Coming from…
Going to…

“But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Today, we celebrate Heritage Sunday in our Holy Church. It is not a Liturgical Solemnity or Feast, but rather something added on to our typical Liturgical celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. It helps us to remember what the Lord’s Passion, death, and resurrection hand down to us. It also helps us remember what has been handed down to us by our ancestors.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews has a lot of focus on what has been handed down. After all, the Jewish people were all about what had been handed down by their ancestors – the Law with all its resulting customs and traditions. So, the writer riffs on the meaningfulness of what is handed down. Namely, in today’s passage, that Jesus went through all we face. That through faith and obedience to the Father’s will, Jesus became the premier servant of all – and gave up His life to serve all. The Father’s reward was resurrection and the opening of the gates of heaven to all who follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

Jesus came to serve and to set the example for us. The Apostles, the generations of saints and other holy men and women that followed in Jesus’ footsteps, lived out the writer’s advice to the Hebrews – it shall not be so among you. They made things different. They brought the change Jesus instituted forward.

This change applied down to the day of our grandparents and parents. They passed the gift of Jesus to us. It is now our gift to pass along.

This is what heritage is. It is all those wonderful things we own – the food, songs, pictures, stories, histories, legends, and heroism of our ancestors. More so, it is their greatest gift – the way they acted as Jesus acted, as servants. They served the people of our community and each of us by holding fast to Jesus’ way, His teachings.

We know where we come from, our heritage. It is a direct line back to Jesus – a testimony of our ancestors who faithfully served and passed that gift to us. Understanding that, we know where we come from and set our hearts on what we pass along and where we are going.

We have a gift
to deliver.

He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Beside ourselves, who are the sinners we know? Who are the least of sinners, who are the worst?

Our minds might have wandered to that person who had annoyed us, the one who treated us badly, the one who cut us off in traffic. Perhaps our minds dwell on ourselves, how we fall short.

It is probably best to start with ourselves. There is an old story about a person who went to confession after many, many, years. They sat down with the priest and said ‘I haven’t been to confession in years.’ The priest asks: ‘So my child, what sins do you have to confess?’ The person said: ‘Well, I really don’t have any.’ The priest looks up, takes off his glasses, and said: Well now you do, for St. John tells us: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us.” In other words child, you just lied a big lie.

Frankly, as St. Paul instructed the Church at Rome: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Knowing this, we know we have a real problem, and it is not the problem our minds go to.

Who here is forgetful? I know that I am getting more and more forgetful. Without a calendar filled with appointments, I just might not be where I need to be. Thankfully I have a loving wife and a great secretary who keep me on track. I forget stuff at home and leave things behind. Then I have to figure out where I left it. Is it in the car, on my desk, on the kitchen table? Did you ever go to a party and forget the gift you were supposed to bring?

Today, Jesus reminds us that sin and forgetfulness go hand in hand. Being forgetful isn’t sin, but forgetting what we are about is.

The problem is that we are quick to count sin and offense, either our own or that of others. Every person, even those worst at math, deserves a degree in accounting. We can add up sins with real expertise. Yes, all have fallen short. So we can leave that message to scripture. The part of scripture, the gift we forget is what Jesus says today (and every day). We need to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We are to be witnesses of these things.” We have a gift to give and it isn’t our ability to count! Our gift is word of Jesus’s redemption. Through Him all who confess are free.

What is new and
the best?

Thus says the LORD: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!

Today’s gospel presents one of the most picturesque, most moving, and most dramatic events in Jesus’ ministry.

As usual, Jesus is in someone’s house. Everyone is there to see Him, to hear Him teach and proclaim the Kingdom. It is standing room only and people cannot even get inside the door. Four men decide to bring their friend, so he might be healed. The drama begins. They cannot get near Jesus. Like most guys, the devise a crazy plan. Let’s go up on the roof and break in from above.

Now imagine, they had to get ladders or ropes. They had to get up on the roof. They had to get their paralyzed friend up there too; he couldn’t move himself. That process had to take some time. They’re likely wondering if Jesus might leave in the meantime. The clock (or sundial) is ticking away.

They finally get up there. They start breaking open the roof. The people, down below had to have been – at least wondering. Pieces of the roof were falling down on the crowd.

The hole is open, the men begin to lower their friend. They are eager, working hard, trusting in a miracle. Our friend will walk, our friend will walk – almost like a Super Bowl cheer. And, Jesus says: “Child, your sins are forgiven.”

