What are we holding

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Terror! On Friday evening, our time, we learned of horrible terrorist attacks in Paris, France. Earlier the same day there were similar attacks in Beirut, Lebanon. There are insurgent wars and terrorism across the globe. Those with power and money accumulate more – some through a subtle terrorism and violence that slowly whittles away at the lives of those without. The night of the terrorist attack in Paris also marked a major earthquake off the coast of southern Japan.

Many members of the early Church (1st Century) expected Jesus to return within a generation of His Ascension. In the New Testament, the word Parousia, meaning arrival or official visit is used at least seventeen times to refer to the Second Coming of Christ, except the one case in which it refers to the coming of the “Day of the Lord.

The Church has always looked forward to the Parousia, the second coming of Christ. Of course as time passed, and as certain Churches grew rich and powerful, those Churches did not make such a big deal out of it.

The early Church prayed Maranatha (Come, Lord!). They longed for the Lord’s return because they knew the glory that was to be realized by those who put their faith in Him. They didn’t care for worldly wealth and power for, as St. Paul reflected, “I consider our present sufferings insignificant compared to the glory that will soon be revealed to us.” Somewhere along the line a good chunk of the faithful lost track of that desire.

We must not assume that we know the day and hour of the Lord. That is pride, and a time only the Father knows. “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” What we do know is that terror will come, earthquakes will happen, earthly death will go on, Christians will be persecuted, beheaded, crucified, and subject to the derision of the worldly.

We, as Christians, need to reconnect to that longing, the desire for the Parousia. When we pray the Creed we need to wholeheartedly proclaim: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” We need to really look forward to “the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” We need to cry out “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!” If we cannot do that, then we must be holding onto something so much more important than His glory.

Riches out of our

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

It is the thought that counts! We might hear that saying in a couple of instances. One is the more traditional meaning – as Oxford tells us: “Used to indicate that it is the kindness behind an act that matters, however imperfect or insignificant the act may be.” The other is slightly more sarcastic. It might also be used when someone receives a gift that isn’t quite wanted – a re-gift of an unwanted gift, something not quite attractive or necessarily wanted. Well, it was the thought that counts.

There was more than just Jesus and His disciples observing the day’s giving at the Temple treasury. We know from some of the other observations Jesus made that many of those who gave did so just to be noticed and praised: “So when you give to the poor, don’t announce it with trumpet fanfare. This is what hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets in order to be praised by people.” Jesus also told a man who had invited Him to dinner to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you.” Living in community obviously allowed many to see and make judgments.

So there is the widow putting in her two mites, all she had. Most were probably not thinking – ‘Well, it was the thought that counts.’ She was an embarrassment to them; that widow, that poor woman. The Old Testament is filled with legislation that attempted to provide for the widow. The legislation acknowledged the fact that they were vulnerable and victimized. People probably did not treat this widow as they should, and there she was. The fact she had next to nothing to give accused the observers.

Jesus was not thinking: ‘Well, it was the thought that counts’ either. The widow’s act of giving was neither imperfect nor insignificant nor was it something received and unwanted. Jesus knew that this widow knew the joy of love and the anguish of loss. Yet she continued to give her all. This act of giving represents what Jesus intended to do in giving of Himself totally. This is what he asks us, His disciples, to do. Jesus saw her giving as perfect, significant, and wanted. Jesus points to her so that we too – from love and loss will chose correctly and give our all.

This is how I

He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

The restoration of Bartimae’us sight appears to be a rather ordinary. Yet understood within the context of the Gospel of Mark, it serves as a profound revelation about seeing rightly and living in discipleship.

Mark 8:22 tells of the healing of another blind man. In this case, Jesus has to try twice to bring clear sight to the man at Bethsaida. At face value it seems odd that Jesus cannot restore the man’s sight the first time around, but when seen as a parallel to how Jesus deals with His disciples and us it becomes clearer.

Jesus doesn’t give up on making things clear to us. He tries over and over to help us see clearly by the light of faith. Later in Mark 8:29 Jesus asks His disciples their opinion – “Who do you say that I am?” The disciples finally see Jesus for who He is as Peter declares, “You are the Messiah.” As soon as Peter has said that, Jesus begins to teach them about the suffering He must endure. Peter rebukes Jesus and tells Him how he thinks things should go. Jesus plainly tells Peter to get behind Him because Peter doesn’t see clearly. Jesus teaches His disciples over and over that as Messiah he must suffer and die, yet the disciples repeatedly fail to see clearly. Like James and John they think that following Jesus will bring them glory and power.

