Saturday, July 29, 2017

Value and Obligation

Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart…

What is the value of any object?  A man buys an engagement ring for his girlfriend and pays $2500 for it.  His fiancĂ© is overjoyed at receiving it and cherishes this ring more than anything.  One day she happens to lose the ring.  At that moment, what is the value of the ring?  Certainly it is not what was paid for it, as the object’s value is greater than any dollar amount you can assign to it.

This teaching on value is precisely the message Jesus has regarding the kingdom of God.  In the two scenarios regarding value, Jesus uses hyperbole to drive home the point.  No person would bury treasure in a field and then pay any price for that field any more than a merchant would pay all he has for the pearl of great price.  But the kingdom of God really is that valuable, and we should regard it as so in our daily lives.

The way to have such value is found in the discernment of good and evil that Solomon asked of God, the same discernment God uses in the parable of the net dragged across the sea.  The value of the kingdom is what provides the obligation – an interior obligation of love – that impels us to virtue, to continually improve our discernment of good and evil in our lives, so that we can arrive safely to the reign of God.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Kingdom of God

Though you are the master of might, you judge with clemency.

Today we are given three parables on the kingdom of God, analogies to help us know the characteristics of God’s reign among us:  the wheat and weeds, the mustard seed, and the grain of yeast.  Each of these analogies reflect the fundamental message of the first reading – that the God of power manifests himself in mercy to an exaggerated generosity that knows no bounds.

We are often tempted to adopt the standards of the world in making judgment, but the parable of the wheat and weeds demands we exercise caution and leave judgment to God alone.  For all of us can at one time or another seem like wheat or weed.  Both the mustard seed and the yeast reflect the hidden work of God among the small and weak things of the world that grow to great things that provide shelter and food to all.

These analogies of God’s reign stand in stark contrast to the kingdoms of the world.  There, judgment is harsh and arbitrary, and what matters is the exercise of power of the mighty over those who are lowly.  There, few have a place of real abode and nourishment.  So let us look to the mercy of God.  Let us look to the small and insignificant in our lives that God will use to do great things so that we might be an abode and nourishment for others, and so come to find the reign of God.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fertile and Fruitful

…my word shall not return to me void.

We might be tempted to interpret the parable of the sower in a somewhat pessimistic outlook.  After all, the sower cast out a great deal of seed and only some of it returned to him in a fruitful harvest.  The rest was not productive – some was briefly fruitful but quickly died, some was more fruitful but died among the thorns, and some never grew at all.  We are led to a bleak conclusion that just a minority will realize a fruitful outcome.

However, the Church gives us the reading from Isaiah as a counterbalance to our pessimism.  Therein we read that God’s seed in us is never wasted but that it will realize fruit and do God’s will.  We might not realize it now in our lives as we may presently be shallow or stuck in the thorns of life or our hearts are hard as rock.  But God is at work in each of our lives, and unawares of us His grace is working, achieving the end for which he sent it. 

The point of the parable is not apocalyptic or eschatological.  It is rather pastoral:  Jesus invites us to look at God’s work in our lives, to see that God is present in each life and working to produce the best fruit possible.  Our lives at present may be shallow, rocky, or thorny, but with God’s help in our lives the terrain of our hearts are transformed into good soil producing good fruit that leads us and others to the reign of God.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Burden of Peace

…and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.

The last time we read the first reading from the prophet Zecchariah it was Palm Sunday.  On that Sunday this reading fits neatly with the Gospel text of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Today, however, this first reading is paired with the Gospel text of Jesus’ yoke being easy and his burden light.  How are we to connect these readings today?

The yoke of violence and war is an oppressive one, for it binds the person to remain in a perpetual state of vengeance and bloodlust, two masters who are never satisfied.  By contrast the burden of peace is a much easier one.  Granted, it involves the suffering of the cross, bearing physical and psychological pains, and enduring much injustice.  But the path of peace has immediate benefits and satisfaction, for their master, the Lord Jesus, is easily satisfied, and we are not consumed with hatreds that never end.

The Lord proclaims peace – he does not impose it upon us.  We are free to accept it or reject it, and the fact of our world torn asunder repeatedly by wars and hatreds shows where our choices have been throughout the ages.  But for those who do accept the burden of peace, rejoice!  For you will be called children of God at the end of your pilgrimage at the kingdom of peace – the reign of God.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Promise and Fulfillment

Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

At first glance the readings seem to be in conflict. On the one hand we see a childless woman with an ill husband who yearns for a son, and on the other Jesus is telling the people that whoever loves son or daughter more than him is not worthy of him.  Is the woman’s desire a violation of Jesus’ injunction, or is there something that we are overlooking?

First, the woman had provided hospitality to the prophet Elijah, and so one might see this as fulfilling Jesus’ other injunction on receiving a disciple.  In this rendering, the woman is rewarded by God for this service.  However, the woman was on the point of extreme vulnerability.  When her husband dies and she is without a son, the woman has no status in the law and is utterly destitute.  God, through the prophet, helps this woman in extreme need – which is the fundamental obligation of the law in imitation of God’s care of Israel.

There is always a temptation to view the life of faith as an endless quid pro quo arrangement:  I do this, God then does that in exchange; God does this, then I do that in exchange.  But the life of faith is not a patron-client relationship.  It is rather one of deep love that is exceedingly generous, a relationship that knows no bounds as it impels us ever forward to the reign of God.  

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Primacy of the Prophet

…he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked.

In the Old Testament there are three distinct voices and traditions held in tension – the priestly, kingly and prophetic.  Each has its own perspective and concerns, all of which are important:  worship of God has great importance, as does the right ordering of society and proper functioning of the law.  But the priestly and kingly tradition have their origins in the prophetic tradition and rely upon the prophet for their full meaning and mission.

Jesus highlights this fact by stating that judgment is based solely on our care and concern for the poor and marginalized (Matt 25).  He further emphasizes this fact in parables where care for the poor is intrinsically tied to judgment – the Rich Man and Lazarus, the Good Samaritan – and his real life exaltation of the poor widow in the Temple is proof of this primacy.  Law and worship exist for us to live our mission to care for the poor and marginalized. 

God chose Israel because of its lowliness, poverty, and marginalization.  God rescued this vulnerable people from rich and powerful empires.  Our faith is in imitation of the God who cares for the poor, which obliges us to be the prophet in our own times: to have our worship and laws reflect this priority and to lead us all to the reign of God. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Journey is the Destination

Remember how the Lord…directed all your journeying in the desert.

When God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, he led them into the desert where he continually provided for their needs:  protection from enemies, food, water, and his companionship.  Despite all this, the Israelites continually complained and longed for a permanent homeland they could call their own.  We know the rest of the story:  they get there, but it wasn’t as great as it was cracked up to be.

Instead of being a blessing, the homeland instead became a curse, largely because it was a false god from the beginning.  Our homeland is not on earth:  paying fealty and wrapping oneself in the flag is an ancient idolatry.  The journey was and is the destination, for it represents the fact that no place on earth is our homeland – that our true home lies beyond this world.  The desert in fact represents this earth well – a barren place that does not satisfy us.

Today’s feast reminds us of this truth.  The body and blood of the Lord Jesus is our food for the journey in this world that cannot satisfy us.  The Eucharist is, as Thomas Aquinas penned in a famous hymn: a holy feast in which Christ is our food/His passion is recalled; grace fills our hearts/And we receive a pledge of the glory to come.  So we journey onward together, not allowing one another to fall into the idolatry of nation worship and longing, as we look forward to our ultimate homeland – the reign of God.