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THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C- June 30, 2013

The first Book of Kings 19:16b, 19-21

The Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians 5:1, 13-18

The holy Gospel according to Luke 9:51-62

 

There is something we must understand as we sit beneath the readings this Sunday.  These sections have to do with discipleship.  My dictionary defines disciple as a pupil or follower who helps to spread the master’s teachings.  What the first reading and the gospel tell us is that to be a disciple in our tradition results from a vocation, a calling that begins with God and is a result of the Spirit’s movement in the one who is called.

That’s fine as far as it goes, but what becomes clear also is that God expects a wholehearted response from the one who is called.  Maybe, or, later just won’t do.  Remember what Jesus said to his disciples last week?  If you are going to be my disciple, pick up your cross every day and follow me.  We would probably translate that differently.  Isn’t Jesus saying, before you say yes to the call, know what you are getting into, what is expected of you?  Jesus defined his own ministry as always doing the will of the One who sent him.  The disciples must strive to say the same thing about their lives in reference to Jesus who called them to ministry.

In the first reading we meet the prophet Elijah, the Great Prophet who spent himself in trying to keep the Israelites faithful to God by helping them avoid the false gods that others worshiped.  Here he is coming to the end of his days.  There needs to be the selection of his successor, the one who will continue to tell the people what God wants them to hear, this after God has taken Elijah home.  God directs that that one is Elisha who is talented and who comes from well-to-do parents.  12 yoke of oxen says he is not from paupers.

If there were any words pronounced by Elijah in calling Elisha, they are not quoted.  Rather, Elijah simply walks up to Elisha and throws the prophetic cloak around Elisha’s shoulders.  The cloak is the symbol of authority.  Was Elisha stunned for a moment as he pondered and then came to understand what this action meant?  There is nothing in what follows that would indicate hesitation on Elisha’s part.  He runs after Elijah and asks for permission to say a proper adieu to his parents.  Elijah’s words are poorly translated in the text.  In essence what he says to Elisha is that he should do what he needs to do, but also he must recognize the importance of what Elijah has done to him.  Elisha shows that he accepts God’s will in his life.  He slaughters the oxen and, using the plough and the yoke, he builds a fire so that he can make a meal for his people from the meat of the oxen.  This marks the end of Elisha’s former life.  That is over now.  The text doesn’t say that he kissed his mother and father in bidding them goodbye, but I’d bet that he did before he ran after Elijah to take up his new vocation as Elijah’s attendant.

Why Elisha?  God has placed in Elisha those gifts and talents that will enable him to be successful as Elijah’s successor.  He is strong, powerful with words and will be able to preach effectively.  That makeup is part of the grace that inspires his immediate and who-hearted response.  Elisha’s yes seems natural to him.  How could it be any other way?  Everything with which God has gifted him, in turn Elisha will place at God’s disposal.  That is the response God expects.  And so does Jesus.

From this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is set on journeying to Jerusalem and, as we heard last week, there to suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders…and be killed and on the third day be raised.  Jesus is single-minded in his determination and totally responsive to his vocation.  There is an indication that the disciples who are with him still have much to learn.  They didn’t get the point of the lesson he had just taught them.

As they near a Samaritan village, Jesus sends representatives ahead to prepare for his reception there.  But remember that there is strong antipathy between the Samaritans and the Jews.  Jews consider the Samaritans unclean and would incur ritual impurity and unfit to enter into temple worship were they to come into contact with a Samaritan.  The Samaritans refuse to welcome Jesus.  James and John are furious.  (They are named aptly, sons of thunder.)  They want to severely punish the Samaritans.  It sounds as if they would be open to the idea of slaughtering them.  Jesus rebukes them.  There’s that word of strong castigation again.  We don’t hear what Jesus said.  But you can imagine.  The incident is over.  Jesus and the disciples leave the area of the Samaritans and go on towards Jerusalem.