Jesus repeatedly tries to help His disciples see. Thanks be that He does that for us too since we too can miss the fact that discipleship requires a radical change in our vision, in our way of seeing and understanding.

Now in Mark 10:46 we come across blind Bartimae’us. The blind man lights the way to discipleship and response as it should be. We see Bartimae’us doing all that is required of Jesus’ disciples – a way of living and acting that is hope-filled and authentic.

Bartimae’us, the son of Timae’us, which means ‘the honorable one and son of honor,’ shows how we are to respond to Jesus’ call. Bartimae’us hears that Jesus is near and calls out to Him. As Jesus’ disciples we need to recognize when Jesus is near – indeed how near He is – and we must call out to Him in prayer and petition. The crowd attempts to shout Bartimae’us down yet he cries all the louder. As Jesus disciples we need to speak the truth regardless of the voice of the world. Bartimae’us responds to Jesus’ healing not by going his own way, but by leaving behind his cloak, his all, to follow Jesus. This is the essence of discipleship: to see Jesus clearly and follow along His way.

Are our hearts

The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.

This is the day – the set of readings and gospel – we dread to hear. God is laying out His plan for our lives, how we are to act, what we must believe, and the fact that we just cannot make our own rules. These things are difficult for us to hear. As with Israel, we want things our own way.

God is great when He blesses us, but when He tells us the way we must go, the narrow road we must tread, then we balk. We fear the hard questions because the answers are not easy to hear and are even harder to carry out. We often ask – well why can’t..? Why can’t those two people marry? Why can’t we just live together? Why are you getting in the way of my good time?

These and other questions are certainly with us. To get to the answers we must start with a more basic question: Who am I?

As humans we are both honorable and shameful. We are God’s glorious creation, made in His image. We are also fallen from innocence and marred by the sin that pushes us further and further away from the image of God in us. Great evil occurs most readily where the answer to ‘Who am I?’ gives way to hard-hearted, egotistical, and self-centered answers. These offer the wrong answers to the question of who we are.

At an even more fundamental level, we must ask the most important question anyone could ever ask. This is, of course, the question of who God is. Who is this god – the God revealed to us by our Lord and Savior or another deity? Is God pure truth, without lie or deceit, or just a great bunch of suggestions?

In order to understand the image of God within us, we must first decide Who He is. To find the answer to all questions we must fix our eyes on life according to God who does not lie. Otherwise we end up with nothing more than a take-it-or-leave-it menu god, a set of options that offer no real path to life. We end up with ourselves, life according to us. Then we remain with hard hearts because there is nothing else. I am all I have.

Jesus understands our struggle in answering hard questions – finding Him and ourselves. To cure our hard-heartedness He told us to have the faith of a child: “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” That kind of trust, unquestioning and unrestrained, will melt our hearts and give us every answer.

Great gifts and

“Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

Today we celebrate a very special day in the life of our parish and the Holy Church. Two young people will receive from the Table of the Lord for the first time. Our readings and Gospel discuss the importance of receiving from the Lord.

God is so gracious to us and in His infinite graciousness He has set forth gifts and promises we can take hold of.

God saw that Moses needed help in leading the people. He asked Moses to assemble seventy worthy elders. God took some of the spirit that He had given to Moses and bestowed it on those elders. This was an incredible gift. God’s spirit of prophesy, leadership, and authority that He had given to Moses would now be shared with more people. These elders, including the ones who had not gone to the meeting tent, received God’s spirit. They immediately acted on it. They began prophesying in the camp. God shares His gifts with those He has chosen so they can do His work.

In our Gospel the apostles hear of people doing wondrous things in Jesus’ name. They got concerned and John came to Jesus saying: “we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.”

Jesus knew that His gifts were for all who believed in Him. As such, we too are empowered with His gifts to do marvelous things.

Paul shows us that the opposite is true of those who place their trust and belief in the world – in power, money, and things… Those things will rot away and they will devour those who have put their trust in them. If we are misled we will have no real power. We will miss out on God’s gifts and promises. Imagine the greatest treasure we could possibly obtain and we walk by it to get a plastic replica.

Eden and Erickaa receive from the Table of the Lord for the first time. In doing so they accept the greatest gift a person could ever hold – a treasure not made of gold – a treasure made just for us. Jesus!

We have Jesus. The greatest gift ever. In receiving Him we hold within ourselves the fullness of His graciousness and promises. We are joined all together in His greatest gift.

