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THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C


Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Luke 4:21-30

We tend to translate the word prophet into seer or fortuneteller. While it is true that sometimes within the prophetic utterance are contained implications should the people not respond to the prophecy, the primary role of the prophet is to be the voice of God, proclaiming those things God wants the people to hear.  Always the call of the prophet is to conversion, a challenge to the people to change their ways and change their hearts so that they can be more obviously the Chosen People of God.  The responsibility for the prophet is huge as is the challenge for the prophet not to make himself the focus of the message.  The prophet must become less and less that God might become all in all.

How would you feel if you sensed the call to be a prophet?  Given the times, wouldn’t you cringe and then try to pass the call on to those around you that you deem much worthier of the vocation?  And if you could sense the onus the prophetic role would bring you, well, all the more reason to run, wouldn’t you say?  I don’t know if Martin Luther King, Jr., would qualify as a reluctant prophet.  There is evidence that he struggled before taking up the mantle.  Who could have blamed him, given the violence of his times, had he confined himself to the pulpit and never gone into the streets?  That certainly would have been safer.  But then there would not have been that transcendent moment on the night before he died when, like Moses just before his death, King gazed from the mountaintop into the Promised Land sensing that his brothers and sisters he had led would enter it without him just as the Jews had without Moses.

Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet.  When he heard the call he protested his unworthiness because of his youth.  Ah, Lord God, I know not how to speak.  I am too young. But the Lord protests in return.  The call to Jeremiah began before he was born.  This was his vocation from his inception.  Today, I suppose we would say that being a prophet was in Jeremiah’s genes.  It’s clear too, that much of Jeremiah’s message will be difficult.  People from the most powerful to the lowliest will reject him.  But he will not be defeated because God will be with him and deliver him.  If you know the story you know the dreadful perils Jeremiah experienced and the desolation.  He felt abandoned even as he had to cling to the belief that he was doing God’s will and God was with him.

The gospel for this Sunday begins with the repetition of the final sentence of last Sunday’s.  Remember the moment?  Jesus has just stunned the people with the power of his reading from the prophet Isaiah and his declaration that today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing. It is one thing to be stunned.  It is another, to respond and change.  Was it the sensing of the magnitude of the moment and the implications incipient in it that made the people want to deflect the prophecy from them?  Isn’t this Joseph’s son is another way of saying, who does he think he is? Remember, we’re in Nazareth where Jesus grew up.  These people remember him as a child and know his parents.  Now he proclaims himself to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  Come on!

So it is that Jesus points out to them that they will not be the first of the chosen people to reject the prophet sent to them.  That is the rejection that Elijah experienced.  The blessing of his prophecy came upon the gentile widow of Zarephath instead of the many widows in Israel.  That is the rejection that Elisha experienced before his blessing came up Naaman, the gentile Syrian leper instead of upon the many lepers in Israel.  The people of Nazareth got the implications of Jesus’ message.  He was telling them that they would not respond to the Good News of fulfillment that he proclaimed but Gentiles would and so experience God’s favor and blessing.  And in a moment great admiration morphs into outrage and his neighbors want to through him off a cliff.

What does all this have to do with you and me?  Remember, this is the living Word of God under which we sit.  How should be respond?  What should be the impact on our lives?

How does the Word challenge you this week?  Don’t be too quick to respond.  Sit with it for a few moments, then, pay attention to what makes you uncomfortable.  That may well be the beginning of the grace of the Spirit prodding.  Are you called to take a prophetic stance regarding some local or national situation?  Do you identify with Jeremiah and think of yourself as either too young or too inept?  Are you the wrong gender or race?  See the excuses we can take to ourselves that spare us from having to act.  Don’t forget that you were chosen by God, gifted with faith, and called to the Font where you were baptized and given a new birth in Christ.  The Font is a womb, you know.  The Lord drew you from the Font to live Christ’s life as God’s beloved.  Youth is not an excuse.  Neither is gender nor race.  God sent Jesus to bring glad tidings to the lowly. Is the Lord inviting you to go and do the same?

