Monday, July 21, 2014

Parables - Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle A - Matthew 13:24-43

It’s fascinating how Jesus taught.  How he used these simple parables to teach us. The parable is a story where Jesus draws comparisons between one thing and another. In the parable of the mustard seed, the primary point of comparison is the contrast between the smallness of the seed – the smallness of the start – and the greatness of the result.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.  

Jesus is telling us how God chose to build his kingdom. He chose to do it in a small way. A baby born in a stable, who grew up and at the appointed time recruited 12 very ordinary men, in a remote providence of the Roman Empire. Jesus doesn't tell us why God chose this way; as the old saying goes: “God works in mysterious ways!”  And God’s way of building the kingdom is in the small things of life.

So his message for us today is don’t wait for some big thing, some great call or mission. God works in the small things. The qualities Jesus taught us to seek were not the ones that made us feel important; just the opposite – humility, love, patience and mercy – were the virtues he valued. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” – “Blessed are the meek” – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Which means that none of us can say: "Well, I am a nobody, too small to matter.” because God says it’s all about small things.  

At the end of Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks again about the final judgment. And he says what will matter to God is not material success, great accomplishments, or the great missions we take on. The only things that will matter to God will be our little acts of kindness. This passage tells us “The King will say:  ‘I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least important of these followers of mine you did it for me!’” (Matthew 25:31-46) The kingdom of heaven is built on each kind word, each small act of compassion. Those are the seeds of the kingdom.

We don’t think much about these daily little actions. But each is a seed that has the potential to change a life, and the lives of all who know them. Jesus is saying that’s how the Kingdom grows – slowly; one branch at a time, one leaf at a time, one person, one life changed by some small kindness at a time. Our call as Christians is to let go of the need for something big.

When we talk about faith, what we are saying is we accept God’s kingship in our life. We let Him rule. And this faith is like a seed that we need to nurture, to grow.  

What are the weeds that choke out our faith?  We know what they are! We know those things that choke our spirits.  For some of us it’s excessive partying. For others it’s making money our God.  For some of us it’s pessimism, hopelessness and fear. Many of us are unwilling to forgive someone, and that hatred is choking our spirit. A few of us have become paralyzed by grief. Jesus is asking us today to root out these weeds; to root out attitudes and ideas that have taken hold which have no place in the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ parables are designed to tease our mind to startle our imagination to make us think.

The mustard seed story challenges us to think small; to see that even though we are one small person, if we grow our little faith, it can be a blessing and to those around us.

The story about the leaven – the yeast – challenges us to ask: “Do I have patience with God’s work, His slow and seemingly hidden building of the Kingdom, or will I be impatient and always seek something around the next corner.

The story of the Wheat and Weeds challenges us to ask: “Can I leave final judgment to God?  Can I let go of judging others? Can I live a good productive life, a life that bares good fruit, even in a world full of weeds – full of sin.”

Jesus used these simple, mundane things – seeds – yeast – weeds – to present to us life-altering challenges. His use of these small, common things is a lesson for us by itself. The message is that the most important lessons in our life can come from the small moments, the mundane moments, from the  small challenges we face each day.  In each of the small moments of our lives we fashion parables too; little stories and events that build the kingdom of God.

  • When the woman next door, who has been unpleasant – even mean for years – falls ill and her neighbor brings over a meal made with love and stays for a visit — a parable is taking place.

  • When a mother loves her teenage daughter, even though she just screamed “I hate you!” and slammed the bedroom door – a parable is being lived.

  • When a husband and wife stop in the middle of a stupid fight and forgive each other – a parable is happening.

  • When an infertile couple conceives then goes ahead with the planned adoption anyway, because that child needs a home — a parable appears before our eyes.

So what will it be in your life?  That’s really the question Jesus is asking today. 
What parable of the kingdom will be made visible in your life?

When you give it over to God;  when you live in the power of the Holy Spirit in all the little mundane things and moments, then the Kingdom comes alive in your life.  

And Jesus says … then … you will be a light to the world …                          

Then … you will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.

Friday, July 11, 2014

God you don't scare me anymore.

