Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Twenty-Eighth Sunday of the Year – October 15, 2017

Isaiah 25: 6-10a Phillipians 4: 12-14 Matthew 22: 1-14

 

An on-going struggle or challenge which was present during the ministry of Jesus involved efforts that he made to convey a correct understanding of the nature of God and, especially, of the relationship that God seeks with us. In the Gospel of Saint John, for example, there are recorded regular conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees. The other gospels recall similar matters.  We frequently hear Jesus directing his message to the elders, the scribes, the teachers and leaders of the people as he wanted them to realize how they were falling short in their responsibilities. Thus he often challenged them to understand that the relationship with God was more than superficial.

 

We must remember that for ourselves and in our Faith, Jesus is not just some sort of outstanding teacher or a type of wise man. In the Incarnational faith we declare, God became man in Jesus Christ. What we experience in the teachings of Jesus is another effort on the part of God to being us into a deeper appreciation of God’s desire to be joined with us in a loving relationship.

 

This is the context in which we can hear the beautiful insight, the poetic message, of Isaiah. On this mountain, on this height, where God can be encountered away from the distractions and temptation of our day to day world, we experience God at a banquet, a celebration with God that nourishes and sustains us. God’s presence is revealed to us, not in power, conquest, fear, or intimidation, but in the rich foods and fine wines of a joyous feast. It is an overflowing demonstration of the joy and celebration of God’s abiding love.

 

It is this same imagery which provides the framework used by Jesus to describe “the kingdom of Heaven.” The reign of God with us, the totality of the experience of God in life, is to be seen as a rich and abundant banquet to which we are invited, The total manifestation of God’s love and care for us is offered to us.

 

How is that invitation received by those described in the parable and by us? Some cannot be bothered, others have something better to do, still others have somewhere else to go. These are rude responses, much like Jesus often received during his ministry from the leaders of the people, the elders, the scribes and the teachers.

 

But God’s love is not thwarted. It continues to reach out for a response. It is extended to those who are open, who are willing to listen and to respond. These are not the ones who were really considered as “desirable.” They were quite the opposite – the disreputable. The love of God for mankind, which we are called to reflect in our lives, is not restricted in any way, especially by human, judgmental attitudes..

 

But the story also continues. A response that is evident and sincere must be made. It is to be a response that is genuine and committed. It is a response that is to reflect a newness of life, a wedding garment that replaces what has gone on before.

 

The totality and the generosity of God’s love for mankind is central to the message of the ministry of Jesus. It is found not only in his teaching, but also in his death and resurrection. It is continued in his presence with us in the Eucharist and the other Sacraments we celebrate in our lives. It is to this totality and generosity what we are called to respond by transforming ourselves with a wedding garment of a newness of life. This “wedding garment” is to be shown in our words and action, day to day and every day, in a continuation of the ministry of Jesus as Church, proclaiming to the world our faith and our commitment to our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Twenty-Seventh Sunday of the Year – October 8, 2017

Isaiah 5: 1-7 Philippians 4: 6-9 Matthew 21: 33-43

Our minds and our imaginations can often be quite creative, even fantastic. This is especially true in the effort to appreciate and understand the vastness and complexity of the universe around us. Scenarios are developed, creatures of different sorts are imagine. We need only think of productions like Star Wars and Star Trek. Why does this happen? Because we are easily fascinated by what we have been given in being alive and living those lives in this vast complexity that surrounds us, one which we have really probed in a very limited way.

There are so many things that appear to escape our understanding, and especially in how we ought to respond to that understanding that we, in many ways, prefer to dwell on the fantastic rather than the simple. Especially is this true with respect to the idea that the source of this great universe, the created reality around us, truly loves us. Time and time again we need to be reminded of this. We need also to be reminded of the need on, our part to respond gratefully and generously to this loving relationship that is extended to us.

Even though we can often allow our imaginations to run wild about creation, simple images are those which are most direct. They are a basic and common part of our experience as human beings. These simple images can be, on the one hand, the rancher, the shepherd. On the other hand, a simple image is found in the farmer, the owner of a vineyard. They are simple images but they are also the basic resources of how we are fed and sustained. For this reason, they enable us to appreciate the depth of the love of our God for us. They illustrate to us how the God of our universe reaches out to us in very ordinary ways in order to care for us and to love us.

