Tag Archives: Gospel of Matthew

The Epiphany

We’re into the New Year and automatically we wonder about the future. We can’t avoid it. We’re wondering what this year is going to bring. What’s coming?

Living in a secular age as we do, we see things mainly with eyes for the here and now, which often boils down to politics and economics. What’s the country going to be like under President Trump? What’s the economy going to be like? Unfortunately when we look at things only like that, we can end up being small minded. We can think that what we see and hear and touch now is all there is. We lose a larger vision of life.

We need the spark, the light, of revelation.

Can we see that light in the mystery of the Epiphany we celebrate today? It begins with a star, guiding some travelers on their way. Can this mystery lift up our secular minds and point out something more? Is our world being guided by a Star?

To start, let’s not see the story of the Magi as a cute story of some people riding on camels coming to see Jesus. More than that, it’s a revelation of God’ divine plan which carries news for us and our world, and it’s as important now as it was then.

The Magi story is only found in the Gospel of Matthew, who was writing for Jewish Christians in Galilee and the Syria about the end of the first century. The temple of Jerusalem was recently destroyed and Jewish Christians like other Jews were facing an unknown, disturbing future. When Jesus came to them, he began his mission saying to the Canaanite woman, who pleaded for a cure for her daughter, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mt 15;24)  “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus first told the twelve whom he sent out to preach. (Mt 10, 5) It looked as though the promises of God were for the Jews and them alone.

But that made the promises of God too small.

Matthew’s story of the Magi was a reminder that the gospel was meant for others besides. Jesus came for all, though his ministry was first to the Jews. God wants the world to be one family and he wishes his gifts and graces be given to many peoples and places. God doesn’t save a few.

The Magi may have come from present day Iran or Yemen; two places we hardly view positively today. We tend to see ourselves a privileged people and our own country a promised land. God is on our side. Better to leave the rest of the world to its wars, its earthquakes, its immigrants, its divisions, its problems. As the old song once said, let’s find “perfect peace, where joys never cease, and let the rest of the world go by.”

We can’t let the rest of the world go by. The story of the Magi reminds us we live in a big world that God means to be one. The story of the Magi is not a sweet story about people on camels who looked and dressed and spoke differently than us. They’re symbols of the world beyond ours that’s called by God to share in his promises.

And the newcomers come with gifts.

Tuesday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1
Matthew 23,1-12
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” according to Lord Acton, the 19th century British historian. There’s a tendency for those in power to use it for themselves and their own aims.

The Jewish Christian communities that Matthew originally wrote for, according to experts on Matthew’s gospel,  were closely connected to the Jewish communities of their day, and as an emerging minority  felt pressured in the religious rivalry between the two groups  that followed  the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Jewish Christians pointed to their Jewish neighbors as examples of Jesus’ early warnings about abuses of power. That anti-Jewish polemic appears  in Matthew’s gospel.

But would they also see abuses of power in themselves and their own communities? Abuse of power is in every society, secular or religious, and it’s found on all levels, not just in those on top. It affects the most ordinary relationships. Would Matthew’s readers (and we who read his gospel today} see it in their own church and in their own actions?

St. Paul of the Cross was no modern social critic and had no grand design for reforming the society of his day, but he did see temptations of power in people with authority over others, like Thomas Fossi whom he directed many years. Fossi, married and a successful businessman, tended to try to run other people’s lives, especially his own family’s.

Paul frequently urged Fossi to stop being bossy. He offered himself as an example, when Fossi wanted Paul to be his spiritual director:“You make me laugh…saying that you want me to take charge of you. You don’t even know me. I don’t want to be in charge of anyone, nor have I ever thought of being a director, neither yours or anyone else’s. If I thought I knew how to direct others, I would be a devil in the flesh. God deliver me from it…I want to serve everyone and to offer sometimes some holy advice, based on holy truth and on what the spiritual masters say–to anyone who asks it of me.”

Lord,
lead me away from temptations of self-importance,
as if my ideas, my vision, my convenience matter most.
You came to serve and not to be served.
Show me how to wish for what’s best for others
and save me from being a know-it-all.
Show me my faults,
and then take them away.

What treasures do we bring to heaven?

In Matthew’s gospel today at Mass, Jesus speaks of treasures in heaven. Usually treasures for us are gold, silver, works of art, gems, degrees from school, signs of achievement. But they’re the “treasures of earth” Jesus speaks of in the gospel.
Thieves can steal them away; they can be eaten by moths and forgotten. They don’t last. (Matthew 6,19-23)

Other treasures are for heaven. St. Paul sees some of them in his trials for the gospel. God won’t forget his sufferings: the beatings, imprisonments, brushes with death, the long journeys over seas, rivers, and wildernesses where robbers waited. Paul lists dangers he faced, both from enemies and his own people. God wont forget any of them, down to his sleepless nights and bouts with the cold.