His gift is His promise. We have true life, real life, great power, and a gift that will never fade or rot away – all in Him. We have life forever and His power. Let us live always as faithful and thankful receivers of His gifts and promises.

Where is

Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training… With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience.

Today’s readings and gospel offer an interesting juxtaposition pointing to victory.

In Wisdom we hear the words of the wicked. How can we test God’s Holy One? What tortures and trials can we put Him through to test Him? We want proof – proof is most important. We can almost hear God saying – when giving His commandments in Deuteronomy 6:16“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”

Wisdom points to the truth of Jesus. The wicked would test Him and finally would put Him to death. We could stop there thinking that this applies to Jesus alone, but that would make us separate from Jesus. Remember that Jesus underwent every trial, temptation, suffering that we face. He confronted death just as we will have to face death. The words of Wisdom apply to us too. The wicked of the world will fight us and will test us over and over. Our victory will come from the Jesus kind of proof we offer.

In the Gospel Jesus is walking along with His disciples. He’s explaining the things to come – the way He will be tortured and killed. He is certainly ready, willing, and able to give witness by carrying out His Father’s will. What witness do the disciples give? They don’t even hear Him. They refused to understand and did not even attempt to figure it out. Instead, they fought amongst themselves about who was the greatest. Imagine a son or daughter sitting through an hour long parental talk then looking up to say: ‘What did you say, and by the way, am I your favorite?’ Our victory comes from listening to, hearing and modeling Jesus.

Paul gives us a pathway forward. He shows us the way to victory. Live the wisdom that is from above – the wisdom of God made known to us in Jesus. Live lives that are pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, and full of mercy and good fruits. Be constant and sincere. Cultivate peace.

To have victory we have to make ourselves one in Jesus, to become real parts of His body. We must come to real regeneration in Him so that we can become more and more like Him. Unlike the disciples on the journey through Galilee we have to make ourselves “last of all and the servant of all.” From this new life in Him comes the witness we offer in the face of the world and whatever trials, temptations, and sufferings it attempts to foist upon us. From life in Him comes victory!

Getting to

And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.

Tomorrow we celebrate Labor Day. Our Holy Church has a long history of support for the Labor movement. Our founders were in tune with the struggles faced by working men and women. They experienced the reality of exploitation by the powerful moneyed interests of our nation. Bishop Hodur spoke out for the respect that was due workers, for fair treatment, payment of proper wages, and a fair share of the profits they produced. He advocated for the same kind of democracy in industry that was part of our Church. All worked against selfish interest and for the collective good of the community.

It would be one thing to advocate for workers from self-interest as an ends, but we well know that advocacy for the rights of workers and for the community comes from and is centered in our love for Jesus’ way of life.

As we see in today’s gospel, Jesus’ healing takes physical form. He works to make the deaf hear and the mute speak. In John 9:5-7 we see Jesus again healing physically: “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam ” (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing.

St. Paul reminds us that we cannot forego justice toward the weak, the downtrodden, the worker. We are not to make distinction, but look to the collective good of all – because Jesus showed no partiality: show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please,” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?

Our faith in Jesus requires that we work faithfully for the collective good. We must be unafraid of working to renew the world – to help those deaf to faith to hear; to help those who fear proclamation to cry out; to open streams of the life giving waters to the entire world; and to show no partiality, treating all as equal before God.

The in and out
of life.

He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

A few weeks ago, Jesus upset His listeners when He offered them His body and blood. To them, He was violating one of the most basic precepts of Kosher law.

Today, the Pharisees and some scribes confront Jesus. This was at a more basic level; Jesus disciples were violating traditional rules about hand washing. They confronted Jesus about this.

These Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem: They were an official delegation coming to evaluate the ministry of Jesus. A prior delegation had already condemned Jesus so this one already made up their minds. They just had to see it to confirm their opinion. Their minds and hearts were not open to God.

As to the washings we do not mean getting rid of the yuck factor. The Pharisees rather meant elaborate ceremonial washings. The Pharisees had raised a small ‘t’ tradition to the level of God’s direct commands. In fact, by the time of Jesus, this oral law was being honored as at least equal to, if not more important than, God’s Law. Jesus was trying to refocus Israel. Open your hearts and your whole selves to my Father. See in Me the goodness and generosity of your Heavenly Father.

It is easy for us to enter into the same kinds of error; to find salvation in outward practice, and in doing so to lose our way. We need refocusing too.

