All posts for the month July, 2002

The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

July 28, 2002

1 Kings 3:5, 7-12 + Romans 8:28-30 + Matthew 13:44-52

Matthew comes now to the end of Chapter 13, and the next discourse is about to begin: a discourse on Discipleship. His Jesus has drawn us in side. The parable of seed sown everywhere was spoken to the crowds by the lake side, and the final parable of the net is spoken from within to those who have asked and sought the meaning of these parables and shown desire to find the kingdom of heaven. For some that effort is as easy as tripping over something that was right in front of them. For others, it is a labor of desire that goes on and on. In either case, we have learned that it takes “Understanding” that has nothing to do with cognitive awareness, but rather with a commitment to act out what we believe.

What Jesus hands on to those who have shown their desire to go in, to go deeper, to ask the big questions about the meaning of his teaching, and to seek understanding in the face of scorn and ridicule is WISDOM. It is his gift in Chapter Thirteen to those who will now become his disciple/companions. Be wise enough, says Jesus, to know that the reign of God is more important than any other value. Be wise enough to give yourself to that reign in all you are and all you do.

As the Gospel will continue to unfold, we shall see this Wisdom in Jesus. We shall see this Wisdom as Jesus personified. The Liturgy this day gives us hints from the Old Testament about this treasured gift in the story of Solomon. It urges us to be like the scribe at the end of this chapter who can reach into that Old Testament to bring forth this Wisdom and give it life in Jesus Christ.

This “Wisdom” is not the same as “Intelligence”. Smart people are not necessarily wise people. Those who possess Wisdom know how to live, how to distinguish right from wrong, truth from a lie, what brings goodness from what brings harm, what is authentic and what is false. The Wise can recognize and pursue true and lasting values like the people in the story Jesus tells us today.

The mind, the heart, and the attitude of Jesus Christ must be ours if we are to be Wise and possess the treasure that he has come to give us in himself. In Him we shall become wise enough to serve others as he served, indiscriminately, without playing favorites, and always without judgment. This in the end is what it shall be to live in the reign of God. We shall take the long view in this world, looking toward what has begun among us and what it shall become. We shall judge the true value of everything and everyone in terms of eternity. In other words, what will this person, this experience or even this joy or this suffering mean to us at the end? Will it pass with us to the other side? If not, the wise will ask if it is worth all the effort, energy and attention we are tempted to give. We shall, if we become wise, leave most matters to God who is Wisdom and to Jesus who is Wisdom Incarnate. The more we put on Christ, the more wisdom we shall possess, and perhaps the best evidence of our growth in that wisdom is to ask for it in our prayer.

The 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK

July 21, 2002

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19 + Romans 8:26-27 + Matthew 13:24-30

“How far do you want to go?” was the question I posed to you last weekend. The lure of Chapter Thirteen continues with more parables of the Kingdom: parables that requires some information leading to understanding for those who want to step more deeply into the Kingdom of God. Without that information, we are left with silly riddles that do little more than entertain like riddles do for those who enjoy superficial intellectual guessing games.

There is a distinction drawn all through this chapter between the disciples, who understand these parables and those others who are not given understanding. This distinction is at the heart of chapter 13. One group has gone in, the other is content to simply look, but as Jesus says, they don’t see. Beneath these parables collected by Matthew and woven together to reveal the truth of God’s working presence in our midst is the subtle invitation to move deeper into “understanding” which does not mean an intellectual awareness, but rather a commitment that involves faith and obedience, a moral commitment that involves our deepest selves. These are not parables that tell us how to live. They are not about what the Kingdom of God will be like in the future, but rather about what is happening right now. Since the Word of God is alive in our midst, these parables speak to us about this year and this very hour. These parables speak to our understanding.