He ends his list with what might be the biggest treasure of them all; “the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?” He’s tried to be responsible everyday with the people around him, whether they’re the weak or the trying. That’s the lasting treasure God holds in heaven. (2 Corinthians 11,18 ff)

We might not be able to rival Paul’s list from his missionary travels, but let’s keep Paul’s last important achievement in mind. If we do what we have to do each day as well as we can, if we are faithful to our daily duty, if we bear our daily cross, if we bear with the weak and the difficult, won’t that be our treasure?

God counts it so.

The Gospel of St. Matthew and the Virgin Birth

holy family

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about,” today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel begins. He describes it through the experience of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Matthew’s account is summarized in the creed. “I believe in Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God…who by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.”

Is this true? Here’s Pope Benedict XVI:

“The answer is an unequivocal yes. Karl Barth pointed out that there are two moments in the story of Jesus when God intervenes directly in the material world: the virgin birth and the resurrection from the tomb, in which Jesus did not remain, nor see corruption.

“These two moments are a scandal to the modern spirit. God is “allowed” to act in ideas and thoughts, in the spiritual domain–but not in the material. That is shocking. He does not belong there. But that is precisely the point. God is God and he does not operate merely on the level of ideas. In that sense, what is at stake in both of these moments is God’s very godhead. The question that they raise is: does matter also belong to him?

“Naturally we may not ascribe to God anything nonsensical or irrational, or anything that contradicts his creation. But here we are not dealing with the irrational or contradictory, but precisely with God’s creative power, embracing the whole of being. In that sense, these two moments – the virgin birth and the real resurrection from the tomb–are the cornerstones of faith.

“If God does not have the power over matter then he is simply not God. But he does have this power, and through the conception and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation. So as the Creator he is also our Redeemer. Hence the conception and birth of Jesus Christ from the Virgin Mary is a fundamental element of our faith and a radiant sign of hope.”

(The Infancy Narratives: Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, pp 56-57 )

Like the temple rulers in Jerusalem who rejected Jesus in his time, there are those who reject him today.

You can find the scripture readings for today here.

How do you tell people they’re wrong? 23rd Sun. A

 

To listen to the audio of today’s homily please select below:

One of the hardest things we have to do in life is to tell somebody they’re wrong. Our readings today are about that. You need help correcting people. The Gospel of Matthew (18,15-20) today suggests that sometimes help may be sitting right next to you.

Awhile ago, on a crowded train from Toronto to New York I had  hoped to pass the long ride by napping and reading a book. But around Buffalo, two women got on and sat across from me.  One of them must have been hard of hearing because at least half the car could hear her conversation.

They never stopped talking, about food, clothes, their families, their health, the different medicines they were taking.  Then, one woman brought up her husband. She had had trouble with him. After the kids got married, he started to drink and he got nasty when he drank. It got so bad, she said, that she told him to get out of the house and get straightened out. She wasn’t going to leave the house; he had to get out.

Well, he got mad, she said, and went to live his brother for awhile, but after a couple of months he was back. He told her she was right. He stopped drinking. It was a hard thing being so strong with him, she said, she loved him very much,  but she remembered the story in the bible where the father threw his son out of the house and after awhile he came back.

The other woman said she knew that story too and wondered where it was in the bible.

I was ready to chime in and tell them that story’s in St. Luke’s gospel, chapter 15, and actually the father didn’t throw the son our of the house. He left on his own. But something told me to keep my mouth shut.

Just then, another woman a few seats down the aisle turned to the women and said, “You must be angels sent by God. I’ve been praying for months, trying to figure out what to do with my son, and I think you’ve got the answer.”

Her son was on drugs, she said. “He’s a good kid, but he’s in the wrong crowd.” He was having a bad influence on his younger brothers and sisters, but she felt she had to keep him home. He just couldn’t manage on his own. Her husband was no help; he wanted to ignore the problem.

She talked to her minister in church and he told her she was being too easy on her son, but she wasn’t convinced.

Now, listening to these women, she felt God was telling her something. She had to be like that father in the gospel story that threw his son out of the house. She was going to look that story up in the bible.

Again, I was going to tell them the location of the story in St. Luke’s gospel and that the father doesn’t really throw the son out of the house, but I thought better of it. Maybe the version they had in their minds was the version God meant them to hear.

