Exodus 32: 7-111, 13-14 Timothy 1: 12-17 Luke 15: 1-10
Over the years of a life, whether they are long or brief, God is envisioned in different ways. God is Creator, Almighty, All-Powerful; or God is seen as demanding law giver and judge; or God is easily dismissed as a grey-haired, bearded old man. The revelation of the genuine nature of God and the nature of the relationship with God that is possible was the purpose and goal of the ministry of Jesus among us, whether in the words he spoke, the actions he performed and even in his death on the cross. In a particular way today we gains insight into God through what we have heard in the Scripture that have been read.
In the account from the Book of Exodus, we heard how Moses pleaded with God regarding the people he led, the Israelites. They had made a Golden Calf and had abandoned the God who had saved them from Egypt. Moses makes no excuses for them. He does not try to rationalize their behavior or blame someone else. He appeals directly to the understanding nature of God: You are faithful; You have promised to be true to what you have promised. Despite what this people has done, despite their weaknesses and failings, You are God, not man in the way that You act, in the way that You love. The Lord relented. We are reminded that God is faithful. God is not like us as when we are vengeful and unforgiving. God, as revealed to us in the Scriptures and in the ministry of Jesus. is neither vengeful nor unforgiving if we acknowledge our weakness and sinfulness.
We also heard Saint Paul write to his friend and disciple, Timothy. Paul expresses nothing short of amazement at what has happened in his own life. He had been a persecutor of the followers of Jesus. He had even participated in putting them to death as in the case of Saint Stephen. Now Paul finds himself, as he tells Timothy, not only a follower of Jesus but also a major proclaimer of the Gospel, the Good News, of Jesus. He proclaims this message to those who are not even a part of the Jewish tradition even though he himself had been a Pharisee, part of the strictest segment of that tradition. So great was the loving forgiveness of God as it worked in his life. So great, too, is the loving forgiveness of God that is available to all of us. It is so far beyond anything Paul or we, ourselves, could have imagined or expected.
From the Gospel of Saint Luke we heard Jesus tell two well-known parables as examples of God’s mercy, the accounts of the lost sheep and the lost coin. What more powerful imagery can be given to us to describe the relationship which God seeks with us or how we are valued by God? When we have lost or misplaced something valuable and important to us, we know the sense of relief we experience when it is found. If we give it some thought, it almost seems absurd to abandon 99 sheep to look for 1, or to minimize the value of 9 coins to hunt for 1. But the message Jesus seeks to convey to us is to have us understand the boundless extent of God’s love no matter now much any one of us may have failed or continue to fail;. Jesus reveals that forgiveness and reconciliation are always possible.
Taking up the cross of Jesus has been the object of his teaching during this journey from Galilee to Jerusalem that Saint Luke has been describing to us over these past weeks. Perhaps the stories we heard today from Jesus seem like an exaggerations. Perhaps this is purposely so. We are to be encouraged about the value, the importance which each of us possesses. It is the value and importance of seeking to be reconciled with our good and gracious God.
Wisdom 9:13-18bb Philemon 9-10, 12-17 Luke 14:25-33
The journey we are on with Jesus, as it has been described by Saint Luke over the last few weeks, started with the statement by Jesus encouraging his listeners to take up the cross and follow him. Various aspects of what that would mean have been presented to us from the Gospel passages we have hard.
Today we are presented with a specific description of what this involves. In a very radical manner we are challenged with the understanding that nothing, not even family itself, is to interfere or to hinder this response and the relationship with God that is involved. It is a difficult, even puzzling, statement that Jesus makes. To take up the cross, to be united to God through Jesus requires a commitment even more significant than a family relationship. It is a commitment that is so valuable that it involves an effort equal to that which Jesus is willing to undertake – giving of himself by his death on a cross. It is a commitment that is so thorough that what must be done is similar, in a way, to building a tower or going into battle.