That is why the other side of the coin is the riskier.  Before you can make a decision about any of the above, you have to dare to be open to the Word.  It is not enough to be like the people of Nazareth and be stunned by the message.  The tendency then is to think of all the others who would benefit from hearing it.  As much as it confronts or opens you to issues you would rather not face, the Word is sharper than any two-edged sword and meant to penetrate to the very core of your being.  That might make you tremble.  And that’s all right.  If the Lord is calling you to conversion, to be a witness, to do anything in his name, he will also empower you with the grace to carry out the calling.  That is the nature of vocation.  You will notice a certain lack of specificity here.  That is because there is a wide variety of vocations and no one vocation fits all – except however, the vocation to put on Christ.

Paul has been telling us for the past several weeks that there are different spiritual gifts but the same giver.  The same is true of vocation.  There are many vocations in the church.  Recognize them all in the various members of the community and you will see the Body of Christ working in the world today meeting the many and sundry needs of God’s people.

At the same time there is one Spirit-inspired and grace-strengthened vocation for all and that is the call to love.  All of the other vocations flow from love.  Without love, none of them is valid.  Love is patient.  Love is kind.  It is not jealous.  It is not pompous. It is neither inflated nor rude, nor self-aggrandizing, nor quick tempered.  And the list goes on.  Love doesn’t brood over injury.  It doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing.  It rejoices with the truth.

This love demands loving enemies, forgiving those who betray and can harm you.  This love must embrace all.  If you put all of the facets of love together that Paul puts before us, an image of Christ emerges.  Essentially Paul’s vision of love is self-emptying just the way Christ’s love is.  Christ emptied himself of all the majesty and otherness that we associate with God that he might be like us in all things but sin.  God is love.  So is Christ.  And so are we called to be.

Why else is the Eucharist at the center of our faith life?  We come together as the assembly at various stages of faith, variously wounded or disenchanted even scandalized by experiences of church.  We listen to the Word and recognize ourselves, our needs for conversion and strengthening grace and we say, let it be in me and in us. We gather about the table of the Eucharist to renew Christ’s dying and rising in bread and wine and we say, let it be in me and in us. And somehow, if we enter into mystery we experience that transformation and call and can be sent individually and collectively to be the continuing presence of Christ, ministering in Christ’s love.

All this requires faith, believing in the message and the call, believing in the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit.  This faith gives rise to hope that one day the promise will be realized when Christ comes again.  And when he does come again, faith and hope will be no more.  Only love endures forever.  Do you believe that?

Sincerely,

Didymus

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THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10

1 Corinthians 12:12-30

Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

Are you able to identify with the people in the first reading?  Have you ever been moved either to tears or to great exultation as the proclamation of the Scriptures washes over you?  Such experiences ought to be the norm rather than the exception.  We believe it is the living word, after all.  The Lord is present in the Word, just as Christ is present in the Eucharist and in the Assembly.  Shouldn’t that encounter thrill and convert us?  It did those men, women, and children old enough to understand assembled before Ezra, the priest.  And it will move similarly those gathered around Jesus in Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry as he opens the scroll and reads from the Prophet Isaiah in today’s gospel.

Part of the intensity of experience for those assembled in the first reading is due to their situation.  These are the people newly restored to Jerusalem following their living in exile and slavery during the Babylonian captivity.  While in Babylon many had wandered from the Lord and gone after the gods of the Babylonians.  Now they have returned to the holy city destroyed and now in the process of being rebuilt.  Ezra, standing on a special platform and holding the scroll high so that all the people could see it, proclaimed from the law from daybreak until midday.  I won’t even ask you how you think a reading of that length would go over today.  But then we’re probably not starved for the word as those people were.  Or we may not recognize that we are.

