Getting to
work.

“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

One more week has gone by, and how many years have passed in Jesus’ life? Twenty-eight more!

Jesus, having been baptized by John, is praying alongside the Jordan, and the Father and the Holy Spirit reveal him. In other gospel accounts, we find John pointing to Jesus and telling His disciples: “Look, the Lamb of God!” This is similarly a form of revealing, of pointing out and pointing to Jesus. The next sentence after that pointing out tells us what happened: When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

This year, we are asked to dedicate ourselves to discipleship, to set to work in better following Jesus: To trust, to be willing, and to get to work following Jesus.

If you read our Bishop’s Pastoral Letter, you will see, simply explained, the ways we can do that. If you have looked at our parish newsletter, you read about the parallels between discipleship and apprenticeship. Are we ready to sign our Jesus Union Card and get to learning and working?

Whoa Pastor, what do you mean? I have to do what?

That shock might come from some sort of self-assessment – I am not strong enough, willing enough, I don’t have the skill for, or I am simply unwilling to set to that kind of work. Others could then turn around and comment, judging from afar – oh, look at them – they do so little. What we do not do is scrape away the top layer; we don’t look deeper. Underneath that attitude we may very well find poor self-opinion, a belief in one’s unworthiness or fear of disappointing God; guilt, past error, or fear weighing people down. If that is the case in your life, and it certainly has been in mine, then look at what Peter said in the house of Cornelius – “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” Serious words – God chose us, allowed us to be baptized into His family, His Union, His discipleship. God does not choose stupidly. Trust that.

When John’s disciples (learners) ran up to Jesus to be His learners, Jesus didn’t ask for an application or a resume. There was no test – only willingness. Be willing.

Jesus has been revealed. With trust and willingness, we must take the first step – and the next – learning from Him, modeling His life, getting to work. Not stopping. Following Him.

Lord, save your
servants.

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!

Ahaz was the King of Judah, a king in the line of David. He was a man without faith and he refused to follow the guidance of Isaiah. The prior king, Hezekiah, was a man of trusting faith and he followed Isaiah’s guidance.

Now Ahaz was in trouble. King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel had joined together to attack Ahaz’s capital, Jerusalem. Isaiah steps forward to assure Ahaz that they will not be successful, yet Ahaz will not believe. Rather than placing his confidence in God’s word, he takes the treasures he has stolen from the temple and sends them to the king of Assyria.

Ahaz goes even further. In sending this “gift” to the king of Assyria he says: “I am your servant and your son. Come up, and rescue me.” He effectively rejects God’s help and chooses a pagan king instead.

Through Isaiah, God speaks to the urgent need of trusting in His promises by issuing a threat: “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” Isaiah’s words speak to us too. We need to trust God, and there is inherent danger in failing to do so. Whether Ahaz stands or falls, whether we stand or fall, depends entirely on trust in God’s word.

In the face of Ahaz’s unbelief, his rejection, and his failure to trust, God tries one more time. He tells Ahaz – ask for anything, anything at all. God makes His divine power available to Ahaz in a limitless manner. Ahaz, however, refuses this opportunity. His unbelief is complete. His refusal to trust finally wears down God’s patience. So, God gives His sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.

At the start of Holy Mass we placed a special focus on examining our conscience and asking God for His forgiveness. In doing so we take seriously the prophecy of Isaiah. This is a text that points to God’s saving power and the surety of condemnation for unbelief. Where do we place ourselves, standing at the manger? Will we trust God and ask for the sky, or shrink away?

Today’s gospel reminds us – the Messiah’s coming is immanent! It is almost here!

Jesus is messianic in the fullest sense of the word – He saves, teaches, blesses, forgives, and judges. In this Advent season, we must remember that the King whose return we long for, Who we are preparing for, will return in full apocalyptic glory, as both Judge and Savior. In these last few days of Advent we are invited to hope, pray, and long for this revelation. We are invited most of all to prepare by increasing our trust in the Lord’s power to save. Trust and say: Lord, save me, Your servant!

Where is
God?

“For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”

This week we experienced great joys at the annual Kurs encampment for the Church’s youth and children. We grew in faith and knowledge of the Lord. We focused our reverence on God alone.

This week we experienced great sadness at the prejudice that still exists in our country – the great American sin or as author and Christian activist Jim Wallis titles his book – America’s Original Sin. This week we also experienced great shock as one man decided to fight violence with violence, who took up the cause of hatred and wrought death instead of peace, reconciliation and life.

It is easy to see God at work when young hearts are opened, when barriers are broken down, when a person comes to the realization that God is with them. But, when we look at divided cultures and gridlocked power structures that fail to end systemic sin or worse yet, encourage sin and death, we feel that God is far from us.