The theme of call to discipleship recurs now.  There are various responses to the call.  One person, bursting with enthusiasm, rushes up to Jesus and says that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes.  Jesus knows that flashes of enthusiasm can be just that, flashes that are short lived and perish when reality sets in.  So Jesus puts his own poverty before the individual lest he have any misconceptions about Jesus.  Is this one thinking abut Jesus as the might one who will set Israel free the way Peter used to think?  We don’t know whether this is the end of the line for the person, or whether, altering his perceptions about Jesus, he embraces the poverty and follows Jesus as a disciple.

Jesus invites another person to follow him.  But the man demurs.  Apparently his father has just died and he must tend to the funeral.  Obviously, Jesus would respect the man’s need to mourn for a parent, but he tells him not to let that get in the way of his announcing the Good News.

When Jesus invites another to follow, there seems to be a conscious allusion to Elisha’s story.  The man wants to follow, but after he says goodbye to his family at home.  Jesus says, No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.  In other words, disciples cannot be divided in their response, one foot in one world and one foot in the other.

The way the early Church celebrated Baptism attests to this total yes that Jesus wants.  During the Vigil of Easter, the elect were brought to the Font.  At the entrance to the font they stood in their old clothes, that is, what they wore in the life that was about to end.  After they were questioned about their intent and the firmness of their faith, they were asked if they wanted to enter the font and there to die to all that was in order to rise from the font reborn in Christ.  If their answer was in the affirmative, they stripped off all the old trappings and, naked, they were led into the waters where they were immersed three times – in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Then as they came out on the other side, they were clothed in the white garment that symbolized their having put on Christ.

What is hard for us to appreciate, perhaps, are the implications the early neophytes had to accept, as they became disciples.  What did they have to give up?  In many cases, everything.  If they were converts from paganism, they could never again come into contact with pagan things or take part in pagan practices.  Sometimes the family rejected the convert and s/he was suddenly alone in the world, except for the community of believers.  Sometimes they had to give up their employment.  Leaving everything of the old order on the edge of the font was more that symbolic.  It aptly expressed the forsaking of everything that was so that they could live this new life in Christ.  Their entering into Jesus’ dying and rising began their proclamation of the emerging kingdom of God.

In the second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, Paul urges us not to look back and take up former ways.  He is reacting to those people who were urging the Christian converts from Judaism to continue the former disciplines.  That seemed to say that they were being saved by the Law rather than by the blood of Christ.  Christ sets us free from the Law; but that does not bring with it the freedom to live licentiously.  The sins of the flesh that Paul refers to involve more than sexual sins.  Pride is a sin of the flesh.  So, too, are envy and greed and all the other capital sins.  None of them should be part of the Christian’s life.

How then are we to live?  Paul quotes Jesus in summing up the path we are to follow.  You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Love is the new law.  Christian love is imitative of the love practiced by the One who taught it.  Essentially, it is a love of service that, strengthened by the Spirit, empowers us to take up the cross every day and follow Jesus.  IT is a love that grows out of the Eucharist that is at the core of our faith life as each Sunday we renew the Lord’s dying and rising.

It is said that when Romans witnessed the behavior of the Christians as they faced a martyr’s death, the pagans said, See how these Christians love one another.  I’d like to think that that is an accurate quote in those circumstances.  If it is, that might be also an explanation for why the church flourished during those terrible times, and why the number of converts to the faith always surges during a time of persecution.

There are people who represent us and go to distant and desperate lands to minister in Christ’s name to the impoverished.  They live joyous lives in spite of the dangers that surround them and the threatening sword that might claim their lives at any time.  How these Christians love the poor and pour themselves out that the little ones might know that God loves them in Christ.

Finally, wouldn’t that be an amazing grace if the first thing a visitor sense as s/he entered the parish church for Sunday Mass was how these parishioners love one another.  And the second thing s/he realized would be that that love embraces the visitor, too, and those beyond.  That could be a life-altering experience, especially if that one came into that community feeling alone and abandoned, unloved and ignored.  S/he would share in the Bread and drink from the Cup, experiencing Eucharist in the midst of the newfound Assembly.  You can be sure that it wouldn’t be long before the visitor told others what s/he found there – and s/he could hardly wait until next Sunday to experience it all again.  The whole week in between would be better too.

