Tag Archives: Pharisees

22nd Sunday C: Friend, Come Up Higher

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Meals of every kind are described in the New Testament. Jesus begins his ministry at a wedding banquet in Cana in Galilee, John’s gospel says. Before his death, he has a meal with his disciples and after his resurrection he has some meals with them again. Martha and Mary and his friends in Bethany celebrate the return of Lazarus from the dead at a meal. His enemies say he ate too many meals with tax-collectors and sinners. Some of Jesus’ most profound teachings and actions take place at a meal.

Today in our reading from Luke’s gospel Jesus is invited to a Sabbath meal at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, but this meal is different from those just mentioned. They were carefully watching him, the gospel says. At a Sabbath meal God is thanked for his gifts, which he gives to all, but at this meal Jesus is being watched. He’s not an ordinary guest as he enters this home. He’s there to be measured and grilled by his hosts and put in his place.

At the time of Jesus it wasn’t unusual for a symposium to take place at a meal, especially in the home of someone like the leading Pharisee in today’s gospel. A symposium was an occasion when there would be a discussion of issues: questions would be raised, controversial matters would be debated. It was a time for people with quick wits and sharp tongues to show off how smart they were.

At this meal Jesus was going to be discussed; questions and controversies about him would be brought up and he would be disposed of. So we might imagine the guests at the Pharisee’s home on that occasion were like spectators at a prize fight, looking for the best seats to watch and maybe even take part in the contest themselves.

If this meal was a symposium, and I think it was, listen carefully to Jesus’ words to those who were there. He doesn’t just tell his hearers about common etiquette; he reminds them what this meal should be all about. This is a Sabbath meal. It’s a time for thanking God for the gift of life. It’s a time for rejoicing, not for showing off how smart you are. This is time when God calls us up higher. “Friend, come up higher.” From our small places here on earth, from the smallness we might consider our lives to be, God calls us up higher. It’s not a time pulling people down with your smart words.

For that same reason, this is a meal where everyone should have a place at the table, not just the wealthy and the privileged, the smart and the powerful, but “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.”

Now, that’s what our Mass is about, isn’t it? Our Mass is our Sabbath meal where we give thanks for the gift of life. We give thanks to God. It’s right and just, our prayers say. We do this at all times, “always and everywhere,” but now we do it as disciples with Jesus our Lord. We listen to his word, we come to him in the bread and the wine, and through them he comes to us.

“Lift up your hearts.” “Friend, come up higher.” We lift up our hearts to the Lord. God calls us to come up higher, to see our gifts and the destiny we’re promised, to recognize our relationship with one another, to let go of the fears and doubts that cloud our minds, to feel the peace and hope God wishes us to have. The Mass prepares us for the life beyond this time. . “The Mass is ended. God in peace.” “Thanks be to God.”

Our Mass is a wonderful teacher, and we’re meant to take what it teaches and make it part of the rest of our lives. Let me give you a simple example, since we’re speaking about meals. Suppose we could make our meals, our eating together, Sabbath meals, where we enjoy the gifts of God we find in food and in one another.

That may sound like a strange suggestion. It sounds strange because eating together is becoming a endangered practice today. For one thing, a lot of people eat alone today, or if they come to a meal they might as well be eating alone.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our meals became times when we experienced those words of the gospel: “Friend, come up higher,” when we build each other up instead of tearing each other down, when we all feel welcome by others, even the stranger and the outsider, when we enjoyed the gifts of God in food and human companionship.

Entering the Circle of Believers

One of the disadvantages of reading the scriptures parceled out as they are in our daily Mass lectionary is that we can lose sight of the larger picture an evangelist like Mark is painting. He starts Jesus’ ministry with the cure of a possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum and then Jesus cures Peter’s mother in law and that brings crowds of local people to Peter’s house.

Mark’s narrative is quick and excited. They go to other towns in Galilee, and by the 3rd chapter of Mark, when Jesus returns home to Peter’s house, he’s followed by “a large number of people from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon.”