That is the problem with expecting that we can “feel” God’s intervention. Sure, it is easy in good or joyous times to feel God. It might even be possible in times of tragedy; we run to the Lord to feel His comfort. But what about times such as these where we are hammered day-by-day with evil? What about times when our leaders and those with responsibility fail to stop and root out evil, or worse yet, condone it?

If we were to rely on feelings we would be tossed about like little boats on the sea. Up and down, He’s there; He’s not there. I don’t know. Moses got that. He knew that God had been with Israel through their exodus, before the enemy, in time of famine, thirst, sickness, and death. He had been there when Israel turned its back and ran away, even when they completely failed to trust in the Lord. Moses saw with eyes that had been taught by faith. It took him awhile, but he finally got it.

Like Moses we must build and renew our faith trust. Faith trust tells us that God is with us, not up in the sky, nor across the sea. No, very near to us. Faith trust tells us that He will answer us. With faith trust we will not loose heart in confronting evil. With faith trust we are secure even in the face of certain death. With faith trust we will see God act mightily in our life. Don’t just hope that we might feel His presence. Know He is here.

Are our hearts
hard?

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.

Reflection for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

16809

Your directions are
…hard to follow.

“Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.”

We know this story. Having spent the month of June reflecting on and praying for the gift of vocations to the Diaconate and Holy Priesthood we hear Jesus’ words echoing, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.

There are several ways we might reflect on today’s gospel.

There is the obvious – we need to listen for God’s call and go out to do His work. God’s field awaits workers. We have to be the ones who listen to Him and set out to do His work, to bring His good news to those who are unaware of His marvelous promises. We have to be the ones willing to sacrifice what everyone else thinks is “normal” to follow His call to serve our brothers and sisters.

The other part, the less obvious, is the aspect of trust we must exhibit in following Jesus.

The seventy-two who were called to go out and spread the good news might well have been shocked by Jesus’ directions: “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals…” Think how those words might sound to us today: “Carry no cell phone, suitcase, wallet, purse, shoes or sneakers.” Just go out, march down the road to the next suburb, knock on a door, and see if you are welcome. Whatever house you go to, say “Peace to this household.

If we reflect on the picture at the top of today’s bulletin, this is what Jesus asks us to do, to first love. Wish peace upon everyone, in every encounter, at every doorstep. Place our trust that Jesus will fulfill our wish for peace and give that peace to those who accept Him.

Next, live. We cannot just exist. With Jesus in our lives we have purpose and reason – a beautiful existence, a wonderful life, and most importantly a life that will never end.

Finally, lead. Knock on those doors and live life based on trust in Jesus. The cell phone, suitcase, wallet, purse, shoes or sneakers are just things. We have to show what we truly value by our example. We have to show others that our trust is in the One who makes money bags, sacks, and sandals of far lesser importance. Then we have to lead by loving, living, and speaking that trust, helping them to see beyond perceived importance to true importance, true vitality, change we can believe in: true life with Jesus.

Reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Go your way.
Your way is my way Lord.

“Jesus told him, ‘Go your way; your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

Bartimeus literally means Bar-Timeus – the son of Timeus. People saw the son of Timeus as a man without hope. He sat along the road, a blind beggar.

Bartimeus had heard of Jesus and his miracles, and learned that He was passing by. He was filled with hope – he knew that through Jesus, the Messiah, he might recover his eyesight.

Bartimeus came to Jesus for help. As we face the week, and the months ahead, with storms, anxieties, the pressures of holidays (imposed by the world’s view of what the holidays are – not the Church’s view), and other stresses, we must know that we may come to Jesus with the same hope that Bartimeus had – hope for help.

Like Bartimeus, we have heard of Jesus, and we know His miracles. We know that He isn’t just passing by, but is with us at every moment. Like Bartimeus we have every right to call out to Him in hope. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!

God truly delivers help and healing. He delivered Israel from bondage and brought them back. They left in tears and sinfulness and returned on level roads rejoicing. Likewise He gathers us in, protects us, and delivers us when we call out to Him.

As Jesus called to Bartimeus, He calls to us. Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The gracious call of Jesus gives us hope to come to him in our need. If we come to him in hope we shall have what we came for. He will open our eyes to the miracles and wonders guaranteed to His children.

Bartimeus cast aside his garments. We too must cast away the garment of self-sufficiency, and free of the weight of doubt we may go forward with clear eyes. Jesus clears our vision, lifting all the weights that bear down on us.

Now it is up to us. Jesus told Bartimeus – receive your sight, be it unto you as you desire. “Go your way,” that is, to your own house, about your own business.

Bartimeus was given the choice that is in front of all of us. Jesus gives us what we ask for and gives us the opportunity to see clearly. Bartimeus saw clearly and chose to follow Jesus – to Jerusalem and beyond.

Bartimeus saw not just physically, but with the eyes of faith. As we face our anxieties, let us ask Jesus for the help we hope for, the hope He has guaranteed. Then let us respond with eyes of faith to follow Him.