2 Kings 5: 14-17 2 Timothy 2: 8-13 Luke 17: 13-19
It often occurs to me that the richness o god speaking to us in the Scriptures becomes more evident when reading through a passage which has often been read before. For some reason, a particular word or phrase or sentence happens to stand out. Such was the case this week in Paul’s letter to his friend and disciple Timothy that was just read, in the comment made by Paul: “The word of God is not chained.”
What made this statement notable, I believe, was giving thought to Paul’s situation at the time that I mentioned last week. Paul himself was chained. He was restricted in some way as he awaited trial. While he was limited, he proclaimed that God’s communication with is was not..
As a way for all of us to understand this more effectively, we also heard part of the story of Naaman the Syrian and about a Samaritan, a foreigner, who were both restored from the restraints of leprosy. As a disease itself, leprosy can be horrible to see. Those afflicted by it were often ostracized from society. The disease disfigures and corrupts the physical appearance of the individual. It offers a clear representation of how the selfishness of sin corrupts a person.
It is particularly significant in these accounts that both of these individuals are foreigners. They do not have the benefit, in their background, of the covenant God has established with the Chosen People. Both of them suffered from the physical corruption of leprosy. Both, however, responded to the unchained word of God that was addressed to them. Both showed evident reaction to the love of God that touched them. In the case of Naaman, he declared: “I will not sacrifice to any other god than the Lord.” In the case of the one who returned to Jesus, he was one of ten who had been restored to health and well-being. He was the only one who returned to express gratitude ye, as Jesus notes “no one but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God. The word of God is not restricted but, in these cases, reached out to the “foreign” persons who responded to God’s loving communication.
What is asked of each one of us, what is sought from each one of us is evident. In the midst of our daily live the communication of our loving God is made to us. It is found in the faith that we declare It is found in the opportunities presented daily to live that faith. It is a faith, a belief, that is not just words. It is faith that is to be a commitment that affects all aspects of our living. It is a faith that is to be guided by the awareness that “if we die with him, we will live with him. We join even the difficult parts of living with Christ in order to share in his resurrection to new life. “If we persevere, we will reign. Nothing can defeat or overcome us if we are united with Christ. Even if we fail, even if we are unfaithful to this union with Christ, God, through Christ, continues to be faithful to us.
This is, in my understanding, the message of God that is communicated to us today. God’s love restores even the most repulsive and disfiguring of any one of us. God’s love is not chained. It is not restricted. God’s love reaches out to the estranged, to the foreigner in us. It is for us to reply with conviction and gratitude, declaring in all aspects of our lives and living, our faith and trust in a truly good and gracious God.
Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2:2-4 2 Timothy 1: 6-8, 13-14 Luke 17: 5-10
If you are like me, we have to admit that there have been days or situations when we may have wondered whether there is a God, when it almost seems pointless to have faith in God. Perhaps this might be because of personal matters or perhaps it may arise from just reading or hearing the news. This, however, an age-old question a questions hat is raised today in the passages which we have heard from the Scriptures.
We heard first from Habakkuk, a prophet speaking 2700 years ago, yet sounding as if he might be speaking today. He is puzzled. Why is there violence? Why is there hatred? Why is there discord and strife? Why must others suffer? God, why do you not intervene, why do you not do something? Where are youGod? His words could easily be our own.
Then, in his prayer and reflection Habakkuk understands a response. Do not give up believing just because now things are difficult. He is reminded that God is loving, God is faithful, God is eternal. It is the rash one, the one who wants an immediate answer who is short-sighted, who collapses, who falls apart.The one who has faith, however, lives on, persists, continues and perseveres whatever the situation.
Paul offered similar considerations to his friend and disciple, Timothy. He encourages him to be strong in his work and remember the commitment he had made. He is not to waiver or be weak in the calling he has heard. He is to continue to preach the word and proclaim it with the whole of his life. This is the experience of faith that he is to have. It ought to be remembered where Paul is at this point in his life as it gives particular insight into his words. Paul is old. He is confined and facing trial because of his faith and his work. He could easily be skeptical and doubt the value of all he ha done in view of what is before him and before Timothy.
But he tells both himself and Timothy to listen to the words that have been proclaimed and have been experienced. Listen with faith and trust to the message of the love of God that is made clear in the teachings of Christ. What motivates Paul and what is to motivate us when doubting and questioning is a firm faith that there is, indeed, a God – a God who truly loves us. That is what the life and teaching of Jesus proclaimed. That is what his death on the cross proclaims to us: God so loved the world; God so loves us.
This same encouragement is found in the words of Jesus we have also heard today. True faith in God can remove any obstacle that might be before us. Nothing is so powerful that cannot be overcome by a genuine faith and trust in God. This is Christ speaking on his slow journey to death on a cross. This encouragement is offered to us who are to take up the cross with him.
Jesus also cautions us. This is not a a matter of bargaining with God. Love is not a bargain, it is not a deal that is made. Genuine love is unconditional. Such is God’s love for us.
We live out this faithful response to God as we are, as who we are, as what we are. Like the servants in the Gospel waiting on their master, doing what we are to do as we are and how we are is the way in which we respond. It is an unconditional response to our good and gracious God.