Along with these words of Jesus, other insights are offered to us by St. Paul and the author of the Book of Wisdom. Paul writes an early Christian covert about returning a runaway slave, Onesimus, who had become valuable to Paul. He was willing to return him to the rightful owner, Philemon, but reminds him that their common faith in Jesus Christ had fundamentally changed the nature of the relationship that was to exist. The relationship with God through Christ superseded the requirements of the law or the expectations of the society in which they were living.
The author of the Book of Wisdom uses eloquent language to convey a similar thought. He reminds us how limited and restricted is our way of thinking as human beings when compared to God’s way of thinking. God’s ways, God’s Spirit, is not limited by human judgements, prejudices, distinctions or qualifications.
The challenge put before us by Christ, and as it is reflected in these other sources, requires some consideration and thought by us. Do we want to be whole-hearted followers of Jesus? Do we want to live out our potential as reflections of God? Do we want to be, literally, joined with Christ in carrying the cross, in abandoning everything so as to reveal the presence of God in our lives and in the world in which we live?
If so, then we must be willing to separate ourselves from anything that limits or hinders us. All of this sounds like a great demand. But we would do well to consider this also. If we were detached from prejudices or grudges that we harbor, if we were detached from so many things that cause us anxiety, if we were detached from so many objects that we think we need, if we were detached from dependencies we have created for ourselves on persons, possessions, substances and the like, the result would be an exhilarating freedom. It would gain for us a freedom of mind, heart and spirit, a freedom of truly reflecting in our lives the loving presence of our good and gracious God.
Sirach 3: 17-18, 20, 28-28 Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24a Luke 14: 1, 7-14
Once again, as Jesus and his followers continue their journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, they stop to share in the hospitality offered to them. This time it is by one who is known as a “leading Pharisee.” As St. Luke tells the story, Jesus uses this situation as an opportunity to give an instruction about the need for his followers to show a genuine sense of humility in their lives. He does this by means of a parable he relates which may well have been brought on by what had been experienced.
Expanding on what Jesus says in this lesson, what are we to understanding about being humble? We may often think that we are being humble when this really is not the case. For example, avoiding responsibility and letting someone else take care of a matter is not humility. Thinking poorly of one’s self, having low self-esteem, is not humility. Being unwilling to make up one’s mind, being indecisive and allowing someone else to make a decision that is really ours, is not humility.
Humility is accepting reality for what it is. It is not making ourselves or our situations greater or more important that they are. It is not living or acting in some fantasy world. It is an openness to the active presence of God in all that surrounds us. It is an acknowledgment and thanksgiving to God from whom we have received all that we have and are. All that surrounds us, if we are honest, leads us to recognize this loving God.
A good understanding of this is pointed out in the wisdom found in the reading from the Book of Proverbs that we heard. Humility, to this author, means recognizing our particular situation in life and extending respect and dignity to everyone else. They, too, are creatures of our loving God. Being humble is being honest with ourselves. This is what finds favor with God. This is what reflects in ourselves the reality of a loving God.
Humility, then, is a genuine response that is living in such a way that makes known the love that ha been shown to us. It is in this way that we love God, we love all others, we love all of creation.
We are able to do this because of our relationship with God. It is not a relationship based on a blazing fire or gloomy darkness as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews points out. It is a relationship founded on being able to approach our living God with the love that is shown for us by the totality of Christ’s giving of himself.
The true humility that the Lord seeks in each of us, the recognition of the importance and the role of God in our lives, the recognition that what we are and what we are to do, is found in acknowledging, praising and loving in return our truly good and gracious God.
Isaiah 66: 18-21 Hebrews 12: 5-7, 11-13 Luke 13: 2-30
One of the words that I do not like to hear, especially from a contractor, a computer service individual, a sales person, or the like, is the word “should.” It should be here, it should be done, it should work. It is almost a joke now, but there is a certain seriousness about it.