There is a mix of drama and disappointment. A moral drama is taking place between the Scribes and Jesus. All the while this man is laying there, suspended by ropes. His friends are teetering on the roof. They are teetering in their disappointment. They are on the edge of losing faith. They are looking at each other – What did we just do? This wasn’t worth it at all! How are we going to get out of here?

The focus is suddenly on Jesus’ question to the Scribes. It is phrased as: Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk?’ This is a question about the power of God and the greatness of the gifts He offers. Which is the greatest power and gift – to physically heal or to free someone from sins?

Jesus sets the record straight. Reflecting on Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus makes the paralyzed man’s past go away. I will remember not the events of the past. Jesus has freed the man from his past, his sins. He shows Himself as Master of the past, present, and future; the Master who can make everything new. Then to dramatically illustrate what He had done, He tells the man to get up and walk. The man’s life is totally new. He walks without bondage. The bonds and chains that drag us down vanish in Jesus’ words. This is for us. Jesus delivers extraordinary freedom for us, making all new and best. We will walk! We will walk!

Riches out of our
poverty.

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.

rs-wonder-bread-of-life

The slow, long
slide.

I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.

We have reached the mid-point of summer vacation – at least for our youth. As they and their brave parent rush down rollercoasters and waterslides, we have to wonder if they wish it might slow down – slow down so it might last longer.

Two opposing forces become more and more evident in our gospel messages. This gets to the message St. Paul is trying to convey in his letter telling the people to put away the futility of your minds; remember how you learned Christ. Put away the old self, your former way of life, and put on the new self, created in God’s way.

The people came searching for Jesus because they were fed and had seen a great miracle. They had wanted to proclaim Him King of Israel right there in the wilderness. Now they wanted more bread and circuses – show us another miracle. They were thinking in purely human terms and from worldly desires. They were caught up in the futility of their minds.

Jesus does not change His message – but now makes it much more evident. The Kingdom of God is not a kingdom focused on fulfilling whatever the world may wish – but rather a kingdom where God and His faithful live in joyful union – focused on fulfilling the entirety of His potential that is already in us. We are renewed in Him, made new, to live in righteousness and holiness of truth.

Over the next few weeks we see the slow, long slide toward the cross. The people caught up in the futile desires of their minds – power, success, and greed become more and more aware that Jesus has come to call them to a completely new and greatly different life. It is a life that eschews the former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires. It is a life that offers the ultimate in rewards – eternal life with God in perpetual bliss and joy.

The people trapped in the futile desires of their minds wished that their “summer” would last forever. Jesus would feed, entertain, heal – give them all that the moment desired. Jesus offers the better alternative, the more perfect gift when He says: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Lord, I choose this bread! It lasts forever and will not slide away!

Reflection for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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The road
…taken or untaken.

On that day the mourning in Jerusalem shall be as great as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo.

Zechariah prophesies about Jesus’ suffering and death, not as a prophecy for the purpose of sadness and regret, but for the purpose of motivating people to understand what that suffering and death would purchase.

In his time the people could choose to confront the mourning to come by wallowing in that mourning without seeing a way out, or they could choose to see the hope to come, the salvation that was around the corner – only 500 years away.

Thus says the LORD: I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace.

Jesus gave His all, His life to pour out God’s graces on us, in fact on everyone. It is, as the catechism describes:

Grace is God’s help. Grace is a gift God gives us through all that Jesus Christ did for our salvation.

God doesn’t just want to offer us grace; He freely does offer us His grace – and we are free to choose it.

Zechariah is talking about two options. Since we live after Jesus’ coming and His opening of grace, we can accept and take advantage on all Jesus did, of what the Father offers us. We can choose to accept and bathe away our weakness, mourning and sin in the fountain of those graces poured out. Graces open to us:

On that day there shall be open to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.

We can choose to be cleansed of sin and live His way, or we can simply choose not to accept, relish, and be changed by His gift of grace. We can choose to live as we are in mourning and sadness.

Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken comes to mind. But, it really isn’t a choice between two equally decent possibilities. Living a life that accepts God’s grace, the life Jesus laid out for us, is the better choice. It is the choice that frees us from sin that makes us clean, that is full and that has endless – eternal – possibility.

The disciples were confronted with a question. “Who do the crowds say that I am?” and “…who do you say that I am?” They had an opportunity to stick with the road the crowds had taken or they could accept the other road, the untaken road of grace that would give them new insight. They chose the untaken road and recognized God. Then they went and shared that grace. It is up to us, the road chosen, and the road we lead others to choose. Choose to see and to share the hope we have in Jesus.