We are warned today about the difference between simply “hearing” the Word of God and “understanding” it. The commitment to which we are called, the commitment, which is pure gift to those who want and seek it, is threatened less these days by persecution than by secular scorn. You know what that sounds like: “You don’t really believe all that stuff do you?” For Matthew’s crowd it was more political and physical persecution, for us, it is scorn and ridicule. The effect is the same. The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches are still able to choke the word. If anything, this chapter ought to drag us to our knees and wrench from our hearts a prayer for the gift of understanding that what we believe with our minds might be acted out in our daily behavior. These parables challenge us to leave behind a pedestrian, pragmatic, everyday world that treats God as irrelevant or like a tamed mascot and enter a new world where God is the primary reality, where God is working even though human eyes cannot perceive the reality.

Let me leave you with one detail, one fact, which might bring these parables to life as they did those to whom they were first spoken. “Three measures of flour” could, in our time, be thought of as “three cups”. But the fact is, “three measures” is actually about fifty pounds! With that much dough, bread for more than one hundred people would have come from her oven. It hints at the bounty of the heavenly banquet. It acknowledges that God, the leaven, is at work in ways no one can see, and reminds us that the outcome of God’s activity is more and greater than we can imagine or accomplish on our own. This parable and the mustard seed parable insist that God’s action in the world whether perceptible or not is nonetheless real and will in God’s own time come to bear fruit. This Kingdom is not something that will suddenly appear full blown without some prior activity. It is happening right now.

In every case through chapter thirteen, the human response is a significant issue. Like buried treasure, God’s activity is hidden and must be discovered. Like a pearl of great value, it must be sought in order to be found. The Kingdom of God is not something we acquire like a piece of real estate. It is not something we possess, it is a sphere into which one enters. It is a participation in the rule of God that must be total. Those who want to be there, who want to participate in the Kingdom of God, must go all the way in. They cannot just see. They cannot just hear. They must understand. For that we ought to pray now and in the days to come.

The 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK

July 14, 2002

Isaiah 55:10-11 + Romans 8:18-23 + Matthew 13:1-23

Bob Dylan wrote a short parable for the cover of his album John Wesley Harding. Three kings are trying to understand the new Dylan recording. They visit a wise man and ask him to tell them what it means. “How far would you like to go in?” asks the man. “Not too far.” Reply the kings. “Just far enough to say we’ve been there.”

“Just far enough to say we’ve been there.”………

It could be the story of our lives when it comes to the Kingdom of God. “How far would you like to go in?” It could be the story of our lives with the Word of God. Some will say, “Just far enough to say we’ve been there.”

With these thoughts, we get an interesting “take” on the Parable today from Matthew 13. We are going to be in this chapter for the rest of this month, and I am wondering how far you want to go. You will not go far if you only hear it in here. THE PATH. You will simply be able to say you have been there.

If you pick it up and read it at home the rest of this month, you will have gone a little further. ROCKY GROUND AND THORNS.

If you read it, pray with it, listen to it, and it influences the way your live and what you do the rest of this month, you will have gone all the way in. RICH SOIL.

A parable that originally revealed something about the sower gets retold in the midst of a community that has begun to experience what Jesus himself knew first hand: the unyielding rejection of his works and words by the scribe, Pharisees and other religious authorities of his day; the superficial enthusiasm of the crowds who hung around when he fed them and entertained them, but were no where to be found when he didn’t do what they wanted, his own family’s misgivings about his mission, and the confusion and lack of comprehension on the part of his own closest friends and disciples. Talk about Rocky Ground and Thorns!

Between the time Jesus told a parable about a sower who was generous in sowing the seed far and wide, and the time Matthew took the story and retold it in the midst of their experience of rejection and misunderstanding and superficial commitments on the part of many, the parable becomes an allegory about the harvest. We would do well to embrace the whole picture from parable to allegory remembering the sower-God that Jesus reveals with an invitation to imitate that generous mission, and the soil into which it is sown with its encouragement to be rich soil – open to what is sown in our hearts, and anxious to see a great harvest spring for our faithful lives.