The poetic beauty of the prophet Isaiah rings out clearly in what we have heard today. The world, creation, is like a vineyard. It is a reality that is planted and cultivated so that it might produce what gives joy and peace. Humanity are the grapes of that vineyard that are to grow and produce. But grapes can also fail and rot. We know that well enough from plants in our own gardens which do not live up to our expectations. But the owner, the vineyard keeper, like God, persists.

Jesus makes use of the image of the vineyard, but with a conclusion that differs. He focuses his attention on the behavior of the tenant farmers. But, within that story, we are told of the consistent effort of the owner, of God, to reach out to the tenants. Messengers are sent, even the Son, to convey God’s care and concern. Thus we are reminded within this story of God’s desire to reach out to us, despite our often neglectful reaction. God continuously calls upon us to respond in a fruitful and productive manner.

The images used by Jesus are not fantastic or fanciful. They tell us of a simple reality. Despite the vastness and mystery of the universe in which we live, we are loved by our God, its source, its creator. We are so loved, as we are told, that in the person of Jesus Christ, our God, once more, seeks to be with us, to do “more” on our behalf. What is to be our response? We are to be that pleasing, peaceful refreshing product. Is that how you or I might be described today?

To gain a better appreciation of what we are to be, we can listen to Saint Paul as he addresses the Christians at Philippi and us. We are to demonstrate in our lives whatever is pure, whatever is gracious, whatever is excellent, whatever is worthy of praise. We are to do what we have learned and what we have received in this Faith we profess. It is in this way, in the vineyard of the world in which we live, the vineyard that needs so desperately the fine wine of our lives lived well, that we will produce the abundant and refreshing revelation of our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year – A October 1, 2017

Ezekiel 18: 25-26 Philippians 2: 1-5 Matthew 21: 28-32

At times when I read over the communication we received from God in the Scriptures read when we gather at the Eucharist, I ask myself what word might offer a good summary of what is heard. This week an answer came quite quickly. The word was “smarmy.” It may not be a familiar word, but it is defined as: “ingratiating and wheedling in a way that is perceived as insincere or excessive.” This describes well, at least to me, the second son in the example given by Jesus. It is as if he said: “Sure, Dad, I’ll take care of that. I’ll get right on it.” He said all of the right things and did nothing about it. I can easily envision him as one who was all smiles and charm. He had the right words. He was all talk and no action. For those of my era, who recall the televison show “Leave It to Beaver,” he was a regular “Eddie Haskell.”

In the example that Jesus presents, our reaction would probably be that we do not really care for the first son. He seems to have a real attitude. He is blunt and disrespectful., But, in the end, he gets the job done. That fact, getting the job done, as those who Jesus addressed acknowledge, was the real bottom line. What needed to be done was done.

There is, however, another aspect to this example, to this question posed by Jesus. It is an even more significant element to the story and our consideration of it. Stated simply, no one is beyond redemption. No one is beyond making a change. No one is beyond accomplishing in life that very basic identity we all have to be true reflections of God in whose image we are made.

As we hear Jesus, he also is quite blunt. Tax collectors and prostitutes, the very lowest of the low, the dregs of society, were often written off as beyond redemption. Jesus tells the rather smug leaders and teachers of his time that these supposedly disreputable persons are the ones who are willing to hear him, to listen to his call and to live their lives in response to that call.

Jesus is reflecting the thoughts that were expressed at another time by the prophet Ezekiel. Everyone, each individual, is responsible for his or her own actions. The worst sinner can undertake personal reform and change his or her own life. It is this reform that is important and will benefit the individual in the end. On the other hand, a person who has been seemingly virtuous throughout life can change and abandon that virtuosity. Negative results will occur. It  is the person who has acted, it the person who has freely decided for good or for ill.

It is not words, it is action. It is not prominence or position, it is whether that situation is properly used. It is not wealth or possessions, it is how the opportunities offered are employed.

