."
When people are liberated from the control of evil spirits, that is a sure sign that the loving power of God is at work. Any other interpretation does not make sense. And the ‘reign of God’ is personified and embodied in Jesus himself. It will also become present in his disciples who do his work.
And Jesus goes on to give another image. A strong man guarding his house and possessions remains undisturbed until someone stronger comes and overthrows him. That is clearly what is happening. Jesus is the stronger one and the evil spirits are being driven away by him. They are helpless before him. This liberation of people and society from evil powers is one of the most dramatic proofs that the all-powerful reign of God is present in the person of Jesus. What further signs could be asked for?
"The man who is not with me is against me, and the man who does not gather with me scatters."
There can be no neutrality where Jesus is concerned. We have to make our choice – for him or against. Not to choose is itself a choice – against him. Compare this with the similar but actually quite different saying with one we saw earlier (9:50): "Anyone who is not against you is for you".
This was in the context of the Apostle John complaining that he saw a man cast out demons in Jesus’ name. In so far as that nameless person was doing Jesus’ work and doing it in Jesus’ name, he was with Jesus. That surely has implications for the many good things that non-Catholics and others who are not Christians at all are doing.
And this saying about the non-acceptance of neutrality leads to another warning. It is not enough to have been liberated from the power of an evil spirit. Otherwise it may come back "to find the house swept and tidied" and bring even worse spirits with it. The end result is that the person’s situation is even worse than before. No, the emptiness left by the departure of the evil spirit has to be actively filled with the Spirit of Jesus.
Was Jesus referring to some of the people around him, especially his critics, who, by their meticulous observance of the Law, saw themselves as morally blameless but in whose lives the positive presence of the Spirit, as exemplified in Jesus himself, was totally absent? This is something we need to reflect on with regard to our use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
It is easy to use the sacrament to get the forgiveness of our past sins and leave it at that. To have the feeling of now having a clean slate. Nature may abhor a vacuum but the devil loves one! The true reconciliation that the sacrament calls for demands a new and stronger commitment to the living of our Christian life. The sacrament is intended to be an experience of conversion and change. It is much more concerned with the future than with the past. The past is gone and there is nothing we can do about it. The present is in our hands and that is where we meet God.
Saturday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Gospel Lk 10:17-24
The seventy-two disciples returned rejoicing and said to Jesus, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy
and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
At that very moment he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Turning to the disciples in private he said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
Commentary on Luke 10:17-24
We saw at the beginning of chapter 10 how Jesus had sent his 72 disciples out to all the places where he himself would visit. Today we see them returning full of joy and satisfaction. “Lord, even the demons were subject to us in your name.” They discovered that, in his name, they were able to do the same things that Jesus did.
In reply, Jesus said to them: “I saw Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” The power of evil is being reversed and this was partly the doing of his disciples working in his name. And he further reassures them: “I give you the power to tread on snakes and scorpions and over the power of the enemy: nothing at all will be able to hurt you.”
‘Snakes and scorpions’ more likely represent evil powers and so the statement is not to be taken literally and still less to be tested (as some obscure sects have tried to do with predictably tragic consequences!). It is true that for the committed disciple nothing can really hurt them. Physically, maybe, but not their real selves. Nothing, as Paul says, can separate us from the love of God, that is, the love that God extends to us at every moment of every day.
Then Jesus tells his disciples the real reason why they should be happy. It is not because they have special powers over evil spirits but “because your names are written in heaven”. In other words, their blessedness comes not from what they are able to do but because they have been chosen as the instruments for God to do his work, to make the Kingdom a reality. That is the origin of our blessedness too.
Then follows a beautiful prayer of Jesus to the Father. He thanks the Father because all that is coming into the world through Jesus is being made known not to the wise and great ones of this world but to “the little ones”, the people who, in the eyes of the majority, are of no account. No one really knows the Son except the Father. And no one really knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son reveals the Father.
And, since that day on the lake shore when Jesus called four fishermen to be his followers, he has been calling very ordinary people to know his identity, to hear his message and share his vision.
And so he can say truly to them, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see. Many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see and have not seen them, to hear what you have heard and not heard them.”
All of this applies to so many of us, too. We, for reasons only known to God himself, have been given knowledge of the Son. We too, by means of the Church, have been given a vision denied to so many, have heard the Word which is the Way to truth and life.
Whatever problems we may be facing right now, let us on this day count our blessings and express our gratitude for them. And the only way to do that is to say ‘Yes’ to Jesus and his Gospel. Let us start doing that right now.
FOR THE SUNDAY GOSPEL SEE THE VIDEO FROM THE WORD EXPOSED ON HOME PAGE.
*Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 11, 29-32 While the crowds pressed around him Jesus began to speak to them in these words: "This is an evil age. It seeks a sign. But no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah was a sign for the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be a sign for the present age. The queen of the south will rise at the judgment along with the men of this generation, and she will condemn them. She came from the farthest corner of the world to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, but you have a greater than Solomon here. At the judgment, the citizens of Nineveh will rise along with the present generation, and they will condemn it. For at the preaching of Jonah they reformed, but you have a greater than Jonah here.
Commentary on Luke 11:29-32
Jesus had just said (last Saturday’s reading) that "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it".
Now, with large crowds pressing around him, he throws out a warning which indicates that not many are hearing the word in the sense of accepting and following it. "This is an evil generation," he says. Why? Because it keeps asking for a sign, by which Jesus can prove his credentials. Today he says the only sign they will be given is the sign of Jonah.
Jonah was a sign from God to the people of Nineveh, a pagan city which heard his message, repented and was reconciled to God. Jesus too comes on a mission from God ("as the Father has sent me") and he will find a hearing – not from many of his own people, but from Gentiles.
So, Jesus says, the "queen of the south", will stand in judgement on the present generation for she, a Gentile outsider, came from a long distance to listen to the wisdom of Solomon. But the Jesus who faces this generation is far greater than Solomon. The "queen of the south" is the queen of Sheba, whose visit to Solomon is recorded in 1 Kings 10:1-10.
Similarly, the people of Nineveh, the great pagan and wicked city, will stand in judgement over the present generation, because they repented at the message of Jonah. But Jesus is greater than Jonah and they refuse to listen to him.
There is always a danger that we take our faith for granted. Worse, we may even feel we are in a superior and safer position than others not of our faith or denomination. The fact that we carry the name ‘Catholic’ is not enough. Baptism and the reception of the other sacraments is not by itself a guarantee of our salvation. What counts is that we hear, understand, accept and assimilate the word of Jesus and carry it out at every moment of our lives.
Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 11, 37-41 As Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine at his house. He entered and reclined at table. Seeing this, the Pharisee was surprised that he had not first performed the ablutions prescribed before eating. The Lord said to him: "You Pharisees! You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but within you are filled with rapaciousness. Fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside too? But if you give what you have as alms, all will be wiped clean for you."
Commentary on Luke 11:37-41
Jesus continues to highlight what is central to our relationship with God. We skip over a short passage which is about various aspects of light. In short, the Christian is to be a person full of light through and through. Not like the kind of people Jesus now goes on to describe.
He had been invited to dinner by a Pharisee. Jesus apparently went straight into the dining area and reclined at the table prepared to eat. The Pharisee was quite shocked because Jesus had not first washed his hands before eating. Of course, we are strongly recommended to wash our hands before sitting down to eat. But here we are not dealing with a question of hygiene but of ritual washing. Jesus had omitted to perform a religious ritual which was laid down by the stricter Jews, although not actually part of the Law. [The rule probably had originally a hygienic purpose. By giving it a religious sanction one made sure that it was carried out. Many other obligations, some of them contained in the Mosaic Law e.g. in Leviticus, seem to be of the same kind.]
Most probably, Jesus, in the ordinary course of events, would have had no problem about performing this ritual but it is likely that here he is deliberately making a point. It allows him to draw attention to what he sees as false religion. A person’s virtue is not to be judged by his performance or non-performance of an external rite.
As Jesus tells this man in a graphic image, the Pharisees concentrate on making sure that the outside of the cup is clean while inside it is full of all kinds of depravity and corruption (like the judgmental thoughts in this man’s mind and the sinister plotting that the Pharisees in general were directing against Jesus). God is as much, if not much more, concerned about the inside as the outside.
Instead, Jesus suggests that they give alms to the poor and, when the inside is clean, there is no need to worry about the outside. Giving alms is a positive act of kindness to another person; it is an act of love and compassion. It neutralises the greed and rapacity of which he accuses them. It is not, like the washing of hands, a purely empty ritual which says little and is almost totally self-directed.
It is so easy to judge people, including our fellow-Catholics, by their observance or non-observance of certain Christian customs, which of themselves are of a non-moral nature. In the past, for instance, we might have criticised a woman for not wearing a hat in church or a priest for appearing without his Roman collar. Today, we might find ourselves scandalised because someone goes to communion having had a huge meal well within the designated one hour of fasting or even for eating meat on Friday, even though the ‘law’ does not require it. (Most of the passages in the Gospel attacking Pharisees are really directed against Pharisees in our Christian communities, not to mention the Pharisee in our own hearts.)
Elsewhere, Jesus has told us not to judge because it is very difficult for us to know what is going on within another person’s mind. (Like a former professor of mine, who as a young man, many years ago, was seen going into a shop to buy a packet of condoms. He actually wanted them to keep the rain off the spark plugs on his ancient motorbike!)
What Jesus is really emphasising here is the inner spirit and motivation. Once that is right, everything else will be taken care of.
Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 11, 42-46 The Lord said: "Woe to you Pharisees! You pay tithes on mint and rue and all the garden plants, while neglecting justice and the love of God. These are the things you should practice, without omitting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! You love the front seats in synagogues and marks of respect in public. Woe to you! You are like hidden tombs over which men walk unawares." In reply one of the lawyers said to him, "Teacher, in speaking this way you insult us too." Jesus answered: "Woe to you lawyers also! You lay impossible burdens on men but will not lift a finger to lighten them."
Commentary on Luke 11:42-46
Jesus today continues to attack the attitudes of Pharisees. These remarks are not to be thought of as applying to all Pharisees, many of whom were good people. Paul himself was once a Pharisee as was Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night, and Gamaliel, who, in the Acts (5:34ff), urged caution in persecuting the disciples of Jesus. Jesus is to be seen rather attacking a certain mentality which can all too easily be among us Christians and, if we are honest, sometimes in ourselves.
Here Jesus attacks them for their scrupulous observance of even the tiniest of regulations, not because that is wrong but because they by-pass the love of God which is what really matters. He attacks them for their status-seeking. They expect people to look up to them and give them special honours because of their supposed higher level of religious observance. They expect to be given front seats in the synagogue and for people to greet them obsequiously in the streets.
Usually graves were whitewashed so that people would not walk over them by mistake. The Pharisees are like unmarked graves which people unwittingly come in contact with and thus become tainted with ritual uncleanness. In other words, people coming in contact with them are not aware that under the veneer of piety inside they are really containers of rottenness and corruption. (Elsewhere, Jesus describes them as whitewashed graves where the outer cleanliness conceals inner corruption.)
In the past (and perhaps in some places it is still the case), the clergy have often expected similar honours to be paid to them. Very often, people willingly did so because they genuinely respected their bishop or their priest. But there were cases where the honours were not deserved but were demanded and expected. But, as used to be said, the habit does not make the monk nor the Roman collar the priest nor the mitre the bishop.
At this point, one of the scribes or experts in the law objected because in speaking like that about the Pharisees, Jesus was attacking them too. (Some of the scribes were also Pharisees.) But they are equally deserving of criticism. Because by their narrow-minded and nit-picking interpretations of the law they make it difficult for ordinary people to keep the law, while they themselves do nothing to help. Moreover, they add rules and regulations to the Mosaic Law, do nothing to help people keep them and find ways for themselves to get around them.
The Church itself over the centuries has not been above criticism in this area either. And perhaps it is still true today. Bishops and priests have often laid heavy burdens on the faithful and not given much help in carrying them. Sometimes church leaders have been more anxious to preserve traditional practices than lead people to a deeper love of Christ and each other.
But the clergy have no monopoly on this. Parents too can be guilty when they follow double standards, making one rule for themselves and another for their children. Similarly teachers with students or employers with employees… "Do as I say; don’t do as I do", as teacher Miss Jean Brodie tells her students in Muriel Sparks’ novel.
Pharisaism is alive and well in our society but the first person I need to check is me.
Thursday of the Twenty-eighth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 11, 47-54 The Lord said: "Woe to you! You build the tombs of the prophets, but it was your fathers who murdered them. You show that you stand behind the deeds of your fathers: they did the murders and you erect the tombs. That is why the wisdom of God has said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of these they will persecute and kill'; so that this generation will have to account for the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world. Their guilt stretches from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who met his death between the altar and the sanctuary! Yes, I tell you, this generation will have to account for it. Woe to you lawyers. You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves have not gained access, yet you have stopped those who wish to enter!" After he had left this gathering, the scribes and Pharisees began to manifest fierce hostility to him and to make him speak on a multitude of questions, setting traps to catch him in his speech.
Commentary on Luke 11:47-54
More strong words from Jesus against the Pharisaic mentality. Today the charge is of hypocrisy.
They now build monuments to remember the prophets of old but those same prophets were killed by the ancestors of those who later built them. On the one side they are building the monuments as an act of atonement while they themselves have exactly the same attitudes as their ancestors. They do not listen to their own teaching.
Jesus utters words which he identifies as "the wisdom of God": "I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of these they will persecute and kill." It is not a quotation from the Old Testament or any other book known to us. It could refer to God speaking through Jesus (the Word, the Wisdom of God) or presenting in quotation form God’s decision to send prophets and apostles, even though they would be rejected.
Jesus is basically saying that the mission of the Church (apostles) is linked with the mission of the Old Testament prophets, who, like Jesus’ disciples, suffered and, in some cases, died at the hands of their contemporaries. Jesus, of course, himself will be one of them, the last and greatest Prophet.
Jesus says the scholars of the Law carry with them guilt for the killing of every good person and every prophet since the murder of Abel down to that of Zechariah. The murder of Abel by his brother Cain is recorded in Genesis 4:8, the opening book of the Old Testament, and that of Zechariah, son of Jehoiada in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22, a book regarded as the closing of the Hebrew Testament by the Jews. It is like our describing the whole Bible in terms of "from Genesis to Revelation". Jesus was referring to the history of martyrdom right through the whole of the Old Testament.
There is one final attack against the Scribes and their way of thinking and acting. They interpret the Law in such a way that they make it inaccessible to the ordinary person. And, what is worse, they do not observe it themselves. "You yourselves have not gained access, yet you have stopped those who wish to enter!" They kept both themselves and the people in ignorance of the true way to salvation and wholeness. As it is put in Matthew’s gospel: "They shut the kingdom of heaven [God] in people’s faces" (Matt 23:13).
One wonders how many of our Church leaders, teachers and theological and moral ‘experts’ have not done exactly the same thing over the years and down to the present day? How many Catholic parents and teachers have made the Christian message basically inaccessible to the young and then we wonder why they have "no interest in religion"?
Not surprisingly, all these attacks only increased the hostility of the Pharisees and the religious leaders against Jesus. They got him to speak on a multitude of religious questions hoping that he would convict himself out of his own mouth. As far as they were concerned, they were more than successful. What they did not realise was that Jesus was operating from a completely different vision of what life is really about. His new wine could not fit into their old wineskins.
The question for each one to ask is: Do I share the vision of Jesus? What does ‘Christianity’ mean to me?
Friday of the Twenty-eighth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 12, 1-7 A crowd of thousands had gathered, so dense that they were treading on one another. Jesus began to speak first to his disciples: "Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nothing hidden that will not be made known. Everything you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight; what you have whispered in locked rooms will be proclaimed from the rooftops. "I say to you who are my friends: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and can do no more. I will show you whom you ought to fear. Fear him who has power to cast into Gehenna after he has killed. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for a few pennies? Yet not one of them is neglected by God. In very truth, even the hairs of your head are counted! Fear nothing, then. You are worth more than a flock of sparrows."
Commentary on Luke 12:1-7
After his confrontation with the Pharisees and Scribes, Jesus now turns to the crowds. We are told that they were gathering round him in their thousands, so densely that they were trampling on each other. Clearly they were hungry to hear a man who had spoken in such an extraordinary and daring ways to their religious leaders.
But Jesus begins by speaking first to his own disciples. "Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." The fermenting characteristic of yeast is seen by the Jews as a corrupting agent. That was why they only use unleavened bread at the Passover.
The corrupting agent in the Pharisees was their hypocrisy. On the outside they pretended to be what they were not on the inside. "There is nothing…hidden that will not be made known." It can mean that the hypocrisy of the pharisaical will ultimately be laid bare. In contrast to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees the followers of Jesus must practice transparency. And, although much of the teaching that the disciples receive is in private, ultimately all will have to come out into the open.
The Church is not a secret society, although it has its "mysteries", its special teachings and rituals, which are only fully understood by those who are "inside". The Church is of its very essence evangelical. Its purpose is to share the vision of Christ with the whole world. This is crucial to the setting up of the kingdom, the accepted reign of God in the world.
"What you have whispered in locked rooms will be proclaimed from the rooftops." This, of course, will involve dangers. The Gospel will be resisted, it will be seen as a dangerous threat to other views of life. Christians will die and, in fact, thousands have sacrificed their lives simply because they were followers of Jesus.
But death is not the worst enemy. It is a fact of living. It is an end we will all have to face one day, sooner or later, one way or the other. The one we are really to fear is the one "who has the power to cast into Gehenna after he has killed". Only God as the Supreme Judge has this power. Of course, the only person God "casts" into "hell" is one who has chosen to separate him- or herself definitively from God.
‘Gehenna’ (in Hebrew) ge-hinnom, ‘Valley of Hinnom’ or ge-ben-hinnom, ‘Valley of the Son of Hinnom’, was situated on the south-west of Jerusalem. In the time of the kings it had been the centre of a cult in which children were sacrificed (cf. 2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:31) and hence seen as a place of abomination. The Hebrew is transliterated into Greek as gaienna, which appears in the New Testament as geenna (geenna). The punishment of sinners by fire after death first appeared in Jewish apocalyptic literature but the name geenna for this punishment first appears in the New Testament. The term is only used in Matthew, Mark, the Letter of James and here. The word is not to be confused with Hades, which was a general name for the place of the dead.
The one we are really to fear is the one who can make us deny Christ and all that Christ means and to die in a state of denial. But, whatever threats hang over us, we are not to fear. We have the example of many before us who have gone to their deaths in peace and without hesitation. They knew they had no other choice: either death or Truth.
Even little birds sold in the market place for a few cents do not die unknown to God, says Jesus. The very hairs of our head are counted. So our duty is clear: to proclaim the good news of the Gospel with openness and integrity and not to fear the consequences. Because we are not alone.
Saturday of week 28
Gospel Lk 12:8-12Jesus said to his disciples:“I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God.But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.
“Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say.
For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.”
Commentary on Luke 12:8-12
Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for trials to come in the future.
He encourages them to be faithful to their Christian commitment and to their faith in Christ as Lord. When we publicly acknowledge Jesus as Christ and Lord, Jesus too will acknowledge us as his faithful disciple. Of course, it will be difficult during times of abuse and persecution but they must always be ready to acknowledge their allegiance to Jesus. To deny that allegiance may win them a reprieve in this life but not in the next. “He who saves his life will lose it,” as Jesus said on an earlier occasion. The word for ‘deny’ here is the same word used in Peter’s denial and disowning of his Master (Luke 22:34 and 61).
There comes now a saying which can cause difficulty to some. “Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man will be forgiven but whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” Why should there be just one exception to the forgiveness of sin? And why is speaking against the Son acceptable but not against the Spirit?
To speak against the Son is clearly wrong but, with repentance, there can be reconciliation. But to sin against the Spirit is to go against Truth itself. This was basically the sin of the Scribes and Pharisees. They not only criticised Jesus; that could be understood. But they locked themselves into a situation where they shut out any openness to the truth, the Truth that others could so easily see present in Jesus. As long as they were in that situation, there was no possibility of reconciliation. Forgiveness in the Gospel is not just a unilateral move on one person’s part. It always involves a coming together of two opposing parties in reconciliation. To sin against the Spirit is to close the door on reconciliation.
It seems that in Luke’s context he may be applying the saying to those Christians who are under attack for their faith. If they deny the Spirit of Truth they too lock themselves out from being reached by God. In times to come, Jesus’ disciples will be dragged before civic and religious authorities. They are not to be afraid or worried about how to defend themselves or about what they should say.
People who have been in this position have attested that the words do indeed come and with them a certain peac
e and strength, provided one retains one’s integrity and wholeness. And it is the presence of that Spirit, the Spirit of God and of Jesus, that is at work.
Most of us will not have to suffer severely for our faith. But there will likely be times when we may find our religious beliefs and practices ridiculed and made fun of. We can be tempted at such times to go into hiding, to conceal our Christian identity. We may even fail to come to the support of people who are under attack, refuse to stand by them, refuse to stand up and be counted as committed followers of the Gospel.
If that has happened in the past, let us ask forgiveness. Let us pray that in future we may have the courage and integrity in word and deed to let people know who we are and what we stand for.
FOR THE SUNDAY GOSPEL SEE THE VIDEO FROM THE WORD EXPOSED ON HOME PAGE.
Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 12, 13-21 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to give me my share of our inheritance." He replied, "Friend, who has set me up as your judge or arbiter?" Then he said to the crowd, "Avoid greed in all its forms. A man may be wealthy, but his possessions do not guarantee him life." He told them a parable in these words: "There was a rich man who had a good harvest. 'What shall I do?' he asked himself. 'I have no place to store my harvest. I know!' he said. 'I will pull down my grain bins and build larger ones. All my grain and my goods will go there. Then I will say to myself: You have blessings in reserve for years to come. Relax! Eat heartily, drink well. Enjoy yourself.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life shall be required of you. To whom will all this piled-up wealth of yours go?' That is the way it works with the man who grows rich for himself instead of growing rich in the sight of God."
Commentary on Luke 12:13-21
We move on now in Luke to more immediate concerns of the Christian life. Today’s topic is about the perennial question of money, or rather, the love of money.
A man in the crowd asked Jesus to tell his brother to give him a share of the inheritance due to them both. According to Mosaic Law the general rule was that an elder son received double that of a younger son. If there was a dispute, it was usually settled by a rabbi, which is presumably why the man approached Jesus. It was the kind of problem in which Jesus was not remotely interested and he refused to get involved. One wonders how interested Jesus is when we make novenas to win lotteries or when we ask God to help us get our hands on the wealth of a rich and elderly aunt!!
Jesus now takes the opportunity to make some general remarks about material greed "in all its forms". A man may be wealthy, he says, but his possessions do not guarantee him life. Life comes with freedom, peace and happiness. Money cannot buy these things.
There is no evidence that rich people enjoy more freedom, peace or happiness although many of us are inclined to think they do and we envy them. Their marriages do not last any longer. They do not bring up better children. They do not necessarily enjoy better health.
At this point Jesus speaks a telling parable. A farmer who is already rich has a bumper harvest. It is so big that he has to pull down his existing barns to build larger ones. When all that is done, he smugly says to himself: "My boy, you have blessings in reserve for years to come. Relax! Put your feet up. Eat heartily, drink well. Enjoy yourself." But that very night, Jesus says, God will terminate his earthly life.
What happens now to all his piled-up wealth? Yes, it all has to be left behind. "You can’t take it with you." "How much did he leave?" was asked about a billionaire who died. "Every red cent," was the reply. When the farmer met his God, what had he brought with him? Little or nothing. When Mother Teresa died, how much do you think she brought? One feels she brought a great deal. And she certainly left behind a great deal to enrich the lives of many.
What is my attitude to money and wealth? If I were to die now what could I bring with me to present to God? And what will I leave behind, apart from cash and possessions? All of us can be rich in God’s sight and it does not require any money. Someone has said that the really rich are not those who have the most but those whose needs are the least. [If you have a New Testament handy, read the following passage, 12:22-34, where Jesus spells out a recipe for a life free from anxiety, the life which he himself lived.]
And what we need most is the ability to reach out in love, the love that builds and makes life better for others. Think of what good parents leave behind in children whose lives are dedicated to making this world a better place. Or teachers who have helped young people to devote themselves to service of the community.
What we need is to live in communities where people look after each other. A situation where because everyone gives, everyone gets.
Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 12, 35-38 Jesus said to his disciples: "Let your belts be fastened around your waists and your lamps be burning ready. Be like men awaiting their master's return from a wedding, so that when he arrives and knocks, you will open for him without delay. It will go well with those servants whom the master finds wide-awake on his return. I tell you, he will put on an apron, seat them at table, and proceed to wait on them. Should he happen to come at midnight or before sunrise and find them prepared, it will go well with them."
Commentary on Luke 12:35-38
More advice from Jesus today about readiness. There is an echo of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (found in Matthew’s gospel). We are to be ready, with our belts fastened and our lamps burning. Like men (not women this time) waiting for the groom to return from the wedding. When the master comes and knocks we will be ready to admit him without delay.
There is a reward, a surprising reward, for servants thus prepared. When the master comes back and finds his servant awake and ready, he will seat them at table and himself wait on them. "I have come to serve and not to be served" Jesus had said of himself. He is the one who, as Master and Lord, washes the feet of his disciples. And if the master comes in the middle of the night or before dawn, blessed are those servants who are ready for his return.
This need for readiness is not a reason to be anxious nor a reason to be afraid. Reason and experience tells us again and again that the Lord’s call comes at the most unexpected times. The only solution is to be ready here and now and leave the future to take care of itself.
In our relationships with God, it is always the present which counts. The prepared servant lives constantly in the present and seeks and finds God there. A life so lived takes care of itself – and its future.
Wednesday of The Twenty-ninth Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 12, 39-48 Jesus said to his disciples: "You know as well as I that if the head of the house knew when the thief was coming he would not let him break into his house. Be on guard, therefore. The Son of Man will come when you least expect him." Peter said, "Do you intend this parable for us, Lord, or do you mean it for the whole world?" The Lord said, "Who in your opinion is that faithful, farsighted steward whom the master will set over his servants to dispense their ration of grain in season? That servant is fortunate whom his master finds busy when he returns. Assuredly, his master will put him in charge of all his property. But if the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking his time about coming,' and begins to abuse the housemen and servant girls, to eat and drink and get drunk, that servant's master will come back on a day when he does not expect him, at a time he does not know. He will punish him severely and rank him among those undeserving of trust. The slave who knew his master's wishes but did not prepare to fulfill them will get a severe beating, whereas the one who did not know them and who nonetheless deserved to be flogged will get off with fewer stripes. When much has been given a man, much will be required of him. More will be asked of a man to whom more has been entrusted."
Commentary on Luke 12:39-48
Today we have some further warnings on readiness. The unpredictability of God’s coming for the final call is compared to a thief breaking into one’s house. If one knew when the thief was coming, one would be prepared and have everything well locked up. Few people have not had this experience of being burgled or had their pocket picked. The point is that we do not know the day or the hour. And "the Son of Man will come when you least expect him".
Peter asks if this image is just for the disciples or for the whole world. Jesus answers by telling a parable.
A faithful and farsighted steward is one who is found doing his job for the household whenever the master returns. The steward was one who had responsibility over the other servants and Jesus could be referring here to his apostles and other leaders of the Christian community. A trusted slave (‘servant’) too could sometimes be put in charge of an estate.
But if the steward feels that the master is "long in coming" and sets about abusing the rest of his staff and wasting his time in debauching himself, he will be severely punished when his master returns unexpectedly. We know that the early Christians believed that Jesus would return during their lifetime but, as time went on and there was no sign of Jesus, Christians could be tempted to become less vigilant and begin to ‘live it up’. It was a dangerous thing to do.
But then Jesus makes a distinction. Those who know their master’s wishes (like his disciples) but are found misbehaving when he returns will be severely punished. Those who do not know (non-disciples, outsiders) will still be punished for doing wrong but their punishment will be less than those who have received their master’s teaching and instructions.
Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 12, 49-53 Jesus said to his disciples: "I have come to light a fire on the earth. How I wish the blaze were ignited! I have a baptism to receive. What anguish I feel till it is over! Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? I assure you, the contrary is true; I have come for division. From now on, a household of five will be divided three against two and two against three; father will be split against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in- law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
Commentary on Luke 12:49-53
We have some passionate and disturbing words from Jesus today.
First, he expresses his deep desire to cast fire on the earth. In the imagery of the Old Testament, fire is a symbol of God’s powerful presence. We remember Moses at the burning bush, the pillar of fire that accompanied the Israelites by night as they wandered through the desert to the promised land, as well as the tongues of fire that hovered over the disciples at Pentecost.
It is this Pentecostal fire that burns men’s hearts and draws them to change the direction of their lives. For Jesus’ wish to be fulfilled we have to play our part in helping to spread some of that fire of God’s love everywhere.
Second, he expresses a longing for his baptism to be accomplished. Baptism here refers to his immersion in the terrible suffering and death by which we will be liberated. In fact, the ritual of baptism where the person to be baptised was immersed in the baptismal pool was seen as a parallel to Jesus going down into death and emerging to the new life of the resurrection. Paul speaks about this.