They’re not the only ones following him now. The scribes have come from Jerusalem, who say he has a demon, and the Pharisees go to plot with the Herodians about putting him to death. And they hear about him in Nazareth; his relatives say, “No, he doesn’t have a demon. He may be out of his mind,” and they come to bring him home. Mark wants us to see the mother of Jesus and his brothers pushing through this noisy, confused crowd as they arrive at the house to bring him home. “Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3,31-35) Just a small circle of believers were seated around him then. VATICANCRUC

Some commentators describe Mark’s gospel as a Passion Narrative with a prelude. In other words, the early stories in Mark’s gospel announce the last story of his Passion and Death and Resurrection. Also, they see Mark’s gospel written to help the Christians of Rome who suffered a brutal, surprising persecution by Nero in the mid 60s. It was an awful persecution, senseless, arbitrary. It left them confused and wondering what did this all mean? So, even in Mark’s account of Jesus’ early ministry there’s an atmosphere of confusion and lack of understanding that was found during his Passion.

Not only do the Jewish leaders and scholars misunderstand him, not only do the crowds not understand, but his own family can’t grasp what’s happening. It’s too much for them. The Passion of our Lord is not something we easily understand, Mark’s gospel reminds us, no matter how long we look at it. It’s not easy to enter the circle of believers. But we have to keep following him. Like Mary and others from his family we have to keep going back until, like them, we finally understand. Only after Jesus dies in Mark’s Passion Narrative do you hear a word of understanding; that’s when the Roman centurion cries our, “Truly, this was the Son of God.”

4th Sunday of Lent

Lent 1
Readings (Please read further for Spanish and Swahili versions)
The story of the blind man receiving his sight (John 9,1-41) is a dramatic gospel, not only because of the miracle, but because of the heated exchanges and clever dialogue found in it. Jesus and his disciples, the blind man himself, his parents and neighbors and a divided group of Pharisees all interact vigorously in the story.

Unlike others, this blind man did not approach Jesus. Rather, Jesus approached him. And remarkably, the miracle did not just restore the man’s sight. Blind from birth, he never before had the power to see. Could he represent those who can do nothing for themselves? Nothing at all, except wait for the power of God? He could be all of us.

At the sight of the woebegone beggar, Jesus’ disciples wondered: did he do something to deserve it? Some sin he or his parents had committed? No, Jesus replied. “He was born blind so that God’s power might be displayed in curing him.”

It was Jesus’ message always: God wills to display his power in the poor. God’s power — healing, restoring, creating — goes out to the blind man and others like him. And as Jesus dispensed this power, so too he told his disciples “to carry on while daylight lasts the work of him who sent me.”
God’s power, not our own, is given to the poor. As Jesus’ disciples, we must work to share it with others. Then, perhaps, some of its blessing will fall on us. After all, aren’t we poor too?

“Humbly see your nothingness, never lose sight of it. Then, when His Divine Majesty makes it disappear in the Infinite All that is himself, stay there lost without seeing who you are any more. It’s not important. Follow his divine inspirations. The less you understand, the more ignorant you are in this school, the more learned you become. Neither you or any creature can know the grandeur of God and the divine impression he makes on humble hearts because he delights in them.” ( St. Paul of the Cross: Letter 929)

Lord,
I am blind;
Help me to see.

Spanish

4to domingo de Cuaresma, Año A
Juan 9, 1- 4

Este es un evangelio dramático, no solo por el milagro, sinó también debido a los animados intercambios verbales y diestro diálogo que se encuentran en él. Jesús y sus discípulos, el mismo hombre ciego, sus padres y vecinos, y un fracturado grupo de fariseos todos discuten vigorosamente en este cuento.

En contraste con otros, este ciego no buscó a Jesús. Mas bién, Jesús lo buscó a él. Es interesante que el milagro no solamente restauró la vista del hombre. Ciego desde nacimiento, él nunca había tenido el poder de ver. ¿Puede él representar a todos los que no pueden hacer nada por sí mismos? ¿Nada en lo absoluto, excepto esperar por el poder de Diós? Él nos puede representar a todos nosotros.

Frente al cuadro de este triste mendigo, los discípulos se preguntaban : ¿Será que él hizo algo para merecerse esto? ¿Algún pecado que él o sus padres habían cometido? No, respondío Jesús. ” él nació ciego para qué el poder de Diós sea manifestado en su cura.”

Era el mensaje de Jesús siempre: Diós escoge demostrar su poder por medio de los pobres. El poder de Diós- que sana, restaura y crea- procede hacía el hombre ciego y otros como él. Y mientras Jesús dispensaba este poder, también le decía a sus discípulos ” que sigan con el trabajo de Quién los mandó mientras todavía dura la luz del día.”

El poder de Diós, no el nuestro, es que se le da a los pobres. Como discípulos de Jesús, tenemos que trabajar para compartirlo con otros. Entonces, quizás, algunas de sus bendiciones caerán sobre nosotros. ¿Despúes de todo, no somos nosotros pobres también?