St. Paul makes it clear to the Christians at Philippi and to us. We are encouraged in Christ. We take solace and comfort based on the love of God. We participate in the life of the Spirit. It is because of this that we are to regard all others as more important than ourselves. Each of us is to look out, not for our own interest, but for the interests of others. It is in this way that we are to have the same attitude that is Christ Jesus in actions and not just in words. This is the particular opportunity we have this week and next in responding to the needs of those devastated by Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, and the earthquake in Mexico through support of Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Relief Services. This is the way that we reveal to ourselves and to others the truth and the reality of our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Twenty-Fifth Sunday of the Year – September 24, 2017

Isaiah 55: 6-9 Philippians 1: 20c-24 Matthew 20: 1-16a

I have frequently considered the parable told by Jesus, to which we have just listened, to be one of the more difficult ones we hear from him. It appears to challenge some of the understanding we might have about what is just or correct. Of the many parables or stories that Jesus surely used during his ministry, only St. Matthew includes this particular one in his account of the Good News, the teaching of Jesus.

We might ask why, in the larger context of Matthew’s Gospel. account, he judged that this parable of Jesus fit into his framework about how a community of believers in Jesus Christ can appreciate the revelation of the nature and presence of God with us.

What gives us some insight into the importance of this story, I believe, are a few of the words spoken by the landowner. He had promised to pay the first ones he hired the “usual daily wage.” To the ones he hired later, he said he would pay “what is just.” He did not even discuss pay with the last ones he hired. The “usual; daily wage” was basically the standard amount that was needed to get by. It was what those who were hired could justly expect for a day’s work.

In the imagery of Christ’s revelation of God to us, we can recognize that God provides to us, and to our lives, our individual capabilities, what makes us up,what we are. Jesus is teaching us that God provides what is sufficient for anyone of us to live out our lives. If we use what we are and what we have been given, then we have all that we really need. It may not be a great deal, at least by a material measurement. We may often think we need more, but envy or jealousy of those who have otherwise is really pointless.

What this story, as it continues, reveals to us is that no matter when and how the relationship with God has been established in our lives, no matter whatever way any one of us accepted the invitation to live and work in the world in a union, a partnership, with our loving God, we can be assured of possessing all we need to live and grow, all that is sufficient for this loving relationship, no matter what we might encounter.

In other words, if any of our lives seem to be more difficult or challenging, if they seem to be too burdensome than others we know seem to be experiencing, it is not the unwillingness of God to extend a loving relationship to us, rather it is a self-centered and self-indulgent perception on our part – not unlike the first workers hired by the landowner. It is a perception that thinks I deserve more. It is a perception that defeats the possibility of a genuine growth as a person and as a reflection of God.

This is all a part of an important understanding we heard both from the prophet Isaiah and from Jesus in the Gospel passage. Very simply, it is this: God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, God’s ways are not our ways. Put in a different way, none of us have cornered the market on how things ought to be, especially in contrast to how the Creator of all life intends things to be,

Thus, for any one of us, actually for all of us, the challenge of our faith, the true test of our commitment in faith is to adopt the thinking of Paul. In dire circumstances, perhaps even in prison because of his preaching, Paul says that the most important point is not whether he lives or dies, but whether he was acting in a way worthy of the Gospel, the Good News of Christ. For us that means that we are to live in such a way as to make known in the parables of our own lives the truth and the reality of our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Twenty-Fourth Sunday of the Year- September 17, 2017

Sirach 27:30-28:7 Romans 14: 7-9 Matthew 18: 21-35

 

It makes no difference what medium happens to be used: a computer, newspaper, television or radio, sound bytes taken from a politician or some well known person are all teasers, a way of getting our attention, or upset us in some way. In order, though, to evaluate or understand what is briefly presented for whatever reason, it is necessary to know the context, the history, what surrounds the statement.

 

In the same way, we need to appreciate the relatively brief passages we hear from the Scriptures week after week. They are God’s communication to us. It is only a brief snippet of the whole of revelation God seeks to make to us.

 

In the context of the way St. Matthew is presenting the message of Jesus to us, what we heard today is actually part of a much larger framework. It is part of the teaching of how the life of a follower of Jesus is to be lived out within the community of believers that we are as Church, and, thereupon, in the whole of our lives.

 

What we are told, what is made quite clear, is that central to living the life of a believer is forgiveness. It is to be forgiveness without limits. It is to be extended not just a few times – seven times. It is to be extended seventy-seven times, that is, it is forgiveness that is uncounted, unrestricted.