Thirdly, Jesus says he has come not to bring peace but division on the earth. At first sight, this is a hard saying and it does not make any sense. Is Jesus not the Prince of Peace? Did Jesus not say at the Last Supper that he was giving his peace to his disciples, a peace that the world could not give and that no one could take away? Did he not say, "Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest"? Was the final greeting of the Risen Christ to his disciples in the upper room not "Peace [be/is] with you"?
Yes, but he also warned his disciples that, after he was gone, they could expect a rough ride. They would be hauled before rulers and governors, they would be beaten and jailed and put to death. People would think they were doing well in ridding the world of them. In that sense, Jesus was certainly not going to bring peace.
And, by the time this gospel was written, Jesus’ prophecy had been well borne out and there was a lot more to come.
The break-up of families, father against mother, parents against children, in-laws against in-laws, were unfortunately only too common as one or more members in a family decided to follow Christ and be baptised. These must have been very painful experiences which no one wanted. Anyone who is familiar with the history of the Church in China during the Communist persecution knows how many families were torn apart by their accepting Christianity. (In the Gospel, we see it in the story of the blind man who attached himself to Jesus and whose parents, terrified of the authorities, wanted to have nothing to do with. It is surely an image which was quite familiar to converts in the early, not to mention the later, church.)
Jesus had warned that those who wanted to follow him had to be ready, if necessary, to leave home and family and enter into a new family of brothers and sisters. To follow the way of truth and love, of freedom and justice is always going to arouse the hostility of those who feel threatened by goodness.
But is it right to break up one’s family? We might counter by asking which is the more loving thing to do: to be true to one’s convictions and one’s integrity or to compromise them for the sake of a merely external peace? The one who leaves a family for the sake of Christ and the Gospel shows a greater love for one’s family and will never cease to love them no matter how viciously they may react to the choice the Christian has felt it necessary to make. In the long run, truth and love will prevail. They must.
Finally, hostility, division, persecution, provided the Christian is not directly responsible, does not take away the peace that Jesus spoke about. On the contrary, it is only by being true to one’s convictions and one’s integrity, whatever the price that has to be paid, that peace can be experienced.
Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 12, 54-59 Jesus said to the crowds: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say immediately that rain is coming -- and so it does. When the wind blows from the south, you say it is going to be hot -- and so it is. You hypocrites! If you can interpret the portents of earth and sky, why can you not interpret the present time? Tell me, why do you not judge for yourselves what is just? When you are going with your opponent to appear before a magistrate, try to settle with him on the way lest he turn you over to the judge, and the judge deliver you up to the jailer, and the jailer throw you into prison. I warn you, you will not be released from there until you have paid the last penny."
Commentary on Luke 12:54-59
Here we have two inter-related pieces of advice from Jesus. It is striking how simple and down to earth are the examples which Jesus uses to illustrate his teaching.
Today he takes the common phenomenon of the farmer reading the sky to forecast the weather. With experience, one can become very accurate at least in short-term forecasting from observing the colour and shape of the clouds, the direction and strength of the wind and so on. The wind from the west came from the Mediterranean and so brought rain. The south wind blew from the desert and so brought hot weather.
Jesus asks his listeners, if they are so good at reading the weather signs why are they not equally good at reading the signs that are taking place before their very eyes? They were now in the messianic age. Jesus has been performing one sign after another through the power of his teaching and the authority that he brings, through the healing of the sick, the feeding of the hungry, the calming of storms, the liberating of people from evil forces…
Yet, they do not seem to be able to see the clear hand of God in what he does. They follow him with curiosity to see what they may be able to get for themselves but very few commit themselves to following him as disciples.
Secondly, he asks them why they do not judge for themselves what is right? He urges them to solve issues here and now instead of dragging their opponents to court only to find they lose the case and end up in jail.
If that is wise advice in everyday life how much more important to be ready when we come to face the Judge of judges? If we do not settle our affairs now, in the future it may be too late. Linking this with what has already been said, it is time for us to read the clear signs of God’s call coming through Jesus and to respond by a change of heart and behaviour (metanoia). Then, with no evidence to incriminate us, we will have nothing to fear from the Judge on that day of reckoning and accounting.
Bringing all this down to a more earthly level we might say that in our own time we live in an age which is becoming litigation-crazy. In many situations, both sides often end up the losers (while lawyers laugh all the way to the bank.) The bitter aftermath can last for years.
There may be times when recourse to a court is the only way to see justice done, but very often, disputes are best worked out between the parties involved. For many, the pain of marriage breakdowns can be vastly increased by litigation and can be a source of long-lasting bitterness, especially where the arguments are over large – or even small – amounts of property.
As Christians, we need to develop a real sense of justice in the sense of wanting the best for all concerned. Forgiveness and reconciliation should be a high priority for us. There should be no place in our lives for sheer vindictiveness or, perhaps worse, simply a desire to make a lot of money
Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Gospel Lk 13:1-9
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them— do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
And he told them this parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”
Commentary on Luke 13:1-9
Catastrophes or accidents which take people’s lives constantly force people to ask, Why? or Why them? Why was President Kennedy shot in the prime of his career? Why did Princess Diana die so tragically at the age of 36? Why was Gandhi killed just when his country needed him most? Why did that young mother die giving birth to her child? Why did that young father die of cancer and leave behind a family struggling to survive? Why did my father die at the age of 66 while my mother lived to be 92?
Today Jesus mentions two apparently recent incidents in which lives were lost. In one case, Pilate the Roman governor had some Galileans killed in the Temple precincts. Perhaps the Galileans had violated some Roman regulation about public order. In the other, eighteen people were killed when a tower in Siloam, inside the south-east section of Jerusalem’s wall, fell on top of them. There is no other record in history of either of these two events. However, the first is regarded as typical of Pilate’s administration. The New American Bible carries the following note:
The slaughter of the Galileans by Pilate is unknown outside Luke; but from what is known about Pilate from the Jewish historian Josephus, such a slaughter would be in keeping with the character of Pilate. Josephus reports that Pilate had disrupted a religious gathering of the Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim with a slaughter of the participants (Antiquities 18,4,1 **86-87) and that on another occasion Pilate had killed many Jews who had opposed him, when he appropriated money from the temple treasury to build an aqueduct in Jerusalem (Jewish War, 2,9,4 **175-177; Antiquities 18,3,2 **60-62).
It seems that some people at the time were saying that this was a punishment of God on these people for moral wrongs they had done. Jesus disagrees. “Do you think they were more guilty than anyone else who lived in Jerusalem?” Jesus asks. “Certainly not!” he asserts.
In fact, he says, his hearers will all meet a similar fate unless they change their ways. The sins of the victims were not the cause of their death but they are certainly warnings to the rest of us to see if we are ready for such an eventuality. And he goes on to illustrate his meaning with a parable.
A man had a fig tree in his garden which did not produce fruit. Eventually he told the gardener to cut the tree down because it had not given fruit for three years in a row and it was only taking up space. However, the gardener urged that the tree be left for one more year and be given one more chance. In the meantime, he would hoe the ground and add fertiliser. If, after those efforts, there was still no fruit, let it be cut down.
The story can be linked to what Jesus has just said. In a sense the people he has been talking to are like fig trees that have not borne fruit. The three years mentioned in the story may refer to the length of Jesus’ own ministry. However, they still have a chance to turn their lives around, a chance which was not given to those who had died in those two incidents.
We, too, are being given a chance – For a day? A month? Several years? We have no idea. What is clear is that there is no time to waste; we have to start today. For God, the past is not what counts or the future but only the present. As long as I am with him NOW I have nothing to worry about.
FOR THE SUNDAY GOSPEL SEE THE VIDEO FROM THE WORD EXPOSED ON HOME PAGE.
*Monday of the Thirtieth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 13, 10-17 On a sabbath day Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues. There was a woman there who for eighteen years had been possessed by a spirit which drained her strength. She was badly stooped -- quite incapable of standing erect. When Jesus saw her, he called her to him and said, "Woman, you are free of your infirmity." He laid his hand on her, and immediately she stood up straight and began thanking God. The chief of the synagogue, indignant that Jesus should have healed on the sabbath, said to the congregation, "There are six days for working. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath." The Lord said in reply, "O you hypocrites! Which of you does not let his ox or ass out of the stall on the sabbath to water it? Should not this daughter of Abraham here who has been in the bondage of Satan for eighteen years have been released from her shackles on the sabbath?" At these words, his opponents were covered with confusion; meanwhile, everyone else rejoiced at the marvels Jesus was accomplishing.
Commentary on Luke 13:10-17
Last Saturday we saw Jesus telling people that they should not be distracted from their own obligations by getting caught up in tragedies which happened to others. Rather than wonder about the eternal salvation of others, they should pay more attention to their own situation.
Today we have an example of people so busy criticising what others are doing that they are totally unaware of the emptiness in their own lives.
We are told that Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on a sabbath day. In the congregation was a woman who was suffering from what seems to be curvature of the spine for 18 years. There is a certain symbolism in the fact that she was badly stooped and was not able to stand up straight. Spiritually speaking, is that not also our problem too? So many of us are bowed down with the burdens and worries of our lives.
In fact, nearly all the healings done by Jesus can be seen as symbolic of deeper afflictions from which all of us can suffer – at the same time! Deafness (we can’t hear God speaking to us), blindness (we cannot see the truth or understand the Word of Jesus in the Gospel), dumbness (we can’t or won’t proclaim our faith), paralysis and other crippling afflictions (we are not able to do the things we ought to be doing), leprosy (we are cut off from relating with others or we cut other people off), possessed by evil spirits (in the grip of various compulsions and addictions)…
Jesus saw the woman, called her to him and told her she was free from her affliction. Her affliction was seen as caused by an evil spirit and Jesus had liberated her. He laid his hand on her and immediately she stood up straight and began thanking God.
One might expect that everyone present would also start thanking and praising God for what had happened to the poor woman. But no. The chief of the synagogue was indignant that the healing had taken place on the sabbath. Medical services were not allowed on the day of rest. "There are six working days on which to be cured; the sabbath is not one of them," he said.
The ruler of the synagogue was not a priest. He was responsible for conducting services, inviting people to read the Scriptures and preach, and in general of maintaining order. He was a layman who also had administrative duties such as taking care of the building. Normally, only one person held this post but sometimes it could be simply an honorary position.
In a way, of course, the ruler was perfectly right. A woman who had lived with this kind of ailment for 18 years could easily have waited for just one more day to be cured. But that was not the point, as Jesus made perfectly clear.
He accused the synagogue head and his like of pure hypocrisy. There was not one of them who would hesitate to take their ox or donkey from its stall on a sabbath day in order to give it water. They put the needs of animals before that of a human being.
And what could be more appropriate than to liberate this poor woman from the slavery of her affliction on the sabbath? All the synagogue head could see was the letter of the law. He could not marvel at the healing power of Jesus and the deep compassion behind it. He could not see that he was in the presence of God’s very power.
It would be like someone at Mass criticising the brevity of the reader’s dress while being totally oblivious to the Word of God she was reading – perhaps this very text!
There is also the sinister possibility, which was the case on other similar occasions, that the woman had been put there deliberately to see whether Jesus would violate the sabbath. It was not the sabbath that some of the religious leaders were concerned about but of gathering evidence to convict Jesus of heresy.
The story is an example of taking the beam out of our own eye before dealing with the speck in someone else’s or of none being so blind as those who refuse to see.
In the end, we are told that Jesus’ critics were left covered in confusion, while the ordinary people, often with far more insight than their religious leaders, joyfully marvelled at what Jesus was doing.
Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 13, 8-21 Jesus said: "What does the reign of God resemble? To what shall I liken it? It is like mustard seed which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a large shrub and the birds of the air nested in its branches." He went on: "To what shall I compare the reign of God? It is like yeast which a woman took to knead into three measures of flour until the whole mass of dough began to rise."
Wednesday of The Thirtieth Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 13, 22-30 Jesus went through cities and towns teaching -- all the while making his way toward Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, are they few in number who are to be saved?" He replied: "Try to come in through the narrow door. Many, I tell you, will try to enter and be unable. When once the master of the house has risen to lock the door and you stand outside knocking and saying, 'Sir, open for us,' he will say in reply, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your company. You taught in our streets.' But he will answer, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Away from me, you evildoers!' "There will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaaç Jacob, and all the prophets safe in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves rejected. People will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and will take their place at the feast in the kingdom of God. Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last."
Commentary on Luke 13:22-30
The Gospel today speaks in terms of predestination, of those who will ultimately be saved.
Jesus is steadily making his way to Jerusalem passing through many towns and villages. It seems that at this time he is in the region of Perea, on the east side of the Jordan, on his way to Jericho and Jerusalem.
He is approached by a man who wants to know if only a few will be saved. One has the feeling that he expects the answer to be ‘Yes’ and that he regards himself as being among the chosen ones.
Jesus does not answer the question directly but he implies that those who are saved are not necessarily those who regard themselves as God’s chosen ones but rather those who walk a certain path in life. That path, of course, is precisely what he is proposing through his own life and teaching. It is a narrow door, he says, which many will not be able to enter.
When the Master comes at the end to close that door for the last time, some will stand outside knocking and begging for the door to be opened. They will hear very frightening words, "I do not know where you come from." They will counter by saying, "We ate and drank in your company. You taught in our streets." But he still says he does not know them and tells them to go away.
Jesus was often accused of eating and drinking with sinners but it did them no good unless, as a result of their contact with him, they changed their way of living.
It is clearly not enough to be just in Christ’s company or to have heard his teaching, for example, being a baptised Catholic or even routinely fulfilling a few religious obligations like being physically present at Sunday Mass but not really part of what is going on. To go in the "narrow door" is to be actively committed to living the Gospel in one’s daily life.
Jesus’ next words are directed to some of the Jews but to Christians also. They will see the great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets enter the kingdom, not because of their status but because of their commitment to serving God.
On the other hand, many of Jesus’ hearers will be rejected because they relied only on their ethnic and religious origins. But that is not enough. In the meantime, they will see people, Gentile outsiders from the four corners of the earth, people they rejected and despised, going ahead of them into the Kingdom, again because these people heard the call of God and entered by the narrow door that leads to life.
This was already being realised in the early Church as more and more Gentiles heard the Gospel message, were baptised and many died as martyrs. Indeed, as Jesus says at the end of today’s reading, those who were considered last are first and those who saw themselves as first are destined to be last.
It would be wrong for us to read this gospel as of mere historic interest. It is addressed directly to each one of us. It is vital that we, as Catholics, do not think that, simply on the basis of our membership of our Church, we are somehow on an inside track and that, if the worst came to the worst, we could always get a confession or a final anointing to set things straight. That would be very presumptuous and very dangerous on our part. We could very well be in a position to hear those terrible words, "I do not know who you are".
Each day and all day of our lives we have to walk through that narrow door, that door of faith and trust and love for Jesus and our brothers and sisters. Only then will we find ourselves joining the patriarchs, the prophets and all the saints in that life of unending happiness and union with our God for which we were made.
Thursday of the Thirtieth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 13, 31-35 Certain Pharisees came to Jesus. "Go on your way!" they said. "Leave this place! Herod is trying to kill you." His answer was: "Go tell that fox, 'Today and tomorrow I cast out devils and perform cures, and on the third day my purpose is accomplished. For all that, I must proceed on course today, tomorrow, and the day after, since no prophet can be allowed to die anywhere except in Jerusalem.' "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you slay the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a mother bird collects her young under her wings, and you refused me! Your temple will be abandoned. I say to you, you shall not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
Commentary on Luke 13:31-35
Today Jesus is warned by some Pharisees to leave the area where he is teaching. The reason they give is that Herod is after him. This is Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, whom we have already met. The region of Perea was part of his territory as tetrarch. The warning could, of course, have been just a ploy on the part of the Pharisees to get rid of Jesus by frightening him in this way.
At the same time, there could have been something in the threat because Herod had already executed John the Baptist, although there is no evidence that Jesus spoke against Herod in the way that offended Herod’s second wife.
In any case, Jesus is not moved. He knows that his life is part of a larger plan. He will do his work, including the healing of people and their liberation from evil forces. When the time is ripe, and not before, he will face his passion and death. He will attain his ‘end’, where ‘end’ has the double meaning of the end of his life on earth and his being brought to perfection through his suffering and death – an idea explicitly put in the letter to the Hebrews.
In any case, it has been decided that he will face his death in Jerusalem and nowhere else. Herod is not going to change any of that.
And then Jesus goes on to pray for the city that will be the scene of his death. It is a city that has many times in the past mistreated and killed those sent by God to bring his message. Jesus speaks tenderly of his being like a mother bird who protectively gathers her chickens under her wings. But they reject him, as they rejected many prophets before.
Then he foretells something that must have seemed to his hearers both blasphemous and impossible: "Your temple will be abandoned." Yet, just 40 years after Jesus’ death, the temple will meet its destruction, never again to be rebuilt.
Finally, he tells them that they will not see him again until they themselves greet him by saying, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." This could refer to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week or to his final coming as Judge and Lord of all.
Our lives too are in God’s hands and nothing will happen to us which is in conflict with God’s wishes and God’s plans. Everything is – ultimately – for our well-being. But let us be on the alert to recognise the Lord coming into our lives often in very unexpected ways and through very unexpected people.
Some of those we reject may be bringing – even unknown to themselves – a message from God that we need to hear and follow.
Friday of the Thirtieth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 14, 1-6 When Jesus came on a sabbath to eat a meal in the house of one of the leading Pharisees, they observed him closely. Directly in front of him was a man who suffered from dropsy. Jesus asked the lawyers and the Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?" At this they kept silent. He took the man, healed him, and sent him on his way. Then he addressed himself to them: "If one of you has a son or an ox and he falls into a pit, will he not immediately rescue him on the sabbath day?" This they could not answer.
Commentary on Luke 14:1-6
Today we enter a series of four teachings from Jesus, all connected with meals.
It begins with another example of a confrontation between Jesus and some religious leaders on a sabbath. Altogether there are seven sabbath healings recorded in the gospels, of which Luke mentions five. The other two are in John – the healing of the paralysed man at the Sheep Gate (5:10ff) and the healing of the man born blind (9:14ff).
Jesus had apparently been invited to have a meal in a Pharisee’s house on a sabbath day.
We have mentioned before that the word ‘Pharisee’ means ‘separated one’. They numbered about 6,000 and were found all over Palestine. They taught in synagogues, saw themselves as religious paragons and were self-appointed guardians of the Law and its observance. They regarded their interpretations of traditions to be virtually as authoritative as Scripture (cf. Mark 7:8-13). The Scribes studied, interpreted and taught the Law, both written and oral. Most of them were also Pharisees and hence they are often paired in the Gospel.
It certainly looks as if the invitation was what is known as a ‘set up’ because, we are told, "they observed him closely". And there (what a coincidence!) right in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy, an accumulation of fluid in the body caused by some other illness. (This is the only place in the original Greek of the New Testament where the term Luke uses for this sickness is found.)
Far from being put on the defensive, Jesus immediately throws down a challenge: "Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?" Strictly speaking, according to the letter of the Law as interpreted by the scribes and Pharisees present, it was not lawful. Because "curing" involved "medical work" and it could take time and energy. By asking them his question before the healing, Jesus made it difficult for them to protest afterwards.
And in fact they dared not give him an answer. To say ‘Yes’ could make them seem lax in their interpretation; to say ‘No’ would seem cruel to the man. So Jesus took the man, healed him on the spot and sent him off.
He then turns to his critics with another question: "If one of you has a son or an ox and he falls into a pit, will he not immediately rescue him on the sabbath day?" They had no answer because no answer was necessary or possible. What Jesus had done was unlawful only according to rabbinic interpretations but not according to the Mosaic Law itself.
Their mindset was revealed and it was not the mindset of Jesus. For them people came second to legalities. For Jesus the law was for people. Jesus was moved by compassion and the well-being of people. Sometimes that meant the law had to be put aside – a principle which they also recognised as proved by the examples that Jesus gave.
How many times have we become the victims of human respect? How often have we failed to go to the help of a person because we were afraid of what people might say or how they might judge us? They may even throw Church ‘rules’ and ‘commandments’ in our face as criticism. But no one who acts out of genuine love for others can go far wrong. No truly loving act can be sinful.
*Monday of the Thirty-first Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 14, 12-14 Jesus said to the chief of the Pharisees who had invited him to dinner: "Whenever you give a lunch or dinner, do not invite your friends or brothers or relatives or wealthy neighbors. They might invite you in return and thus repay you. No, when you have a reception, invite beggars and the crippled, the lame and the blind. You should be pleased that they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid in the resurrection of the just."
Commentary on Luke 14:12-14
After giving the scribes and Pharisees advice on how (not) to choose a place at a banquet, Jesus goes on to teach his host what to do when he holds a dinner. He should not invite family members, relatives, friends and the influential rich from whom he can expect to get similar invitations in return.
Rather he should go out of his way to invite beggars, the crippled, the lame, the blind and be happy that these people can do nothing by way of repayment. This will be a proof of the genuineness of his generosity. Sharing meals with friends is a lovely thing but the point that Jesus is making that our mutual entertainment should not be at the expense of those who do not have enough to eat. It will be a real act of love and not be a form of self-seeking and self-aggrandisement or mutual back scratching in a never-ending entertainment circus.
It reminds us of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount about loving those who love us. "Even the pagans do that." There is no real virtue there. In fact, it can be a way of using people to our own advantage. It also reminds us of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In such circumstances, uncaring self-indulgence can in no way be justified.
We might remark here, of course, that there is no such thing as pure altruism, that is, an action that is done purely for others with absolutely nothing for self. Everything we do, we do ultimately for ourselves. We have no choice but to seek our own good; to act otherwise would be quite silly and even wrong. It all depends on how we do it.
A person can seek self by using, manipulating and exploiting others for one’s own gain. But a person can use all their energies for the good of others but, in doing so, there is a feeling of satisfaction in doing the right thing. Even one’s life can be sacrificed as the only way of satisfying self. For instance, a mother may not hesitate to sacrifice her life to save a child in danger. Not to do so would lead to a situation she might find difficult to live with for the rest of her life.
We do have to seek our own interests. We can do that at the expense of others or we can realise that it is by sharing what we have with others in need that we become enriched in a very special way.
Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 14, 15-24 One of the guests at a party said to Jesus, "Happy is he who eats bread in the kingdom of God." Jesus responded: "A man was giving a large dinner and he invited many. At dinner time he sent his servant to say to those invited, 'Come along, everything is ready now.' But they began to excuse themselves, one and all. The first one said to the servant, 'I have bought some land and must go out and inspect it. Please excuse me.' Another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen and I am going out to test them. Please excuse me.' A third said, 'I am newly married and so I cannot come.' The servant, returning, reported all this to his master. The master of the house grew angry at the account. He said to his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor and crippled, the blind and the lame.' The servant reported, after some time, 'Your orders have been carried out, my lord, and there is still room.' The master then said to the servant, 'Go out into the highways and along the hedgerows and force them to come in. I want my house to be full, but I tell you that not one of those invited shall taste a morsel of my dinner.'"
Commentary on Luke 14:15-24
Today we have the last of four teachings of Jesus linked with meals. It was prompted by the remark of a guest at table who said, "Happy are those who eat bread in the kingdom of God." It was very common to associate the future Messianic kingdom with a banquet.
Jesus responds with a parable which is a warning to his complacent listeners, many of whom probably smugly presumed that they would be among the small minority chosen to eat in the Kingdom.
A man threw a large dinner party with many guests invited. But when the time came and the guests were reminded, one after another they gave excuses why they were not able to come. One had just bought a piece of land and had to inspect it; another had just bought some oxen and had to try them out; a third had just got married. It seems that the original invitation had been accepted but when the final invitation came excuses were made. In fact, none of the excuses has much validity. One would not buy a field and only then look at it nor would one buy oxen without having tried them out before the purchase.
On hearing this, the master got very angry and ordered his servants to go out into the highways and byways and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. After this, the servants reported that there was still room so they were given orders to scour the roads and bring in as many as they could find. "I want my house to be full," said the host, "but none of those originally invited will taste a morsel."
The parable is a clear message from Jesus to his Jewish listeners. Many of them, especially the religious leaders steeped in complacency and presumption, had rejected the invitation to follow Jesus and enter the Kingdom. Some of them would actually conspire to bring about his death. Their place would be given to those formerly seen as outcasts, both Jews and Gentiles, people aware of their needs, the "poor in spirit". There would be a special place for the poor and the handicapped, people often seen by traditional Jews as people abandoned by God and buried in sin.
To go back to the beginning of the passage, blessed indeed are those who eat together in the Kingdom but it is clear that only those who respond to the invitation will enjoy the privilege.
We have no more right to presumption than those Jews who rejected Christ. We too are being invited to go into the Lord’s banquet hall but it is important that we respond to the call. We do that by our totally accepting and living out the teaching of Jesus our Lord. And part of that teaching is that we, too, invite and welcome into our community the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame – taking these words in their broadest sense.
No more than those fellow diners of Jesus, our presence at the Kingdom banquet is never to be taken for granted.
Wednesday of the Thirty-first Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 14, 25-33 On one occasion when a great crowd was with Jesus, he turned to them and said, "If anyone comes to me without turning his back on his father and mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and sisters, indeed his very self, he cannot be my follower. Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. If one of you decides to build a tower, will he not first sit down and calculate the outlay to see if he has enough money to complete the project? He will do that for fear of laying the foundation and then not being able to complete the work; at which all who saw it would then jeer at him, saying, 'That man began to build what he could not finish.' "Or if a king is about to march on another king to do battle with him, will he not sit down first and consider whether, with ten thousand men, he can withstand an enemy coming against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, he will send a delegation while the enemy is still at a distance, asking for terms of peace. In the same way, none of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his possessions."
Commentary on Luke 14:25-33
Luke’s gospel is noteworthy for its extremes. On the one hand, it shows the radical and uncompromising demands that Jesus makes on those who would be his followers and, at the same time, emphasises as none of the other gospels do the gentleness and compassion of Jesus for the sinful and the weak. Both pictures have always to be kept simultaneously in view and they are in no way contradictory. Today and tomorrow we will see both of these images of Jesus back to back.
In today’s passage we see Jesus, as was often the case, surrounded by a huge crowd of people. They are full of enthusiasm and expectation but Jesus very quickly pulls them up short. If anyone comes after him, Jesus says, and is not prepared to hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and indeed his very own self, he cannot be accepted as a disciple. This is a very shocking demand, especially for a society where people’s whole lives were centred on their families. Luke is alone in asking that even the wife, too, be abandoned but this is just an example of the totality of our commitment to following Jesus.
However, we have to make two qualifications. The word "hate" is a Semitic expression not to be taken literally. It could not be so taken as the whole of Jesus’ teaching is based on love not only of blood relatives but of strangers and even enemies. It is rather a dramatic way of saying that anyone who puts any person, even those closest to them, before total commitment to Christ and his mission is not ready to be a disciple. There can be no compromise here; it is all or nothing.
We also have to say that Jesus is not recommending a literal abandonment of one’s family. That could be highly irresponsible and a violation of that commandment of universal love. But it is clear that, for those who want to be part of Jesus’ work, they have to give themselves completely and unconditionally. And, where there is a choice between the clear call of the Gospel and personal attachments, they have to let go of the latter.
It is important for the crowd to hear this. Following Christ is not just like football fans stalking their favourite player or ‘groupies’ following a pop star from city to city. There is a price to be paid and they need to know that there is one and what it is. That price is the cross, a level of sacrifice and suffering – perhaps even of one’s life – that each one must be prepared to undergo for the sake of the Gospel and the building of the Kingdom.
So, to illustrate this Jesus gives two examples:
- One is of a man who had a plan to build a tower. Before he started, he made sure that he had all the necessary resources. Otherwise he might find that, after laying the foundations, he could not finish the work and he would become the laughing stock of others. "Ha! Ha! He began to build what he could not finish."
- In the second example Jesus speaks of a king with 10,000 soldiers who finds he is going to war with another king who has 20,000. If he thinks there is no way he can win, he will send an embassy to negotiate the best peace terms he can get.
Similarly, says Jesus, no one can be a disciple of his who is not ready to let go of everything he has.
The following has to be absolute and unconditional. How many of the crowd listening were ready for that? How many of us are ready for that? Am I ready? And what are the things I am clinging to? What are the things I cannot let go of? And why?
To be a disciple of Jesus means being absolutely free. It reminds one of Francis of Assisi leaving his family and taking off all his rich and fancy clothes to replace them with a beggar’s rags and being filled with a tremendous sense of joy and liberation. Do I want to be a disciple of Jesus? To what extent? Am I ready to pay the price he asks?
The paradox is that once I pay the price I will get so much in return. Ask Francis or Mother Teresa
Thursday of the Thirty-first Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 15, 1-10 The tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus, at which the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Then he addressed this parable to them: "Who among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wasteland and follow the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he puts it on his shoulders in jubilation. Once arrived home, he invites friends and neighbors in and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you, there will likewise be more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent. "What woman, if she has ten silver pieces and loses one, does not light a lamp and sweep the house in a diligent search until she has retrieved what she lost? And when she finds it, she calls in her friends and neighbors to say, 'Rejoice with me! I have found the sliver piece I lost.' I tell you, there will be the same kind of joy before the angels of God over one repentant sinner."
Commentary on Luke 15:1-10
If yesterday’s Gospel showed Jesus at his most radical ("No one can be my disciple unless he gives up everything he has"), today we see his compassionate and understanding side.
They are not contradictory.