We think of laws, even the Decalogue as repressive, curtailing our freedom.  Believe it or not, that was not the Jews’ primary reaction to the law.  Hearing the law proclaimed did give them an opportunity to examine their consciences and recognize how unfaithful to God they had been.  Hence, they bowed down and wept as they felt sorrow for their sins and a resurgence of faith in the one who led their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  And they raised their hands high and shouted, Amen! Amen! Why?  Because, the reading of the law gave them an intense experience of the Lord’s presence in their midst.  They were God’s people.  Even though they had been unfaithful, God had remained faithful to them and once again led them out of slavery and restored them to Jerusalem.

Imagine the power of Ezra’s reading and the fervor with which he proclaimed the reading to that assembly.  The Spirit of God animated him and spoke through him and so touched the people in their vulnerability and strengthened them.  God acted.  The people reacted and woke to belief.  To be similarly moved, perhaps we have to come before the Word similarly vulnerable, conscious that we are sinners, and so be awakened to and strengthened in our experience of God in our midst.

Pardon an aside here.  It is obvious that God gifted Ezra with the power to read the word.  Today we would say that God gifted Ezra as a Reader or Lector.  Notice, Ezra isn’t preaching, breaking open the word.  He is proclaiming the law as it is written in the Torah.  Sometimes I find listening to the proclamation of the Word at mass a tortuous experience.  Some of those who stand up in the midst of the assembly and read from that platform designated for that purpose clearly do not have Ezra’s gift.  There is no enthusiasm in the reading.  Often words are mispronounced and the phrasing is pedestrian to poor.  Sometimes it is clear that the reader does not understand the reading or is reading without having prepared it prior to the proclaiming of it.  Paul, in the second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, is urging us to recognize that everybody does not receive the same gifts.  There are different gifts but the same giver.  Having a gift does not raise that person above the rest but rather is a call to share that gift in the midst of those other and differently gifted people.

Sensing a call to a certain ministry is not a guarantee that that one has been so gifted.  There ought to be a discernment process done through prayer and reflection by which it becomes clear to which ministry a person is being called by the Spirit working in him/her.  Not everyone is a Lector.  Not everyone is a Preacher.  Not everyone is an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist.  And the same is true for all of the other ministries to be practiced in the parish.  But some are called to each of them so that all of those ministries can be carried out in a healthy parish.  Where there is a ministerial need the Lord will provide so that the need can be met and the work of the Lord can be carried out.

The gospel for this Sunday is from Luke, as will most of the gospel readings for this Liturgical Year.  The reading comes from two different chapters, the first and the fourth, combined to orient us in the journey we are beginning with Luke.  Notice that Luke addresses the gospel to Theophilus.  Some say there was someone of significance by that name in Luke’s community, a wealthy person to whom Luke would address both his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  But most commentators take their cue from the name’s translation and see that both books are addressed to One Who Loves God, that is, to you and to me.  Take your pick.  I won’t even tell you which one I prefer.  And Luke also explains to the reader that he is a thorough researcher, has read other accounts, talked to eyewitnesses, and now is ready to write his own sequence of the events that evidence our salvation.

We come to Jesus’ return.  From where?  From the period of temptations in the desert.  Having triumphed in that struggle, the Spirit who had led him into the desert for the temptations now leads him back to Galilee where his reputation is swelling rapidly among the people who marvel at his words and his deeds.  Then he comes to Nazareth, the town where he grew up, and goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and in the midst of these people who have known him from his childhood, reads to them from the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah speaks as one animated by and anointed in the Spirit of the Lord sent to bring good news to the poor, to set captives free, to restore sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.  When Jesus finishes the reading, he closes the scroll and says to all in his hearing, Today this Scriptures passage is fulfilled in your hearing. The reading is a composite sketch of Jesus’ ministry.  All of those charges are meant to remind the people of God’s undying and unconditional love for them.  Jesus brings God’s love to the little ones, to the off scouring of society so that they might know their favor with God and that they are destined to live with God forever.  The hungry will be fed.  The little ones and the oppressed will be lifted up and freed.  Wars will end.  Jesus says that all this will happen in, with, and through him beginning today.  That’s thrilling, isn’t it?