I was raised in a religion of fear.  I pray that our preachers never again brandish threats of hell fire is they did in my youth.  I’m not afraid of God any longer.  What I learned is that following God in fear and trembling became a burden too great.  So I left, as so many of my generation did.  It’s not my fault – our fault – we were told so many wrong things; things that dismayed and disheartened us.  

We were constantly told it was wrong to do this or that because it was a sin and punishment was the result.  They perverted the Lord's message.  To speak of nothing but the ills and never of the healing was simply wrong.  

I learned the truth after the great Church council of my youth. Like so many councils before it, it corrected errant teaching. I learned that Jesus, came to tell us – and prove to us – that God’s love is infinite and free. Rather than the rule dominated faith of childhood, I learned to live a life worthy of Jesus Christ’s loving sacrifice for my life.  I know now he came in love to save me, and I try to respond to that love with love. 

You came to love us Lord … you came to forgive us Lord … 
you came to save us Lord … I know that now.   

How can one believe that heaven is earned?  As if love can be earned, as if love were for sale.  Jesus taught us the opposite, he taught us love is freely given!

Our call as Christians is to receive God's love … and then give it away.

The church of my childhood was a place where a decent life consisted of the regular practice of religion; we thought that keeping the rules was all that was required.  But that wasn't true … it wasn't enough … and deep in our hearts we knew it.  I now know that our call is to a loving relationship with the Lord, which then begets loving relationships with our neighbor.  

Jesus came to reveal that God is LOVE … and only love.  He even told us to call God Abba - our dear Father. Jesus came to tell us we were God's well-loved children.  He came to tell us there is only one commandment – to love like God.  

Despite Peter’s sin - his denials of Jesus - Jesus only asked him one question – 
“Do you love me, Peter?”   He asks us the exact same question today.  
Substitute your name for Peter and hear Jesus' voice asking you - 
"Do you love me, _________?" 

My only fear now Lord is the fear of 
failing to love enough – to love like you – unconditionally.  

Friday, July 4, 2014

Jesus was a rebel. What's the message for us?

Jesus broke the rules so often that the government and even the church wanted Him dead.  Where is that energy seen in the Church today?  The energy of compassion overriding the rule. 

Over and over in scripture we hear that Jesus chose to associate with people whom the rest of his contemporaries found reprehensible. According to the rule of the day, associating with known sinners or the sick or the unclean rendered a person ritually unclean and therefore unfit to participate in communal rituals, like liturgy, common meals or conversations. Fully aware of this rule, Jesus purposely moved among those with whom others would not associate. He went to their homes. He ate with them. He talked with them. He touched them and welcomed them to himself. Compassion always overruled the law.  Jesus touched lepers when the law forbade it.  He healed people on the Sabbath.  Is that spirit alive in the Church today?

His treatment of women was outrageous in his culture. He consistently treated women and men as equals. He violated numerous Old Testament regulations, which specified gender inequality.  Here are just a few examples:
  • He ignored ritual impurity laws: Jesus cured a woman who suffered from menstrual bleeding for 12 years. In Judean society of the day, it was a major transgression for a man to talk to a woman other than his wife or children.
  • He even talked to foreign women: John describes Jesus' conversation with a woman of Samaria. She was doubly ritually unclean since she was both a foreigner and a woman. Again he speaks to a woman in public when men were not allowed to talk to women, except within their own families.
  • He taught women students: Jewish tradition at the time was to not allow women to be taught.
  • He accepted women in his inner circle. You have to wonder if Jesus were here today would he call Mary Magdalene an apostle.
  • Mostly women were present at Jesus' execution, the men had fled from the scene.
  • He appeared first to one or more women after his resurrection 
So where is that spirit today of confronting rules and traditions that are unkind and unjust? 

In my quite prayer times I wonder: How do we show compassion to the young impoverished mother who has more children that she can feed?  How would Jesus treat the divorced Catholic.  The homosexual?  What kind of assistance would he give to those dealing with today's demons - alcohol, drug, and sex addiction?  It’s difficult to imagine that Jesus would not treat women as equal to men in every way in the twenty first century.  How would Jesus want us to relate to the Islamist?

I don’t have the answers. And my call in life is simply to follow faithfully, and to practice the most radical love I can muster. I know without a doubt that God’s love extends to all people; and His "unconditional" love is what my Church should epitomize