In a sense, I understand Jesus as addressing the same idea. As he and his followers continue on their journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, teaching his followers what it means to take up the cross and follow him, he wants it to be known that no one “should” consider themselves to be followers simply because of a certain background or status. Basically, Jesus restates ideas that we also heard today from Isaiah.
All of creation is a part of God’s purpose and plan. People from all corners of the earth would be welcome to take part in God’s saving and loving plan. But these ideas were shocking to those among the Chosen People. They felt that they had it made. They would automatically be part of God’s actions. Jesus, however, says that this is not so. It is not easy, it is not automatic, to be part of his mission. The entrance into his mission is restricted.
What we also heard from theLetter to the Hebrews describes this in a different way. Pain, real effort, even suffering, will also be a part of following the Lord. This is not surprising. We need only remember that Jesus is calling us to take up the cross, the instrument of torture and death -but also the sign of the greatest love – in order to follow him.
Jesus uses an interesting image to illustrate his point: a narrow door. Envision yourselves in a crowd, going to a sporting even, a concert, or at a sale at which the first ones in the store get the best bargain. Every muscle might be strained in the effort to make it in the entrance.
This is the understanding that Jesus is looking for in those who follow him. All of our effort, all of our being, in some way, is to act in such a way that the goodness of God can be learned in what others experience from us. Anyone could look at our lives, how we live, how we speak, how we act, and perceive an insight into the reality of God. It not a matter of “should.” It is a matter of “it is.”
To be part of what Jesus presents to us, we cannot presume anything. We must act, both now and continuously. We must live with conviction a disciplined approach from day to day.
This makes clear to ourselves and to others how it is evident that we share in the loving care and presence of our good and gracious God.
Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10 Hebrews 12: 1-4 Luke 12: 49-63
Unfortunately we know too well the harshness and incivility that is experienced in our daily lives, especially in the political world. Perhaps we are getting used to it, even expecting it at times. The ideal, the hope, is that differences in opinion, views, political philosophies, can be shared with respect for the individuals expressing them.
This is brought to mind by what was stated in the gospel passage which we have just heard. It seems harsh and uncharacteristic. In many ways the perception of Jesus is that he is a bearer of peace and understanding. Thus, what he states today, at this stage of the journey St. Luke describes him to be on, as he and his followers near Jerusalem, seems to be puzzling and so contrary to our expectations.,
The fact is that what Jesus expresses is reality. He knows what is ahead of him when he arrives in Jerusalem. He knows that what he teaches will be rejected by many. That has been experienced already. Jesus is echoing the circumstances that were described in the reading from the prophet, Jeremiah. Those who heard Jeremiah were upset by his words. The solution chosen was to eliminate him, to shut him up in a cistern where his words would go unheard. The situation of Jesus is also the source for the reflections offered by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. Jesus had to endure opposition and even death, so that we might benefit.
Jesus makes it clear that he is not here simply to make us “feel good.” His words, his teaching, must be taken to heart, and genuinely affect and change us. But what he says will not be accepted. There will be harsh opposition because of the discomfort it brings, because of the challenge it presents. Like Jeremiah, he will be opposed and persecuted. He will endure the cross but he will not be defeated by it.
It is that same presence of Christ, God who came among us as a man, that we, the Body of Christ, are to make known. It is that presence that we embody which reveals the real dignity, the worth and the value that we and all others have as creatures of God, images and likenesses of our God.
We are presented, by our Faith, with this challenge. We are to realize how much each one of us is worth, as a child of our loving God. We are to live our lives in terms that value, that dignity, that each one of us has. We must recognize and extend that value and dignity to all others and to all of creation.
Jesus, as well as Jeremiah, recognized that values they proclaimed and the dignity that they extended to all of God’s creation would be rejected because of the self-centeredness and stubborn self-interest which is the sinful rejection of God’s goodness. Our lives are to declare what our Faith affirms. Living in a manner that genuinely reflects these Gospel values is the way in which we reveal and reflect the truth of our good and gracious God.