The invitation to discipleship is always there.  The question is, how do we respond?

Sincerely,

Didymus

KING DAVID WOULD NEVER MAKE IT TODAY

Strange thoughts come in the middle of the night.  When I awaken in the midst of such musings and a conclusion comes clearly to mind, I suspect that is the result of a busy subconscious that never rests.  Last night, or rather early this morning was a case in point.

I don’t remember thinking about King David as I drifted off to sleep; but I awoke suddenly with the thought clearly formed that the king would never make it in today’s church or world.

You remember his story, don’t you?  The young king with his many wives gazes off the palace balcony and espies Bathsheba taking a bath in the twilight.  Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, an armor bearer in David’s army.  David knew that when he sent for Bathsheba.  The two had a torrid romance and David received the alarming news that Bathsheba was pregnant.  David’s solution to the predicament was to send for Uriah and give him a few days off to spend with his wife.  Unfortunately, Uriah was devoted to David and would not take the time off.  Now what could David do to get Uriah to conclude that Bathsheba was pregnant with his child?

Plan B.  King David then sent Uriah back to battle with this written message to Joab, a leader of the army: Place Uriah up front, where the fighting is fierce.  Then pull back and leave him to be struck down dead.  Joab followed the king’s directive and Uriah was slain clearing the way for David to marry Bathsheba and legitimize the child she bore.  It is only when he is confronted by the Prophet Nathan with the evil he had done does David becomes grief stricken and repents.  And Nathan pronounces the Lord’s forgiveness.

There are consequences.  The illegitimate child becomes seriously ill shortly after birth.  David does penitential atonement until the child dies.  His period of penance concludes and David takes up his reign again.  Bathsheba becomes First Lady, in our terminology and then the mother of Solomon, who will become his father’s successor.  The memory of David lives on as the great king of Israel.

Can you imagine a similar story happening today?  Certainly there are stories of infidelity, adultery, and even murder.  Some things never change.  The perpetrators are duly punished.  Murderers are often executed, at least in the United States.  There aren’t many stories of repentance, forgiveness and redemption, though.  Even in the church there seems to be more evidence of condemnation and excommunication, banishment from the Table.  Sometimes after the death of the offender, there is reconciliation.

In hearing King David’s story of treachery, betray, sin, repentance and forgiveness, we might miss an important teaching.  The story is more about God’s attitude than David’s.  To this day, God’s love for us is underestimated.  We see a god of vengeance in our God rather than God who loves unconditionally and forever.  God loves lavishly.  The greatest outpouring of that love is Jesus who moves among us as an example of how to respond to that love.  Really, there is only one way and that is to love as we are loved.

St. John of the Cross said that in the evening of life we shall be judged concerning love.  A hallmark of loving is forgiving.  How will this age be judged?  We seem to have the judging part down pat, not so much the loving and forgiving.  Our challenge must be Jesus who was condemned for welcoming sinners and eating with them.  Look at his attitude toward the woman caught in adultery.  Not only did he not cast the first stone as the Law prescribed, he refused to condemn her and invited her to go home and not sin any more.

It would be wonderful if Christians became a scandal for their forgiving and reconciling ways.  See how these Christians love one another.  That’s what the Romans were reputed to have said of them during the time of persecution.  Are many saying that today?

Some Catholics were scandalized when Pope Francis was the feet of two women and others who were not Catholics.  Some went so far as to declare that he is not a valid pope.  For them the Seat is still empty.  Jesus’ way of loving brought about his crucifixion.  That can happen to those who imitate the Lord in loving as he loved.

Our challenge in this judgmental day and age is to put into practice what we pray for.  In the Lord’s Prayer we ask to be forgiven as we forgive.  It seems to me that should be an incentive for honing up our forgiving – unless you have never done anything that cried out for forgiveness.