“En humildad nota tu insignifícancia, nunca pierdas vista de ella. Entonces, cuando su Divina Majestad hace que se desparezca en la Totalidad Infinita que es Él, descansa ahí perdido sin ver quien ya no eres. No es importante. Sigue sus inspiraciones divinas. Lo menos que entiendes, lo mas ignorante que eres en esta escuela, lo mas qué aprendes. Ni tú ni ninguna criatura puede comprender la grandeza de Diós y la divina impresión que él hace en los corazones hulmildes porque el se deleita en ellos.” (San Pablo de la Cruz: Carta 929)

Señor,
Estoy ciego;
Ayúdame a ver.

Lent
Jampili ya Nne Mwaka A
Hi ni Injili ya matukio, si kwa sababu ya miujiza tu, ila kwa sababu ya majadiliano motomoto na yenye uelewa yanayopatikana humo. Yesu na wanafunzi wake, kipofu mwenyewe, wazazi wake, majirani na kikundi cha mafarisayo kilichogawanyika, wote wanachangia kwenye hadithi.
Tofauti na wengine, kipofu hakumkaribia Yesu. Bali Yesu ndiye aliyemkaribia. Kwa namna ya pekee muujiza haukumfanya kipofu apate kuona tu. Kipofu tangu kuzaliwa, hakuwahi kuwa na uwezo wa kuona. Inawezekana kuwa anawakilisha wale ambao hawana uwezo wa kufanya kitu chochote wenyewe. Hawawezi kufanya kitu chochote ila kusubiri nguvu na uwezo wa mungu. Kipofu huyo anaweza kuwa sisi sote.
Wanafunzi wa Yesu wanashangaa kama alitenda kitu kilichomfanya astahili kuwa kipofu. Alitenda dhambi au wazazi wake ndio walitenda dhambi? La, Yesu aliwajibu. “Alizaliwa kipofu ili nguvu kuu ya mungu iweze kudhihirika katika kumponya.”
Ulikuwa ni ujumbe wa Yesu kila mara: Mapenzi ya Mungu ni kuonyesha uwezo wake kwa maskini. Nguvu za mungu za uponyaji, kurejesha na kuomba vinamuendea yule kipofu na wengine kama yeye. Vile Yesu alivotoa uwezo na nguvu ya uponyaji, aliwahimiza wanafunzi wake kuendeleza kazi ya mungu aliyemtuma yeye kuifanya.
Nguvu ya mungu si yetu, imetolewa kwa maskini. Sisi kama wanafunzi wa Yesu, inatubidi tufanye kazi na kuishirikisha nguvu hiyo kwa wenzetu. Nasi pia pengine huenda tukapata baadhi ya baraka zake. Hata hivyo kwa sisi pia ni maskini.
Mtakatifu Paulo wa Msalaba
Jinyenyekea na kuona kuwa huna kitu, na usipotese muelekeo. Halafu wakati utukufu wake mungu utatufanya nasi tupotelea kwake. Kaa pale na ujione kana kwamba haupo. Fuata maagizo au maelezo yake mungu. Vile unapungukiwa na kuelewa hapo ndivyo unavyojioana huna kitu katika shule yake. Hamna kiumbe chochote kinachoweza kufahamu alama anayoweka kwenye mioyo ya wanyenyekevu kwa sababu anapata furaha katika hao.(Barua 020, December 21, 1754)

The Tax-Collector’s Prayer

In Luke’s gospel Jesus often sides with those who are so let down by life that they hardly dream of anything better– tax collectors, widows, sinners like the prodigal son. He was criticized frequently by others for associating with people like that, so he must have done it often enough.
The tax collector in the parable we read today, who’s praying in the back of the temple, is an example. Luke recalls earlier in his gospel that Jesus sat down at table with Matthew and some of his tax collector friends in Capernaum. Was he telling their story in this parable?
Staying at a distance, eyes down, the tax collector says only a few words:“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
The Pharisee’s prayer is so different, so full of himself; he seems to ask only for applause and approval. The tax collector asks only for mercy.
His prayer is heard so shouldn’t we make it our own? Tax-collectors,  widows and sinners stand closest to where all humanity stands. We all need God’s mercy. We come to God empty-handed.
“O God come to my assistance. O Lord make haste to help me.”

“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Friday, 2nd Week of Advent

Gospels are holy books read in church or in the quiet of our room. But they’re about real human beings, who can get angry and unfair.