The gospel says that tax collectors and sinners were gathering round to listen to Jesus. To some of the Pharisees and scribes this was quite scandalous. "This fellow [Greek houtos, ‘outos: one can hear the contempt in the phrase] welcomes sinners and eats with them." As far as they were concerned, any God-fearing person, not to mention a rabbi-teacher, would have absolutely nothing to do with such people.
It was bad enough socialising with them but to share their food was unthinkable; they were unclean and one became unclean by sitting at the same table with them. To eat with people was a sign of recognition and acceptance; as far as the Pharisees were concerned these were non-people. It only confirmed the Pharisees and scribes in their opinion that Jesus was a person to be removed.
In reply, Luke gives us three separate parables touching the same theme. We have two of them today. The third and most famous – the Prodigal Son – will not be read at this time but will appear elsewhere in the liturgical readings (Year C, 24th Sunday).
Each one is a picture of God’s attitude towards the sinner and it is very different from that of the Pharisee.
The first is of a shepherd who has lost one of 100 sheep entrusted to his care. The theme of the sheep and the shepherd is common in the Old Testament. We think of the famous Psalm 23 (‘The Lord is my shepherd…’) and a beautiful passage in Ezekiel (34:11-16). Without hesitation, the good shepherd leaves the 99 "good" sheep and goes off looking for the stray. When he finds it, he puts it on his shoulders and comes back in jubilation, inviting all his friends and neighbours to rejoice with him. "Rejoice with me for I have found my lost sheep."
Similarly, concludes Jesus, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who sincerely repents and comes back to God than over many (self-?)"righteous" people who have no need to repent, or who think they have no need to repent. There seems to be an ironic and sarcastic tone here. Who does not need to repent of something at some time? Jesus presents a totally different attitude to the repentant sinner, and he gives it as God’s own attitude.
The second parable is similar. A housewife who has 10 silver pieces – probably the sum total of her wealth – has lost one of her coins. Will she not turn the whole house upside down looking for it? A house like this would typically have no windows and rough earthen floors (and, of course, no electricity!), making a search quite difficult. But, when she does eventually find it, she will call in all her friends and neighbours to share her joy. "Rejoice with me! I have found the coin I lost." Again Jesus says there will be even more joy than this in heaven over one sinner who repents. ‘In heaven’, of course, means ‘with God’.
We need to remember that these stories were told as Jesus’ response to the criticism of some scribes and Pharisees. He had absolutely no reason to apologise for his mixing with tax collectors, sinners and other social and religious outcasts. He was like the shepherd or the housewife. He was looking for people who were lost so that he could bring them back.
He spent time in their company not because he did not mind what they did; on the contrary, his whole purpose was to change them. But he could not do that at a distance.
The mind of the Pharisee was different. These people were sinful and unclean and the "good" person had to have no contact with them of any kind or they too would become unclean.
Notice the different motivation. The Pharisee was only thinking of his own spiritual and ritual purity. Jesus was thinking of the person who was lost and needed to be brought back to a world of truth and love. And so he reached out. He went to where the sinner was. Although the Pharisee thought he was spiritually and morally strong, yet his avoiding the sinner showed he was afraid of contamination. Jesus was not afraid of such contamination; he was the really strong one. He could be with the sinners without becoming one of them.
Much of this is highly relevant for our Christian life today. There is probably a lot more of the Pharisee in our Christian hearts than we are prepared to admit. "Good" Catholics tend to keep away from "immoral" situations and the people who are there. "Good" Catholics do not like to be seen in certain places which do not have a "good" reputation. They even call them "occasions of sin".
We tend to live in enclosed enclaves (we can hardly call them ‘communities’) taking care of our own spiritual welfare. But that is not the Church that Christ founded. We are called to proclaim the Gospel. We are called to reach out to the sinner. To do so we have to welcome them and eat with them. Instead of living in sanitised suburbs, we should be down in our inner cities, in our pubs and discos, in our "red light" districts reaching out and listening and, where possible, bringing back a sheep that is lost and does not know where it is going.
Friday of The Thirty-first Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 16, 1-8 Another time Jesus said to his disciples: "A rich man had a manager who was reported to him for dissipating his property. He summoned him and said, 'What is this I hear about you? Give me an account of your service, for it is about to come to an end.' The manager thought to himself, 'What shall I do next? My employer is sure to dismiss me. I cannot dig ditches. I am ashamed to go begging. I have it! Here is a way to make sure that people will take me into their homes when I am let go.' "So he called in each of his master's debtors, and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' The man replied, 'A hundred jars of oil.' The manager said, 'Take your invoice, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he said to a second, 'How much do you owe?' The answer came, 'A hundred measures of wheat,' and the manager said, 'Take your invoice and make it eighty.' "The owner then gave his devious employee credit for being enterprising! Why? Because the worldly take more initiative than the otherworldly when it comes to dealing with their own kind."
Commentary on Luke 16:1-8
After the three wonderful parables about God’s mercy and longing for the reconciliation of the sinner, Luke swings back again in chapter 16 with two parables and related teaching about our use of material possessions and puts some of the responsibility for our salvation back on ourselves.
The first is a story about a rather dishonest steward or manager. His responsibilities were to handle all the business affairs of his employer. However, he had been mishandling his employer’s funds and was about to be fired. One thinks of the prodigal son who utterly wasted the inheritance his loving father had given him.
Immediately the steward begins to think of his future. He does not have the strength to do manual labour and to go begging would be a terrible loss of face. So he thinks of a stratagem by which he calls in all his employer’s debtors and reduces the amounts they owe.
The debts incurred were considerable. One hundred measures of olive oil was equivalent to about 800 gallons or the yield of 450 olive trees, while 100 measures of wheat was equal to about 1,000 bushels or the yield of 100 acres. Very few farmers would have had anything like that kind of land in Jesus’ time.
By doing this favour, the steward hopes to be able to find alternative employment with one of them. Surprisingly, his employer, far from being angry, praises the farsightedness of his corrupt steward .
Some commentators question whether the steward was actually acting dishonestly. Was he actually denying his employer money which he was really owed or was he rather writing off the ‘commission’ which was being usuriously charged, thus inflating the proper amount owed? The Mosaic law forbade taking interest on loans from fellow Jews so one way of getting round this was to overcharge debtors. By reducing the debts to the proper level the steward was correcting an injustice and, at the same time, making these debtors favourably disposed towards him. Whatever the interpretation, the point Jesus is making is the same: the steward acted with shrewdness and intelligence to guarantee his future.
Jesus concludes by pointing out that the worldly are far more astute in providing for their future than are those who are regarded as spiritual, the ‘children of light’. Jesus is in no way condoning the steward’s dishonest and corrupt behaviour. What he does praise is his clear-sighted preparation of his future.
The lesson for us is clear. If a man can do that for his earthly career, what about our future in the life to come? If we want to guarantee our future life with God then we, too, need to take the necessary steps. Those steps are clearly laid out in the Gospel and, in general, they involve a life which is built on truth and integrity, and on love, compassion and justice with regard to the people around us. Our task is to work with God in making his will our own and in building up the Kingdom.
If we do this on a daily basis, then we have nothing to worry about and our future is assured.
FOR THE SUNDAY GOSPEL SEE THE VIDEO FROM THE WORD EXPOSED ON HOME PAGE.
*Monday of the Thirty-second Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 17, 1-6 Jesus said to his disciples: "Scandals will inevitably arise, but woe to him through whom they come. He would be better off thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck than giving scandal to one of these little ones. "Be on your guard. If your brother does wrong, correct him; if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times a day, and seven times a day turns back to you saying, 'I am sorry,' forgive him." The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith," and he answered: "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore, 'Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea,' and it would obey you."
Commentary on Luke 17:1-6
We move on to chapter 17 of Luke and today we have three separate sayings of Jesus which we find in different contexts of Matthew’s gospel. The first is on the inevitability of scandals. Scandals are those actions or words which, literally, cause people to trip up and fall. Here they refer to words or actions which become obstacles preventing or making it more difficult for people to believe in and accept Christ and the Gospel.
These things are inevitable, Jesus says, but it is tragic for those who are responsible. It is a terrible thing to come between a person and the call of Christ, to be the effective agent for blocking a person coming to know and love Christ and his Way. It would be better for the scandal-causer to be thrown into the sea with a millstone round his neck. The "little ones" can refer either to those who are young and innocent or those who are frail in their Christian faith.
In recent years our newspapers have reported many "scandals" on the part of Catholic leaders – bishops, priests, brothers and sisters. It is difficult to say how many people’s faith was weakened by these events but it is likely that they were enough to make some less committed people experience a sense of disillusionment so that they abandoned the Church.
In many cases, there was probably no scandal in the strict sense but simply failings due to human frailty. In other cases, especially where the young or the innocent were abused or led astray, real scandal and prolonged harm was certainly present.
Scandal in the Gospel sense and in the tabloid sense are not quite the same and we should be careful to distinguish them. Jesus himself caused "scandal" among some of the religious leaders because he failed to observe certain rituals. This is known as "pharisaical" scandal or hypocritical scandal. We Catholics can certainly be guilty of this kind of false scandal and certainly the media at times, for purposes of sensationalism, can blow up certain trivial matters in a particularly obnoxious "holier-than-thou" approach.
But it is not only people in public life who cause scandal. Parents, by their ambivalent, two-standard behaviour, can tell their children to behave in one way while they themselves act in a totally other way. Catholic parents and others in charge of the guidance of children (such as teachers) need to be particularly careful of being stumbling blocks to their children’s faith.
The second saying is about forgiveness and reconciliation and it is not unconnected with the question of scandal above. If a brother (or a sister), that is, a fellow-Christian is clearly in the wrong, he should be corrected. And, if he clearly repents, then he is to be forgiven. Even if he commits the same offence any number of times and each time expresses sincere sorrow, he is to be forgiven.
This is not to say that a person can keep doing wrong and expect forgiveness simply by saying he is sorry. Some kind of controlling action may have to be taken. This is especially the case where the person is not in control of himself, which could be the case with someone who is an alcoholic, a drug addict, a sex abuser or the victim of some other compulsive behaviour. But even here, punishment alone cannot be a satisfactory solution but every effort must be made to heal and rehabilitate.
As Christians, the whole thrust of our actions is for reconciliation and not judgement and condemnation. We need to remember the teaching about God’s love for the sinner in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son (Luke chap. 15).
The third saying is about faith, that is, deep trust in God. The apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith. This may be seen in the context of the warning about scandal and the requirement to forgive indefinitely. He told them that, if they had faith the size of a tiny mustard seed, they could order a sycamore tree to be uprooted and transplanted in the sea and it would happen.
Perhaps an area where we need a strong trust is in trying to rehabilitate both the givers and the victims of scandal and certainly we need faith if we are to be able sincerely to forgive again and again those who have hurt us or others. But true forgiveness is not the simple writing off of a wrongdoing but taking the necessary steps to restore a status quo of harmony and peace and mutual love and respect. It can take a long time.
Tuesday of The Thirty-second Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 17, 7-10 The Lord said: "If one of you had a servant plowing or herding sheep and he came in from the fields, would you say to him, 'Come and sit down at tablé? Would you not rather say, 'Prepare my supper. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink afterward'? Would he be grateful to the servant who was only carrying out his orders? It is quite the same with you who hear me. When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, 'We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty.'"
Commentary on Luke 17:7-10
Another warning from Luke today (and one which is only found in this gospel) about complacency. As we read this parable we must be careful – as with many of the others – not to confuse matters by dragging in issues which are anachronistic. Jesus asks if we had a slave who had spent the day working in the fields, would we invite him to sit down, have his supper and take a good rest? Or would we not rather tell him first to prepare his master’s supper and, after the master had eaten his fill, only then would the slave be able to eat and rest? Would we even express gratitude to a servant who was only doing what was expected of him?
Here, let us forget current ideas about union rules and democracy and what have you! No one in those times, either an employer or a slave, would have thought of questioning what Jesus is saying. At the same time, we might remember Jesus saying that watchful servants will be welcomed by their master who will make them sit down and will wait personally on them (Luke 12:37) and that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet as an example of service.
What we are dealing with here is our relationship with God. The point Jesus is making is that God need never be grateful to us for anything we do for him. No matter how much we do for him, we can never put him in our debt. Everything we give to God (or to God through others) is simply giving back to him a small portion of what he has already given us. It is well said in Preface IV for Masses on Weekdays: "You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness, but makes us grow in your grace."
God can never be in our debt. He can never be under any obligation to us. Perhaps that is what some of the Pharisees thought. They felt that, because they kept the Law perfectly, God owed them salvation. We see that in the scene of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the Temple, where the Pharisee’s prayer gives the impression that God should be deeply grateful, among so many negligent people, to have such a good person as him.
We can do the same thing ourselves when, for instance, we think that by saying certain prayers or performing certain acts (novenas, indulgences, pilgrimages, etc) God should jump to attention and do what we are telling him to do, to give us what we are asking for.
All our living out of the Gospel is not a compliment paid to God. On the contrary, we can never be grateful enough to him for showing us the way to truth, love, freedom and happiness which Jesus taught us and for giving us the grace to walk his Way. With God, all our giving is only a partial giving back.
Wednesday of the Thirty-second Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 17, 11-19 On his journey to Jerusalem Jesus passed along the borders of Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. Keeping their distance, they raised their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he responded, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." On their way there they were cured. One of them, realizing that he had been cured, came back praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself on his face at the feet of Jesus and spoke his praises. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus took the occasion to say, "Were not all ten made whole? Where are the other nine? Was there no one to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?" He said to the man, "Stand up and go your way; your faith has been your salvation."
Commentary on Luke 17:11-19
This story of Jesus’ compassion is peculiar to Luke.We are told that Jesus was travelling on the borders of Galilee, the northern province of Palestine, and Samaria, which lies between Galilee and the southern province of Judea. Jesus is making for the Jordan valley on his way south to Jericho, one of his last stops before reaching his final destination in Jerusalem.
Just as he entered a village he was met by ten lepers (it does not specify whether they were men or women). As lepers they were not allowed to come in close proximity with other people because it was (rightly) known that the condition could be transmitted to others by physical contact, although it needed to be fairly prolonged contact. We remember how the famous Fr Damien, the Apostle to the Lepers, eventually contracted the disease through his ministering to a colony of lepers in Hawaii.
Because of their dreaded disease, such people were literally outcasts condemned to live their lives on the fringes of society. The tragedy is that, given the limited medical knowledge of the times, many such people were almost certainly not suffering from leprosy at all but from some other non-contagious but perhaps chronic skin disease.
So, calling Jesus from a safe distance, they cried out: "Jesus, Master, have compassion on us!"
Jesus simply told them to go and show themselves to the priests. And, while they were on their way, they were all cured. Presumably they continued on their way to see the priests who would give them an official declaration of being "clean" so that they could once again legitimately return to life in society. A major element of their healing was their re-integration into society.
Just one of the cured lepers then came back to Jesus "praising God in a loud voice" and in deep gratitude fell at the feet of Jesus.
"This man was a Samaritan." The words are loaded with meaning. For it is presumed that the rest were Jews. In the first place, Jews and Samaritans could not stand each other and the Jews tended to look down on the Samaritans as ungodly and unclean. But, in the misfortune of their leprosy, these Jews and Samaritans, rejected by both their own peoples, found common support in each other’s company.
But, now that they are cured, only one of them comes to say thanks and he is still – in the eyes of the Jews – an outcast.
Jesus, looking around at the Jews in his company, expresses surprise that ten were made clean but only one came back to give thanks and he was a despised foreigner. This unexpected action is also reflected in another of Luke’s stories, which we reflected on earlier, that of the so-called "good Samaritan". Here is another good Samaritan. (And there is a third, of course – the woman who features prominently in John’s gospel).
To the man Jesus says, "Stand up and go your way; your faith has made you whole again." That "stand up" or "rise up", which Jesus often uses with those he heals, has echoes of resurrection and entry into new life, a life of wholeness brought about by the man’s trust in Jesus and his acknowledgment of the source of his healing.
In the context of Luke’s gospel, the story prepares us for developments in the growth of the early Church, described in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. For, as the early Christians (all Jews) flee from persecution in Jerusalem, the people of Samaria are among the first to accept Jesus as Lord and to become followers of the Gospel, while many of the Jews in Jerusalem remain closed to Jesus’ message and call.
We, too, must never give in to a temptation to exclude any people as possible followers of Christ. We must be ready to reach out to all, even the most unlikely. None must be treated as outsiders or untouchables, even those who show themselves extremely hostile to the Gospel.
And while there may not be any real lepers in our own society, today is an occasion for us to reflect on who could be regarded as lepers, outsiders, outcasts, and untouchables among us at the present time. And to ask whether I personally treat any person as an outsider in my home, in my work, in other places where I meet people. Such exclusion is totally contrary to what we celebrate in the Eucharist.
Thursday of the Thirty-second Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 17, 20-25 Jesus, on being asked by the Pharisees when the reign of God would come, replied: "You cannot tell by careful watching when the reign of God will come. Neither is it a matter of reporting that it is 'heré or 'there.' The reign of God is already in your midst." He said to the disciples: "A time will come when you will long to see one day of the Son of Man but will not see it. They will tell you he is to be found in this place or that. Do not go running about excitedly. The Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning that flashes from one end of the sky to the other. First, however, he must suffer much and be rejected by the present age."
Commentary on Luke 17:20-25
Jesus was asked by some Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come.In their mind, it was a definitive time that would be suddenly realised by the arrival of a triumphant Messiah-King. Jesus says it is not going to be like that at all. The Kingdom cannot be found by looking around for telltale signs so that you can say it is ‘here’ or ‘there’.
No, says Jesus, "the reign of God is already in your midst". In other words, it is right in front of them. It is first of all in the very person of Jesus, who is the embodiment of the God’s Reign. He is the Messiah-King. He is the living incarnation of God’s loving power revealed in his authoritative teaching, in his many healings of the sick, in his freeing of those from the power of evil spirits and in his compassion for the sinner and the outcast. All are clear evidence of the reign of God "in their midst".
In every age, there are people who get worked up about the "final coming of Christ". The recent end of the millennium was such a time. But, instead of focusing on a date in the calendar we should be focusing on the realities of our everyday lives where, to those with eyes to see, the reign of God can easily be discerned working in other people’s lives and in our own. Wherever people are reflecting in their lives the vision of life, the values that Jesus revealed to us, the Kingdom is there. And such people are not confined to the Church. They can be and are found everywhere.
Jesus then turns to his disciples telling them they will long to see the "one day of the Son of Man" but will not see it. In the very early Church many were convinced that Jesus would make his final coming in their own lifetime. It is likely that, from time to time, certain events were interpreted as signs of that final coming. People were saying that "he is to found in this place or that". But by the time Luke’s gospel was written most of that first generation of Christians had died and there was still no sign of Jesus’ coming. The ‘days’ following his expected coming may have all the more been longed for during times of severe persecution when they looked for relief and help from their pain. An anxiety reflected in the story of the disciples’ trying to wake a sleeping Jesus while their boat is threatened by mountainous seas (Mark 4:35-41).
Jesus says that, when his day does come, it will "be like the lightning that flashes from one end of the sky to the other". It will be both sudden and everywhere. In the meantime, Jesus "must suffer much and be rejected by the present age". Words which clearly refer to his own suffering and death but which can also be applied to the whole Risen Christ, including the Church, his risen Body, down to our own age.
So, on the one hand, the reign of God is already here among us and we need look no further than the daily experiences of our own lives to know and experience the power and presence of Jesus. On the other hand, the time of that final coming which will "wipe every tear from our eyes" and be the end of all suffering and rejection is not for us to decide – nor to be anxious about.
Friday of the Thirty-second Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 17, 26-37 Jesus said to his disciples: As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They ate and drank, they took husbands and wives, right up to the day Noah entered the ark -- and when the flood came, it destroyed them all. It was much the same in the days of Lot: they ate and drank, they bought and sold, they built and planted. But on the day Lot left Sodom, fire and brimstone rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. "It will be like that on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, if a man is on the rooftop and his belongings are in the house, he should not go down to get them; neither should the man in the field return home. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever tries to spare his life will lose it; whoever seems to forfeit it will keep it. I tell you, on that night there will be two men in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left." "Where, Lord?" they asked him, and he answered, "Wherever the carcass is, there will the vultures gather."
Commentary on Luke 17:26-37
Jesus is coming to the end of his public life. His passion and death is going to be a traumatic experience for his followers, which will take them by surprise and fill them with shock and alarm.Later still but before Luke had put his gospel together, a cataclysm had overtaken Jerusalem when the city was laid siege to and utterly destroyed and the magnificent Temple with it. The disaster is commemorated in the arch in Rome erected to honour the Emperor Titus’ victory where one can see bas reliefs of the treasures of the Temple being carried off as loot.
Last of all, there is the end of all things when our world will be no more. The what or the how of that end is something we know nothing about.
In a sense, all three endings are included in Jesus’ warning today. His main lesson is for us to be ready and not to think that we can postpone our preparations. When the end strikes it will be already too late.
Jesus gives the examples of the time of the Flood when people ate and drank right up to the moment of disaster. (And we know from our newspapers how unprepared people can be when sudden floods and other sudden disasters strike.) Similarly in the days of Lot, people were leading their ordinary lives when fire and brimstone (was it an earthquake?) rained down on the wicked city of Sodom. Only Lot and his family, who had been previously warned, escaped. Almost every day we read in our papers of similar cataclysms.
When the "day of the Son of Man is revealed", that is, when he comes at the end of time, it will be too late to take emergency measures. One will either be ready or not. If one is resting on the roof of one’s house (as was common at that time), don’t think of going down to save something. One person will be taken away and a companion left behind. The words seem to echo what happened at the fall of Jerusalem and are similar to all natural disasters where some are swept away and those next to them survive. In the context, the implication is that one goes to God and one does not.
These texts are not intended to fill us with fear and foreboding of a capricious God. They are timely advice not to be caught napping but to remain alert to meet the Lord. It is good advice not just for the end of our lives but for every day and every moment of every day. If I am always ready now, I will be ready then.
By living continuously and consciously in the presence of God, in that "divine milieu" of the Kingdom mentioned above, in the ever-present NOW, we are not going to be caught by surprise. Far from being afraid, we will look forward to the day with anticipation, leaving totally in God’s hands the hour of his call. In practice, too, that final call will not coincide with the end of our planet but with the moment when our individual life on this earth will come to its end. Of the inevitability of that end there is no doubt.
Saturday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary TimeGospel Lk 18:1-8Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being.
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Commentary on Luke 18:1-8
One of the attributes attributed to Luke is that his is a “Gospel of Prayer”. We see Jesus praying in this gospel more than in the others and he gives more teaching about prayer.Today Jesus tells a parable urging perseverance. “He told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” This is very much a theme in Paul’s letters (cf. Rom 1:10; 12:12; Eph 6:18; Col 1:3; 1 Thess 5:17; 2 Thess 1:11, etc., and 2 Cor 4:1,16; Gal 6:9; Eph 3:13; 2 Thess 3:13).
The parable features a totally corrupt judge, who fears neither God nor man. It also features a widow, probably the most powerless, the most pitiful and least pitied of people in the society of those days. She has lost her husband, re-marriage is out of the question, she has lost the support of her own family and her husband’s family, and there is nothing comparable to social welfare for her to lean on.
As far as a corrupt judge is concerned, she can be ignored. She has neither power nor money (for bribing). But this widow is different. She is persistent and will not give up. Eventually, the judge, for his sheer peace of mind, settles in her favour.
If, Jesus concludes, a corrupt and ruthless judge can be moved by a helpless widow, what kind of response can we expect when we, his people, call out in our helplessness to our loving and compassionate God? “I tell you, he will give them swift justice.” That is, he will give them what is rightfully due to them.
But, says Jesus in a challenge which should make us sit up and take notice, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?” Times of persecution are on the way – they have already begun as this gospel is written – and some will give up under pressure. They will not persevere in keeping close contact with God in prayer, finding him and his peace in the midst of their sufferings.
It is easy to pray when things are going well. It is often in times of pressure that we, too, give up praying when we need it most, when our faith is really being put to the test. We have to pray constantly and consistently. We should not be afraid to ask for what we believe we really need.
But then, if God is such a caring person, why should we have to pray to him at all? We need to keep praying, not for his sake but for our own. By doing so, we maintain an awareness that “by ourselves we can do nothing”.
Secondly, the more we pray, the closer we come to God. And, as we pray, what we ask for will gradually change. Ultimately what we want is what we need. And what we need is to bring our thinking, our dreams, our ambitions totally into line with God’s way of seeing things.
The problem is, as Jesus says at the end today, how many people will really be doing that when he comes looking for us? How often do I pray? How consistently do I ask? What do I ask for? What do I really want? Do I distinguish between what I want and what I really need? And do I really have that faith and trust in the loving providence of my God?
There is another and very indifferent interpretation of this passage. When we read this parable about perseverance, we usually think of it in these terms: God is the judge and we are the widow. This means we should persevere in pestering God until our needs are met.
But what happens if we turn that around and say that we are the judge and God is the widow? In some ways, this interpretation makes more sense. We, like the judge, are basically unjust. Sometimes we, too, have no fear of God; that is, we do not allow God to scare us into being good.
Similarly, like the judge we persist in refusing to listen to the cries of the poor all around us. But God is the persistent widow who will not go away. God keeps badgering us, refusing to accept as final our ‘No’ to love. God will persist until we render a just judgment, that is, until we let the goodness out, until we learn to love.*
In Genesis we are told we are made in the image and likeness of God. Perhaps our prayer could be: Dear God, Persevering One, make us more like you!
*This second interpretation of the parable comes from Melanie Svoboda SND, Review for Religious, Sept-Oct 1996
FOR THE SUNDAY GOSPEL SEE THE VIDEO FROM THE WORD EXPOSED ON HOME PAGE.
*Monday of The Thirty-third Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 18, 35-43 As Jesus drew near Jericho a blind man sat at the side of the road begging. Hearing a crowd go by the man asked, "What is that?" The answer came that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. He shouted out, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!" Those in the lead sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have pity on me!" Jesus halted and ordered him to be brought to him. When he had come close, Jesus asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord," he answered, "I want to see." Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight. Your faith has healed you." At that very moment he was given his sight and began to follow him, giving God the glory. All the people witnessed it and they too gave praise to God.
Commentary on Luke 18:35-43
Here we have Luke’s version of the story of the blind man, called by Mark Bar-Timaeus, the son of Timaeus.
In Mark the story is strategically placed at the end of a long teaching section where Jesus’ disciples are slowly deepening their understanding of Jesus and his mission. The story, full of symbols, sums up all that has gone before. It is like a mini-gospel (cf. reflection for Thursday of Week 8).
In Luke the story has also a very significant positioning. It falls between two other stories, both about rich people. One was a highly religious man who was not able to accept Jesus’ condition that he share his wealth with the poor before becoming a disciple. The other is about a man who supposedly was anything but religious and yet, after meeting Jesus, gives away a large proportion of his wealth to the poor. Which of these was really blind?
In addition, the first story of a rich man is followed by the third prediction of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, after which, says Luke, the disciples did not understand what Jesus was talking about. "They failed to comprehend what he was saying." They, too, are blind.
As the story opens, we are told that Jesus was approaching Jericho. Jericho was a very ancient city, located about 8 km west of the River Jordan and about 25 km north-east of Jerusalem. In Jesus’ time, Jericho of the Old Testament was largely abandoned but a new city, south of the old one, had been built by Herod the Great. It was the last main stop for Jesus before arriving in Jerusalem.
In Mark’s version Jesus is leaving Jericho but here Luke has Jesus approaching the city. Mark has Jesus leaving Jericho on the way to Jerusalem and his passion, and the blind man becomes his follower. Luke has Jesus going into and through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem because he wants to bring in Zacchaeus (a man whose eyes are opened by Jesus), a story not mentioned by either Mark or Matthew.
The story begins with a blind man sitting beside the road begging. (In Matthew’s rather bald account, there are actually two blind men, cf. Matt 20:29-34.) As we have mentioned before, the ‘road’ is the Way to Jerusalem on which all of Jesus’ disciples must walk together with him. When the beggar hears that Jesus is passing by he begins to call out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Son of David, have compassion on me!" By addressing Jesus as ‘Son of David’ he implies Jesus’ role as Messiah-King.
The people tell him to keep quiet. A useless beggar like him has no right disturbing the Master. But the man ignores them and keeps crying out. (In this he reminds us of the persistent widow we read about the other day.) Now Jesus stops. If the man had not kept calling out, Jesus might not have heard him and might have passed forever out of his life. How often does that happen to me?
Jesus orders the man to be brought to him. Again, it is always through other people that we come to know Jesus – and sometimes it will be through me, and only through me, that others will come to know him. I may be the only link that a person has with Jesus. Something to think about. On the other hand, I may be the one person who blocks someone approaching Jesus and his Way. We saw earlier what happens to those who are a ‘scandal’, a stumbling block to Jesus.
"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asks. It is a question that he keeps asking me. How do I answer? Have my answers changed over the years? Today let me reflect what I really want from him. And ask him for it.
Now listen to this man’s response to Jesus’ question: "Lord, please let me see." Of course, one might think, it was a natural response from a person who was blind. But, in a wider sense, so is each one of us. We all need to see. It is our poor sight that prevents us from knowing Jesus and seeing where he wants us to go. We could hardly make a better request.