Certainly sin is a reality.  As sinners, we need to make atonement for the wrongs we do.  What we also must remember and find solace in is the fact that there is nothing God wants to do more than to forgive.  The time of atonement passes and life goes on.  Of course we remember the sin, but the source of our joy in persevering in the walk of faith is remembering that we are forgiven and loved.  It is safe to say that God pours forgiveness over us even before we cry out for it.  God’s love compels God.  That love should challenge us to strive to do the same, to love even as we are loved.

What a blessing it would be if we knew and believed that King David would make it today.  If God and Israel hadn’t forgiven him, how different would Israel’s history have been!

That is why I continually come back to the fact that the Eucharist must be at the heart of our faith lives.  To celebrate Eucharist is to be animated by God the Holy Spirit and give thanks to God the Father through the renewing of the dying and rising of Jesus the Son.  These Christians bask in God’s love, love one another, and go out to bring God’s love to those who long for it.  We will continue doing that until the Lord comes again.

At least that is the challenge.  Let’s live it even if there are those scandalized by the love and forgiveness that animates our communities.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – June 23, 2012

 

The Book of the Prophet Zechariah 12: 10-11; 13:1

The Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians 3:26-29

The holy Gospel according to Luke 9:18-24

 

Who do you say Jesus, the Son of Man, is?  Who do I say that he is?  That is the question Jesus asks us in this Sunday’s Gospel.  We will see that the answer we give might have implications beyond our current perceptions and understandings.  That shouldn’t surprise us if we remember that we are on a journey of faith.  With each step we take along this Way, and with the outpouring of the Spirit upon us, our perceptions clarify and our understandings shift and grow.  You will see what I mean shortly.

We begin with Zechariah’s powerful prophecy in today’s first reading.  As we listen, we might be tempted to think that the prophet had Jesus in mind when he spoke.  That is not necessarily so.  However, those who wrote the Christian Scriptures read his words and saw they applied to Jesus.  Zechariah speaks to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  Both groups know what it means to give themselves over to violence.  Their hands have dripped with blood.  The Prophet tells them that the time will come when they will put to death the one Isaiah called  The Suffering Servant.  Then, instead of the rejoicing shouts of triumph that usually follow a victory, there will be a moment of grace as they realize what they have done.  They will begin to mourn for the one they have pierced.  The grieving will be as intense as that for a firstborn and only son (or daughter).

The prophecy doesn’t stop there.  One grace leads to another, as the victim becomes the means to conversion, a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.  The House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will repent, as they understand God’s love for them and God’s limitless mercy.

A bit of introspection here will help the reading penetrate deeper into our consciousness and so move us.  In order for this to happen there has to be an awareness of something of sin in our lives, the memory of having acted in a way other than the way God would have us act.  If you know what that means as I do, then can come the insight that should be the fruit of this prophecy.  The purpose of remembering past failings is not to dwell there and wallow in self-pity.  Rather, to remember will help us see how far the grace of God has brought us from that time of sin.  We thrill as we realize that we were not abandoned in our sin.  We looked on the One who was pierced for our offenses and we believed and are redeemed.

Coming to today’s Gospel, we immediately know that we are hearing a major moment in Jesus’ journey.  How do we know that?  In Luke’s Gospel, major transition moments for Jesus are always preceded by a time of prayer.  It is in that prayer mode that Jesus asks the disciples who are with him what the crowds, (those who have not yet made up their minds about Jesus) what the crowds are saying about him.  The gist of the disciples’ responses is that the crowds are trying to figure out who Jesus really is.  They think he is an amazing man with characteristics of great ones in their tradition from long ago and even the recent John, the Baptist, the one some had thought was the Messiah.

Here comes the moment of truth.  It is one thing to know what others are saying, but what is important is what the disciples think.  What do we think?  Who do you say that I am?  As he often does, here Peter voices the conclusion he to which he and the other disciples have come:  The Christ of God.  The word Christ means Messiah, the one anointed and sent by God.  Is it jarring that after Peter’s declaration, Jesus rebukes him and them?  You might react if you remember the force of the word rebuke.  In our current parlance that word means a rather thorough chewing out by someone who is very angry.  Why would Peter’s saying that he has come to believe that Jesus is the Christ of God make Jesus so angry?  It is too glib.  Peter’s answer simply voices what he understands about the awaited anointed one, his understanding of what the Messiah is supposed to do.