We can easily lose our focus and place trivial traditions in the way of our relationship with God. These can even become roadblocks that discourage others from coming to God. We can think that we are close to the Lord by what we say and practice – having the image of being religious or spiritual, but actually be far from God. We should regularly ask ourselves some serious questions: I attend church, read the Bible, pray, pitch in, minister, sing, even talk to others about Jesus but is my heart close to God? Is my entire being about being in Jesus?

If our entire being is one in God then all we do is about being part of His life. We worship in church, not to be exceptional or even to follow God’s law, but because we need to be with Him and offer Him the worship He deserves. We read the Bible, pray, pitch in, minister, sing, and talk to others about Jesus because our hearts are His. We are truly and fully in love with God. Lord, refocus us so that all coming from us is Yours!

We are almost

He said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Two hands reaching for each other. A couple in love. Children in the back seat of the car, wondering ‘are we there yet.’ An action movie where the hero rescues others at the very last second. These are all examples of reaching for achievement.

As we have seen over these weeks, Jesus has been approaching this dramatic last moment. He is completing His teaching on the great gift He gives us, His very body and blood, His soul to live within us forever. Jesus is the mountain climber approaching the summit. He is about to cross the goal line. What happened?

It is often said that life is full of disappointments. It is hard to find fulfillment, acceptance, and victory, to reach our goals and end up a winner. We bet on the horse that doesn’t win. We put our eggs in the wrong basket. We weren’t at the dock when our ship came in.

All of the people hearing Jesus were at the dock (literally since they were in the seaside town of Capernaum). They were in the right place at the right time. The summit was in reach. Their team was about to win. Their hands were about to touch hand of God. And they walked away from Him.

They… were… almost… there… and they walked away both in body and soul. While a few stayed, even among those one had lost faith, Judas. This giver of God’s body and blood, of God’s soul, wasn’t what he wanted. He continued to live in his disappointments and that disappointment would later turn to anger and betrayal. Judas… was… almost… there… and lost his faith.

We are faced with the same challenge the crowd in Capernaum faced. Jesus offers us words that are Spirit and life. We continually have Him within our reach and can come to Him to receive His body and blood, His soul to live within us forever. We are almost there. Like Joshua before the people of Israel, we must declare whom we will serve – the gods of the times or the Lord.

We… are… almost… there… If we chose the Lord we have real life, true regeneration, purpose, fulfillment, acceptance, and victory. Let us grasp His hand and find in Him real life.

Let us seek
His wisdom.

Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven columns; she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table. She has sent out her maidens; she calls from the heights out over the city: “Let whoever is simple turn in here; To the one who lacks understanding, she says, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”

Jesus was really putting it all out there: “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The people listening to Him went from confusion to serious concern: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

How indeed! To keep properly Kosher, that is to observe Kashrut, the body of Jewish law dealing with what foods can and cannot be eaten and how those foods must be prepared and eaten, these people could not possibly consume human flesh nor drink blood. Not consuming blood is strictly prohibited in the Torah (see Leviticus 7:26-27 and 17:10-14). The Torah states that one must not eat blood because the life of the animal (literally, the soul) is contained in the blood.

Therein is the wisdom of what Jesus is saying to us, the key to His love for us. His earthly mission and His everlasting desire are to give Himself for and to us. He gives us His soul – His lifeblood.

Some of us may have donated blood at work, church, or in our community. What a wonderful gift to give. We can draw a comparison between our gifts of life giving blood to what Jesus has done for us in His flesh and blood. We can perceive the great wisdom of His gift.

While our gift can only help a few people and as a rule only those who have compatible blood types, Jesus gave His blood for each of us. Jesus’ blood reaches people of every blood type – of every race, rank, class, tribe, and tongue. Our giving of blood is a donation while Jesus’ gift was a complete sacrificial self-giving. When we give blood we do so in sterile conditions under medical supervision. Jesus’ gift was drawn-out, tortuous, and painful. Our donated blood is very expensive for those who may receive it. Jesus’ blood is free to all who claim Him by faith. If our blood is not used, it expires in a little over a month. Jesus’ blood is as effective today as it was when it was given at the cross. One pint of our blood can save up to three lives. One drop of the Jesus’ blood has saved the world (John 3:16).

By giving us the gift of His flesh and blood He fully gives Himself to us. The wisdom therein is that through His gift we have His soul in us and inherit eternal life. Ever seek His wisdom.