Jesus immediately responds: "Receive your sight. Your faith has made you well, has healed and made you whole." If only we too had the faith that would help us to see clearly!
And what did the man do when he could see? He became a follower of Jesus and gave glory to God. No longer blind, no longer a beggar, no longer by the road but on the road with Jesus. On the road – and Jesus is the Road, the Way – to Jerusalem and all that it means. That is the natural response for those who can really see.
Just before this (we did not have this reading) the rich man who wanted "eternal life" was not able to see and so could not accept Jesus’ invitation but tomorrow we will meet someone who did have his eyes opened and responded generously.
The story also applies to Jesus’ disciples who gradually will have their eyes opened too and then they will understand why Jesus had to suffer and die on his way to glory. They will understand that it was the uttermost proof of God’s love for each one of us.
Tuesday of The thirty-third Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 19, 1-10 On entering Jericho, Jesus passed through the city. There was a man there named Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector and a wealthy man. He was trying to see what Jesus was like, but being small of stature, was unable to do so because of the crowd. He first ran on in front, then climbed a sycamore tree which was along Jesus' route, in order to see him. When Jesus came to the spot he looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, hurry down. I mean to stay at your house today." He quickly descended, and welcomed him with delight. When this was observed, everyone began to murmur, "He has gone to a sinner's house as a guest." Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord: "I give half my belongings, Lord, to the poor. If I have defrauded anyone in the least, I pay him back fourfold." Jesus said to him: "Today salvation has come to this house, for this is what it means to be a son of Abraham. The Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost."
Commentary on Luke 19:1-10
Today we have one of the most delightful stories of Luke and indeed of the whole Gospel. It follows immediately – and not by accident – after the healing of a blind man as Jesus enters the city of Jericho, to the northeast of Jerusalem.
The central figure is Zacchaeus, who, Luke tells us, was a chief tax collector and a rich man. This is the only reference in Scripture to a ‘chief tax collector’. It probably means he was responsible for a district or region with other tax collectors answerable to him. The region at this time was prosperous so more tax collectors were needed.
Knowing he was a chief tax collector it was hardly necessary to mention that he was wealthy. Tax collectors were studiously avoided and despised by their fellow-Jews. They made contracts with the Roman authorities to collect taxes and made sure that they got from the public what today we might call generous "commissions". After all, it was a kind of business and they had to make a living. And, if an ordinary tax collector could do well, it is easy to imagine how much a chief tax collector might make. One commentator refers to him as a ‘creep’.
Apart from forcing people to part with their hard-earned money, they were seen as traitors to their own people by taking their money and giving it to the pagan Roman colonialists occupying their country. One can see how Jesus could cause great offence to the religious-minded by sitting down and eating with such ‘scum’.
Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was in town and he was very curious to see what Jesus was like. Already we have here an echo of yesterday’s story, because Zacchaeus too wants to see. However, at this stage, it seems to be only a kind of curiosity. He just wanted to get a glimpse of a person of whom he undoubtedly heard people talk. Maybe he had even heard that Jesus had a name for mixing with people like himself.
Because he was a small man (in more ways than one?), he could not see over the large crowd of people surrounding Jesus. So he ran on ahead and climbed into the branches of a sycamore tree to get a better look. A sycamore tree can grow to a height of 10 to 15 metres, with a short trunk and spreading branches and hence easy to climb and easily capable of carrying a grown man.
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus but he did not expect that Jesus would see him. He must have practically fallen out of the tree from surprise when he heard Jesus look in his direction and say, "Zacchaeus, hurry down. I want to stay in your house today." What beautiful words! And yet it is a self-invitation that Jesus constantly extends to us. It is right there in our First Reading for today: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me" (Revelation 3:20). Is my house ready, is my door open to let him in?
Zacchaeus could hardly believe his ears. He rushed down and delightedly welcomed Jesus into his house. Immediately those around began to grumble. "He has gone to a sinner’s house as a guest." Of all the people in Jericho, Jesus picks the house of the one person in the town who was regarded as a social and religious outcast.
But, as usual, Jesus sees beyond the public image to the real person. Zacchaeus may be a chief tax collector but he is ready to give half of his property to the poor and, if he has cheated anyone, he promises to pay them back four times what they lost. Fourfold restitution was demanded by Jewish law, but in one case only, the theft of a sheep (Exodus 21:37). Roman law demanded such restitution from all convicted thieves. Zacchaeus, however, promises to pay in any case of injustice for which he has been responsible.
Some commentators read the passage as saying that Zacchaeus has already been making these forms of restitution and sharing his wealth with the poor. In which case, Jesus is able to see beyond the stereotype which makes Zacchaeus the tax collector an outcast. He was not going to the house of a sinner but to that of a good man. Jesus always sees the real person and goes beyond the label. Can we always claim to do the same?
Whatever the interpretation, we can see that, though Zacchaeus may have belonged to a discredited profession, his heart was in the right place, in the place of compassion and justice.
And so Jesus tells Zacchaeus that "salvation", wholeness and integrity has come to his house. In spite of his despised profession he is "a descendant of Abraham" because his behaviour is totally in harmony with the requirements of the Law and in fact goes well beyond it. For Jesus, too, no social status closes the door to salvation. For this is what it means to be a "son of Abraham", namely, to be a loving, caring person full of compassion and a sense of justice and not just a keeper of ritualistic observances.
Zacchaeus, who had originally just wanted to have an external glimpse of Jesus, has now come to see Jesus in a much deeper sense. A seeing that changed his whole life as it did that of the beggar in yesterday’s story.
Further, in answer to the accusation that he has entered the house of a sinner, Jesus says, "The Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost." As he said on another occasion, the healthy have no need of a physician but only the sick. Jesus is the good Shepherd leaving the well-behaved 99 and going in search of the single one that has gone astray.
As we read this story, there are a number of things we could reflect on. We too want to see Jesus in the deepest possible sense. Only then can we truly become his disciples. We need to hear him saying to us, "I want to stay in your house today." Let us open the door and welcome him in.
And we need to be careful in judging people from their appearance or their social position or their occupation. As a Church, we could spend a lot more time looking for those who are lost instead of concentrating on serving the already converted. In fact, only when people become active evangelisers themselves can we speak of them as "converted", as "good Christians".
Wednesday of The Thirty-third Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 19, 11-28 While the disciples were listening Jesus went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem where they thought that the reign of God was about to appear. He said: "A man of noble birth went to a faraway country to become its king, and then return. He summoned ten of his servants and gave them sums of ten units each, saying to them, 'Invest this until I get back.' But his fellow citizens despised him, and they immediately sent a deputation after him with instructions to say, 'We will not have this man rule over us.' He returned, however, crowned as king. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, to learn what profit each had made. The first presented himself and said, 'Lord, the sum you gave me has earned you another ten.' 'Good man!' he replied. 'You showed yourself capable in a small matter. For that you can take over ten villages.' The second came and said, 'Your investment, my lord, has netted you five.' His word to him was, 'Take over five villages.' The third came in and said: 'Here is your money, my lord, which I hid for safekeeping. You see, I was afraid of you because you are a hard man. You withdraw what you never deposited. You reap what you never sowed.' To him the king said: 'You worthless lout! I intend to judge you on your own evidence. You knew I was a hard man, withdrawing what I never deposited, reaping what I never sowed! Why, then, did you not put my money out on loan, so that on my return I could get it back with interest?' He said to those standing around, 'Take from him what he has, and give it to the man with the ten.' 'Yes, but he already has ten,' they said. He responded with, 'The moral is: whoever has will be given more, but the one who has not will lose the little he has. Now about those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king, bring them in and slay them in my presence.'" Having spoken thus he went ahead with his ascent to Jerusalem.
Commentary on Luke 19:11-28
Immediately following the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus comes a parable about the use of what God has given to us.
Jesus and his disciples are near Jerusalem "where they thought the reign of God was about to appear". How right they were! It was indeed going to appear in Jerusalem but not at all in the way they expected – with the political and military defeats of enemies. As the beginning of the Acts reveals, they "were hoping" that Jesus was about to restore the political kingdom of Israel. In time, they would learn that a kingdom of far greater significance was coming into being and that they would play an important part in its inauguration.
The parable which follows differs significantly from a similar one of the talents in Matthew (25:14-30). In Luke, too, there may be two parables fused into one – that of the coins and that of a disputed claimant to a royal throne (symbolising Jesus himself).
Jesus begins the parable by saying that a man of noble birth went to a far country to have himself appointed king and then return. This may have reminded his hearers of Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great, who went to Rome in the year 4 BC to get himself appointed king. On his return, he succeeded his father. It may seem a rather unusual procedure but the Herods used to go to Rome in order to get appointed as rulers over the Jews.
Similarly, Jesus is soon to depart and in the future will return as king. During his absence, his servants are entrusted with their master’s affairs.
In the parable, the king, before leaving, gives ten units of money to each of ten servants and tells them to invest the money until his return. The coins are called ‘minas’ and were each worth about 100 drachmas, where a drachma was the equivalent of one day’s wages. Each coin then was the equivalent of about three months’ wages. This is a much smaller sum than those in Matthew’s parable. The other difference is that there are ten people and each one gets the same amount. (In Matthew’s parable there are three people who get respectively 10, 5 and 1 talents.)
In the parable, we are told that the people despised this man and did not want him as their king. In fact, a Jewish delegation had gone to Rome protesting at the idea of Archelaus becoming king. In the same way, Jesus was soon to go away and return some day as King and Judge. While he is ‘away’, his ‘servants’ will be entrusted to take care of their Master’s affairs. But others will reject him completely.
When he returned, the new king asked each of his servants to give an account of their trading, as Jesus will do at the Judgement. One had made another ten units on his capital of ten and he was rewarded by being put in charge of ten towns. Another had made five and was rewarded with five towns. But a third came along with just the capital he had been given. He had not traded the money for fear of losing it but kept it in a safe place. He was afraid of the king who, he said, took what he had not deposited, reaped what he had not sown.
The king was angry. He did not dispute his ruthlessness but he said that the man could at least have lent the money and got some interest. He ordered the ten units be taken from him and given to the one who had already made ten. This man was obviously good at business. The lesson of the parable is spelt out by Jesus: whoever has will be given more, but the one who has not will lose the little he has.
The last sentence of the parable, in a way, describes a third set of people in the story. The first set consists of those who used their coin well and profitably. The second is the one who kept his one coin and carefully guarded it. But finally, there are those who did not want this man as king and these are executed. "Now about those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king, bring them in and slay them in my presence."
They are the greatest losers of all and it probably points to those Jews who rejected Jesus as King and had their city destroyed, referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD. The punishment of those who rebelled and actively opposed the king was much more severe than that of the over-cautious servant.
The context of the whole parable is emphasised by the last sentence of today’s reading: "Having spoken thus Jesus went ahead with his ascent to Jerusalem." We are coming near the end of our story and the climax to which it is headed.
The parable points to all those who are being called by Christ. It is the final part of one large unit (Luke 18:18-19:28) which includes the story of a rich man with good intentions but not able to respond to Jesus’ call, a prediction of Jesus’ passion not understood by the disciples, the story of a blind man who, after having his vision restored, becomes a follower of Christ, the story of another rich man who was willing generously to share his wealth with the poor and ending with the parable of the proper use of what we have.
The first rich man claimed to follow the commandments (the Law) but wanted to keep his money safely in his own possession. He is like the man who buried his money and did not invest it in the love and service of his brothers and sisters, especially those in need. The other, Zacchaeus, generously shared his wealth with the poor. He had invested his money well. He had learned to see. Any one who can really see where Jesus is has no alternative but to go his Way.
Finally, there are those who totally reject Christ and all that he stands for. Their blindness is total.
Today we are asked to reflect on the special gifts that God has given to each one of us and how we are using them for the benefit of brothers and sisters in need. What are our attitudes to money, to property, to professional status, academic or other qualifications or other gifts with which we are endowed? Where do we invest our gifts, our talents both inborn and acquired?
The message is clear: the more we invest, the more we will gain. We cannot stand still or just cling to what we have. The only way to gain is to let go, to give and to share. Good examples of this would be St Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa. It is an attitude very foreign to many people’s way of thinking, who feel that life consists of amassing more and more, that security is in having.
But the Gospel way is really the only way that makes sense. It is not collecting but sharing that generates wealth, the wealth that really matters – freedom, security and peace.
Thursday of the Thirty-third Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 19, 41-44 Coming within sight of the city of Jerusalem, Jesus wept over it and said: "If only you had known the path to peace this day; but you have completely lost it from view! Days will come upon you when your enemies encircle you with a rampart, hem you in, and press you hard from every side. They will wipe you out, you and your children within your walls, and leave not a stone on a stone within you, because you failed to recognize the time of your visitation."
Commentary on Luke 19:41-44
Jesus is now on the last stage of his mission. He approaches Jerusalem, which will be the scene for the last great act of his life – his passion, death and resurrection. From here too will rise up the new community founded in his name, commissioned to continue the work he had started.
As he approaches the city he weeps over its tragic end. He implies that, if the city had received him as Lord and King, it might not have met the fate that was in store for it. "If only you had known the path to peace this day; but you have completely lost it from view." The second half of the word ‘Jeru-salem‘ means ‘peace’, shalom. The city had not known the ‘path to peace’, which, of course, was that which led to Jesus, the Prince of Peace and the source of all peace in our lives. And it has hardly known peace since that time, especially where the Jewish people are concerned.
The rest of the passage is a prophecy of what in fact is going to happen to the city. We know that it was besieged by the Emperor Titus in the year 70 AD. However, Jesus’ words are built up from many Old Testament references and seem to refer rather to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC as much, if not more, than that brought about by the Romans. And, as none of the distinctive features of the Roman siege are mentioned, the words seem to date from before that time.
But, of course, it was the Romans who destroyed the city and its huge Temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world, was reduced to ruins. The Temple was ransacked and its most precious ornaments, including the seven-branched candlestick, were carried off. All of this is sculpturally recorded in the triumphal Arch of Titus erected in Rome to commemorate his victory and which can be seen in the Forum to this day.
All this will take place, Jesus says, "because you did not recognise the time of your visitation". So many failed to recognise in Jesus as Messiah God’s coming to visit them and rejected him.
With the destruction of the Temple, the Jewish faith was dealt a serious blow from which it may be said it has never fully recovered. No temple has ever taken its place for it is felt it can only be on the same sacred site in Jerusalem. Unfortunately for the Jews, a mosque stands on the site today and is not likely to be removed. All that is left of Herod’s temple is the Wailing Wall, where Jews go to lament their lost glory.
For us Christians, there is no exclusively holy place, although certain places are of special significance to us. But, as Paul reminds us, each baptised person is a temple of the Spirit and is to act as such and be respected as such. "Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them," Jesus told his disciples (Matthew 18:20).
Such a gathering may be at a solemn papal Mass in the magnificent basilica of St Peter’s in Rome or it may be Christians gathering secretly in prayer in a labour camp in China. It does not matter. It is the closeness to Christ and to each other that matters and not the place.
Friday of the Thirty-third Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 19, 45-48 Jesus entered the temple and began ejecting the traders saying "Scripture has it, 'My house is meant for a house of prayer' but you have made it 'a den of thieves.'" He was teaching in the temple area from day to day. The chief priests and scribes meanwhile were looking for a way to destroy him, as were the leaders of the people, but they had no idea how to achieve it, for indeed, the entire populace was listening to him and hanging on his words.
Commentary on Luke 19:45-48
Luke tells us very briefly of the scene where Jesus, now in Jerusalem, drives the traders from the courts of the Temple. "‘My house is meant for a house of prayer’," says Jesus quoting from Isaiah (56:7) and Jeremiah (7:11) respectively, "but you have turned it into ‘a den of thieves’."
The trading took place in the outer court, also known as the Court of the Gentiles, and, as is not unusual in such situations, prices could be grossly inflated. John speaks of a cleansing at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (2:13-25) but in the other three gospels it takes place at the end. Two possible explanations have been given. Either there were two cleansings or, more likely, John moved the story to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry for theological reasons. He wanted to show Jesus as Messiah right from the beginning whereas in the Synoptics Jesus’ identity as Messiah is only gradually revealed. There are also some differences in the various accounts. John mentions cattle and sheep and has Jesus use a whip made of cords. Matthew and Luke seem to indicate that the event took place on what we call Palm Sunday but for Mark it was on the following day (Mark 11:1-17).
Those coming to the Temple needed to buy animals for the sacrifices and they needed to change their Roman coins into acceptable Jewish currency (shekels) to make their contributions to the Temple. Jesus had no problem about that. What he objected to was that this business was being carried on inside God’s house when it could just as well have been done outside.
We all know how street traders try to get as close to the action as they can. However, there may be hints that priests in the Temple connived at this business and hence would certainly have profited from it. But Jesus (and probably others as well) felt that such business was not appropriate in a place dedicated to the worship of God.
It would be hard for us to imagine hawkers being allowed to set up stalls inside our churches, although the vendors of Sunday papers do get pretty close to the church doors.
Not surprisingly, the chief priests and the scribes – especially those who might have been involved in what must have been a lucrative business – were plotting how to get rid of Jesus who was upstaging their authority and accusing them of hypocrisy, greed and corruption. The chief priests, as members of the ruling Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, wielded great authority. But it was not going to be easy as the ordinary people continued to flock to Jesus and, as Luke tells us, "were hanging on his every word".
Jesus is an example of the true prophet. He speaks as a messenger of God and is indeed God’s own Son. He stands as a counter-witness to all that is against truth, love and justice and as such inevitably incurs the anger and hostility of those who have power, power based on falsehood, on self-interest, corruption and injustice.
Our Church, in its communities and through individuals, is called on to continue that mission of counter-witness. It will win us the support and admiration of some but also the hostility, the anger and even the violence of others. This is something we should not at all be surprised at nor something we should try to avoid. Our only concern must be always to speak the truth in love. God will take care of the rest. Because, ultimately, truth, love and justice will prevail
Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Gospel Lk 20:27-40
Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child,
his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.
Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.”
Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush,
when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Some of the scribes said in reply, “Teacher, you have answered well.” And they no longer dared to ask him anything.
Commentary on Luke 20:27-40
Today we move on to the middle of chapter 20. In previous passages which are not included in these readings, Jesus had rebutted a challenge to his authority and left his critics literally speechless. This was followed by his speaking a parable about tenant farmers. He was clearly referring to his questioners and identifying them with the wicked tenants who abused all the emissaries (the prophets) sent by the owner of the vineyard and culminated in the killing of his son. The identity of the tenants and of the Son is clear. This is followed by Jesus being confronted with a seemingly innocuous question about paying taxes to Caesar which again resulted in the silence of his critics.
Today another group, the Sadducees, thought they might do better.
The Sadducees, among whom were numbered some of the most powerful Jewish leaders, including high priests, restricted their beliefs to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, reputedly written by Moses and containing the essence of the Jewish Law.
For that reason, unlike the Pharisees, they did not accept some beliefs which occur only in later books of the Old Testament. Among these, for instance, were the existence of angels and the resurrection of the dead.
The Sadducees thought then they could stump Jesus with an unanswerable conundrum. They first quote a prescription from the Law of Moses by which a man was expected to marry the wife of his eldest brother, if there had been no children by the marriage. They then propose an imagined situation of seven brothers. The first married but was childless, so in accordance with the requirements of the Law the second married the widow, then the third and so on. Eventually, all seven brothers married the woman but there were still no children.
The unanswerable question they proposed was that, if there really was a resurrection after death, which of the seven men would be the woman’s husband in the next life? For them, there was no problem; they did not believe in the resurrection. Death was the end of everything. For one who believed in the resurrection, it was an embarrassing difficulty – or so they thought.
Jesus quickly brushes the problem aside. To begin with, in the next life there are no marriage relationships. “The children of this age [i.e. those who belong this world] marry and remarry but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage”.
In the new life, all live face to face with God in a life that never ends. All are equally children of God, brothers and sisters to each other, taking their life and existence from him. That is now the focus of their relationship and it is through that relationship that they are bound together.
Jesus then goes on to challenge the Sadducees’ unbelief about life after death. He shrewdly quotes from a part of the Bible which they recognise as true. He reminds them of the scene where the voice from the burning bush identifies itself to Moses. “I AM the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). God, says Jesus, is the God of the living and not of the dead [i.e. of those who no longer exist]. If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive then the Sadducees’ argument falls. Perhaps we would not be convinced by such an argument but it clearly worked in this case.
Some scribes who were listening in were delighted at the refutation of the Sadducees. Most of them were Pharisees and believed in the resurrection. At the same time, after these replies of Jesus to both the Pharisees and the Sadducees, “they no longer dared to ask him anything”.
We, of course, believe in the resurrection not so much because of Jesus’ arguments here but because of his own resurrection and his promise to share his life with us forever.
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*Monday of The Thirty-fourth, or Last, Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 21, 1-4 Jesus glanced up and saw the rich putting their offerings into the treasury, and also a poor widow putting in two copper coins. At that he said: "I assure you, this poor widow has put in more than all the rest. They make contributions out of their surplus, but she from her want has given what she could not afford -- every penny she had to live on."
Commentary on Luke 21:1-4
Today we begin the last chapter of Luke’s gospel preceding his account of the Passion. Jesus is still in Jerusalem and spending time preaching in the Temple.
As he stood one day near the treasury where there were 13 trumpet-shaped boxes to receive the offerings, he saw among all the well-off people dropping in their (surplus) money a poor widow who put in two copper coins of very small value.
Jesus immediately comments on her generosity and faith. The others were putting in offerings which they could easily afford; it would have involved no diminution of their lifestyle, no hardship of any kind. But this woman was a poor widow and therefore belonging to the least advantaged of all people in that society. In fact, poverty and widowhood were, for many, almost synonymous.
And this woman put in everything she had. It has been observed that she had two coins and she put in both. In the circumstances, she need only have put in one and kept the other for her own needs.
Jesus sets her up as an example of someone who put her total trust in God’s providence. She gave everything to him.
No one is saying that one should literally follow her example – it could be seen as irresponsible. We are told to love our neighbours – but also ourselves. At the same time, how often when we do dip into our pockets do we really give to others money that we were thinking of spending on something we do not really need? Or are we like the people in today’s story who casually give money they will not miss in the slightest? There is a difference between ‘giving alms’ and sharing our goods and good fortune with those who have less, a lot less, than us.
St Paul, writing to the Christians of Corinth and appealing for help for poorer Christian communities, says in part:
For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has – not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written:
Whoever had much did not have more,
And whoever had little did not have less. (Exodus 16:18).
This is a nice description of what justice in our society means.
There have been Christians who closely followed the widow’s example. Mother Teresa absolutely refused to have any stable income for her work and she was not been alone in this. And it has often been remarked that it is people at the lower end of our society who are most generous in supporting needy causes.
The fact that this story comes just before the Passion has led many to see in this woman a symbol of Jesus himself, who will, in the words of the Letter to the Philippians, "empty himself" completely and surrender his whole life totally into the hands of his Father, holding nothing back. But even during Jesus’ life he seems to have had no private means of any kind. At the same time, he was not a beggar. He simply lived a life where he gave totally of himself and others gave him in return just what he needed at any particular time.
Clearly, most people cannot literally follow the example of Jesus but there are many examples of people who did. If only we, too, could have that kind of trust, that kind of generosity, that ability to share and that kind of freedom – freedom from material ‘wants’ and freedom for others.
The richest person is not the one who has accumulated much but the one who has the least needs. In this sense, this poor widow was rich indeed.
Tuesday of The Thirty-fourth, or Last, Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 21, 5-11 People were speaking of how the temple was adorned with precious stones and votive offerings. Jesus said, "These things you are contemplating -- the day will come when not one stone will be left on another, but it will all be torn down." They asked him, "When will this occur, Teacher? And what will be the sign it is going to happen?" He said, "Take care not to be misled. Many will come in my name saying, 'I am hé and 'The time is at hand.' Do not follow them. Neither must you be perturbed when you hear of wars and insurrections. These things are bound to happen first, but the end does not follow immediately." He said to them further: "Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, plagues and famines in various places, and in the sky fearful omens and great signs."
Wednesday of The Thirty-fourth, or Last, Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 21, 12-19 Jesus said to his disciples: "People will manhandle and persecute you, summoning you to synagogues and prisons, bringing you to trial before kings and governors, all because of my name. You will be brought to give witness on account of it. I bid you resolve not to worry about your defense beforehand, for I will give you words and a wisdom which none of your adversaries can take exception to or contradict. You will be delivered up even by your parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and some of you will be put to death. All will hate you because of me, yet not a hair of your head will be harmed. By patient endurance you will save your lives."
Commentary on Luke 21:12-19
Jesus continues his warnings, but now mainly to his own disciples. He foretells experiences and happenings which will be soon realised in the Acts of the Apostles, not to mention in the subsequent history of the Church through the centuries, not excluding our own.
Jesus speaks of abuse and persecution. "They will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons…" The term ‘hand over’ is a theme word occurring again and again in the New Testament. John the Baptist was handed over to Herod who put him in prison and then executed him. Jesus himself is handed over first to the leaders of his own people and then into the hands of the Romans who would execute him. And now Jesus tells his disciples that they, too, can expect to be ‘handed over’ and to be dragged before civil and religious courts and "all because of my name".
Many of the early Christians came in conflict with Jewish communities and were ‘handed over’ to synagogues. Synagogues were not only prayer halls and places to learn the Scriptures but also for civil administration and as places of confinement while awaiting trial.
The charges may be civil or criminal but the real reason will be that the accused are followers of Christ. (China, for example, always insists that the arrest of religious people is because of their violation of civil and criminal laws and not because of their religious affiliation.) As such Christians become objects of fear and hatred, their ideas seen as threatening and even subversive.
But, says Jesus, they are not themselves to fear or be anxious. When the time comes, they will know what to do and what to say. He will tell them what to say and how to answer. A promise that has been vindicated again and again. The really sad thing is that those betraying them to the authorities will often be members of their own household – "parents, brothers, relatives and ‘friends’". Again, this prophecy sadly has been realised all too often.
"All will hate you because of me." This is strange and, in a way, makes no sense. Jesus who preached truth, love, freedom, peace, justice and non-violence becomes, in his followers, the object of lies, hatred, imprisonment and torture, division, injustice and the most terrible violence.
"Yet not a hair of your head will be harmed." Not a phrase to be taken literally because many suffer terribly in their bodies but there is an inner integrity and wholeness that nothing can destroy.
"By patient endurance you will save your lives." That is, by going through all that our enemies can throw at us we come out at the end people who are whole and complete and who can lift our heads up high. One thinks of, in our own time, Bishop Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Maximilian Kolbe and many others. Their memories are treasured and become an inspiration to all of us.
Let us pray that we may have the courage to be true to our Christian values whatever the cost. Let us not be surprised that our faith and our religion can create such anger and such hostility. At the same time, we reach out continually in truth and love to dissipate the unjustified fears that our beliefs can engender in others.
We are a threat to false values but we must try hard to help people see where real truth and goodness lie. And we do that by seeking for that in our own lives.
Thursday of The Thirty-fourth
Years I and II Gospel Lk 21, 20-28 Jesus said to his disciples: "When you see Jerusalem encircled by soldiers, know that its devastation is near. Those in Judea at the time must flee to the mountains; those in the heart of the city must escape it; those in the country must not return. These indeed will be days of retribution, when all that is written must be fulfilled. "The women who are pregnant or nursing at the breast will fare badly in those days! The distress in the land and the wrath against this people will be great. The people will fall before the sword; they will be led captive in the midst of the Gentiles. Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. "There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish, distraught at the roaring of the sea and the waves. Men will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the earth. The powers in the heavens will be shaken. After that, men will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and glory. When these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, for your ransom is near at hand."
Commentary on Luke 21:20-28
Jesus continues his warnings of what is to come.
It is a blending of what is going to happen to Jerusalem and of the end of all things. The images are mainly biblical and apocalyptic, from Old Testament prophecies and not to be taken as an accurate description of what is actually going to happen some 40 years later. The sign that the end was near would be Jerusalem surrounded by armies accompanied by the "abomination that causes desolation" (cf. Matt 24:15). Nevertheless, it is true that Jerusalem was encircled by the armies of Rome. The safest place to be was not in the city, which was reduced to rubble, but in the surrounding hills.
Jesus is emphasising not so much the actual events but rather their cause – the faithlessness and corruption of so many for which destruction was the inescapable outcome. So he calls them the "days of retribution" or the "time of punishment", not indicating God’s revenge but the natural result of evil and corruption, warnings of which the Scripture, especially the prophets, are full. See, for example, Isaiah 63:4; Jeremiah 5:29 and Hoseah 9:7. And especially Daniel 9:27: "For one week he [King Antiochus] will make a firm compact with the many [faithless Jews]. Half the week [three and a half years] he shall abolish sacrifice and oblation. On the temple wing shall be the horrible abomination until the ruin that is decreed is poured out upon the horror." The temple was desecrated by Antiochus from 167 to 165 BC. The "horrible abomination" perhaps refers to an inscription placed on the portal of the temple dedicating it to the Olympian Zeus. All of this, of course, was to be repeated. And, in many ways, has been repeated again and again. One thinks of the nude statue set up as a deity in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris during the French Revolution.
What follows from verse 23 is more relevant to the destruction of Jerusalem. It will be a particularly difficult time for women who are pregnant or nursing. It will be a time of great distress.