By the time the train reached Albany where two of the women got off, they were all fast friends. They had exchanged phone numbers and emails and promises to keep in touch, and they were thanking God for this time on the train as a  special grace.

Sometimes we think the scriptures are about a world long gone. But this gospel isn’t about a world long gone. It’s also about those three women– and all of us– who sometimes need to say and do hard things and don’t know how to do it.

God sends help, often in the simplest ways–maybe even on a long train ride. That one, I remember,  ended up in New York City 5 hours late.

 

22st Sunday of the Year. A. Thinking Like Human Beings

 

To listen to this weeks homily just select the audio below:

Last week in the gospel Jesus called Peter the rock on which he would build his church. Today he calls him “Satan” and tells him to get away from him.

In the gospels Peter is usually the voice of common sense. That’s what you would expect from a fisherman making his living on the sea. When storms come, get out of their way and head for port.

And so when Jesus speaks of the storms of suffering and death he will face on his journey to Jerusalem, Peter advises him to turn away. “God forbid, Lord, no such thing shall ever happen to you.” The voice of common sense.

But Jesus reminds Peter (and us along with him) that he is thinking “as human beings do.” He even calls him “Satan.” He tells Peter, and all of us, to think as God thinks.

Our readings today remind us of the limitations of human thinking. Jeremiah the prophet says to God in our first reading “You have deceived me.” “You have let me down; you don’t love me; you don’t care.” We only see so far as human beings. When the mystery of the cross casts shadows of sickness, failure and disappointment over us, it’s hard for us to say “I see, I understand, your will be done.”

We’re limited in the way we think. How, then can we think as God wishes us to think? Certainly we can’t know all that God knows. God’s thoughts, God’s mind is infinitely beyond ours.

Thinking like God means knowing the world God made and living in it as God wants us to.

I wonder if the signs of the bread and the wine we bring to the altar can help us see what it means to know the world God made and live in it as God wishes us to live in it.

As we offer the bread to God at Mass we say: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”

The bread is a sign of everything, of all creation, we say, creation as it has been given to us by God and creation our hands have fashioned.

Scientists say that our universe came into existence about 15 billion years ago.

About 3.5 billion years ago life began on our planet. The universe is represented in this bread; it holds the story of the universe.

About 200,000 years ago human life emerged on our planet. 200,000 years of human life are represented in this bread. Our lives are part of the human story.

We believe that God created our world and it’s is good. The Book of Genesis tells us that. God has a plan for this universe. The scriptures say there’s wisdom and love in that plan. His kingdom will come.

We all have to care for this world, each of us has a part to play in that greater plan.

But we also know the mystery of evil is at work in our world and the mystery of evil is also represented in this bread.

When Jesus took bread into his hands at the Last Supper we have to see the magnitude of that action. He took all created reality, all human existence, the goodness and evil of life in his hands. He was a sign of God’s love and care for all of it. He took it in his hands and gives it to us, in turn, blessed by his presence.

“This is my body.” “This is my blood.”

How significant it is that he gives himself to us in bread and wine. It’s an invitation to live in this world, depending on his wisdom and power. He will show us the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sermon on the Mount


In his Sermon on the Mount, which we’re reading these Sundays, Jesus takes to another level what the law says or what most people say. “You have heard it said, ‘you shall not kill’…you have heard it said ‘you shall not commit adultery.’…But I say to you.” “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’…You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’…But I say to you.”

He asks for a higher, more nuanced morality from us, because we are children of God and not children of the world.

The British novelist and philosopher, Iris Murdock, describes in her novels a world of bright, successful law-abiding people who consider themselves above traditional morality. They’re not murders, or rapists or criminals, for sure. They wouldn’t think of breaking the law, because they and their interests are protected by law.

But civil laws say nothing about most of life, and Murdock’s characters decide for themselves how to live, according to their own wisdom. They make their choices based on what they want or what’s best for them. They’re sincere people, but because of the way they think morally, their lives and the lives of others get messed up.

Murdoch’s characters – and they represent a large portion of educated, western society today – have a strong belief in their own wisdom. They decide their own morality. They’re masters of their own fate and can’t believe that their wisdom might be limited or fed by their own fantasies or could affect others. What’s right for them, is right.

What are the consequences of that kind of moral thinking? You can see it in broken friendships, broken families, broken lives, and a society not built on common norms, but on personal choice.

How different is the idea of choice in Sunday’s reading from Sirach. “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you. (Sirach 15,15) The commandments are wise guides and Jesus extends them further, as we see in the Sermon on the Mount. We should learn from this wisdom, search into it and hope it becomes part of the way we think and act.

“You have heard it said, ‘Choose for yourself’…But I say to you…