 

That forgiveness is so significant in the life of a committed follower of Jesus is evident in the formula for prayer that has been left for us by Jesus and is recorded in the Gospels. Forgiveness is the very basic measure of the sincerity of our relationship with God. We ask God to forgive us based on the way in which we forgive one another. This is the model presented to us in the parable Jesus relates. If we want to experience the forgiveness of God for our own faults and failures, then that same spirit and attitude of forgiveness has to be essential in our own lives. It is a rather risky stipulation we make in our relationship with God.

 

What, though, is forgiveness? The insight which I gained rather recently, and which I have shared in various ways, because it makes sense to me, allows for an understanding of forgiveness that goes beyond mere saying the words. This insight understands forgiveness as not permitting myself or my living of life to be controlled in some fashion by how I may have been hurt by another. The decisions or choices that I may make are not based on how whatever was said or done affects me. I do not allow whatever event it was to change me or my attitude toward others.

 

Think of the opposite of an attitude or practice of forgiveness. This is what is suggested in the words of the wise man, Sirach. Wrath, anger, holding a grudge, seeking vengeance are the opposite of forgiveness. They can so readily control one’s life.

 

I offer a suggestion. Clench your fist as hard as you can. It takes effort. It can even hurt. Then let go and open that hand. Wrath, anger, grudges, vengeance – being so controlled by these emotions – that is the clenched fist. Opening that hand, letting that hand go in a free and unrestricted way, that is forgiveness. This is the open and willing forgiveness of our loving God.

 

As Jesus, through Matthew, seeks to instruct us on how to live as Church, as part of this created world in which we dwell, as he teaches us the very basic quality of forgiveness throughout the Scriptures and in the prayer that is so identified with our Faith, so it is to be forgiveness, freely given and unrestricted, that reveals in our lives the nature and extent of our faith and commitment to our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year – September 10, 2017

Ezekiel 32: 7-9 Romans 13: 8-10 Matthew 18: 15-20

I guess that it is one of those great mysteries of life. If you live or work with others and something is damaged, broken, forgotten or missing – or simply not done – the question is raised: how did this happen? No one seems to know. It is a mystery. Truth is, often no one is willing to take responsibility. At times this can simply be overlooked. At other times, however, it is important to know who is responsible. This all too common experience of day-to-day life relates to what is strongly suggested to us in the Word of God which we have heard today.

In the world in which we live and, especially, in the believing community of which we are a part, the Church, we are not alone. We are not isolated. Rather, we are part of a group, a whole, to which we bear responsibility. Whether it is to a family, a community, a country, or a Church, we have a responsibility to one another. In the context of our Faith and practice, we have a responsibility to one another to demonstrate, to live out with one another, our Faith and the meaning of that Faith as it impacts one another.

Today we heard about this in rather practical ways Ezekiel, an Old Testament prophet, recognizes in the revelation that is made to him that if he does not speak out as a prophet and challenge one who is hurting the community by that individual’s personal failures, then he, the prophet, is guilty of failure in his duties, his responsibilities.

Paul asks his readers if they want to understand how they are to live their lives. There are many commandments, precepts, rules and regulations to follow. But, in Paul’s mind, it all comes down to a simple statement: Love one another. Consider all the aspects of life and behavior with respect to others: Is it evident in what is said or done that there is this one guiding element: Love one another? Living in this way, being guided this way in the choices that are made, reflects God’s actions toward us and toward the world. Despite all the rejection so often made of God time and again, rejections that pale by comparison to what any one of us might experience, God continues to love mankind, to love us. Do we reflect this in our way of living?

St. Matthew’s account of the teaching of Jesus addresses very practical, day-today, living He basically outlines that responsibility to ourselves, to others and to the believing community is to be shown as an active part of daily living. As practical and concrete as these counsels and directions are, I believe the underlying principle of this way of thinking is often overlooked. With so much emphasis in our contemporary world on self-centered individualism – give some thought to the different ways a “me-first” or “us-first” attitude is show – and with so much disregard for the overall good of the whole, whether the family, the community, society, country or Church, and with so much willingness to avoid responsibility and concern for others who are a part of who and what we are as a society, we forget or are unwilling to recognize what we are called upon to do and to be as citizens, as Church, as a Communion of Saints, as the Body of Christ.

By a tragic coincidence, this same weekend offers us a special opportunity to give evidence of the awareness of our responsibility to others. We are being called upon to offer support to the Catholic Charities efforts to those affected by Hurricane Harvey. In fact, we may be called upon again in weeks to come in response to other disasters presently taking place in our country and our part of the world. Our responsibility in these cases is clear.