What is a thumbnail sketch of Jesus’ ministry is also the same for the ministry of the Church.  The work is not finished yet.  There are still the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.  There are still those who need to be convinced they are of worth regardless of their situation.  Jesus’ primary focus was always on those insignificant members of society and those deemed to be sinners or unclean and therefore to be shunned.  The Church is healthiest when it is clear that these same are of primary concern for the Church, and that those in the Church work tirelessly for the liberty and justice of all people and to bring peace.

Just as the Spirit led Jesus and inspired his ministry, so does the Spirit move in the church today inspiring members to take up those various responsibilities so that Jesus’ ministry can continue.  What is necessary is prayer and discernment to recognize the Spirit’s movement and then for the courage to act.  Of course the church must support those who follow the Spirit’s lead.

The Church gathers for the Liturgy of the Word.  Its Spirit-inspired proclamation will touch the hearers’ hearts.  The Spirit-inspired preaching will nourish those gathered and transition them to the Liturgy of the Eucharist where they will be transformed by the sacrament they celebrate and the meal they share so that they can be sent to do what Jesus did and proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.  The time of fulfillment is now.

Sincerely,

Didymus 

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C


Isaiah 62:1-5

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

John 2:1-11

Perhaps one must have experienced desolation in order for Isaiah’s prophecy to have its full impact.  Israel was in that state when these words were first proclaimed.  Perhaps one has to have known what it means to have been abandoned, or, to have had a cherished relationship broken by betrayal or infidelity for the message to penetrate to the core of one’s being.  Certainly the words are not reserved exclusively for those who have suffered such loss or know the meaning of unrequited love, but those who have walked through those shadows might feel like Phoenix rising when they allow the proclamation to wash over them as they take the message to heart and dare to believe it applies to them.

It is God who lifts up and restores a broken people.  It is God who will make these chosen ones as radiant as does a once arid waste become verdant when springs of fresh water bubble up in its midst.  It is God who whispers beloved and rejoices, as does a bridegroom in his beloved bride.  Do you believe that God loves you so much and longs to raise you to such heights?  It’s not easy, especially if you have been in the depths.  Let the first reading lift you up and dust you off and restore vigor to your spirit.  Believe it.  You are the beloved of God – you individually, and you collectively as church.  Now, in Ordinary Time you are invited to act upon it.

Paul speaks to the Corinthians and to us in the second reading.  A little background is important to set the stage.  Paul loved the Corinthians.  He preached Christ to them and rejoiced when they began to believe.  But he became troubled when he heard of the factions that had broken out among them.  Call the source pride, if you will, or a new elitism.  The Corinthians valued some gifts more than others.  Those who were gifted in one way were held in higher esteem than those with lesser gifts.  That certainly wouldn’t happen today in our parishes.  Or, would it?  Paul is scandalized by these attitudes and asks if they haven’t lost sight of a very basic truth.  It is all gift.  It is all a manifestation of the Spirit and of God’s love.  These varied gifts should not divide them but should unite them.

Note the ordering of the gifts as Paul delineates them in the reading.  It is a hierarchical ordering to help the Corinthians regain perspective even as they let go of the pride that makes some of the gifted think that their gift makes them superior to those in the community who do not have their gift.  The greatest source of division in the community came as a result of the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues.  Apparently when some of the Corinthians prayed they went into a rhapsodic state and a strange language issued from them.  For others to know what the Spirit was inspiring them to pray it took interpreters.  The speakers and the interpreters became like a separate sect at least by virtue of the elitism they projected.  They were the especially graced by God.  And that is why Paul places these gifts at the bottom of the list and challenges the community to recognize the spectrum of gifts and their source.

