Tag Archives: Sunday Gospel

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.

Questions About God

 

At a wedding banquet some years ago, a little girl named Chelsea, a flower girl at the wedding, came up and asked if I wanted to see her walk on her heels. And she proceeded to show me how well she could do it.

Then she leaned over and said. “ Could I ask you something?’” I said “Sure.” She said “ What was God doing about a million years ago?”

Well, I had to think for a while about that. Then I said something like  “A million years ago, God was taking care of the sun in the sky, so that it could shine bright every day. And God was counting all the stars. God was making sure there were enough animals around, like giraffes.  About a million years ago, God was taking care of the world and everybody in it, and loved doing it.”

Children ask the best questions, questions that make us think about things we take for granted or maybe we’ve stopped wondering about. Or worse, we may think we know all the answers.

Some of the questions Jesus was asked are like that. “What does God want us to do?” Jesus is asked in today’s gospel. He answered; “God wants you to love him with all your heart, and all your  mind, and all your soul. And he wants you to love your neighbor as yourself.”

A curious child wouldn’t let it go at that. “What does loving God with all your heart, and all your mind and all your soul mean?” “How do you do that?” “”What’s does loving your neighbor like yourself mean?” “Who is my neighbor anyway?”

We should never stop asking those questions either. Questions about God and about love are big questions that open the windows of our minds to a bigger world and the way we live in it. They can make us grow.

I suppose that’s why Jesus told us that only by becoming a child will we enter the kingdom of heaven. Don’t lose the sense of wonder a child has. Don’t lose the curiosity of a child. Don’t lose the imagination of a child.

I think this is true especially in religious matters. “ I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” What does that mean? “I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” What does that mean?

We need a childlike curiosity and imagination when we approach stories from scripture. My last blog was about an artist who tells the story of Martha and Mary and Jesus in Bethany. He had a wonderful childlike imagination. Take a look at the way at the way he tells that great story.

God meets us through the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. It’s a wonderful story. Let’s not make it too small or forget it.

23rd Sunday

One of the hardest things we have to do in life is to correct somebody, to tell someone they’re wrong and take steps to stop some harm being done. Our readings today are about correction. Correction is not just what people in authority or experts do; we all have to stand up for what’s right.

You need help doing this, and the Gospel of Matthew (18,15-20) we read today suggests that sometimes help may be sitting right next to you.

Awhile ago, I was coming back on a crowded train from Toronto to New York;  a long ride that I hoped to pass by napping and reading a book. But around Buffalo, two women got on and sat across from me. They were older women. One of them must have been hard of hearing; she talked so loudly that people all around her could hear her conversation.

They never stopped talking, about food, clothes, their families, their health, the different medicines they were taking.  But 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 in a couple of months he was back. He told her she was right. He stopped drinking. It was a hard thing to be 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.” She knew that he was having a bad influence on his younger brothers and sisters, but she felt she had to leave him in the house. 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 again 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 in solid agreement and were new 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 time of special grace.

Sometimes we think the scriptures are about a world long gone. But read our gospel carefully. It’s not only about a world long gone. It’s also about those three women and all of us who sometimes face hard things to say and do and don’t know how to do it.

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


God of Storms and Tiny Sounds

Sometime in the summer I go down to the Jersey Shore and just sit by the water. The other day some young boys were looking out at the ocean and one said to the other: “What do you think is out there where we can’t see?” The other said, “ I don’t know, but something’s out there.”

Little children were playing along the shore that day, and as mothers and fathers have always done, they stood close to the children telling them to watch themselves, the waves can be dangerous.

The sea is fascinatingly beautiful and dangerous at the same time. For St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, the sea was a favorite symbol of the infinite love of God and our spiritual passage to a new, uncharted future. He lived for many years on a mountain on Italy’s Tuscan coast and I think he spent a lot of time looking at the sea and learning from it too.

It’s a book that teaches us about life. We may believe in God’s love all right, but sometimes storms come that seem more powerful and we’re sure we’re going to sink.

That’s what happened to Peter in Sunday’s gospel. When told by Jesus to come to him over the water, he set out bravely, but “ when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter.”

The sure hand of God is stronger than the raging storms of the sea, our gospel reminds us. Hold on to that hand.  At the same time, our first reading from the Book of Kings reminds us that God is just as strong in quiet times when nothing much seems to be happening.

As the Prophet Elijah watches from his mountain cave, strong winds, earthquakes, fire strike the mountain, but he finds God, not in these, but in the “tiny whispering sound” where one might not expect God at all. God works in quiet times too.