But it is every day that our call, our response as believers, is to reveal in our lives, and is to interact with others in such a way as to make know, to make more experienced and appreciated, our faith and trust in the totality of love that is our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year- September 3, 2017

Jeremiah 22: 7-9 Romans 12: 1-2 Matthew 16: 21-27

Who of us could really blame Peter for the reaction that he had to what Jesus was saying about the “Messiah,” the “Christ” having to suffer and be killed. It did not make sense. Truthfully, however, very few of us would not have reacted in the same way, because we often think or speak in a similar manner. Indeed, Peter’s thinking can be found when we say or think such things as: “ I try to be as good as possible, so why do so many bad things happen?” Especially when such things occur like illness, accidents, unexpected death or natural disasters. Or, “God must hate me because of what I have to put up with day after day.” Or. “It’s God’s fault that whatever happens to be happens to me.” In some form or another, the reactions that many of us have to what we experience in our day-to-day lives are just like Peter’s comments to Jesus: “It just is not supposed to be so. . . .”

The response made by Jesus to Peter is all the more surprising. It is strong. It is direct. It must have shocked Peter to hear it. From very ancient times, the understanding of those who recorded the Scriptures was that the intention of the Creator was that mankind would live in perfection with God. Mankind would live in paradise. Mankind, however, enamored with self, and with the freedom to choose, chose to be distanced from God. Mankind focused on self rather than other. Mankind chose, as Scriptures relate, to be “like” gods. God, on the other hand, was always other directed. This was so in bringing creation into existence and in giving life to mankind as the highpoint of creation. Humans are called to live in imitation of this loving God, not as a replacement of God. The imitation, reflection of God is found in the loving care for others, all others, and all of creation.

Time and again, as the sacred writers record, our loving God continued to reach out to mankind, to reach out to us. Ultimately, in the person of Jesus Christ, God assumed our life in order that we be led, we might be guided, to reconciliation with our loving and creative God. This is the recognition that we heard Peter make of Jesus on behalf of all of us last week.

But the redemptive reconciling effort of God on our behalf made by Jesus Christ would not be simple. It would not be automatic, because of us. Because by the gift of free will, we can choose to act or not act, to accept or not accept our call to reflect God in our lives. Like our own experiences in the reconciliation of any relationship in which we may have been hurt, doing this would be a challenge. It would be a struggle. That is the sign, the symbolism, the reality of the cross of Jesus Christ.

The further truth and development of our Faith is that not even the gruesome reality of death on a cross by Jesus would defeat the plan of God to be reconciled with us. Christ would overcome death in the Resurrection. Death would not defeat him. Any pain, any difficulty, any challenge we might encounter, any cross we may take up, can and will be overcome. It will not happen by simply disappearing, or by some miracle, but by the commitment and response that is made in union with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the offering of our bodies, our humanity, that Saint Paul describes. It is offering of signs of our humanity made in order to reveal what is good, what is pleasing, what is perfect – a genuine reflection of the goodness of God in the manner that we live, despite what we might encounter.

Yes, we may react like Peter. Yes, we, like Jeremiah, might think that we have been tricked in some way by God. But the misunderstanding in such a case is not with God, it is with us. Rising above our self-directed attitude and truly aflame with God, as Jeremiah describes himself, we take on the challenge of being human in striving every day and in every way to reveal in our lives our commitment to and our conviction of the loving an reconciling presence of our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Twenty-First Sunday of the Year – August 27, 2017

Isaiah 22: 19-23 Romans 11: 33-36 Matthew 16: 13-20

With the emphasis in God’s message to us today on the significance of keys, my thoughts turned to those important events in our lives when keys had a central focus. But, as so often seems to be the case, my own recollections probably are rather dated. This is because the first thought that came to mind was that important rite of passage when the keys to the family car were handed on to a new driver, to make use of the car on his or her own for the first time. I realized that the notion of “the family car,” as I had known it, was probably passé. It was no longer as important as it was in the past because there were multiple cars to a family, and the new driver may even have his or her own car.