We are a believing community invited to be renewed in our efforts at hearing, bearing, and living in accord with God’s good Word. Isaiah speaks to us today of the power of that Word to create, to inform, and to realize what has been promised. “How far would you like to go with that Word?” I ask you today. If you want to do more than simply say you’ve been here, then take no offense and be not surprised when it gets tough to be faithful to that Word and be recreated and reformed by it. The promise we proclaim on this day however, is that those who will go all the way in will know a harvest greater than ever before imagined. How far do you want to go?

The 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK

July 7, 2002

Zechariah 9:9-10 + Romans 8:9-14 + Matthew 11:25-30

Humor me while I demonstrate something to you.

(Hold a dissonant chord on the organ/piano an uncomfortably long time and then lift.)

That is noise. Now watch this.

(Play the same notes with some rhythm breaking up the chord.)

That is music.

The difference between the two sounds is something called “rest.” It makes music out of noise, and it is also what makes life out of time. One of my favorite definitions of life is what happens we are not at work. Rest is what Jesus speaks of today, and it is an essential element in the life of a disciple.

Deep within us there is a need to express and experience our relationship with God by making things “holy”, but sanctifying them. It says as much about us as it does about God, but it is important, and when we do not have that experience, things go wrong. At a civic/political level, this is what reacts in us when we see the American flag burned and ripped apart. This is what reacts in us if we see a tabernacle violated and the sacred hosts trampled. It is what has led legislators to make the vandalism of a church or a cemetery a felony in civil law. In our effort to relate to and connect with God, human kind has always set aside things and places for exclusive use in communion with God. It is the same with time. From its origins, Israel was instructed to sanctify its time on this earth, to set some of it aside for exclusive use in communion with God. Israel called this time: Shabbat.

If there is to be a sacred place, like this church, in which only things related to God take place, then there must also be sacred time. Part of God’s creative action was rest, the final act of creation. Since that divine rest was begun on the day after humankind was created, human existence itself cannot be imagined in a world where this is no Shabbat, or holy rest. As a lived experience, the word means “to cease” or “to desist.” It calls for a break in routine and a period of holy rest that allows an invites us to enjoy God’s world rather than do battle with it, to relax rather than struggle, and live in harmony rather than achieve domination.

Without rest there is no balance in life, no integration of one’s gifts and relationships. This rest is what allows us to stand in the middle ground between the opposites and contraries that mark out lives so painfully. There is more to this rest than simply the interruption of work. It is an opportunity to celebrate what God has done and remember that it is God who is doing. Without this kind of rest, we are very likely slip into thinking that we are the ones who are in control.

In this stress-ridden world that is production driven, fast paced, and filled with workaholics, “rest” is looked at with suspicion. Many think of it as a waste of time, and they feel guilty if they are forced into it. “Time is money.” Says one way of looking at life, and in that system, to waste time is to waste money, and to waste money is to fail. To this world, Jesus speaks today, and to those who would follow him and experience the Kingdom of God today and every day, rest has an important place in life. “Come to me”, he says, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you…come to me and you will find rest for our souls.”

To rest in Jesus does not mean to flop into an exhaustion-induced “coma”, but rather to appropriate his mind, his wisdom and his strength. It is to drink deeply of the Spirit of Jesus and be renewed and refreshed. What Jesus speaks of empowers the disciple to compliment service with prayer, and meaningful preaching with quiet thoughtfulness. It is a rest that allows the disciple to have values, rethink priorities, and adjust attitudes. It allows disciples to regroup and re-center themselves in him and in the cause of the Gospel. Understanding this Gospel and accepting the invitation of Jesus, silences the guilt and anxiety of unfinished work. Failure to hear what this gospel asks of us turns life into misery and little more than unfinished work that never sees an end, a purpose, or a value.

Those of us who will be disciples of Jesus, can be set free from slavery, and doubt, and worry that we have never done enough. We can be free of marking our worth and the value of others by things done rather than by what we are as children of God and be free to life in joy filled peace and loving kindness. This is the day of the Lord. It is the day we make holy. It is the time we set aside for God, for remembering God and for remembering our place and our share in God’s creation. It is the day in which and by which we too are made Holy. Without it, we shall never be a holy people. With this gift of rest, God can write the music of our lives.