Many will be cut down and others will be led away into captivity to pagan territories. (The Romans liked to parade their prisoners in a victory march in Rome.) The holy city itself, its Temple in ruins, will be trampled on by the Gentiles – a fate it still experiences.
This will happen "until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled". For, as Paul indicates in his letter to the Romans (11:25-29), it is the Gentiles who have taken the place of the Jews as the bearers of the Good News and the builders of the Kingdom. But Paul believed that the age of the Gentiles would only end with the return of Israel and the reconciliation of all in Christ Jesus as Lord. It is an indefinite period and it is still in process. Our God is an all-inclusive God. And a patient God.
Finally, Jesus speaks of various cataclysmic and apocalyptic signs to signal the end of time. They are typical biblical phenomena and not meant to be taken as exact foretelling of events. They conclude with Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man riding on a cloud coming with great power and glory. It is not intended to fill people with fear and trembling, except perhaps those who have lived wicked lives.
But for the disciples, the loyal followers of Jesus, it is a time to "stand up straight and raise your heads, for your redeeming is near at hand". As we saw in yesterday’s Gospel, sufferings and tribulations are part and parcel of living the Christian life to the full. Our message and our vision is a ‘sign of contradiction’, a beacon of light to many and to others a threat to be radically uprooted.
But for those who have tried to live by the vision and values of the Gospel, for those who have tried to seek and find Jesus in all the people and events of their lives, who have spent hours with him in intimate dialogue, it is the time of their final liberation, a time when there will be no more sorrows, no more tears, no more hardships, no more disappointments. Rather, they will be entering an unbroken time of love and intimacy, of freedom and peace, of joy and consolation.
So, as we approach the end of another liturgical year, we do so on an upbeat note.
Friday of The Thirty-fourth, or Last, Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 21, 29-33 Jesus told his disciples a parable: "Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. You observe them when they are budding and know for yourselves that summer is near. Likewise when you see all the things happening of which I speak, know that the reign of God is near. Let me tell you this: the present generation will not pass away until all this takes place. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but my words will not pass."
Commentary on Luke 21:29-33
Jesus continues his admonitions about readiness for the future. The key is to watch out for the telling signs.
Just as with the fig tree or any tree, the emerging buds of green indicate that summer is on the way. When the things Jesus has been mentioning are seen to happen, terrible as some of them seem to be, they are in fact the sign of summer. "The Kingdom of God is near." On other occasions, Jesus had said that the Kingdom was already present but the Kingdom can be seen in different ways. The Kingdom is present wherever the values of the Gospel are being lived but it will not be fully realised until the very end when all are gathered in Him.
"This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place." When Jesus says that "this present generation" will not have passed away until all this takes place, it is not to say that Jesus’ final coming will happen in the lifetime of his hearers, as some imagined but rather that, with his own suffering and death, the new and eternal dispensation which he inaugurates with the Kingdom will be under way. Ironically, the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy is inaugurated by the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Temple. It inaugurates a new presence of God in the world, a presence in "spirit and in truth".
However, Jesus’ words could also mean that the Jewish people as a race (here referred to as "this generation") will continue to exist till the end of time, to the final coming of Jesus.
Lastly, the world in which we live will one day disappear, but the words of Jesus, words of Truth and Life will be forever valid, because they represent a vision of life and those timeless values which we understand as emanating from God and to which every single human being is innately called.
As we come to the end of the Church year it is a time for us to make our decision whether we want to belong to the kingdom that Jesus is inaugurating and not only to belong but also to make its spread our life’s work. Then, no matter when he comes to call us, we are ready.
Saturday of Week 34
Gospel Mk 3:20-21
Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. then his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” Our final reading from Luke (and this Church year) continues the messages of warning that he has been giving during the week.
The warning is not to become immersed in a life of self-centred indulgence and hedonism nor to be overcome by many worries and anxieties. It is these two things which can dominate the lives of so many: a combination of escapism from what is difficult and a running to activities where happiness is confused with pleasure.
The “great day” is going to close in like a trap – quickly and without previous warning. “The day I speak of will come upon all who dwell on the face of the earth.” Of course, for every single one of us, that “great day” in practice is the day on which we will be called individually to face our Lord and Creator.
(One might ask, What do we do while we are waiting for the rest of the world to join us? Perhaps we should remember that ‘on the other side’ it is an eternal Now, with no past or future. It is like going to the hub of a wheel from any part of the rim. All converge together in the same place.)
So we are warned to be permanently on the watch. To pray constantly for strength to avoid what is bad for us and that we may be able to stand secure when we come face to face with the Son of Man. In some ways, the demands are very simple, although we find them difficult at times – showing our fidelity to God by a loving concern for the well-being of every other person, but especially those most in need. “As often as you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to ME.”
Whatever the circumstances of our life we look forward in confidence to the ultimate victory of God, of Jesus and of the Kingdom. As has been said here more than once, the best preparation for that unpredictable moment of leaving this world is to live as fully as we can in the presence of our always-present God. Let us seek him, find him and respond to him in every single person and in every single experience of our daily lives.
“O Lord, grant that all my thoughts, intentions, actions and responses may directed solely to your love and service this day and every day.” Amen.
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Monday of The Twentieth Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Mt 19, 16-22
A man came up to Jesus and said, "Teacher, what good must I do to possess everlasting life?" He answered, "Why do you question me about what is good? There is One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." "Which ones?" he asked. Jesus replied, "'You shall not kill'; 'You shall not commit adultery'; 'You shall not steal'; 'You shall not bear false witness'; 'Honor your father and your mother'; and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" The young man said to him, "I have kept all these; what do I need to do further?" Jesus told him, "If you seek perfection, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor. You will then have treasure in heaven. After that, come back and follow me." Hearing these words, the young man went away sad, for his possessions were many.
Commentary on Matthew 19:16-22
We have here a story of a young man who did not have that simple trust of the child which Jesus spoke about in the immediately preceding passage. (Only Matthew describes him as ‘young’.)
He was apparently a good man, an unusually good man. He asks Jesus what he needs to do in order to have eternal life. However, he seemed to be operating out of the legalistic mind with the emphasis on external actions. For Jesus what we are is more important than what we do. The man also asked about ‘eternal life’. In Matthew (and in Mark and Luke) ‘eternal life’ is really synonymous with ‘entering the Kingdom of Heaven [God]‘ and ‘being saved’. It is to be totally taken up into God’s world and sharing God’s understanding of life.
"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus asks him. "There is One alone who is good." This seems to be a way of telling the man that goodness is not something merely external. The real source of goodness is inside, although, of course, it will flow out to the exterior. Is it also a way of asking the man who he really thinks Jesus is?
In any case, the man is told, "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." As we have just said, to ‘enter into life’ is equivalent to entering the Kingdom. And Jesus mentions just four of the commandments, all touching on relationships with other people. And he adds, "Love your neighbour as yourself."
The man is not satisfied. "I have kept all these. What more do I need to do?" Jesus tells him that if he wants to be perfect then he should sell off everything he has, give it to the poor and then become a disciple of Jesus.
Obviously, the man was not expecting this. He was very rich and, although he wanted to serve God, he was not prepared to separate himself from the security of his wealth. And he walked away from Jesus full of sadness. It is an example of Jesus’ words earlier on that we cannot at the same time serve God and wealth.
To be rich is not just to have a lot of money. It is to have a lot more money than others and especially to have more money than one needs in a world where there are people who do not have enough for a life of dignity. And wealth is very relative: a person close to the poverty line in Europe could be seen as very rich in a remote African or Asian village.
So as long as the man had to cling to his money, he could not – as he claimed to be doing – be loving his neighbour as his own self. Clearly he was not yet ready for an unconditional following of Jesus. He was not able to follow the example of Peter and Andrew, James and John who left their boats, nets and family to go and put all their security with Jesus.
Before we think that this gospel does not particularly concern us because we do not see ourselves as numbered among the rich, we should listen to what Jesus is really saying.
He touched on the one thing that the man was not ready to give up – his money and all that it brought. But, if we are honest, we will admit that we all have some things we would be very slow to let go of. Things we would not like God to ask us to give up.
It might be a good exercise today for us to ask ourselves what would be the most difficult thing for us to give up if Jesus asked us to do so. It might be some thing we own like our house, or it might be a relationship, or our job, or our health. Whatever it is, it could be coming between us and our total following of Jesus. Do the things we own really own us?
Why not ask for the strength to be ready, if called on, to give it up? Only then do we know that we are truly free and truly followers of Jesus.
One final point. This story has been used in the past as an example of someone getting a special ‘vocation’. According to this view, all are expected to keep the commandments but only some are invited to follow a ‘counsel’, such as living a life of ‘poverty’, as members of religious institutes do. It would be quite wrong to see Jesus here suggesting two levels of living the Christian life. What is said here applies to every person who wants to follow Christ. All the baptised are called to the same level of service although there are different ways of doing this.
Tuesday of the Twentieth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Mt 19, 23-30 Jesus said to his disciples: "I assure you, only with difficulty will a rich man enter into the kingdom of God. I repeat what I said: it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this they were completely overwhelmed, and exclaimed, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For man it is impossible; but for God all things are possible." Then it was Peter's turn to say to him: "Here we have put everything aside to follow you. What can we expect from it?" Jesus said to them: "I give you my solemn word, in the new age when the Son of Man takes his seat upon a throne befitting his glory, you who have followed me shall likewise take your places on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Moreover, everyone who has given up home, brothers or sisters, father or mother, wife or children or property for my sake will receive many times as much and inherit everlasting life. Many who are first shall come last, and the last shall come first."
Commentary on Matthew 19:23-30
After hearing the sad story of the rich young man who could not accept his invitation to be a disciple, Jesus gives some comments on the effects of wealth. It is next to impossible for the rich man to enter the kingdom of God, says Jesus. It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. (It is said that Jesus was referring to a narrow entrance in the city wall of Jerusalem called the ‘eye of the needle’. In either case, Jesus is indicating something which is extremely difficult, in fact, next to impossible.)
Some of us may feel slightly uncomfortable about this. Even if we are not rich ourselves, we might like to see our children get rich some day or we admire people who have, by their hard work, become wealthy. What is wrong with having a lot of money which one has earned by the one’s own sweat and labour?
What does the Gospel mean by being rich? To be rich here means to have a large surplus of money and possessions while around one are people who do not have what they need to live a life of dignity. How can I continue to hold on to "my" possessions when such a situation prevails? How can I claim to belong to the kingdom, the reign of God, which is a kingdom of love and justice? "I was hungry and thirsty and sick and in prison" and you did not give me to eat or drink, you did not visit me or show any compassion. Instead, you piled up all that money in the bank or on the stock exchange or you splurged it on BMWs and fancy restaurants and expensive clothes.
To be rich in the Gospel means refusing to share what you have with those who have not. As long as you behave like that, you cannot be eligible for the Kingdom. It really is like trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle. There is a radical incompatibility.
The disciples were quite amazed at Jesus’ words. They were thinking along lines traditional to their culture and their religion. Wealth was a sign of God’s blessings; poverty and sickness a sign of his punishment. But Jesus is turning their traditions on their head.
It was something the young man could not understand either. He was under the impression that his wealth was a grace, a sign of God’s favour. The idea of giving alms was to be highly commended but to share his wealth with the poor and create a more just playing field was something for which he felt no obligation and which made no sense.
Then Peter, the optimist, begins to see the bright side. "What about us? We have left everything and followed you." Jesus gives a twofold reply.
As the leaders of the new community and people who have generously put their whole security in Jesus, his disciples will be especially rewarded. And indeed everyone who leaves family and goods for Jesus’ sake will be rewarded many times over with father, mother, brothers, sisters, goods. This is not just a pie-in-the-sky promise. It is one that can be realised and, in many parts of the world, is being realised. When everyone works for the good of the other, everyone benefits.
The wealth-is-good world believes that it is every man for himself. There is only a limited amount of the cake and it is up to each one to get as big a piece as he can. Too bad about the losers.
In the world of Jesus, everyone gets because everyone gives; because everyone gives, everyone receives. It is not a ‘gimme’ world; it is a reaching out to others world. And when everyone reaches out, everyone is benefiting. In such a world, I do not have to worry about a roof over my head, or about brothers and sisters, or property or security. It is the realisation of "From each according to his ability; to each according to his need." It is where love and justice meet. For too many people in our world, there is neither love nor justice.
If the rich man had liberated himself from his wealth and shared it with the poor and become a follower of Jesus in the new community, he might never have been rich again but he would have had all his needs attended to.
Wednesday of the Twentieth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Mt 20, 1-16
Jesus told his disciples this parable: "The reign of God is like the case of the owner of an estate who went out at dawn to hire workmen for his vineyard. After reaching an agreement with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them out to his vineyard. He came out about midmorning and saw other men standing around the marketplace without work, so he said to them, 'You too go along to my vineyard and I will pay you whatever is fair.' At that they went away. He came out again around noon and midafternoon and did the same. Finally, going out in late afternoon he found still others standing around. To these he said, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?' 'No one has hired us,' they told him. He said, 'You go to the vineyard too.' When evening came the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workmen and give them their pay, but begin with the last group and end with the first.' When those hired late in the afternoon came up they received a full day's pay, and when the first group appeared they supposed they would get more; yet they received the same daily wage. Thereupon they complained to the owner, 'This last group did only an hour's work, but you have put them on the same basis as us who have worked a full day in the scorching heat.' 'My friend,' he said to one in reply, 'I do you no injustice. You agreed on the usual wage, did you not? Take your pay and go home. I intend to give this man who was hired last the same pay as you. I am free to do as I please with my money, am I not? Or are you envious because I am generous?' Thus the last shall be first and the first shall be last."
Commentary on Matthew 20:1-16
Today we have another parable of the Kingdom. And it is not unrelated to the previous story of the rich man. At a first reading we might be strongly inclined to side with the grumblers in the parable. After all, it did not seem at all fair that those who only worked for one hour should get exactly the same as those who had worked from early in the morning and through the heat of the day.
Even though all had agreed to work for a stipulated amount, still in all fairness and decency, one feels that the early comers should have been given more or the latecomers less. However, if we find ourselves talking like this then it shows that our thoughts are human thoughts and not God’s. A little further reflection will make us feel grateful that God works like the employer in the vineyard.
The story seems, as often happens in the Gospel, to reflect the situation of the early Church. The first Christians were all Jews. Before their conversion they had been trying to live according to the requirements of their Jewish faith. They belonged to a people who had thousands of years of religious history, they were God’s own people. Then Gentiles began to be admitted into the community. Some of these people probably came from totally pagan environments. They may have lived very immoral lives and yet, once accepted and baptised, they enjoyed all the privileges of the community. Somehow, it did not seem right.
But this is the justice of God which we need to learn. He gives his love, all of his love, to every person without exception who opens himself to it. It does not matter whether that happens early or late. One reason for that is that that love can never be earned, only accepted. And, as the previous story indicated, the genuine needs of all should be met. The fact that the latecomers were only employed at the last hour does not make their needs any less than those who came earlier. God’s justice is measured by our needs not by mathematical divisions.
What each of the workers received was a symbol of the love of God, who is the vineyard owner. All – early arrivals and latecomers – got exactly the same, the love of their Master and Lord. There are not various degrees of that love. It is always 100 percent. God is Love; he cannot not love and he cannot not love totally. He cannot and will not give more of that love to one than another.
This is indeed something we should be grateful for. Because it can happen – perhaps it has already happened – that I move away from God and his love. I may move very far. But I know that at whatever time I turn back to him, be it at the 11th hour, he is waiting with open arms.
Thank heavens for the justice of God!
Thursday of The Twentieth Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Mt 22, 1-14
Jesus began to address the chief priests and elders of the people, once more using parables. "The reign of God may be likened to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the wedding, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying: 'Tell those who are invited, See, I have my dinner prepared! My bullocks and corn-fed cattle are killed; everything is ready. Come to the feast.' Some ignored the invitation and went their way, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, insulted them, and killed them. At this the king grew furious and sent his army to destroy those murderers and burn their city. Then he said to his servants: 'The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were unfit to come. That is why you must go out into the byroads and invite to the wedding anyone you come upon.' The servants then went out into the byroads and rounded up everyone they met, bad as well as good. This filled the wedding hall with banqueters. "When the king came in to meet the guests, however, he caught sight of a man not properly dressed for a wedding feast. 'My friend,' he said, 'how is it you came in here not properly dressed?' The man had nothing to say. The king then said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the night to wail and grind his teeth.' The invited are many, the elect are few."
Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14
In our readings we have jumped from chapter 20 to chapter 22 and read another Kingdom parable not unrelated to yesterday’s about the workers in the vineyard.
Yesterday it was a question of resentment at God’s generosity to latecomers in his kingdom. Today it is rather sadness over the Jewish leaders’ refusal to accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord. The parable is a kind of potted history and is more like an allegory than a parable.
The king (God) gives a wedding banquet (the happiness of the Messianic age) for his son (Jesus the Messiah). But when he invites people (the Jews) to attend, they refuse to come and make all kinds of excuses. Others actually attack the king’s servants and messengers (the prophets and the early Christian evangelisers).
The king becomes angry and "sent his army to destroy those murderers and burn their city". Surely a reference to the Roman army under the emperor Titus which sacked and destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70. The Temple, the heart of Judaism, was also destroyed and plundered and has never since been rebuilt. Today an Islamic mosque stands on the site.
Because the invited guests will not come, the servants (the Jewish disciples of Jesus) are instructed to go out and bring in anyone they can find. "They rounded up everyone they met, bad as well as good." All are called – both the good and sinful.
The climax of the story at first seems somewhat unfair. People have been pulled in from highways and byways and now one is condemned for not wearing a wedding garment! But the parable has in fact moved to the final judgement. In fact, Matthew may be combining what were two original parables into one.
The wedding garment clearly stands for faith and baptism combined with a lived out commitment to the Gospel, something necessary to be accepted into the eternal happiness of the Kingdom.
As Jesus says at the end, "Many are called, but few are chosen." Many were called and invited to attend the banquet. But more than that was expected of them. They had to answer the call by saying an unqualified Yes to Jesus. Being baptised and having the label ‘Christian’ or ‘Catholic’ is not enough.
We have also to live out in our lives and relationships what we claim to believe in.
Friday of The Twentieth Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Mt 22, 34-40
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled in a body; and one of them, a lawyer, in an attempt to trip him up, asked him, "Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?" Jesus said to him: "'You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments the whole law is based, and the prophets as well."
Commentary on Matthew 22:34-40
Matthew’s gospel is building up to its climax. The continued confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders is leading to the final showdown. It had been described symbolically in the parable we heard yesterday.
This parable is followed in Matthew by three encounters where Jesus’ opponents try to show him to be in opposition to the Law. There is the famous scene where he is asked whether it is right to pay tribute to Caesar or not. The question is put in such a way that, no matter what answer he gives, he will say the wrong thing. This is followed by the Saduccees, who did not believe in the after life, bringing up what they thought was an insoluble problem for those who did believe in the resurrection of the dead.
In both cases, Jesus dealt expeditiously with his questioners and left them with no comeback.
Today we read of a third encounter. The Pharisees, who were very pleased that the Sadducees had been silenced by Jesus, now had their own challenge for him. "Which is the greatest commandment of the Law?" they asked him. This was a much-discussed question among the experts. There were more than 600 laws and it was common to ask which ones were of greater importance than others.
Jesus responds very quickly, not by using his own words but quoting from the Books of the Law themselves. And his answer contains not one but two laws:
a. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul. This is from Deuteronomy 6:5, and
b. You must love your neighbor as yourself. This is from Leviticus 19:18.
They both have the word ‘love’ in common. It is important to be aware that the word translated ‘love’ here is the verb agapeo (‘agapew), from which we get agape (‘agaph) and not phileo (filew). Agape can be described as an intense desire for the good or the well-being of the other. Philia, on the other hand, implies friendship and affection. We are not asked to have affection for each other, only to work for the good of the other, no matter what that person is like.
And, from the Gospel (e.g. Matthew 25) we know that not only are these two commandments similar, they are complementary and inseparable. In other words, it is not possible to love God and not love the neighbour and vice versa.
So Jesus is, strictly speaking, answering their question about the "greatest commandment" (singular). The greatest commandment is simultaneously to love God and neighbour. And, in Luke’s gospel, the identity of the "neighbour" will be clearly shown, although it is also in fact clearly indicated later in Matthew 25 ("I was hungry, thirsty… As often as you did it to the least…you did it to me").
On these two commandments, says Jesus, "hang the whole Law and the Prophets also", in other words, the whole of the Old Testament teaching. The Law was contained in the Pentateuch, the first five books of our Bible; the Prophets included both the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) but also the twelve minor prophets as well as the so-called ‘former’ prophets – Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. Also included were the Writings, the Wisdom books.
And Jesus is saying that as long as one is truly loving God and the neighbour, the rest of the Law will take care of itself. And there may even be times when such love will transcend and override the requirements of some laws. No truly loving act can ever be sinful.
Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Gospel mt 23:1-12
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12
We begin today chapter 23 of Matthew which consists of a severe indictment of the Pharisees and Scribes by Jesus. This is not to be taken as a blanket condemnation of every individual Pharisee and Scribe, because we know that many of them were good people. One outstanding example is Gamaliel who appears in the Acts of the Apostles as a man of justice and integrity. Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night and was involved in Jesus’ burial, was also a Pharisee.
The passage certainly reflects some of the conflicts which arose between the early Christians (especially those who were Jews themselves) and those Jews who were opposed to the Christian Way, who saw it as a heresy and who often subjected the Christians to verbal and even physical attacks and harassment.
What Jesus is attacking is not so much a particular people as certain attitudes of mind. And these attitudes can be found just as easily within the Christian community of that time and every period since then. We should listen to Jesus’ words, then, directed not so much to abstract “Pharisees and Scribes” but to ourselves. It is for our benefit and reflection that they have been included in the Gospel. The Gospel is written for us and to us; it is not a historical diatribe against certain people in the past.
Jesus first of all emphasises that as people in authority and experts on the subject, the Scribes and Pharisees should be listened to with respect and they should be obeyed when they teach. But Jesus says that in their behaviour their example should not be followed. “Their words are bold but their deeds are few.”
They have no hesitation in drawing up rules which are difficult for people to carry out but they do absolutely nothing to help in their implementation. The Church has not always been without guilt in this kind of thing, even in our own day. Nor have civil legislators or other people in authority, including parents of families or teachers in schools, been without fault.
This is the double standard, where people set the rules which they themselves do not keep: “Do as I say, not as I do” or “You will do it because I tell you to do it.”
Secondly, the Pharisees are attacked because everything they do is to attract attention to themselves. But it is all on the outside. What we call today ‘image’. Their phylacteries were bigger than others’ and their tassels huge. The phylactery was a small box containing some of the central words of the Law. It was worn on the arm or the forehead, a literal interpretation of the exhortation in Exodus (13:9), “[the Law] shall be as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead”. There were four tassels, sewn at each corner of one’s cloak.
The message is clear: “We are better, we are holier.” But it is a sham because it is all on the outside. But when it comes to ‘image’ our contemporary world has nothing to learn from the past.
They also expect special attention to be given to them: the first row in the synagogue, places of honour at banquets, special honorific titles. Sad to say, we have seen this not infrequently among church clerics in our own lifetime. We see it daily among our politicians, business leaders, our media personalities. They are not only given these things; they soon expect them as a right. It is the VIP syndrome and often it is pathetic: the private jet, the executive lounge in the airport, the special table in the restaurant, the limousine from the hotel…
Even ordinary people become slaves of the image: the brand label on the clothes they wear, the places where they live, the cars they drive, and all the other consumer baubles with which they surround themselves. None of these things, says Jesus, makes a person great.
The greatest is the one who serves, that is, the person who uses his or her gifts for the benefit of others, whose whole life is dedicated to making this world a better place for others to live in. A person to whom such trappings are totally irrelevant.
From dailyscripture.net. author Don Schwager © 2015 Servants of the Word
Monday of the Twenty-first Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Mt 23, 13-22 Jesus said, "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you frauds! You shut the doors of the kingdom of God in men's faces, neither entering yourselves nor admitting those who are trying to enter. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you frauds! You travel over sea and land to make a single convert, but once he is converted you make a devil of him twice as wicked as yourselves. It is an evil day for you, blind guides! You declare, 'If a man swears by the temple it means nothing, but if he swears by the gold of the temple he is obligated.' Blind fools! Which is more important, the gold or the temple which makes it sacred? Again you declare, 'If a man swears by the altar it means nothing, but if he swears by the gift on the altar he is obligated.' How blind you are! Which is more important, the offering or the altar which makes the offering sacred? The man who swears by the altar is swearing by it and by everything on it. The man who swears by the temple is swearing by it and by him who dwells there. The man who swears by heaven is swearing by God's throne and by him who is seated on that throne."
Commentary on Matthew 23:13-22We continue with the attack of Jesus on the mentality of the Scribes and Pharisees, keeping in mind as we mentioned last Saturday that, first, we are dealing more with a state of mind than a blanket condemnation of a whole group of people, and, secondly, that the words are mainly to be heard as providing reflection for our own Christian communities and the way we behave.
Today and for the following two days we read of the seven ‘Woes’ that Jesus hurls against corrupt religious leaders. We have seen already how the number seven is a favourite of Matthew.
The Seven Woes are:
1. You shut up the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces… (v.13) [You devour the property of widows... (a verse not included in some texts). (v.14)]
2. You travel over land and sea to make a single convert… (v.15)
3. You say, if a man swears by the Temple it has no force… (vv.16-22) . You pay your tithe of mint and dill… (vv.23-24)
5. You clean the outside of cup and dish… (vv.25-26)
6. You are like whitewashed tombs… (vv.27-28)
7. You build the sepulchres of the prophets… (vv.29-32) Today we read the first three Woes.
1, You shut up the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces…v.13 [You devour the property of widows... (not included in some texts). (v.14)]
Jesus accuses the leaders of closing the entrance to the Kingdom, preventing others from going in and not going in themselves either. On the one hand, this can be a reference to their rejection of Jesus who was himself the embodiment of the Kingdom, was preaching the Kingdom and who, by his presence, had made the Kingdom accessible to all who came to him. On the other, it can also mean that they made the observance of the Law impossibly difficult by their complex interpretations of what was and was not allowed.
Whether we are parents, or teachers, or priests or religious, we can also by our behaviour both block people’s access to Jesus and be far from him ourselves also.
Included here is verse 14, left out of some texts, where Jesus accuses the Pharisees of saying long prayers but not hesitating to take money (for the Temple, of course) from widows, the poorest of the poor. Considering that widows were among the most destitute and insecure of people in Jewish society, this was exploitation of the most base kind. A comparison in our own day would be with the ways in which some "televangelists" have been known to rake in money from poor and gullible people who should be receiving rather than giving.
2, You travel over land and sea to make a single convert… (v.15)
While they try to prevent people approaching Jesus, they themselves zealously go to great lengths to make even a single convert, only to make that person even worse than themselves. They do this by corrupting them with false ideas of what true religion is. They fill them ideas about ritual purification and thus create a false sense of security about what really brings about salvation. At this time Jewish proselytisation was very active in the Greek and Roman world.
Parallels can be found in our own days among Christian groups.
3, You say, if a man swears by the Temple it has no force… (vv.16-22)
Here Jesus’ attack is directed at the leaders’ greed and their corruption of religion for material gain. They persuade people to swear by the gold of the temple and make them pay. People are told not to swear by the altar but by the gift they have put there. Which is more holy, Jesus asks, the temple or the gold which the temple makes holy, the altar or the gift which the altar sanctifies? Again, in the name of holiness, the Pharisee-types are exploiting the poor.
Daily we see the abuse of authority and power, whether in the Church, in government, in business leading to all kinds of greed and corruption which undermines the very fabric of societies. Positions of service are turned into instruments of personal gain, often at the expense of the weakest and the most needy. Countries which long ago should have become rich and prosperous and provided with a high quality of life for their people are bankrupt, in every sense of the word, while a small elite live lives of shameless luxury.
The Church, too, can find itself over-concerned with matters of money at the expense of its pastoral mission. A diocese, a parish, a bishop or priest who is rich in a world of poverty and need is a major stumbling block to the hearing of the Gospel.
Tuesday of The Twenty-first Week of The Year
Gospel Mt 23, 23-26 23j “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes* of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. [But] these you should have done, without neglecting the others. 24* k Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! 25* l “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. 26Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.
Commentary on Matthew 23:23-26
We continue reading the ‘Seven Woe’; today’s reading contains the fourth and fifth.
4, You pay your tithe of mint and dill… (vv.23-24)In continuing his attack on Pharisaism, Jesus touches on two issues which are not at all irrelevant to our Christian living today. First, he attacks the mentality of those who are sticklers for tiny details of ritual or doctrine while ignoring the fundamental issues of justice, compassion and good faith. The Mosaic Law levied a tithe on agricultural produce. Some rabbis scrupulously applied the law to the most insignificant of plants.
A strict Pharisee too would carefully filter his drinking water in case he might swallow a small insect, which would be regarded as unclean. But, in being so careful of such minutiae, he might well overlook matters of much deeper importance. Jesus is not criticising a conscientious carrying out of rules and regulations but it is the attitude of hypocritical moral superiority which he attacks.