The Jewish people longed for God to send a mighty warrior who would drive out the hated Roman rule, free the Jews from what is tantamount to slavery under a foreign military, and establish the Jews in a renewed kingdom.  Peter’s answer might also imply his own anticipation of a favored place in that kingdom when Jesus would make it happen.  Peter could have been relishing how he would benefit from his closeness to Jesus, the one he recognized as the mighty one.

Peter had a lot to learn.  No wonder Jesus forbade him and the other disciples from telling anyone about their conclusions.

We said prayer precedes major moments of transition in Jesus’ ministry.  The major moment here is not the rebuking, but what followed.  Jesus immediately begins to disabuse the disciples of their expectations about him and to introduce them to what is coming: Jesus will be rejected, will suffer and will die.  Instead of the mighty victor, the disciples will see Jesus brought to the ultimate degradation when he is executed as a common criminal on the infamous cross.  Of course he mentions that on the third day he will be raised, but what could that have meant to them?

We have an advantage over Peter and those other first disciples.  We live in post-resurrection days.  We know about the crucifixion and death; but we also know what Jesus means by being raised on the third day.  We know that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One of God.  What then are our expectations about being his disciples?  What Jesus teaches will determine what type of church we will be, and the role we think the church should play in the world.

What is happening in this Gospel is this: Jesus asks Peter and us if we are sure we want to be disciples.  If we say yes, then the first thing we will have to do is give up those very normal, human aspirations of splendor that we might hope will come to us through discipleship.  If we are going to be disciples are we sure we want to do what Jesus does, take up our cross every day?  That is the condition Jesus places on discipleship.  To be called to discipleship is to receive a call to ministry, to service, to pouring out self for others so that they might come to know that Jesus, the one who was pierced, is the redeemer, the one who saves us from sins.

If we are listening these days, we might recognize that this is the message going out from Pope Francis in these early days of his papacy.  He has rejected the splendor some of is predecessors have evidenced during their times as the Bishop of Rome.  Pope Francis is calling us to be a poor church, a servant church, and a church that is in the midst of the poor to serve the poor.  For our pope, that’s what taking up the cross everyday and following means.

The second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians reminds us that we have been transformed by our Baptism.  He struggles to find the apt expression of what that transformation means and how complete it is.  We are baptized into Christ.  We have clothed ourselves in Christ.  Our basic identity has become our being children of God in Christ.  None of this is about us.  It is all about Christ living in us and our union with Christ.  All of the traditional lines of demarcation mean nothing.  The distinctions between Jew and Gentile, slave and free person, male and female, no longer have standing.  All are equal before the Lord and are one in Christ.  That is why the Second Vatican Council decreed that the Church in the modern world is the Body of Christ, the people of God, a people called to serve.  Again, hear Pope Francis.

Everything about us should convince the world that we live in the mystery of the Lord’s dying and rising.  Every Sunday when we gather for worship it is to celebrate Easter and enter again into the Pascal Mystery.  We gather as one body around the Table of the Word so that the living Word that is broken open for us might nourish us.  That Word is meant to transform us.  We are to live what we hear.

We gather in Christ around the Table of the Bread to celebrate Eucharist and renew the Lord’s dying and rising.  The action of the church animated by the Spirit transforms the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  And the Spirit overshadows us, calling us to full, active, and conscious participation in the Mystery and transforms us.  The Bread and Wine, blessed, broken, and distributed, nourish us.  And we are sent to live what we have heard and be what we have celebrated.

Taking up the cross everyday entails our being willing to embrace the troubled of the world, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit those in hospital or in prison, forgive and reconcile with the estranged, and in short, pour ourselves out in service every day because that is what Jesus expects from those understand what kind of Messiah he is and what it means to be his disciples.

Now, the question remains.  Who do we say that Jesus is?  Remember, our actions will speak louder than any words we might utter.

Sincerely,

Didymus