Be that as it may be the case in the present day and age, there is a clear importance and symbolism to keys in whatever time is being considered. To possess keys to a place, to a container, to a vehicle, is a genuine sign of trust and responsibility. What we have heard today from the Scriptures points to a consideration of the trust and responsibility that is given to us by our God.

We heard a brief account of two Old Testament individuals, Shebna and Eliakim. What was that all about? Shebna was the steward to the king. He held the keys. He had the trust and responsibility over the management of the king’s household, the king’s wealth. But he had abused that trust and responsibility to his own advantage – what we would call a case of political corruption. Thus, he was dismissed from his position, as Isaiah recounts, and trust and responsibility, the key, was given to Eliakim. All of this is told to us today to set the stage for what we hear from St. Matthew. We move from a story involving the Chosen People of ol, to the new People of God, the Church.

In recounting this incident, St. Matthew first tells us that Jesus and his followers were in a foreign territory as if to get us to think that what will take place will be different from what had gone on before. Jesus poses to them the simple question of how he is identified by the crowds who have been following him. The answers that are given looked back to the past, that he was a repeat of the prophets of old. But, was this who he was? Peter steps up and makes an important identification. Peter and the others have been part of the ministry of Jesus. They have seen what he has done. They have heard what he has said. Speaking for the others, Peter has arrived at the conviction, through the inspiration of God in some form, that “You are the Christ.” Jesus is the awaited one, the promised one. God’s revelation was being fulfilled in him.

Peter, like the others, got it. He, and they, understood the difference in what was being made known to them. Although Peter did not fully understand it and he would fail, at times, as we all do, in living out the effects of that revelation of God that Jesus was making, still he was on the right path. As a result, Peter was given the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. He was given the trust and responsibility to continue this revelation of God, the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus was announcing. It is a revelation of God that continues with us as Church, the Body of Christ here and now in our world.

The trust Jesus hands over is total. The responsibility is complete. What they bind, what we bind, is bound. What they loose, what we loose, is loosed. Their actions would be in harmony with God’s actions in the world, as are our own actions to be.

That trust and responsibility is handed on to Peter in the scenario presented to us. He is the leader of the followers of Jesus. To lead, there must be followers. He was then the leader of the Church, that assembly of believers, the gathering of people who are united with God and with one another in Christ.

The trust and responsibility symbolized by the keys, however, is not given to one alone, but with the guidance of that one, it is given to all of us. As Church, as a community of believers, as individuals within that community, trust and responsibility is handed on to us. The trust and responsibility given to us as Church is to echo, to demonstrate, to live in every possible way and in all aspects of our lives, the riches, the wisdom, and the knowledge of our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Twentieth Sunday of the Year – August 20, 2017

Isaiah 56: 1, 6-7 Romans 11: 13-15, 29-32 Matthew 15: 21-28

How much we need to hear the message from our God that is found in the Scriptures today. It is found in the insights of the Old Testament prophet known as Isaiah It is found in the incident that took place during the ministry of Jesus that St. Matthew recorded. It is even found in the thoughts of Saint Paul that he included in his letter to the Roman Christians. These all indicate a very basic element of God’s relationship to mankind, that is, to all of us.

The underlying message in what we have heard today is this: To God there is no foreigner. If we are images of God, if we are to reflect God and godliness in our lives, if the goodness and presence of God is to be experienced in and through us, then this same understanding: to God there is no foreigner – is to be found, is to be experienced, is to be lived out in us.

Yet objections might be raised. Isaiah seems to outline qualities, even requirements, for non-Israelites to be included among the Chosen People. They are to join themselves to the Lord. They are to keep holy the Sabbath. They are to abide by the Covenant, that is, the Commandments. All of this is true – this is what the Scriptures state. But this is all within the context of being open, of being accepting and not automatically excluding anyone as “foreign” in some way. It means being willing to include those who might be considered foreign, or alien, or different than us. It means to accept their presence, to allow them to decide to be part with us, to abide in a genuine relationship with God that we profess we have.

The Gospel account from St. Matthew might also suggest an objection. Jesus showed genuine hesitation with regard to the foreigner, the Canaanite woman. The whole incident occurred because he was traveling in a foreign area, an action that was frowned upon by the leaders of the Jewish people. He also allowed himself to be involved in a public conversation with a woman – an action that was also forbidden in practice. The woman, for her part, showed bold openness and challenged the response made by Jesus, a response that actually seemed to border on ridicule. But, the foreign woman was not ignored because her faith superceded any rejection of her.