One can meet Catholics too who tie themselves in knots trying to observe the most petty regulations and can end up becoming the prisoner of scruples. What is more, they can be highly critical of others whom they regard as ‘lax’. People who are more worried about not having observed a full 60 minutes of fast before Communion than focusing on what the wider implications of participating in the Eucharist really mean.
5, You clean the outside of cup and dish… (vv.25-26)The second point that Jesus makes is to criticise those who concentrate on the tiniest details of external behaviour while totally ignoring the inner spirit.
There are certain Christians who speak and write at length about all the things that are not being done right in the Catholic Church, in its liturgy and who claim for themselves a level of doctrinal and moral orthodoxy to which even Rome does not attain. Sometimes even the Pope does not come up to their expectations.
What is striking about these people is the almost total absence of a sense of love and compassion in their writings and actions. They are only interested in "truth" and "orthodoxy" as if these things could exist outside of the nitty-gritty of human living. They can be more concerned about the tiniest rubrical details of the liturgy than about the Eucharist as truly a sacrament of a loving community prayerfully centred on the Person of Christ.
On the outside, the behaviour is impeccable but inside there is a total lack of a true Gospel spirit, the spirit of love and integrity, of compassion and a sense of justice for all. Instead, there can be a heart full of self-righteousness, criticism, anger, resentment, contempt for those who do not think the same, all cloaked in this outer veneer of moral and ritual rectitude.
The two attitudes are closely related and all of us can be touched by them in one degree or another. Let him or her who has never criticised another fellow-Christian cast the first stone!
Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Mt 23, 27-32 Jesus said: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you frauds! You are like whitewashed tombs, beautiful to look at on the outside but inside full of filth and dead men's bones. Thus you present to view a holy exterior while hypocrisy and evil fill you within. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you frauds! You erect tombs for the prophets and decorate the monuments of the saints. You say, 'Had we lived in our forefathers' time we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets' blood.' Thus you show that you are the sons of the prophets' murderers. Now it is your turn: fill up the vessel measured off by your forefathers."
Commentary on Matthew 23:27-32
We come today to the last two of the seven ‘Woes’ which Jesus throws against pharisaism. Again it is an attack on hypocrisy and he gives two examples.
6, You are like whitewashed tombs… (vv.27-28)
On the one hand he compares the Pharisees to "whited sepulchres", a phrase (like many others) that has found its way into everyday English through the King James version. In other words, they are like the tombs that people in Palestine could often see spotlessly clean in their whitewashed stones but which inside were full of the decaying and rotting bodies of the dead. One reason they were whitewashed was because a person who unwittingly stepped on a grave became ritually unclean. Whitewashing made them more visible, especially in the dark.
The Pharisees put on an external show of religious perfection down to the tiniest detail but inside their hearts and minds were full of pride and hatred and contempt for their fellow-men. It was epitomised in the story that Jesus told of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the temple to pray. "I thank you, Lord, that I am not like the rest of men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers or even like this tax collector here," was the sanctimonious prayer of the Pharisee. It was, of course, to some extent true but it closed his mind to a different kind of sin altogether – his pride and imagined self-sufficiency. As Jesus will say in another place, the greatest sin of the pharisaical is their sheer blindness, the inability to see themselves for what they really are.
This, I suppose, is the most dangerous sin of the pious in any age and yet the one least likely to be confessed and repented of. It can happen to any of us.
7, You build the sepulchres of the prophets… (vv.29-32)
Mention of tombs leads Jesus to comment on the Pharisees’ pride over the tombs they have built in memory of the prophets and other holy people. They congratulate themselves that, if they had been present, they would never have partaken in the actions which brought persecution and death to the prophets. Yet here is Jesus, the prophet of all prophets, whom they are preparing to kill. In the last verse of our reading, Jesus tells them to go ahead and complete the murdering of the prophets, referring to what is going to happen to himself. Another classic example of the blindness of the self-righteous.
The more committed we are to our Christian faith and to the behaviour that it expects, the greater the danger that we, too, can fall into the same trap and see ourselves on a higher level than others whose behaviour we deplore and perhaps even attack. Whole groups of such people have been appearing in recent years, people who claim to know the Church better than the Pope, who deplore the "heresies" of the Second Vatican Council, who close themselves off into elitist groups afraid of being contaminated not only by the "world" but even by other Catholics!
Thursday of The Twenty-first Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Mt 24, 42-51 Jesus said to his disciples: "Stay awake, therefore! You cannot know the day your Lord is coming. "Be sure of this: if the owner of the house knew when the thief was coming he would keep a watchful eye and not allow his house to be broken into. You must be prepared in the same way. The Son of Man is coming at the time you least expect. Who is the faithful, far-sighted servant whom the master has put in charge of his household to dispense food at need? Happy that servant whom his master discovers at work on his return! I assure you, he will put him in charge of all his property. But if the servant is worthless and tells himself, 'My master is a long time in coming,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, to eat and drink with drunkards, that man's master will return when he is not ready and least expects him. He will punish him severely and settle with him as is done with hypocrites. There will be wailing then and grinding of teeth."
Commentary on Matthew 24:42-51
We enter the final phase of our readings from Matthew which will conclude on Saturday of this week. We will see selected readings from chapters 24 and 25 which form what is called the "Eschatological Discourse". This is the fifth and final discourse, each of which is a collection of the teachings of Jesus and which are a feature of Matthew’s gospel. This discourse is concerned with the end of all things and the second and final coming of Christ to bring all things together.
The earlier part of chap 24 includes the foretelling of the destruction of Jerusalem, an event which for the Jews of the time (including those who had converted to Christianity) must have seemed like the end of the world (just as, later on, the collapse of the Roman Empire seemed to be the end of the world for St Augustine of Hippo and his contemporaries).
The early Christians had expected to see the Second Coming in their lifetime and the sacking of Jerusalem and the sacrilegious destruction of the Temple must have seemed the certain signs of the eschaton. But, by the time Matthew’s gospel came into circulation, that was already at least 15 years in the past. The end, although certain to happen, did not seem any more quite so imminent.
Matthew includes as part of the discourse a number of parousia (final coming) parables. Following a pattern we have seen in other parts of this gospel, they are seven in number. We have two short ones in today’s reading. Both consist of an exhortation for readiness to welcome the final coming of the Lord.
In the first we should be as alert in watching for the coming of the Lord as a householder would be to prevent his house being broken into and robbed. Like a thief, Jesus will come when we least expect him.
In the second parable, Jesus compares us to a servant who has been put in charge of the house while the master is away. This may refer to the community leaders in Matthew’s church and, by extension, to leaders of communities everywhere. It will be well for that servant when the master unexpectedly returns and finds his servant diligently doing his job. Readiness is measured by people consistently carrying out their responsibilities. On the other hand, the servant may think that there is no sign of the master (who had been expected to come earlier) and goes about beating up the other servants and leading a debauched life. It will be too bad for that servant when the master does suddenly appear on the scene.
The lesson is clear. Many of the Christians, who had expected the Lord to come soon, now see no sign of him and begin to backslide in the living of their Christian faith. We can be tempted to do the same thing. "Let’s have a good (that is, a morally bad) time now and we can convert later." It is not a very wise policy. In the long run, the really good life, that is, a life based on truth and integrity, on love and compassion and sharing, will always be better than one based on phoniness, on selfishness, greed, hedonism and immediate gratification of every pleasure.
And the conversion day may never come or the chance to turn back to him who is the Way, Truth and Life. The wisest ones are those who consistently try to seek and serve their Lord at every moment of every day. They find happiness now and Jesus will not be a stranger when he comes to call them to himself.
They are the ones who are both faithful and prudent.
Friday of The Twenty-first Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Mt 25, 1-13 Jesus told this parable to his disciples: "The reign of God can be likened to ten bridesmaids who took their torches and went out to welcome the groom. Five of them were foolish, while the other five were sensible. The foolish ones, in taking their torches, brought no oil along, but the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their torches. The groom delayed his coming, so they all began to nod, then to fall asleep. At midnight someone shouted, 'The groom is here! Come out and greet him!' At the outcry all the virgins woke up and got their torches ready. The foolish ones said to the sensible, 'Give us some of your oil. Our torches are going out.' But the sensible ones replied, 'No, there may not be enough for you and us. You had better go to the dealers and buy yourselves some.' While they went off to buy it the groom arrived, and the ones who were ready went in to the wedding with him. Then the door was barred. Later the other bridesmaids came back. 'Master, master!' they cried. 'Open the door for us.' But he answered, 'I tell you, I do not know you.' The moral is: keep your eyes open, for you know not the day or the hour."
Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13
The second chapter of this discourse consists of three long parables, with all of which we are familiar. They all have the common theme of preparation for the final coming of the Lord whenever that will be.
Today’s reading is the parable about the wise and foolish bridesmaids, literally, ‘virgins’. The story reflects common wedding customs of the time. The bridesmaids who attend on the bride are waiting for the bridegroom to come. The time of his arrival is not known. Perhaps it is his way of asserting his male authority from the very beginning of their marriage! (Just as today it is the bride who asserts her last moments of freedom by coming late!)
In the story there are 10 bridesmaids altogether. Of these we are told five were "sensible" and the others were "foolish". The sensible girls all brought an extra supply of oil with them while the foolish ones only had their lamps. The lamps consisted of oil-soaked rags at the top of a pole and needed to have oil added every 15 minutes or so.
The bridegroom was long in coming. The implication is that he was taking much longer than expected. In fact, he was so long in coming that the girls all fell asleep. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, the call went up: "The bridegroom is on his way! Go out to meet him!"
Immediately the girls got ready and trimmed their torches. The charred edges had to be cut away and the rags soaked in more oil. The foolish ones immediately realised they were running out of oil; quite a lot was needed for this kind of torch. They ask their companions to share some of their oil. These refused on the grounds that there was not enough to go round and none of them would have enough. The foolish ones were told to go off and buy some more for themselves.
However, while they were still away, the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went into the marriage celebration with him and the doors were shut. When the foolish girls finally arrived with their new supply of oil, they found the doors closed in their face. They cried out: "Lord, Lord, open to us!" But the bridegroom answered: "I do not know you."
Again this is a parable warning us all to be ready when the Lord comes. In the early Church, he had at first been expected to come in the very lifetime of the early Christians. This belief is reflected in the First Letter to the Thessalonians (which is read at this time in Year I) and which is the earliest writing of the New Testament.
But Jesus did not come and, by the time Matthew’s gospel appeared, people were beginning to realise that his coming could be in a more distant future. It is in this context that today’s parable gives a warning. If the Lord was not going to come soon, then some people might begin to take things easy and become lax in their living of the Gospel. Today’s passage suggests that that is not a very wise way of behaving.
The bridegroom may not have come when expected but he did come. And, when he came, half of the group were not ready. In other places, Jesus has warned that we do not know the day or the hour, for he will come like a thief in the night. The only policy is constant readiness. If we are not ready and he does come, then we may find the doors closed and hear what are perhaps the most chilling words in the whole Gospel: "I do not know you."
In John’s gospel Jesus says that, as the Shepherd, he knows his sheep and they know him. Not to be known by Jesus means to have broken our relationship with him through sinful and loveless behaviour. To be in that state when he comes is truly tragic. The choice is ours; we have been given adequate warning.
While the Gospel is speaking about the final or eschatological coming of Jesus as King and Lord, it would be very complacent of us to think that there are no signs of it happening in the near future. That would put us in the same category as the foolish bridesmaids! While the final coming may still be far off, our own rendezvous with the Lord can be at any time. For all practical purposes, that is the time we have to prepare for.
Just yesterday our newspapers in the city where I am writing this reported an unmarked police car going out of control in a crowded downtown area, killing two people and seriously injuring others. You or I could have been one of those victims, young and in perfect health with a whole life before us. But the Lord called.
If it had been me, would I have had "oil in my lamp"? That is, what would I be able to show the Lord in terms of Gospel-centred living? Maybe we think the "sensible" girls in the story were selfish not to have shared their oil, but there are some things which we have to bring to the Lord on our own. We cannot borrow the good life that someone else has led. It is has to be totally ours.
Clearly, the best way to prepare is not to think anxiously of the future but to concentrate on the here and now. Let us learn to live totally in the present, to seek and find God there. If we can do that, then all the rest will take care of itself. And, whether the Groom arrives early or late, it will not matter. Because he has been constantly part of my everyday life. And, apart from the insurance that it gives, is it not by far the best way to spend our days?
Saturday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Gospel Mt 25:14-30
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one– to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside
Commentary on the gospel
Today is our final reading from Matthew’s gospel and on Monday we will begin the reading of Luke’s gospel. Today also is also our last reading from the fifth and final discourse of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel.
There are two great passages left – the parable of the talents and the description of the last judgement – but we will only be taking the first of these. Both deal with the final judgment and, like the parable of the bridesmaids, are warnings on how we are to prepare.
The parable speaks of an employer who, before he set off on a journey, entrusted his servants with large sums of money. He gave them different amounts according to their ability. One got five talents, one two and the third just one. A ‘talent’ was an enormous amount of money in the ancient world, so five talents was a veritable fortune. Originally, the term stood for a unit of weight, about 75 pounds or 30-something kilos and later for a unit of coinage, the value depending on the metal used. Actually, the current meaning of ‘talent’ comes from this parable.
The amount given out indicates the generosity of the employer. But the money was not for their own personal enjoyment. It was meant to be used productively.
The first two both traded actively with the money they had been given and doubled their original capital. The third man, however, buried his money in the ground (the most secure place in a pre-banking society).
When the employer came back, the first two presented their accounts. The employer was very pleased and they were entrusted with even more. To each he said, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”
Then the third man came along with his one talent. He had not traded with it because he was afraid he would lose his money. “I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid… Here is your talent, have it
back.” Ironically, he was the one who was given the least and from whom the least was expected. But even that little he failed to produce. Perhaps he even expected to be praised for his prudence. The employer does not deny the charge of being a hard man, but he accuses the man of not having done even the least thing to increase his capital. He could have deposited or lent the money and got some interest. But he had absolutely nothing to show of his own.
The money is taken from him and given to the one who had five talents. Surprising? Unfair? Not really. This man had already shown he was a very good investment. And Jesus sums up: “To everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
The word ‘talent’ which in biblical times referred to a huge amount of money now denotes a particular gift or ability with which a person is endowed. “He has a great talent for music; she has a great talent for design.” In that sense, we have all been endowed with talents in varying degrees or, to use a word which Paul prefers, ‘charisms’. In either case they indicate some distinctive ability which is to a large extent innate or God-given.
Everyone of us has been endowed in some way. And, as in the parable, some are greatly endowed and others less so. All that is asked is that we make use of that gift or those gifts to the best of our ability and not for ourselves alone (that is to bury them in the ground) but to build up the kingdom and make a positive contribution to the community to which we belong.
At the end we will be asked, as the men in the parable were, “How did you use the gifts I gave you and how productive were they in furthering the growth of the Kingdom?”
Today then is a day for us to identify what those gifts actually are. It is possible that some people have never given it much thought. They see their Christian life in rather passive terms, just looking after themselves, living in conformity to the commandments of God and the Church, fulfilling their ‘religious duties’, making sure to die “in the state of grace”. This, in effect, is to bury one’s talents.
Today’s gospel makes it very clear that far more is expected of us. We are expected to make an active and positive contribution to the work of the Kingdom and of the Christian community as the Body of Christ. In practice, that means taking an active part in our Church, in our parish and in making a contribution to the betterment of our society. So, it is very important for us to spend some time in reflecting on what are my unique ‘talents’ or gifts or abilities and then to ask how and to what end I am using them?
And the time to do that is today because, as we have been amply warned, we do not know when our ‘employer’ is coming back to check his accounts with us.
The end of today’s passage indicates that if we do not move forward, or are not productive, then we go backwards. We cannot remain static or purely passive in God’s service. To do nothing is not a possible option. The more we give and share with others from the resources we have the more we are personally enriched; on the other hand, to cling to our gifts and keep them just for ourselves is to become smaller in every way.
From dailyscripture.net. author Don Schwager © 2015 Servants of the Word
Monday of The Twenty-second Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 4, 16-30 Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been reared, and entering the synagogue on the sabbath as he was in the habit of doing, he stood up to do the reading. When the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed him, he unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, Recovery of sight to the blind and release to prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the Lord." Rolling up the scroll, he gave it back to the assistant and sat down. All in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on him. Then he began by saying to them, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." All who were present spoke favorably of him; they marveled at the appealing discourse which came from his lips. They also asked, "Is not this Joseph's son?" He said to them, "You will doubtless quote me the proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself,' and say, 'Do here in your own country the things we have heard you have done in Capernaum.' But in fact," he went on, "no prophet gains acceptance in his native place. Indeed, let me remind you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the heavens remained closed for three and a half years and a great famine spread over the land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but to a widow of Zarephath near Sidon. Recall, too, the many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one was cured except Naaman the Syrian." At these words the whole audience in the synagogue was filled with indignation. They rose up and expelled him from the town, leading him to the brow of the hill on which it was built and intending to hurl him over the edge. But he went straight through their midst and walked away.
Commentary on Luke 4:16-30We begin today the reading of Luke’s gospel which will bring us up to the end of the Church year. We have already gone through Matthew and Mark and John’s gospel has been spread through various parts of the year, especially during the Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter seasons.
The gospel is a companion volume to the book of the Acts and the language and structure of these two books indicate that both were written by the same person. They are addressed to the same individual, Theophilus, and the second volume refers to the first.
Luke presents the works and teachings of Jesus that are especially important for understanding the way of salvation. Its scope is complete from the birth of Christ to his ascension. It appeals to both Jews and Gentiles.
However, we take up Luke’s gospel at the beginning of Jesus’ public life (chap. 4). After his baptism he had returned "in the power of the Spirit to Galilee", the northern province of Palestine and his home province. Already people were talking about him everywhere.
Now, as our reading opens, we find him in Nazareth, a small town in Galilee and the place where he grew up. From the verses immediately preceding, it does not seem that Jesus actually began his ministry in Nazareth. The event described here may not have taken place until a year later. One suggestion (NIV Bible) is that all that is described in John’s gospel between 1:19 to 4:42 took place between the temptation in the desert and the moving north to Galilee (vv.13 and 14).
But Luke has arranged the structure of his gospel so that Jesus will begin his public life in Nazareth and will gradually proceed southwards towards his goal, Jerusalem, without turning back. In the other Synoptics he moves around Galilee in all directions and John suggests that he made a number of visits to Jerusalem during his public life.
The Jerusalem Bible suggests that our passage today actually combines three distinct parts:
the first, vv.16-22 (Jesus is honoured), occurring at the time indicated by Matt 4:13;
the second, vv.23-24 (Jesus astonishing his audience), the visit of which Matthew and Mark speak;
the third, vv.25-30 (the life of Jesus threatened), not mentioned by Matthew or Mark and to be placed towards the end of the Galilean ministry.
In this way Luke presents an introductory tableau which is a summary and symbol of Christ’s great offer and of its contemptuous rejection by his own people.
As the reading opens we find Jesus in the town synagogue. It is a sabbath day. He gets up to read the scripture and comments on it. The ruler of the synagogue could authorise any adult Jew to read the scripture lesson. The passage he reads is full of significance. It comes from the prophet Isaiah and Jesus’ reading of it amounts to a manifesto or what we might call today a "mission statement". ‘Books’ in those days were in the form of scrolls and the Scriptures were kept in a special place in the synagogue and given to the reader by an attendant. Jesus may have chosen the passage himself or it may have been assigned for that day.
But it is more than just a mission statement. As he reads it becomes clear that the whole statement is about Jesus himself. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." This has already been confirmed during his baptism in the river Jordan when "the Holy Spirit came down on him in the form of a dove" and a voice was heard to say, "You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased" (Luke 3:22).
"Because he has anointed me." In saying this Jesus is making an unequivocal claim to be the Messiah or the Christ, the long-awaited liberating King of Israel. The word "Messiah", translated into Greek as Christos (???????), means someone who is anointed with oil. (We call the oil in baptism and confirmation ‘chrism’.) And a person was made king by having oil poured over his head. (We remember how David was anointed king.) Jesus, of course, was not literally anointed but had been figuratively ‘anointed’ by the coming of the Spirit on him in his baptism. ‘Anointing’ is our equivalent of ‘coronation’, symbolised by the putting of a crown on the new king.
Then comes the mission of this King: To preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are hurt and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
There is nothing here of restoring the glories of Israel, nothing about conquering enemies and laying waste their lands. No, it is about letting the poor of this world hear the Good News of God’s love for them. It is about healing and reconciliation. It is about liberating those who are tied down by any form of enslavement. It is about helping people to see clearly the true meaning of life. It is about restoring wholeness to people’s lives and to societies. It is about the inauguration of the Kingdom by its King.
It is, in short, the whole picture of Jesus that will unfold in the pages of Luke, a gospel which focuses on the poor and vulnerable, a gospel of tenderness and compassion, a gospel of the Spirit and of joy, a gospel of prayer and healing.
It is about "proclaiming a year acceptable to the Lord". This refers to the Messianic age when salvation would be proclaimed. Isaiah in the original text is alluding to the Year of Jubilee, when every 50 years slaves were set free, debts were cancelled and ancestral lands were returned to the original family. Isaiah was thinking mainly of freedom from Babylonian captivity but Jesus was speaking of liberation across the board of human living.
And, as he finished the reading, Jesus put down the scroll and said that these things were now being fulfilled as they were hearing them.
And the townspeople who thought they knew him so well were overawed by the wisdom with which he spoke. This positive reaction to Jesus is a favorite theme in Luke. "Is not this Joseph’s son?" they asked rhetorically. But they were wrong. He was not Joseph’s son; he was the son of Mary and of the Father, the divine Word sharing our ‘flesh’. (As suggested above, this event may have occurred on a second visit.)
And this in turn leads us to the third section of the reading which provides an unexpected turn of events and is more in harmony with the later part of Jesus’ public life. Jesus’ hearers were surprised at the way he spoke but they were not moved to change. After all, he was just the son of Joseph, and someone they knew so well could have nothing to say to them. At the same time Jesus says they, his own townspeople, must be wondering why he is not doing the things in Nazareth that he was doing in places like Capernaum.
Capernaum, apparently a sizeable town, was where Peter lived and Jesus made his house the centre out of which he did his missionary work in Galilee. A 5th century basilica now stands on the supposed site of the house and there is a 4th century synagogue quite near.
The reason for their non-acceptance is that they do not really accept him for what he is. He reminds them that prophets are seldom accepted in their own place. Familiarity blinds people to their message. "I know who he is and he has nothing to say to me." Jesus then gives two rather provocative examples:
During a great famine in the time of the prophet Elijah he was sent to help not his fellow Israelites but a poor widow in Sarepta, near Sidon in non-Jewish territory. Sidon was one of the oldest Phoenician cities on the Mediterranean coast and about 33 km north of Tyre. Later, Jesus would heal the daughter of a Gentile woman here.
And in the time of the prophet Elisha, there were many lepers in Israel but he was sent to cure Naaman, a Gentile general from Syria.
God reaching out to Gentiles through his prophets sets the stage for the Gentiles to receive the message of the Prophet Jesus, which is so much a theme of Luke’s writings. But these remarks so angered the people of Nazareth that they dragged Jesus to the brow of a hill with the intention of throwing him down but he just walked through them. Whether he did this miraculously or from the sheer power of his personality is not clear. In any case, his time had not yet come.
Prophetic voices being rejected by their own is a phenomenon only too common in our own day. And it was something Jesus foretold would happen to his followers, simply for being his followers and proclaiming his vision of life. In the meantime, let us make Jesus’ mission statement our own. It is what being a Christian means.
Tuesday of The Twenty-second Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 4, 31-37 Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee, where he began instructing the people on the sabbath day. They were spellbound by his teaching, for his words had authority. In the synagogue there was a man with an unclean spirit, who shrieked in a loud voice: "Leave us alone! What do you want of us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God." Jesus said to him sharply, "Be quiet! Come out of him." At that, the demon threw him to the ground before everyonés eyes and came out of him without doing him any harm. All were struck with astonishment, and they began saying to one another: "What is there about his speech? He commands the unclean spirits with authority and power, and they leave." His renown kept spreading through the surrounding country.
Commentary on Luke 4:31-37
Immediately after his mixed reception in Nazareth, Jesus moves on to Capernaum, a town on the north shore of Galilee, which was to be the base from which Jesus did much of his missionary work. As in Nazareth, he taught the people in the synagogue on the sabbath. Unlike in Nazareth, "his teaching made a deep impression" on the people because he spoke "with authority". He did not quote other authorities, like the teachers of the law, because his authority was directly from God, it was his own.
At the same time, it was not the authority of domination. It was the authority of someone who has access to special knowledge, the authority of someone who speaks in his own name and not just on behalf of others, the authority of one who empowers others and makes them grow.
And Jesus’ authority is not only in word and teaching. Right there in the synagogue as he speaks is a man possessed by an "unclean spirit". The spirit speaks through the man. It speaks in fear of the power of Jesus. "Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." This title seems to indicate that the spirit recognizes Jesus’ divine origin but not his Messiahship. There was a belief in those times that knowing the exact name of one’s opponent gave one power over him.
Jesus ordered the evil spirit of the man who was thrown to the ground but not hurt. The people are amazed. Exorcism was not new to them but they had never seen it done with such speed and effectiveness. They are astounded again at the power and authority of Jesus. They realize they are in the presence of someone very special, in fact, the "Holy One of God".
Each one of us is given authority of some kind – as a parent, a teacher, our job responsibility… Let us make sure that we use it in such a way as to enhance the abilities of others rather than diminish them.
Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 4, 38-44 On leaving the synagogue, Jesus entered the house of Simon. Simon's mother-in-law was in the grip of a severe fever, and they interceded with him for her. He stood over her and addressed himself to the fever, and it left her. She got up immediately and waited on them. At sunset, all who had people sick with a variety of diseases took them to him, and he laid hands on each of them and cured them. Demons departed from many, crying out as they did so, "You are the son of God!" He rebuked them and did not allow them to speak because they knew that he was the Messiah. The next morning he left the town and set out into the open country. The crowds went in search of him, and when they found him they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said to them, "To other towns I must announce the good news of the reign of God, because that is why I was sent." And he continued to preach in the synagogues of Judea.
Commentary on Luke 4:38-44
After the scene in the synagogue where Jesus healed a man possessed by an evil spirit, he goes straight to Peter’s house. It was a sabbath day so Jesus could not move around or do any major activity. He seems to have used this house as his base when in Capernaum and that part of Galilee. (Jesus had "nowhere to lay his head", no dwelling of his own, but it seems clear that he was not a streetsleeper. There were always people ready to offer him hospitality – a custom of the Middle East and a model for Christians of every age and place.)
Peter’s mother-in-law was in the grip of a fever and the disciples begged Jesus to do something for her. (We might remember that the first pope was married.) Jesus stood over her and, with a word, cured her. Immediately she got up and began to serve Jesus and his group.
There is a lesson here. Health and healing are not just for the individual. Her healing immediately restored her to the community and the duty of serving that community. (And not just because she was a woman! If it had been the father-in-law, the same would apply.) As long as we are in health our energies are meant to be directed to the building up of the community and not simply for our personal enjoyment.
"Now when the sun was setting" – we need to remember it was a sabbath. The sabbath went from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday (so Jesus could not be properly buried on the Friday evening when he died). According to the traditions, Jews could not travel more than two-thirds of a mile or carry any load. Only after sunset could the sick be brought to Jesus.
As soon as the sabbath was over, large numbers brought their sick to him. He "laid his hands on every one of them" and healed them all. As Jesus had announced in the synagogue at Nazareth, the Kingdom of God had arrived and was entering the lives of people, bringing them health and wholeness.
Many were also liberated from the power of evil spirits. These spirits shouted at Jesus "You are the Son of God". As we mentioned earlier, by using Jesus’ title they hoped to exert control over him. It did not work, of course. Whether these were actual cases of possession or were psychological or moral disorders which made people behave in abnormal ways and perhaps ways harmful to themselves and others is not clear. But clearly the presence of the Kingdom is being felt.
At daybreak – Jesus had been working the whole night for the people – he went off into a quiet place. The desert is the place where God is to be found and very likely, as Mark tells us, Jesus went there to pray and to be alone. The people, who had seen what he did for them, wanted him to stay with them. Their attitude is in marked contrast to the people of Nazareth.
But he could and would not. "I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also; that is why I have been sent." And so we are told that he was now preaching in the synagogues of Judea – in the south of the country, although the term may simply refer to the whole of Jewish territory.
No place could have a monopoly on his attentions. We need to attach ourselves to Jesus and keep close to him but we cannot cling to him in a way that prevents others from experiencing his healing touch.
On the contrary, it is our task as his disciples to see that as many as possible come to know and experience his love, his compassion and his healing
Thursday of the Twenty-second Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 5, 1-11 As the crowd pressed in on Jesus to hear the word of God, he saw two boats moored by the side of the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to pull out a short distance from the shore; then, remaining seated, he continued to teach the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have been hard at it all night long and have caught nothing; but if you say so, I will lower the nets." Upon doing this they caught such a great number of fish that their nets were at the breaking point. They signaled to their mates in the other boat to come and help them. These came, and together they filled the two boats until they nearly sank. At the sight of this, Simon Peter fell at the knees of Jesus saying, "Leave me, Lord. I am a sinful man." For indeed, amazement at the catch they had made seized him and all his shipmates, as well as James and John, Zebedeés sons, who were partners with Simon. Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men." With that they brought their boats to land, left everything, and became his followers.