Amos 6: 1a, 4-7 1 Timothy 6: 11-16 Luke 16: 19-31
A good understanding of the story told by Jesus about the rich man and Lazarus comes from the message of Amos the prophet that we heard today: “Woe to the complacent.” One who is “complacent” is pleased with the status quo,” is focused on self and has no regard for others. This particular story is not unique to the Gospels/ Similar contrasts of the situation of the rich and poor are found in the Old Testament and in other ancient Middle East literature.
The rich man, as the story is told, is not seen as necessarily evil man. He did not treat Lazarus badly. He simply ignored him. He was only interested in his own good fortune and taking advantage of it. Like those addressed by the Prophet Amos, he was complacent, self-indulgent and not at all concerned with someone else.
Lazarus, on the other hand, was not necessarily a contrasting good person. He was willing to take advantage of the opportunities available to him. He ate the leftovers when they were available to him. Even the dogs licking his wounds was a type of health are for him, as dogs lick their own wounds in order to heal them.
It is not a story about putting ups with pain and suffering now because a reward will come later. What, then can be derived from this teaching of Jesus? As a matter of fact, Jesus added his own twist to this story. It is found in the second conversation between Abraham and the rich man. The rich man asks for an extraordinary sign to be gives: that Lazarus rise from the dead and go back to the rich man’s brothers to warn them. But this is not the solution. It will not change things. The means we need to live our lives properly are available to us now. But we must be aware of them, attentive to them and respond, rather than be complacent. That response must be genuine and com from within the person, not brought on by some extraordinary occurrence.
Seen in another way, the true wealth or poverty of an individual is not directly related to an amount of material possessions. It depends, rather, on how one recognizes and responds to the opportunities that are presented, no matter the context of one’s life as rich or poor.
What is available to us can be understood in what Saint Paul writes to his disciple and friend, Timothy. “Lay hold of unending life to which we are called.” Live life in a right manner, we are told, with devotion, faith, love and patience. We are to do this whatever one’s circumstance might happen top be/ It is not any easier whether one happens to be rich or poor.
We would do well to reflect on Jesus Christ when he was confronted with death. It was the source of his glory, not shame. As demeaning and defeating as the crucifixion was, Jesus acted. We ought not we ought not waiver but seek to live without stain or reproach. This is what proclaims the reality in which we believe and lives. It is not just words, it is action. Whatever the status of our lives, they are the opportunity give us daily to make known, to reveal, our good and gracious God.
Amos 8: 4-7 1 Timothy 2: 1-8 Luke 16: 1-13
Of the variety of examples or stories that Jesus uses to describe the response he wishes to receive to his message, perhaps the one we heard today is more familiar or easy to understand. Rather than speaking of sheep and vineyards, he describes an incident of price manipulation.
In the Gospel story he speaks of a steward, a property manager, who is accused of abusing his position and being dishonest. What did he do to protect himself? He did not cut out the proceeds that were owed to the owner. Rather, he cut his commission. The prices that were owed had been jacked up to increase what he would make. He was willing to take a loss now in order to provide for himself later on.
It might seem strange to hear the steward being commended. What was being admired? The steward was finally showing some common sense by looking ahead. He was getting away from a concern only for the immediate gratification he had grown used to. He was recognizing that there were more important things in life that he had to consider and for which he needed to plan.
Part of what is described in this story is familiar. We encounter it often and are enticed by it – price manipulation. Consider the variety of ways in which discounts are offer on so many things, and we are enticed by them. Profits are still being made. The hope is for a greater amount of sales. Or consider all the hype that surrounds “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving. Bargains are offered to draw customers in, that they might spend even more. Much of this is the same as we heard today- manipulation in order to achieve a beneficial goal.
Jesus’ message is that a clear effort is made in order to achieve a superficial end. This ought to be surpassed by the effort we make to achieve what is truly important. Living and making choices in life are to reflect a faith and trust in a loving God. We are to recognize what is truly important, what is genuinely valuable to us. At times this may seem to be too demanding, too difficult, too unattractive and inconvenient. But the lesson offered to us today is that we are too look long-term, with perspective on life and on living that reflects what is important and has value for us. Being trustworthy in small things will lead to being trustworthy in larger things.
A similar way of thinking is found in the reflections offered in the other messages we have heard today. Amos, the Old Testament prophet, condemns strongly the false worship and concern for the needy he observes. What is interfered with is instant gratification, cheating, selfish benefit. This can be present with us even now as we consider worship and an experience of God interfering with what is considered to be important or enjoyed momentarily.
Paul also says that we are to put things into perspective. Even though those he addresses are persecuted by authorities, they are to keep them in their prayers because this will encourage peace and order in society and all for the spread of the Gospel.
What the property manager demonstrated was good common sense, a good business sense. He made the decision now about what would affect his future. What we do now will have an outcome in the time to come. Jesus is calling on us to keep our faith in God and to keep what is important in life in proper perspective by acknowledging – as prayed earlier – that God is true source of peace, dignity, worth for all of creation. It is in this way that we live out the very best we are: reflections, images of our good & gracious god
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.