The Spirit’s gift of wisdom is at the top of the list.  What is wisdom?  Wisdom is the ability to see things and judge things the way that God does.  This is not worldly wisdom necessary to make wise investments or to form any of the strategies helpful in climbing to the top.  This is the wisdom that helps discern the direction God would have the people take in living out the Baptismal Covenant.  Those with the knowledge to do so enhance the application of the wisdom.  Believing that there is the Covenant and acting upon that is the gift of faith.  Paul wants the community to understand that there are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. Most important to remember is that the one Spirit is the source of all of the gifts and the distributor of the gifts individually to each person as the Spirit decides.  The point to be taken is that no one chooses the gifts nor merits them.  It is all gift to be used for the benefit of the whole community.  No gift should give impetus to the tendency to lord it over others.

Some parishes go through a discerning process before naming individuals to serve on the parish council or to take up one of the other ministries in the parish.  Not a bad idea at all, because it is a direct application of Paul’s message.  Not everyone has the gift to teach, or to lector, or to be a Eucharistic minister.  Not everyone has the gift to preach or to exorcise unclean spirits.  But one thing is certain, where there is a need, the Spirit will bestow the gift on someone to meet that need.  This should not be a cause of bitterness or division but of rejoicing.  God is acting in the midst of the parish.  The gifts act as a sign of God’s love for the people and their unity in Christ.

Today’s gospel is the third of the Epiphany gospels.  The adoration of the magi was the first.  The baptism of the Lord is the second.  And today’s, the marriage feast at Cana.  There is no counterpart to this pericope in any of the other gospels.  Marriage is the obvious link between the Isaiah reading and the gospel.  The narrative is easy to follow and to identify with.  But you might miss the significance of some of the symbols.  That is easy to do with John’s Gospel that is lush and whose symbols are multi-layered.  To give a brief interpretation of some of these does not exhaust their meaning.

Jesus and his disciples are guests at the wedding feast.  This is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  The disciples are newly formed and untried.  The mother of Jesus is a guest, too.  The mother of Jesus is the mother of the Church.  The six stone water jars stand empty – empty because the law has not worked to bring about right relationship with God.  The response that God has longed for has not happened.  Jesus is the one whose work it is to do the will of the One who sent him – the response God wants from the people.  Jesus directs that the water jars be filled to capacity and asks that a sampling of the results be taken to the wine steward.  The finest wine symbolizes the rich teaching Jesus announces in his proclamation of the Good News.  Water is necessary for Baptism, where people die to sin and rise to live Christ’s life.  The wine is a symbol of the Eucharist, the celebration that empowers that new life.

Notice that it is Jesus’ mother that brings the shortage of wine to his attention.  His response: Woman, what has this to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.  There will be other references to The Hour in John’s Gospel.  We will come to understand that the Hour is Jesus’ Passion and Death – the great Epiphany announcing that Jesus is Lord.  Here, the gospel concludes with these words: Jesus did this  (miracle) as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. Began to believe is the important phrase for us to hear.  This is, remember, at the beginning of his public life, the start of the journey.  Along the way there will be challenges to what is revealed in this first miracle.  There will be times of great scandal when many of the disciples will turn away and not walk with him any more.

We are at the beginning of this new Liturgical cycle.  Our faith may be incipient or tried from years of plodding along the way.  You can count on it.  There will be moments of near ecstasy that might make it seem easy to believe.  Be assured there will be stumbling blocks to challenge that faith.  We have to remember that it is a gift of the Spirit that we have begun to see.  In faith, we must let the Spirit lead and strengthen us.  It is the Spirit that will bring us in Jesus to God and the fullness of that love that set all of this in motion.

Who can do this?  No one on his/her own.  But as Luke will remind us over and over again in the majority of the gospels for year C, All things are possible with God.

Here’s something to think about, besides the obvious, what do you think the Head waiter meant when he observed: Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.  What is the implication for us?  Ponder and pray.  You will hear the Spirit form and inform you.

Sincerely,

Didymus