Commentary on Luke 5:1-11
This is Luke’s version of the first call of Jesus’ disciples. It differs significantly from the parallel versions in Mark and Matthew and is a combination of passages from Mark and John.
We are told that Jesus was standing by the shore of Lake Gennesaret. The other gospel writers call it the Sea of Galilee and John twice refers to it as the Sea of Tiberias.
Because of the large crowds pressing in on him to hear the word of God, Jesus was forced to borrow one of two boats moored near the shore where their owners were washing their nets. "He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon" and "remaining seated, he continued to teach the crowds from the boat". As we saw in the synagogue at Nazareth (and also in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew), sitting was the usual teaching position. From a practical point of view, by preaching from the boat Jesus could avoid the pressure of the crowd and yet be close enough to speak to them.
It is a simple, straightforward statement and yet there is a symbolism here. Jesus gets into Simon’s boat and teaches from it. The boat, in the Gospel, is frequently a symbol of the church community. It is very meaningful to say that Jesus stepped into that boat, that it was Peter’s boat, and that he taught from there. It is a symbol of what is to come in the near future.
Now comes the lesson and the revelation. At the end of the teaching, Simon is told to go out into the deep water and start fishing. (He will not be called Peter until the next chapter.) "Master, we have been hard at it all night long and have caught nothing; but if you say so, I will lower the nets." There is here something of the condescension of the expert towards the amateur. "We know there are no fish there but, just to make you happy, we’ll let down the nets."
But their nets were hardly in the water when they were so full of fish that they were on the point of breaking. They (Peter and those others with him in the boat) had to call their companions in the other boat to come to their help (they do not seem to have caught any fish; only Simon’s boat does). But the two boats together were now so full of fish that they were on the point of sinking.
Peter, just now so arrogant and all-knowing, is totally overcome. He knew there were no fish there. So there was only one explanation. The man standing before him was Someone very special: "Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man." It is the reaction of a person in the awful presence of God’s overwhelming power and goodness. We see similar reactions by Abraham (Gen 18:27), Job (42:6) and Isaiah (6:5).
Peter did not belong there; the expert realises he is nothing in the presence of this man. Instead, he becomes so aware of his shortcomings. Paradoxically, it is the saints who are most ready to acknowledge their sinfulness. And his companions, James and John, were equally amazed. There is no mention of Andrew in this version of the story because he would have been in his brother Peter’s boat. And the passage indicates that Peter was not alone in the boat ("We have worked hard all night…")
Some commentators feel that Luke may have borrowed this story from John’s account of the disciples going fishing at the end of that gospel. It has been noted that Simon calls Jesus ‘Lord’, a post-resurrection title and refers to his sinfulness, which makes more sense after his triple denial during the Passion. It also looks forward to Peter’s leadership which is confirmed in the same chapter of John.
Jesus then reassures Simon and his companions: "Do not be afraid." They are words they will hear again. Because he is calling them to be his partners in the work of building his Kingdom. The huge catch of fish made by the boat in which Jesus and Peter were is a sign of a much greater catch of people to be made by the new community led by the Spirit of Jesus and under the leadership of Peter.
Unlike the other gospels, Luke has a period of teaching and miracles precede the call of the disciples. This makes their unhesitating response less surprising and more plausible.
They heard the message, they accepted the call and "with that they brought their boats to land, left everything, and become his followers". In Mark and Matthew they left their nets and boats. In Luke’s gospel especially, the following of Jesus is understood as absolute – one must leave everything and throw in one’s lot totally with Jesus wherever that will lead. Those boats and nets were the security on which the lives of Peter, his companions and their families depended. But they left them and everything else. This is faith, this is trust. Without it, the mission cannot succeed.
Friday of the Twenty-second Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 5, 33-39 The scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus: "John's disciples fast frequently and offer prayers; the disciples of the Pharisees do the same. Yours, on the contrary, eat and drink freely." Jesus replied: "Can you make guests of the groom fast while the groom is still with them? But when the days come that the groom is removed from their midst, they will surely fast in those days." He then proposed to them this figure: "No one tears a piece from a new coat to patch an old one. If he does he will only tear the new coat, and the piece taken from it will not match the old. Moreover, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Should he do so, the new wine will burst the old skins, the wine will spill out, and the skins will be lost. New wine should be poured into fresh skins. No one, after drinking old wine, wants new. He says, 'I find the old wine better.'"
Commentary on Luke 5:33-39
The call of the first disciples is followed in Luke by the cure of a leper and then of a paralytic. Then there is the call of Levi (called Matthew in Matthew’s gospel) and the discussion with Jesus about his mixing with sinful and unclean people. It is the first of many confrontations between Jesus and the Jewish leaders.
We then come to today’s reading. Some scribes and Pharisees want to know why, when their disciples and those of John the Baptist regularly fast, Jesus’ disciples "eat and drink freely". We know that John grew up in the desert and lived on an austere diet of locusts and wild honey. He also preached an austere penitential message and lived a highly disciplined life. The Pharisees also led a highly regimented and strict lifestyle. Jesus, however, together with his disciples, is frequently seen eating at the tables of Pharisees and tax collectors and in the houses of friends.
But, while Jesus rejected ostentatious fasting, we know he fasted (once for 40 days) and praised it together with prayer and almsgiving, provided it was done discreetly and not for display.
Jesus gives two answers to the question. First, he says that it is not appropriate for guests to fast when the bridegroom is still around. A Jewish wedding was and is a specially joyous occasion (plenty of wine needed, as we see in Cana) and it could last for a week. It would be unthinkable to fast at such a time. Here Jesus is the bridegroom. There will come a time when he is not physically with his disciples and then they will fast.
The second reason goes deeper and is presented in the form of a parable. One does not use a new piece of cloth to patch an old garment. At the first sign of stress, the new cloth will be stronger and the old cloth will be torn. Nor does one put new wine into old wineskins. The new wine is still fermenting and expanding. The old wineskins, which are made of goatskins, are already stretched and no longer flexible. When the new wine expands, the old wineskins will not be able to stretch any more and will burst. The result is lost wine and ruined wineskins. So new wine has to be poured into new wineskins.
In this Jesus is clearly saying that his whole vision of religion is new and it can only be accepted and adopted by people who are prepared to see things in a new way. His teaching, his vision cannot be grafted on to the old religion. The old religion emphasised externals like observance of legal and ritual regulations and fasting; Jesus emphasises the interior spirit which is the real measure of a person’s value.
This parable may also be read in conjunction with John’s account of the wedding feast at Cana where Jesus produced new and better wine from the water in the ritual washing jars.
Jesus knows the difficulties his adversaries face. "No one, after drinking old wine, wants new. He says, ‘I find the old wine better’." Those who had grown up with the ‘old wine’ of the Mosaic Law would find it difficult to switch to the ‘new wine’ that Jesus was offering.
In our Church today there are many who still hanker for the ‘old wine’ of pre-Vatican II days. They have not made the inner shift which is necessary. They have not understood that Vatican II was much more than a change of external practices (such as have taken place in the liturgy). They nostalgically long for the Tridentine Mass in Latin and compare it favourably with the "new" liturgy which they find superficial and lacking in reverence. But they do not seem to have grasped the thinking which is behind the liturgical changes. The new patch does not fit their old cloth. "The old wine is better," they say.
The new wine will not be appreciated until the wineskins are also changed; otherwise we are in the same situation as the Pharisees were with Jesus.
Saturday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Gospel Lk 6:1-5
While Jesus was going through a field of grain on a sabbath, his disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. Some Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Have you not read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry? How he went into the house of God, took the bread of offering,
which only the priests could lawfully eat, ate of it, and shared it with his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
Commentary on Luke 6:1-5
Yet another confrontation between Jesus and some Pharisees. Following immediately, as it does, after the parable about the patch and the wineskins, it confirms what Jesus said about the gap between the traditionalists and his vision.
He and his disciples were walking through a cornfield and it was a sabbath day. The disciples were plucking heads of corn, rubbing them in their hands and eating them. The sabbath did not forbid walking short distances. And custom did not forbid “gleaning”, that is, taking corn left over by reapers. It did forbid reaping and threshing. Only a very narrow-minded interpretation could have described plucking as reaping and rubbing between the hands as threshing but that seems to be what is happening here.
The disciples are asked, “Why are you doing something that is forbidden on the sabbath day?” Jesus answers very quickly and to the point. He makes no reference to the narrow-minded legalism that his critics reveal, the “old wineskin” mentality. Instead, he throws at them an incident. David and his men were hungry so they went into the house of God and, with his approval, ate the holy bread which only the priests were allowed to eat (1 Sam 21:6). Each sabbath, 12 loaves of fresh bread were set on a table in the Holy Place. The stale bread was eaten by the priests.
As king, David put himself above the law. Both David’s and the disciples’ actions involved godly men doing something forbidden by law. However, it is never a violation of a law to do what is good and to save life (eating for survival). In that sense both David and the disciples were within the spirit, though not the letter, of the law.
And Jesus, too, is above the law, “The Son of Man is master of the sabbath.” Jesus has the authority to overrule man-made laws concerning the Sabbath, particularly as interpreted by the Pharisees. This does not mean, of course, that Jesus (or even God for that matter) can or will do anything he feels like doing. Jesus will never go against anything that involves the True or the Good; with his Father he is the Source of all that is true and good.
But many of the Jewish laws (like civil laws) are positive law. In themselves, they involve matters which are neither good nor bad. In itself, it is neither good nor bad to stop at a green light or go through a red one. It is neither good nor bad in itself to abstain from work on the sabbath. What makes these acts good or bad is the deeper good of which they are a sign. That deeper good may sometimes involve their non-observance. Hunger and survival may over-ride a rule to fast. In a matter of extreme urgency it may be necessary to drive (safely) through a red light. The letter of the law is violated but not the good it intends.
Some manuscripts of Luke contain a very pertinent saying at this point: “On the same day, seeing a man working on the sabbath day, Jesus said to him: ‘Friend, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed; but if you do not know, you are accursed as a breaker of the Law’.” (Jerusalem Bible, loc. cit.) That is a sentiment that goes with new wine and new wineskins.
If truth and goodness are not violated by doing or not doing something, can we way there is sin or evil there?
*Monday of the Twenty-third Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 6, 6-11 On a sabbath Jesus came to teach in a synagogue where there was a man whose right hand was withered. The scribes and Pharisees were on the watch to see if he would perform a cure on the sabbath so that they could find a charge against him. He knew their thoughts, however, and said to the man whose hand was withered, "Get up and stand here in front." The man rose and remained standing. Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath -- or evil? To preserve life -- or destroy it?" He looked around at them all and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." The man did so and his hand was perfectly restored. At this they became frenzied and began asking one another what could be done to Jesus.
Commentary on Luke 6:6-11
Immediately following the incident of plucking the grains in the cornfield, we have another confrontation with religious leaders also on a Sabbath day. This one is even nastier as it involves what is called in American police movies a "set up" or "entrapment".
Jesus had gone into the local synagogue, as was his practice on the sabbath, and began to teach. Right in front of him was a man with a withered hand, no doubt something he was born with.
There were scribes and Pharisees in the congregation and, we are told, they "were watching him" to see whether he would heal the man on a Sabbath day so that they could accuse him of breaking the Law.
Medical work was forbidden on the Sabbath because it normally took time. Jesus, of course, healed with just a word but even if he did not, could one say that healing was against the spirit of the Sabbath? At the same time, it is also worth noting that the man was suffering from a chronic and probably non-painful disability. There was no need for him to be cured on the spot; it could easily have waited until the next day.
That gives further point to Jesus’ argument. The poor man had clearly been "planted". He was being used as bait for their sinister ends. For the Pharisees and their co-conspirators the man and his plight were secondary. They had to prove their point and he was seen as a useful tool.
Jesus, of course, is fully aware of what is going on. He speaks directly to the disabled man: "Rise up and stand out in the middle!" The command to "rise up" is already an indication of what is going to take place; the man is going to be given new life. Nor is there any secrecy. What Jesus is going to do is to be seen by all.
But first he puts a question to the whole congregation, scribes and Pharisees included: "Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good, or to do evil? to save life or to destroy it?"
It is really an unanswerable question because the answer is so obvious. But it was not the way these Pharisees were thinking. Their question would be very different: "Is it right to obey the Law or to violate it?" For them the Law, even the letter of the Law, was paramount. There is an irony in Jesus’ question because Jesus is planning to bring healing into a man’s life while they were preparing to bring about his destruction. Who was really breaking the Sabbath?
Not so with Jesus. For him the Law was relative to the true and the good. No implementation of a law can offend the true and the good. And sometimes the following of the true and the good may have to go against the letter of the law. What is legal is not always moral. It can be immoral, that is, evil, to obey a law in certain circumstances. What is moral sometimes transcends the law and may even contradict the law.
Hearing no dissenting answer, Jesus says to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He did so. His arm was fully restored to normal.
The scribes and Pharisees were furious and began to plot against Jesus. Their plans had been brought to nought. They showed no pleasure that a crippled man had been made whole. Their interpretation of the law had been shown to be wanting and they had to get back at Jesus.
Such situations are by no means unknown in our Christian life and in our Church. We will run into situations where doing good may be in conflict with traditional regulations and legal formulae.
We will find ourselves in situations where contemporary Pharisees will try to put the Church into a straitjacket of narrow-mindedness and fundamentalism whether it involves our understanding of the Scripture or the liturgy or morality or something else. These are people who put the letter of the laws, regulations and rubrics before love. For them it is more important to observe the externals of rules than to be a loving person.
Tuesday of the Twenty-third Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 6, 12-19 Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, spending the night in communion with God. At daybreak he called his disciples and selected twelve of them to be his apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who turned traitor. Coming down the mountain with them, he stopped at a level stretch where there were many of his disciples; a large crowd of people was with them from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coast of Tyre and Sidon, people who came to hear him and be healed of their diseases. Those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured; indeed, the whole crowd was trying to touch him because power went out from him which cured all.
Commentary on Luke 6:12-19
We move on now to a different phase in Luke’s story and some very crucial sayings of Jesus.
Jesus, we are told, went up into the mountains to pray and spent the whole night there in prayer to God. Some might wonder what Jesus would have to pray about. Such a question may reveal a limited concept of what prayer is. It is not just a question of asking for things. It is even less a question of fulfilling a religious duty, "saying our prayers".
Prayer is ultimately making contact with God, the beginning and end of all things. It makes a lot of sense that Jesus would have wanted to be in intimate contact with his Father and to have spent long periods with him. One of Jesus’ main concerns was that he do the will of his Father. Prayer was one way of making sure that there was completely harmony with that will.
Luke’s gospel shows Jesus at prayer more than any of the others. He also shows Jesus praying before all the important stages in his public life. As soon as this period of prayer was over, he called together his disciples and from them he chose twelve as apostles.
We know that among those who came to hear Jesus was a group, comprising both men and women, who regularly followed him and were committed to his teachings. Elsewhere we know of 72 such disciples who were sent out on a mission to do what Jesus was doing. After the ascension, we are told of 120 believers waiting for the coming of the Spirit. It is from these that Jesus chooses 12 to be Apostles, with a special mandate to continue his mission for the Kingdom. Although the order of names varies in the different gospels, the list is always headed by Peter while Judas is placed last.
We can sometimes be rather casual in our use of the terms ‘disciples’ and ‘apostles’ but they have very distinct meanings. The word ‘disciple’ is applied to any person who commits himself to be a follower of Jesus. The word ‘disciple’ comes from a word which means ‘to learn’. There is a passive element present, in the sense of the disciple sitting at the feet of the guru and learning from him. Jesus’ disciples regularly called him ‘Rabbi’ or teacher. ‘Apostle’ however has a much more active meaning. It refers to a person who goes out as an emissary, delegated to pass on information or commands or instructions to others on behalf of some authority.
In the Gospel, the word ‘apostle’ first applies to the twelve people who were especially chosen by Jesus to hand on his message. They would, after the departure of Jesus, become the foundation stones of the new community. In them would be invested the integrity of the original message and it would be up to them to interpret its acceptable developments. They were the beginnings of what we call today the "magisterium", the teaching body of the Church responsible for the maintenance of the integrity of the Gospel message.
In this, as in all the lists of the Apostles, the first person listed is Simon, whose name is now changed to Peter. (In Matthew, the change is made at Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah, Matt 16:18.) There are variations of the Apostles’ names in all the lists. Bartholomew here seems to be the same as Nathanael in John (cf. 1:45) and is associated with Philip. Matthew seems to correspond to Levi (cf. Mark 2:13ff.). James, son of Alphaeus, is probably the same as James the younger, not the brother of John (Mark 15:40). The other Simon is called a Zealot. This could be either to describe his religious zeal or indicate his membership in the party of the Zealots, a Jewish revolutionary group violently opposed to Roman rule. Judas, the son of James is another name for Thaddaeus (Matt 10:3; Mark 3:18). Also known as Jude to distinguish him from the other Judas, who always appears last in the lists. ‘Iscariot’ may mean that he comes from Kerioth. The town Kerioth Hezron was about 19 km south of Hebron and appears in the Old Testament (Joshua 15:25; Jeremiah 48:24).
We know, of course, that one of the chosen failed utterly and betrayed his Master. He was replaced by Matthias. Later, too, Paul – who never saw the pre-resurrection Jesus – would be called to be an Apostle. And the term would also be applied to a few others in the New Testament, e.g. Barnabas, a missionary colleague of Paul.
Secondly, however, the word ‘apostle’ applies to every baptised Christian. All of us, one way or another, are called to pass on the Gospel message so that others can hear and respond. There are many ways we can do this. One thing, though, is clear; it is not enough for us to be simply disciples, passive followers.
Immediately following the call of the Twelve comes what is really Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. Significantly, for him it is going to take place in a plain, down on the ground in the midst of all the people. So his version is sometimes known as the "Sermon on the Plain". It somehow indicates the humility of Jesus and his closeness to the people while Matthew uses the more biblical concept of a mountain as the place where God reveals himself.
Jesus is surrounded by all his disciples, his newly chosen apostles, and a huge crowd from Judea and Jerusalem, from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, including both Jews and non-Jews. They all came to listen to Jesus and to be healed. And they were all eager to touch him physically because a certain power went out from Jesus and brought healing to all.
Let us then hear today the call of Jesus, first to be his disciples, totally committed to accepting and assimilating his message; second, to accepting the responsibility to spread the Gospel actively through the way we live our lives, through the way we speak, and through the relationships we establish with people; thirdly, let us reach out and touch Jesus so that we may experience his healing wherever we need it.
Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 6, 20-26 Jesus raised his eyes to his disciples and said: "Blest are you poor; the reign of God is yours. Blest are you who hunger; you shall be filled. Blest are you who are weeping; you shall laugh. Blest shall you be when men hate you, when they ostracize you and insult you and proscribe your name as evil because of the Son of Man. On the day they do so, rejoice and exult, for your reward shall be great in heaven. Thus it was that their fathers treated the prophets. "But woe to you rich, for your consolation is now. Woe to you who are full; you shall go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now; you shall weep in your grief. Woe to you when all speak well of you. Their fathers treated the false prophets in just this way."
Commentary on Luke 6:20-26
Today we begin what is known as Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’ which more or less parallels Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Luke’s is much shorter but both begin with the Beatitudes and end with the parable of the house builders. Some of what is found in Matthew’s Sermon is found elsewhere in Luke as Matthew’s ‘Sermon’ it consists of disparate sayings of Jesus gathered into one place. Luke also omits Matthew’s specifically Jewish material which would not have been relevant to his Gentile readers.
The Sermon can be summarised as follows:
An introduction of blessings and woes (20-26)
The love of one’s enemies (27-36)
The demands of loving one’s neighbour (37-42)
Good deeds as proof of one’s goodness (43-45)
A parable on listening to and acting on the words of Jesus (46-49).
Similar to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Luke begins the Sermon on the Plain with his version of the Beatitudes. But there are striking differences. Whereas Matthew has eight (some would say seven) Beatitudes, Luke has four "Blesseds" and four contrasting "Woes". As is typical of his uncompromising style when it comes to following Jesus, the language of Luke is much more direct and hard-hitting and it may well be closer to what Jesus actually said.
Matthew’s Beatitudes propose a set of attitudes which reflect the spirit of the Kingdom, qualities to be found in the truly Christian and human life. Luke, on the other hand, speaks of material conditions in this life which will be overturned. Later in this gospel, this is illustrated graphically in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (16:25).
Luke also has Jesus speak in the second person: "Blessed are you" and "Woe to you" rather than in the third person as Matthew does ("Blessed are those who…"). Nor does he speak of the "poor in spirit" but of "you who are poor" and he certainly means the materially poor.
He goes on to say how blessed too are "you who are hungry; you who weep; you who are hated and who are rejected and marginalised and whose name is regarded as evil" because of their connection with Jesus. Undoubtedly Matthew’s Beatitudes can be read to consider just ‘spiritual’ poverty and a hunger for ‘righteousness’, which in fact are also a form of real poverty and real hunger but Luke is a gospel for the materially poor and distressed and we must be careful not to turn our focus away from them. That is why he has Jesus born in poverty and dying naked and destitute (even of his ‘friends’).
Jesus tells those who are poor and hungry and abused to rejoice when that happens and "dance for joy". There are two reasons: because their reward will be "great in heaven" and because that is the way the prophets in the past were treated (and the way Jesus the Prophet will also be treated).
At a first reading, it seems like a classical example of religion as the ‘opium of the people’: Be happy that you are having such a hard time now because there is a wonderful future waiting for you in the next world. It was the message that Karl Marx mocked the capitalist-ruled churches of preaching to the exploited ‘proletariat’.
And the second part is not likely to go down well in our contemporary developed world. ""Woe to you who are rich [he can't be serious!], you have received your comfort already." "Woe to you who are full, because you will be hungry; woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep; woe to you who are spoken well of. That is how they treated the false prophets."
How are we to understand these sayings which turn our common worldview upside down? I think they have to be seen in the light of the Kingdom, in the kind of society that Jesus came to set up, a society based on mutual love and sharing and support. A Kingdom for this world and not just the next. The coming of such a society could only be good news for the poor and destitute (material and otherwise), for those suffering from hunger (physical and otherwise), for those depressed by deep sorrow and for those abused and rejected for their commitment to Jesus and his Way.
On the other hand it would not be good news for those self-focused people who amass material wealth at the expense of others, who indulge in excessive consumption of the world’s goods, who live lives centred on personal hedonism and pleasure, and who feed off the envy and adulation of those around them. There is really no place for such people in the Kingdom. To enter fully into the Kingdom they have to unload all these concerns and obsessions and let go. Instead of focusing on what they can get; they will focus on what they can share of what they have.
A clear example is of the rich young man in the Gospel. How rich he was – and yet how sad he was! Compare him with Zacchaeus, whom we will be meeting later on.
Thursday of The Twenty-third Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 6, 27-38 Jesus said to his disciples: 'To you who hear me, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you. When someone slaps you on one cheek, turn and give him the other; when someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well. Give to all who beg from you. When a man takes what is yours, do not demand it back. Do to others what you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, how can you claim any credit? Sinners do as much. If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what merit is there in it for you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. "Love your enemy and do good; lend without expecting repayment. Then will your recompense be great. You will rightly be called sons of the Most High, since he himself is good to the ungrateful and the wicked. "Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Pardon, and you shall be pardoned. Give, and it shall be given to you. Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will they pour into the fold of your garment. For the measure you measure with will be measured back to you.
Commentary on Luke 6:27-38
For many people, even those who identify themselves as Christians, this may be one of the most difficult passages in the Gospel. It seems to express an idealism that is totally unrealistic and unattainable.
We live today in a world of great violence, of terrorism, of increasing litigation – suing and counter-suing, violence and murder, of vicious vendettas often stirred up in the tabloid press and other media, the horror of terrorist attacks on the innocent. Are these things not to be avenged?
Where do Jesus’ words fit in? It may be worth noting that the passage (in the original – not in today’s reading) begins: "I say this to you who are listening." In order to understand what Jesus is really saying to us, we have to put aside our prejudices and assumptions and really listen to what he is saying. This passage, in particular, is one where we are likely to react emotionally.
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly." We may feel that to follow this teaching is to try something which is totally beyond our capacity, that it would require a tremendous amount of will-power and that it would only encourage those people to behave even worse. In the Old Testament hatred of evildoers is presumed to be the right attitude to have. But Jesus is extending love to the enemy and the persecutor.
This is the core of Jesus’ teaching, which he himself practised. The Golden Rule which is often expressed as "Do not do to others what you would not want them do to you" is expressed here in positive terms.
The first big hurdle is the word "love". For us it is a very emotional word, implying both affection and intimacy. For us to "love" is often to "be in love with", to "be attracted to". But Jesus is not telling us to be in love with our enemies. He is not even telling us to like them. The Greek verb which the gospel uses is agapao (‘agapaw) from which the noun agape (‘agaph) comes. Agape [pronounced ‘ah-gah-pay'] is a special kind of love. It is not the physically-expressed love of lovers nor is it the love of close friends. It is rather an attitude of positive regard towards other people by which I wish for their well-being.
This, in fact, is the love that God has for us. It is a one-sided love in the sense that a return is not expected. God reaches out in infinite love to every single person without exception. God wishes every person to experience that love; God wishes the fullest well-being of every single person. That love of his is often not returned; it is often rejected or ignored.
But it continues unabated, like the father in the story of the prodigal son waiting for his boy to come back. The father continued to love his son even in his lowest moments of debauchery and degradation. It was the same with the people who were nailing Jesus to the cross. He prayed for them, for their being forgiven and that they might come to a realisation of just what they were doing.
In this sense, loving our enemies seems altogether reasonable. And not only not impossible but really the only thing to do.
Who are our "enemies"? First of all, they are not our enemies in the sense that we hate them or want to harm them. In that sense, Christians should have no enemies. Rather, they are people who are hostile to us. They want to harm us, take revenge on us, even destroy us, or whatever.
There are two ways we can deal with such people. We can set out to do more harm to them, to take revenge on them, or try to wipe them out completely. Or we can try and work to turn them round.
Our problem is that we tend to focus too much on ourselves and our own immediate needs and overlook the needs of others. To love as God loves is to focus more on others. We can only do this if we have a strong inner sense of security and self-acceptance. Then we are not too worried about what people say about us or do to us.
And then, too, we can turn our attention much more to the one who is hating or harming. We will begin to ask why do they have to act in this way. What is hurting inside them that drives them to such behaviour? Already we are just by thinking in this way beginning to care for our enemy and beginning to love him or her.
And is not this a much better solution to the problem? To bring peace back into that person’s life and initiate a healing process in them and between them and me.
Jesus is not at all asking us to do something "unnatural". We do not naturally want to hate or be hated. We want to love and to be loved. We see many parts of the world where – for years – there has been a process of hatred and retaliation in a never-ending spiral of vengeance and loss of life.
The only way to break this cycle is to follow Jesus’ advice. It is not a lose-lose or lose-win situation; it is a win-win situation where everyone benefits.
Perhaps words of the late Mother Teresa are appropriate here:
"Love, to be true, has to hurt. I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, to do good to them. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no love in me and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me."
To put Jesus’ teaching into effect is not a matter of strengthening our will to do something very difficult but to change our conventional thinking at the deepest level, to see things his way. Once we do that, it becomes much easier.
Jesus’ application of this teaching also has been the subject of much mockery. "To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too." In a world where macho reigns, this is just too much. Only wimps would follow Jesus’ advice because they are afraid to do anything else.
Schwarzenegger and Stallone know what to do in such cases: mow them down with an automatic machine gun.
Again, it is a question of seeing things from Jesus’, that is, God’s viewpoint. Turning the other cheek, as it is presented here, is not at all an act of weakness. It requires great courage and great inner strength and an awareness that the one who strikes is the one who is really weak. It is easy to lash out at another person by word or act. It is easy to hit back; it is almost an instinctive reaction but it is not the truly human response.
To hit back is to reduce oneself to the same level as one’s attacker and it solves nothing in the long run. Deliberately and calmly not to hit back is to refuse, in Eric Berne’s words, "to play the other person’s game". It is to break the cycle and change the level of the playing field and move it to a higher level – the level of mutual respect and human dignity.
Jesus set the example when he was struck on the face during his trial. During the whole degradation of the Passion his dignity shines out in contrast to the pathetic posturings of his judges and tormentors. This was the spirit that guided Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and which is behind all movements devoted to active non-violence.
Jesus sets the principle: "Treat others as you would like them to treat you." You do not want to be hated or struck so you refuse, no matter what happens, to hate or strike another person. "If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect?" No, we will not react simply in the way others deal with us.
As followers of Christ, we see things in a completely different way and we want to behave differently. We believe that not only do we personally benefit from following Jesus’ way but that others too will benefit and may even come to our point of view.
Finally, Jesus calls us to follow the model of God himself: "Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate." In Matthew’s gospel it is, "Be perfect as…" The meaning is the same: our perfection consists in our empathetic reaching out in compassionate agape to every single person.
And, through us, the compassion of God can then be experienced by people.