When Matthew’s gospel was written, in Galilee or Syria about 90 AD, the pharisees were leading a revival in Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and they were competing fiercely with the followers of Jesus for the soul of Judaism. The fighting wasn’t always fair–on either side.

The pharisees and their allies called Jesus a drunkard who ate too many meals with the wrong kind of people, among other things. His friend John the Baptist was a crazy eccentric, they said.

We don’t like them saying that about Jesus and John the Baptist, of course, but the followers of Jesus said some pretty nasty things about the pharisees, if the 23rd chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel is any indication.

Fairness isn’t easy to come by in human life and relationships. We caricature people so easily, especially when they are on the other side of an argument.  Our tongues can become uncontrollable and that goes for our judgments too. We like to win, often at any cost, even by running down someone else.

We don’t like the pharisees we hear about in the gospels, but be careful: look closely, they’re not unlike ourselves.

 

 


Woe to Us Too!

Woe to Us Too!

We’re reading from the 23rd  Chapter of Matthew today, always a tough section to talk about.

One benefit modern scriptural studies give us– and we should be thankful for it– is a better understanding of the past. For instance, as we read from the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel today, it helps to understand the times they were written. Otherwise, we can get a distorted picture of the people whom Jesus loved, the Jews, whom he seems to condemn exclusively in our gospel today.

Matthew’s gospel was written in Syria or Galilee about 40 or 50 years after Jesus had died and rose again. By then, relations between his followers and the followers of the Pharisees had soured as Pharisaic Judaism tried to pull together Jewish life after the terrible destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD.

Relations between the two groups were not amicable, to say the least, and as we know, when tempers flare, words can become unfair.

We’re hearing some unfair words in Matthew’s gospel today. Matthew’s sharp polemic, says Rudolf Schnackenburg, a modern commentator on the gospel, “does not really do justice to the conduct of the scribes and Pharisees, not even for the time of alienation between Judaism and Christianity.“ In other words, Matthew’s exaggerating the faults and weaknesses of his opponents.

So, should we ignore these powerful “woes” Jesus speaks? Better, perhaps, to apply them to a wider audience than Matthew does. The 19th century British historian Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to  corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He was speaking about the temptation that affects anybody in power to use it for his or her own aims.

Matthew’s woes apply just as well to Christians and their leaders. They can be hypocritical, proud and opinionated too. Instead of hearing Jesus’ words meant only for others, then, let’s hear them meant for his followers–and ourselves as well.

Woe to us too!

Putting in the Seed

In one of his poems, “Putting in the Seed,” Robert Frost describes a farmer’s love affair with the earth. It’s getting dark and someone from the house tries to fetch him from his work to come in. Supper’s ready on the table, yet he’s a

 

“ Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.

How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed

On through the watching for that early birth

When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,

 

The sturdy seedling with arched body comes

Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.”

 

Can’t you see that farmer in his fields zestfully casting seed on the waiting earth? Is he an image of God, the Sower, who casts saving grace onto the world in season and out, because he loves it so much?

Our readings for the 15th Sunday of the Year seem to suggest it. If you have ever been to Galilee and seen the lake where Jesus spoke this parable and the surrounding lands abundant with crops. you know this is a blessed place. It was in Jesus’ time too. In a place like this, the sower scatters his seed with abandon, hardly caring where it goes: on rocky ground, or amid thorns, or on the soil which gives a good return.

God the Sower sows blessed seed, no matter how badly our human world appears, or how badly it receives. The gospel passage from Matthew (Mt 13,1-9) is preceded by accounts of growing opposition to Jesus and his message. John the Baptist is arrested and killed (Mt 11,1-18), the cities where he preaches reject him (Mt 11, 22-24) the Pharisees say his miracles are done through the power of Satan (Mt 12, 22-38).

In the parable Jesus acknowledges that the seed is rejected and well as accepted. But the sower still sows. The seasons bring snow and rain; grace is never withheld. And that makes us hope.

And is it just the  human world God loves? Does his love extend to all the earth God finds “good,” as the Book of Genesis says. We worry about our planet earth, and with reason.  How fragile our environment has become, what damage we careless humans do!  We are concerned rightly for its future.

These readings tell us to hope for our earth too. Though it is not immune from the threat of destruction and degradation, God loves it still. He’s a Sower at work, who deeply loves  the world he has made. Blessed be the Lord God of all creation, may you sow your blessings on all.