The pre-judgments, the prejudices that the actions of Jesus initially appeared to reflect fell to the side in the face of the almost humorous expression of faith of this woman. Faith is not foreign in one was considered a foreigner. Faith far out-weighed and overcame the human judgment of foreignness.

Even the somewhat cryptic commentary made by St. Paul in his letter offers insight. Paul saw that even in disobedience hope was found. In the rejection of the Gospel Paul experienced from his own Jewish people Paul saw the opportunity to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles. He also saw the opportunity for the mercy and forgiveness of God to be shown to his own people. As Paul recognized this, so too ought we to recognize that those who are foreign because they live differently than we do, or we judge them to do so, that those who, in disobedience to a relationship with God, act in ways that are evil and give evidence of the absence of God in their lives, also allow for hope to be found. This is the hope of God’s love that is ever-present, the hope that is to be present in us if we reflect the good, the mercy and the reality of God.

Living in this way is not easy. It is challenging in so many ways to the manner in which we often choose to live and to think. But, to me, if we listen carefully to what we have heard, if we allow those words to sink in, then we will realize that, in truth, there is no one who is a foreigner to our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Nineteenth Sunday of the Year – August 13, 2017

1 Kings 19: 9a, 11-13a Romans 9: 1-5 Matthew 14:22-33

The Gospel story that we just heard appears rather simple and straightforward. It is miraculous, yes, but it does not seem to be all that complex. It serves us well, however, to take the time to think this incident through. It can truly convey to us a great deal about the relationship of God with humanity as a whole, and God’s relationship with ourselves through the person of Jesus Christ. It is the whole purpose of Christ’s mission in our world to have us appreciate and deepen our relationship with our loving God and how this factors into and affects our lives and the way that we live.

Peter and the others were out doing what they had normally done as fishermen. They were living their lives in what would be considered the expected way, being in a boat, being on the sea. Experiencing a storm, even a sudden one, was really not all that unusual for them. It may have been frightening, but it was not something that was unknown.

Into the midst of this, Jesus appears. They were actually just coming to know him and were in the process of deciding whether they would truly invest their lives in him as followers. He appears to them, walking on the water. It was the water of the sea made turbulent and treacherous by the storm. But he was walking on it in what would be considered a normal fashion. He was reaching out to them, sailors frightened by the storm, yet he was not disturbed by what nature, what life, was presenting to them. He was a singular exception to everything around them, offering his presence to them as they experienced the reality of their lives as they knew them at that point.

Then we are presented with Peter, Peter the impetuous, Peter the bold one. He can do the same as Jesus. Can he really do the same? Could he overcome the forces of nature as Jesus was doing? Jesus was reaching out to him, bidding him to join with him. Peter, at first, appears to be able to contend with the treacherous sea. Then he begins to rely on himself alone. He lapses in his total faith and trust in Jesus. He begins to sink into the mire of nature, the stormy sea.

The presence of Jesus to Peter and to the others was able to sustain them no matter what nature, no matter what life, put before them. That is the clear and underlying message of this incident recorded by St. Matthew. As long as they maintained their faith, as long as they acknowledged him, he would be able to guide them through any storm. Surrounded by this storm, representative of any adversity we might face, he declared, “It is I, do not be afraid.” In their faith and trust, they declared, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

Too often we make the relationship with God to be too complex, too difficult, too demanding. Like Elijah, we expect God and the relationship with God to be found in a crushing wind, or an earthquake, or in fire. The presence of God, rather, is found in the whispering wind. The presence of our God, as revealed by Jesus Christ, is to be calming, as softly whispering in our lives. That presence comes when we recognize what is good in ourselves, what is truly good in life, what is good in the creation which surrounds us. That presence comes when we realize that this same calming presence will stand with us whatever tempest might rock the boat of our life to steady it, to guide it on its course.

When we recognize what is good around us, when we recognize that this is what reveals the loving reality of God to us, then the call is made to us, to be the very best reality of the qualities of life with which we have been endowed by our God. When we allow, with patient, loving trust, the revelation of that which is good, when we allow the experience of good to be found in and through us individually and as a community believing in Jesus Christ, then is made know and then is experienced the reality of our good and gracious God.