We are not to judge or condemn persons (although we may be asked and required to give an objective and discerned evaluation of a person’s behaviour or fitness for some task or position). And we are to forgive. Then we will not be condemned and will in turn receive forgiveness.
The emphasis is on reaching out to others rather than gathering for ourselves, being turned in on our little, insecure selves. "Give, and there will be gifts for you." Jesus put this graphically when he told us to give not only our cloak to someone asking for it but our tunic as well. Given that the poor in those days only had two garments, that would leave the donor totally naked!
But that is the point: the one filled with the spirit of Christ has nothing to lose, nothing to be ashamed of. Life consists in what we are able to give and not what we can get. "The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back."
And that, above all, applies to agape. Everyone can give an endless supply of that.
Friday of The Twenty-third Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 6, 39-42 Jesus used images in speaking to his disciples: "Can a blind man act as guide to a blind man? Will they not both fall into a ditch? A student is not above his teacher; but every student when he has finished his studies will be on a par with his teacher. "Why look at the speck in your brother's eye when you miss the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove the speck from your eye,' yet fail yourself to see the plank lodged in your own? Hypocrite, remove the plank from your own eye first; then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Commentary on Luke 6:39-42
In Matthew the parallel passage today is addressed to the Pharisees but in Luke it is addressed to the disciples.
Jesus makes two points:
a. The blind cannot lead the blind. The disciple, left to himself, does not know very much and depends on his teacher. But, once he is fully trained and has learnt everything he can from his teacher, then he becomes an extension of his teacher. He shares the knowledge and wisdom of his teacher and can, in turn, be a guide to others.
This is something we all have to do: to listen carefully to what Jesus tells us and make it part of our own lives. Only then can we effectively lead others to him.
b. We have to be very careful about sitting in judgement on others. Jesus uses a graphic image of someone trying to remove a speck of dust from another person’s eye while there is a large splinter of wood in their own. How can we see properly to correct the vision of our brother when our own vision is so distorted?
The faults we so easily see in others are often trivial in comparison with our own shortcomings. Of course, much of the energy we exert in putting down others (the main staple of our gossiping sessions!) is sub-consciously to compensate for the shortcomings we are all too aware of in ourselves. Instead of lifting ourselves up by changing our ways, we try to drag others down.
And, so often our judgements are based purely on external behaviour. We usually have no idea of the inner motives or intentions of other people or an awareness of their inability to behave otherwise than they do.
And, while we can be very ready with criticism behind people’s backs, we do not dare to say these things to their face. Yet, there may be times when we will be asked to give – as far as is possible – an objective evaluation of a person’s behaviour or their fitness for some responsibility. And, not infrequently, we will shy away from this responsibility.
Saturday (September 16): Luke 6:43-49
43 "For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. 46 "Why do you call me `Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you? 47 Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great."
Meditation: Why does Jesus set figs and grapes over against thorns and brambles? The fig tree was the favorite of all trees for the people of Palestine. It symbolized fertility, peace, and prosperity. Grapes, likewise, produced wine, the symbol of joy. Thorns and brambles were only good for burning as fuel for the fire. There's a proverbial saying that you know a tree by its fruit. Likewise a person will produce good or bad fruit depending on what is sown in the heart. Charles Read said: "Sow an act and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny." Character, like fruit, doesn't grow overnight. It takes a lifetime.
A healthy and sound mind produces good fruit
Jesus connects soundness with good fruit. Something is sound when it is free from defect, decay, or disease and is healthy. Good fruit is the result of sound living - living according to moral truth and upright character. The prophet Isaiah warned against the dangers of falsehood: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20). The fruits of falsehood produce an easy religion which takes the iron out of religion, the cross out of Christianity, and any teaching which eliminates the hard sayings of Jesus, and which push the judgments of God into the background and makes us think lightly of sin.
How do we avoid falsehood and bad fruit in our lives? By being true - true to God, his word, and the grace and help he gives us so we can turn away from evil and wrongdoing. And that takes character! Those who are true to God know that their strength lies not in themselves but in God who supplies everything we need to live as his disciples. The Lord strengthens us with the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit - with faith, hope and love, justice, prudence, fortitude and temperance. And we grow in godly character through exercising the gifts and strength which God supplies. Do you want to bear good fruit in your daily life? Allow the Holy Spirit to train you in godliness and the wisdom to distinguish good fruit from bad fruit (1 Timothy 4:7-8, Hebrews 5:14).
What kind of foundation are you building your life?
Jesus told another story about the importance of building on the right foundation to reinforce his lesson about sound living. When Jesus told the story of the builders he likely had the following proverb in mind: When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm for ever (Proverbs 10:25). What's the significance of the story for us? The kind of foundation we build our lives upon will determine whether we can survive the storms that are sure to come. Builders usually lay their foundations when the weather and soil conditions are at their best. It takes foresight to know how a foundation will stand up against adverse conditions. Building a house on a flood plain, such as a dry river-bed, is a sure bet for disaster!
Our character is revealed in the choices we make
Jesus prefaced his story with a warning: We may fool other people with our speech and gestures, but God cannot be deceived. He sees the heart as it truly is - with its motives, intentions, desires, and choices (Psalm 139:2). There is only one way in which a person's sincerity can be proved, and that is by one's practice. Fine words can never replace good deeds. Our character is revealed in the choices we make, especially when we are tested. Do you cheat on an exam or on your income taxes, especially when it will cost you? Do you lie, or cover-up, when disclosing the truth will cause you injury or embarrassment? A true person is honest and reliable before God, themselves, and their neighbor. Their word can be counted on. What foundation is your life built upon?
"Lord Jesus, you are the sure foundation and source of life and strength for us. Give me wisdom and strength to live according to your truth and to reject every false way. May I be a doer of your word and not a hearer only."
Sunday of week 24 of Ordinary Time-A
Commentary on Ecclesiasticus 27:30-28:7; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35FORGIVENESS OF WRONGS done against us is something that many of us Christians find extremely difficult. We probably think Peter is extremely generous in suggesting that he should forgive his brother as many as seven times. Yet Jesus pushes it even further by saying, “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.” In practice, this means an infinite number of times. It seems hopelessly idealistic and impractical. Yet, further reflection may help us realise that there is really no alternative for the Christian and the truly human person than to forgive – indefinitely.
The words of Jesus turn upside down the boast of Lamech in the book of Genesis. Lamech was the father of Noah, the man who built the ark and saved the human race and all the animals from the Flood.
Lamech said to his wives:
‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, hearken to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.’ (Genesis 4:23-24)
A bankrupt approach
This is the philosophy behind such groupings as triad societies, Mafia-type organisations, terrorists in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, to mention but a few. It is clearly an approach which does nothing except produce death, pain, grief and the seeds for more of the same. It is a way we see portrayed night after night on our television screens and which our young people devour in the comic books they read and the computer games they play.
But the words of Jesus also seem in conflict with the passage we had last Sunday about the “brother” in the Christian community who does wrong and refuses to reform. If he persists in his wrongdoing, he is not to be forgiven indefinitely. On the contrary, he is to be excluded from the community’s life. How are we to bring together this advice and Jesus’ urging to forgive “seventy-seven times”?
First, let us look at the parable which follows Jesus’ words. It is a parable about a senior official who has incurred a debt of 10,000 ‘talents’. One talent was already a very large amount of money. It is difficult to make a meaningful comparison in today’s currency but let us say, that, roughly, a talent was worth US$1,000. To say the servant owed 10,000 talents is to use the number in the way the Chinese and Japanese wish “10,000 years”, in other words, ‘without limit’. Jesus is saying this official owed a sky-high debt which he could never have any hope of paying back.
Yet this same official comes down heavily on a much lower official who owed him 100 denarii. A denarius was the equivalent of one day’s work for a labourer. Compared to what the senior official owed, 100 denarii was nothing. Yet, the lower official gets no mercy and is tossed, together with his whole family, into a debtor’s prison until the debt is paid (presumably by relatives or colleagues). When the king hears about this, the senior official himself gets thrown into prison. Given the amount of his debt, it is unlikely he would ever get out.
Both the words of Jesus and the parable linked with them throw us back to the Lord’s Prayer as it is presented in the Sermon on the Mount. In the ‘Our Father’ which we recite together in every Eucharist, we say: “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.” Further commenting on these words, Matthew has Jesus say, “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But, if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.” (Matthew 6: 12,14-15).
There are two very clear messages from both the parable and the words from the Sermon on the Mount:
– The first is that we dare not hold back forgiveness from those God forgives. And we know, from the Gospel, God’s attitude towards wrongdoers and his penchant for forgiveness.
– But the second message is that the divine patience is not infinite. God, as Jesus tells us to do, is ready to forgive 77 times. And, when it comes to the forgiveness of our own sins, we take this for granted. (Imagine if God were to say, “In your lifetime I will give you just five chances to repent and, after that you’ve had it.”) At the same time, there is a limit to the extent of God’s forgiveness in the sense that it is conditional. That condition is determined first, by our readiness to respond to his forgiveness through our repentance and conversion, and second, by our willingness to imitate him in practising forgiveness of those we feel have offended or hurt us.
Strange as it may seem, the all-powerful God cannot fully forgive the person to whom pardon is offered but who refuses it. Because ultimately, the problem is not just one of ‘forgiveness’ but also of ‘reconciliation’. And where there is no reconciliation or at least hope of reconciliation there cannot be forgiveness in the full sense.
God cannot just say a million times over to the sinner, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness on our part is not just to say, “I know you did something terrible but, because I am a practising Christian, I forgive you.” You may feel very good about talking in that way but it has not really solved the problem or healed the wound. My responsibility is not over by saying, “I forgive”, if the other person has not changed their attitude towards me in any way. One-sided forgiving can be a source of real smugness, “How good I am!” and further hurt, “I forgave but he/she continued to hate/hurt me!” At the same time, even with the best will in the world I cannot force another person to be reconciled with me. Ultimately, reconciliation is a personal decision on each side.
Forgiving in the full Christian sense is a form of loving and caring. The problem is that people’s actions towards us are seen as attacks on our vulnerability, our self-esteem. We become completely obsessed by what is happening to us and do not take time to reflect on what is behind the other person’s behaviour.
A hating or angry person is nearly always a person who is more hurting to his- or herself than the object of the hatred or anger. But because on my part there is no effort to understand what is happening to the other person, forgiveness, reconciliation and healing can never really get off the ground.
In the psychology school of Neuro-Linguistic Programming there is a saying, “People make the best choices available to them.” Sad to say, many have very poor choices available to them for one reason or another. People normally do not hate or hurt out of genuine malice for the most part. It can make a big difference to me and to them to try to understand why people act towards me in the way they do.
I may even come to be aware that I am partly responsible for their reactions. I can well ask myself, “What is it in me that makes this person act like this?” When I approach a mutual problem in this way, forgiveness and reconciliation become so much easier. I am going to feel much less hurt much more of the time. I am going to reach out in compassion to the hurts and weaknesses of others.
Sin and sinner
A person who is fully secure in the knowledge of being totally loved by God and of their own lovableness is not going to find forgiveness and reconciliation too difficult. Forgiving 77 times will not only seem not idealistic but simply the only reasonable thing to do. At the same time, like God and like the Christian community, forgiveness and reconciliation does not mean indefinite tolerance of evil and unjust behaviour. The king was perfectly ready to forgive the senior official but how could reconciliation take place when he behaved in such an abominable way to a brother? We can be ready to forgive the sinner indefinitely but we must fight against sin without counting the cost.
God and the Church can forgive the repentant sinner but they cannot condone unrepented behaviour that is a source of real evil and suffering. God cannot be reconciled with the sinner who chooses to stay in sin, nor can the Christian community fully incorporate a member who refuses reconciliation and healing of behaviour that offends against truth and love. It takes two to tango and also to effect a reconciliation.
With God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and with the individual Christian, forgiveness is infinitely available but only where a mutual healing of wounds is sought, only where there is a desire to have that change of mind and behaviour which puts an end to the sinful way.
Monday of The Twenty-fourth Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 7, 1-10 When Jesus had finished his discourse in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion had a servant he held in high regard, who was at that moment sick to the point of death. When he heard about Jesus he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and save the life of his servant. Upon approaching Jesus they petitioned him earnestly. "He deserves this favor from you," they said, "because he loves our people, and even built our synagogue for us." Jesus set out with them. When he was only a short distance from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell him: "Sir, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter my house. That is why I did not presume to come to you myself. Just give the order and my servant will be cured. I too am a man who knows the meaning of an order, having soldiers under my command. I say to one, 'On your way,' and off he goes; to another, 'Come here,' and he comes; to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." Jesus showed amazement on hearing this, and turned to the crowd which was following him to say, "I tell you, I have never found so much faith among the Israelites." When the deputation returned to the house, they found the servant in perfect health.
Commentary on Luke 7:1-10
After he had finished the Sermon on the Plain (although we do not necessarily have to think its represents teachings all given at one time) Jesus went into Capernaum, the base from which he operated when in Galilee. Almost immediately he is met with a request for healing but this one is somewhat different. It will set the stage for developments which will take place and be described later in the Acts of the Apostles (also by Luke).
The story concerns the slave of a centurion. A centurion was an army officer with – as his rank indicates – one hundred men under him. He was presumably attached to the Roman garrison in the town or one of Herod Antipas’ forces. The Roman military in general did not have a good reputation and Mel Gibson’s film ‘The Passion of the Christ’ does not altogether do them an injustice in portraying their cruelty and brutality. However, those in the Gospel do not appear in a bad light. This is a good example of the danger of stereotyping any group of people – something we are all very easily prone to do.
He was not necessarily a Roman but he was certainly not a Jew. He was a Gentile outsider. His slave, who was very dear to him, had fallen seriously ill. This, in turn, implies he treated his slave well. Undoubtedly, he had heard the stories of what Jesus had done by way of healing and wondered if his slave could also be helped.
However, as an outsider he did not dare to approach Jesus personally. He sent a delegation consisting of Jewish town elders. These are not the ‘elders’ mentioned during Jesus’ passion but simply respected members of the local Jewish community. In Matthew’s account, the centurion approaches Jesus himself. Luke having him go through influential Jewish friends sounds more plausible.
They apparently were only too willing to help because they said he was very friendly to the Jews and had even built a synagogue for them. The stage is being set for the story of Cornelius, also a soldier and the first Gentile Christian, in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. Acts 10:1ff.).
While Jesus was on his way to the house, the centurion immediately sent word that it was not necessary for Jesus to come personally. As a friend of Jews, he knew that a devout Jew, and especially a rabbi, could not enter the house of a Gentile. He did not want to be a source of embarrassment for Jesus.
"I am not worthy that you should come under my roof," he said – words which we now use every time we prepare to approach the table of the Eucharist. Just as he himself felt unworthy to be approached by Jesus. He knew that Jesus had only to say a word and his slave would be made whole again.
He recognised the very special authority that Jesus had, an authority, in some respects, not unlike his own as an army officer. He had only to say "Go" to a soldier and he went; he only had to say "Do this" and it was done. Jesus could do the same.
Jesus is amazed at the man’s faith. "I have never found such faith, even in Israel." Only twice in the Gospel is Jesus described as being amazed. This is caused by the faith of a Gentile; the other was caused by the unbelief of his townspeople in Nazareth (Mark 6:6).
When the delegation returned to the centurion’s house, they found that the slave was totally well again.
What strikes one so strongly in this story is the character of the centurion who contradicted every stereotype of the Roman soldier which the average person in Palestine would have had. He is kind and caring of his slave. He has contributed to the building of the local synagogue. He is extremely sensitive to Jewish customs and does not embarrass Jesus by approaching him directly. And, when Jesus offers to go to his house, he says that it is not necessary. He knows that Jesus, as a Jew, would become unclean by entering a Gentile house. He is a good example how wrong we can be in generalising about certain kinds or classes of people. He also clearly illustrates how a Gentile could be, as the early Church only gradually discovered, a worthy person to belong to the Christian community. In fact, this story prepares the way for Luke’s account later in the Acts of a centurion, Cornelius, being received as the first Gentile member of the Christian community (Acts chap. 10).
The key factor, of course, in this healing story is the faith of the Gentile, a faith which Jesus said he had never encountered even among many of his own people. Beginning with Cornelius, this experience will be repeated in the early Church as the first Christians, all Jews, begin to realise that the Gentiles too are being called to follow Christ and that their Spirit-filled faith can be as strong as that of any of them.
For us today it is a reminder that Jesus can reveal himself to the most unlikely persons and that we must never presume that a person is unfitted for the Christian life based on past behaviour or any other characteristics. God can call anyone and he does.
Let us, too, follow the example of the centurion in our confidence in God’s healing power in our lives.
Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 7, 11-17 Jesus went to a town called Naim, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him. As he approached the gate of the town a dead man was being carried out, the only son of a widowed mother. A considerable crowd of townsfolk were with her. The Lord was moved with pity upon seeing her and said to her, "Do not cry." Then he stepped forward and touched the litter; at this, the bearers halted. He said, "Young man, I bid you get up." The dead man sat up and began to speak. Then Jesus gave him back to his mother. Fear seized them all and they began to praise God. "A great prophet has risen among us," they said; and, "God has visited his people." This was the report that spread about him throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
Commentary on Luke 7:11-17
This story is only found in Luke. It is one of only three stories in the Gospel where Jesus is described as bringing a dead person to life. The most dramatic is the story of Lazarus told in John’s gospel. There is the also the story of the synagogue leader’s daughter although it is not categorically certain that she had actually died. She might have been in a coma or catatonic state.
In the thinking of the time, the scene is particularly sad. A woman, who has already lost her husband, has now lost her only son and the only means of her support. She is on the way to bury him.
The lot of the widow, in those days often a relatively young woman, was particularly difficult in a society where the married woman was no longer the responsibility of her own family and who, after the death of husband and children, was no longer the responsibility of her husband’s family either. She was largely left to her own devices in a society where social welfare of any kind was unknown.
Jesus himself is deeply moved at her plight. At this point, for the first time, Luke refers to Jesus as "Lord", a title reserved for God himself. He approaches the litter (not a coffin as we know it) carrying the dead man, tells the bearers to stop and then orders the young man to rise up. As in other similar stories, the word "rise up" is the same as that used to describe the resurrection of Jesus. "I have come that they may have life."
The reaction of the people around is one of awe and admiration. "A great prophet has risen among us and God has visited his people." They had no doubts about the origin of what they had seen taking place; it was the work of God. Not surprisingly, the story spread like wildfire all through Judea and beyond. The episode prepares the way for Jesus’ response to the disciples of John the Baptist a little later (but which is not included in our Mass readings at this time).
This story should help us to look at our own situation and see, first of all, how alive we really are.
Let us look around and see how many people need to be lifted up and helped to find new life. Maybe we can do something for them.
Wednesday of The Twenty-fourth Week of The Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 7, 31-35 Jesus said: "What comparison can I use for the men of today? What are they like? They are like children squatting in the city squares and calling to their playmates, 'We piped you a tune but you did not dance, We sang you a dirge but you did not wail.' I mean that John the Baptizer came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He is mad!' The Son of Man came and he both ate and drank, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' God's wisdom is vindicated by all who accept it."
Commentary on Luke 7:31-35
Today’s passage follows immediately after the scene (not in our Mass readings) where Jesus answers the query from John the Baptist languishing in prison about whether Jesus is truly the Messiah. Jesus uses the occasion to speak words of high praise for John, "Of all the children born of women, there is no one greater than John".
Jesus now criticises the cynicism and self-contradictory attitudes of those who reject both him and John. They have simply closed their ears and want to hear nothing and learn nothing. He compares them to children in a city square calling to their playmates. "When we played lively music for you, you would not dance; when we played funereal music, you would not mourn."
This comparison Jesus applies to John the Baptist and himself. John led an austere life in the desert eating, as we are told elsewhere, only locusts and wild honey. They said he was mad and rejected him. Jesus came leading a highly convivial life, mixing with all kinds of people. They called him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and other sinful people. He even invited a tax collector to be one of his twelve Apostles!
It was a no-win situation. When people are like that there is really nothing that can be done. Jesus concludes with the enigmatic statement, "Wisdom has been proved right by all her children." Both John and Jesus could both be described as children of Wisdom, whose origin is God himself. Those who can see the hand of God in the lives of John and Jesus are also children of Wisdom. Those who adamantly refuse to see God are not.
It is important for us not to fall into such a trap. God speaks to us in so many ways and through so many people and situations. It is very easy to find ourselves excluding a priori the people or situations by which God is trying to reach us.
We cannot expect God to speak to us in ways which we find congenial. He may speak to us through a saint or a sinner. Through a conservative or a liberal. Through a man or a woman – or a young child. Through an old person or a young person. Through an educated or an illiterate person… Through a local person or a foreigner. Through a straight or gay person… Through a saint or a sinner. We have at all times to be ready to listen with an unprejudiced mind and heart.
Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 7, 36-50 There was a certain Pharisee who invited Jesus to dine with him. Jesus went to the Phariseés home and reclined to eat. A woman known in the town to be a sinner learned that he was dining in the Phariseés home. She brought in a vase of perfumed oil and stood behind him at his feet, weeping so that her tears fell upon his feet. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissing them and perfuming them with the oil.
When his host, the Pharisee, saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is that touches him -- that she is a sinner."
In answer to his thoughts, Jesus said to him, "Simon, I have something to propose to you." "Teacher," he said, "speak." "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender; one owed a total of five hundred coins, the other fifty. Since neither was able to repay, he wrote off both debts. Which of them was more grateful to him?"
Simon answered, "He, I presume, to whom he remitted the larger sum." Jesus said to him, "You are right."
Turning then to the woman, he said to Simon: "You see this woman? I came to your home and you provided me with no water for my feet. She has washed my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfume. I tell you, that is why her many sins are forgiven -- because of her great love. Little is forgiven the one whose love is small."
He said to her then, "Your sins are forgiven," at which his fellow guests began to ask among themselves, "Who is this that he even forgives sin?" Meanwhile he said to the woman, "Your faith has been your salvation. Now go in peace."
Commentary on Luke 7:36-50
Today’s passage is one of the most striking scenes in the whole of the Gospel. It is a story only found in Luke and, in a way it is strange that it is not otherwise recorded. It is not the same as the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, described by Matthew (26:6-13). Perhaps to some, especially Jewish readers, it was a little too daring and close to the edge. Because it is a highly sexual story in which Jesus is deeply involved.
We are told that a Pharisee – his name is Simon – was keen to have Jesus eat at his house. The word ‘Pharisee’ means ‘separated one’ and they numbered about 6,000 throughout Palestine. They taught in synagogues and, as their name implies, they saw themselves on a higher level of religious observance. They believed that interpretations and rules handed down by tradition had virtually the same authority as Scripture (cf. Mark 7:8-13). As a result, they were constantly bothered by Jesus’ behaviour.
Jesus accepted the invitation and he joined Simon and others at the table. We should notice that Jesus accepted invitations from both Pharisees and tax collectors. Both were equally deserving of his love and service. The diners would be reclining on couches, rather than sitting, as was the fashion of the day. This helps to explain what is going to happen.
It is not clear whether what happened next was totally spontaneous or whether it was part of a conspiracy to put Jesus in a compromising position where he could be denounced (not unlike his being presented with an adulterous woman – John 8:1ff). In one sense it was strange that a woman such as this could burst into a Pharisee’s house unchallenged (there must have been servants); on the other hand, houses were not bolted and barred as they are in our more civilised(?) times.
What is clear is that the woman’s own intentions were sincere. We are told she was a sinner. "Sinner" here can only refer to some public immorality and very likely she was a "woman of the street", a prostitute or at least a woman known for her promiscuous behaviour.
She was eager to meet with Jesus and heard that he was dining at Simon’s house. So she burst in, bringing an alabaster box of ointment (probably quite expensive – the gift of an appreciative client?) and came up to Jesus from behind. She immediately began crying and her abundant tears bathed Jesus’ feet. She then began to dry his feet with her long hair. The fact that she wore her hair down or let it down in public itself indicates that she was a "loose" woman. She kissed the feet of Jesus and poured the ointment over them.
Simon, whether he had planned the intrusion or not, was deeply shocked at the extraordinary scene that was playing out before his eyes and in his house. If Jesus was really a prophet, he thought to himself, he would know what kind of a woman this was who was touching him. She was a sinner and no good person, least of all a rabbi, should allow anything remotely like that to take place.
Jesus, fully aware of what was going on in Simon’s mind, tells him a story about two debtors. One owed a large amount and other a smaller amount. However, the creditor wrote off both debts. Which of the two, Jesus asked, would be more grateful and appreciative? Obviously the one who had been remitted the larger debt, said Simon.
"Well said," replied Jesus and then went on to apply the parable to the present situation. In the process he indicates something that Simon had probably not thought of – that he, too, was a sinner, even though to a lesser degree. Because Simon had been guilty of not extending even the ordinary courtesies of hospitality to his guest.
Simon had not had Jesus’ feet washed when he came into the house but the woman had washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Simon had not given a kiss of greeting but the woman had not stopped kissing his feet since she came into the house. Simon had not put oil on his guest’s head but the woman had poured an expensive flask of ointment over his feet.
And therefore – now comes the point of the story: "Her many sins have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love." The one who has less forgiven loves less. And, turning to the woman at his feet, Jesus says, "Your sins are forgiven." And the guests at table begin to ask each other: "Who is this that he forgives sin?" Again Jesus says to the woman, "Your faith has made you whole again. Go in peace."
This is a really extraordinary story. To appreciate this one has to enter into it visually and be really present with all one’s senses active. What comes across is the amazing composure and inner security and freedom of Jesus during the whole episode. He shows absolutely no signs of being uncomfortable or embarrassed. He does not pull away or tell the woman to stop what she is doing.
Here is this woman, known to be a public sinner, who comes in and weeps over him, wipes his feet with her hair and keeps kissing them passionately. The guests are highly disturbed, shocked and probably embarrassed but Jesus remains perfectly at ease. The reason is that he knows what the woman is doing and is not worried about what others might think she is doing.
Let us admire his ability to focus totally on the woman and not be self-conscious about the other people around. Can one imagine what a tabloid publication might have made of this scene?! What if something like that were to happen today with a bishop or a priest? Or some other prominent person? How would most clergy – or other public people react in such a situation?
Jesus can see that the woman is expressing both sincere repentance and a great affection for Jesus. She is expressing her repentance in the only way that she knows. She is a highly tactile person; it is part of her way of life. To the sexually immature, what she is doing and Jesus’ acceptance of it seems at the very least unbecoming and at the worst bordering on the obscene.
But Jesus says her sins are now forgiven. It was really the passionate love she was showing which indicated that had won forgiveness. Love and sin are incompatible; they cannot co-exist in the same person. She was loving Jesus so much at that moment that she could not be a sinner. Simon could not see this. His concept of sin was purely legalistic. For Jesus it is relational.
At this point her immoral past was totally irrelevant. In our society wrongdoers can be stuck with labels often for the rest of their lives irrespective of how they have changed. God does not work that way. He deals with persons as they are here and now. What I did yesterday does not matter. All that matters is what I am doing now, how I am relating to God and those around me right now.
We remember the man who died beside Jesus on the cross. He had led a terrible life and was now being executed for his crimes. Yet he appeals to Jesus and is promised that he will go to God hand in hand with Jesus. Unfair? Fortunately God’s ideas of fairness are not ours. Otherwise we might be in trouble because of our past.
Once again we see how God, in Jesus, always tries to rehabilitate and not to punish. Punishment destroys. God’s desire is that we be all made whole and experience inner peace and harmony.
Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week of the Year
Years I and II Gospel Lk 8, 1-3 Jesus journeyed through towns and villages preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve accompanied him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and maladies: Mary called the Magdalene, from whom seven devils had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who were assisting them out of their means.
Commentary on Luke 8:1-3
This passage follows immediately from yesterday’s about the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee. It is one of those summary passages describing in general terms the work of Jesus.
He is accompanied by the chosen Twelve, his co-operators in the preaching of the word and the establishing of the Kingdom. And it is precisely the Good News (the Gospel) about the Kingdom that they are preaching in word and demonstrating in practice.
What is noteworthy here – and it is unique to Luke – is the mention of many women also travelling in the company of Jesus. Some of them were women who had been healed of evil spirits. One is mentioned by name, Mary of Magdala, from whom seven evil spirits had been exorcised. The number seven is not to be taken literally but indicates the woman had formerly been in a seriously immoral state. She appears very prominently in John’s gospel as someone very close to Jesus and he describes her as the first witness of the Resurrection. It is possible, too, that the "sinful woman" in the house of Simon the Pharisee was also in the group.
Some of the other women seem to be of more ample means and higher social rank. One of them was Joanna, the wife of King Herod’s steward. They helped Jesus and his disciples with their material needs. Once again, Jesus is not embarrassed to travel in the company of these women; nor are they uncomfortable in his.
We see here two roles being played by followers of Jesus. On the one hand are the apostles whose function it is to proclaim the Gospel and establish the Kingdom by word and deed, by preaching and by the example of the communal and shared life they are leading.
The other role is that of disciples who are materially better off and who support the work of proclaiming the Gospel by providing for the material and other needs of the evangelisers.
Both roles are complementary and both, taken together, form the evangelising work of the Church.
A good example are the Sisters of Mother Teresa who would never be able to take care of the destitute dying without the generous help of many benefactors. And the same for many other voluntary groups involved in looking after the disadvantaged.