All posts for the month October, 2013

Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church Norman, OK

Sirach 35,12-14 + Psalm 34 + 2 Timothy 4, 6-8, 16-18 + Luke 18, 9-14

For several Sundays we have listened in to Jesus instructing his disciples through various stories and parables in response to their request: “Lord, Teach us to Pray.” Of course, the instruction is for all disciples, and still is. Today is the final instruction, and he places the examples in the Temple. The location itself has something to say. The Pharisee belonged there which is probably why he was up front. That tax collector, because he was working for the Romans and considered a traitor, was not exactly “in” the Temple. He would have had to stay outside in some other courtyard, at some distance. So the set-up invites us to begin thinking about these polar opposites, and then join in the surprise at the end when the justification of one is affirmed and the other is left out. It’s all backwards, and to “get” the story, we have to set aside our prejudice against Pharisees, and our tendency to champion the under-dog. What Jesus says about the two of them does not make sense at all, and it should not make sense to any of us who are here, in church, with our tithe, with our long record of being faithful, and true, prayerful, and sincere. In fact, we need to put ourselves in that Pharisees’ shoes. If there were Pharisees in the crowd that day listening they would have had every reason to shout: “What?”  “What are you saying?” “We have done everything you asked of us! We kept the rules! We  listened to what you said! What do you mean that guy went home justified?” With that reaction, they have revealed a lot about themselves and even more about their relationship with God.

At this point, it is time to connect the dots, so to speak. It’s time to look more deeply into what justification consists of, where is comes from, and then wonder about whether or not it’s even worth it to pray: at least pray as we may have been praying.

If all you consider here is the words of their prayers, there is nothing better or worse about either one of the prayers these men are offering to God. Both have a relationship with God which is ultimately what prayer is all about. Both of them are honest and sincere. What’s different about them is their frame of mind. The mind, the thinking, the perception of reality in which the Pharisee functions is the problem. He does not have the mind of God. He does not connect with God or relate to God in the way God wants us to. His claim on “justification” comes from what he has done, it does not come from his relationship with God. His whole relationship with God is based on obligations and rules. In contrast, the Tax Collector has a totally different relationship with God. It is his relationship that is preferred. Prayer is all about relationship.

What we are all invited to learn from this instruction of Jesus is that our dialogue with God must be about what is on our minds and where we are in our lives. The way we live our lives day in and day out reveals the truth about us. Our failures, our sins, our imperfections are always with us. Can you hear that in the prayer of the tax gatherer? God loves us just the way we are. Yet we often think that what we do or what say will change the way God sees us. It does not. It cannot because God already has loved us. We can’t get more. So doing good things to get God’s favor or earn some heavenly points betrays something very fundamental: a deep doubt that God loves us. The good things we do, how we pray, and how we live with one another must spring from a real and personal conviction, or from faith, the belief that we are loved by God.

We come to prayer in faith with different motivations and different needs, but the highest motivation is pure love. Without that, our prayer is shallow and self-serving. All our actions and decisions, all that we say and do must come from our love of God. Otherwise, our actions are just self-serving and useless. What this parable teaches us about prayer is that is far better to simply come before God just as we are and simply ask for understanding and mercy. Our past as a church is full of great and noble men and women who were the most broken and the most vulnerable who found divine favor through their simple humility and honesty.

These people do not look upon others. Hear that in the prayer of the Pharisee. These humble and honest people of love, in their relationship with God, become the best channel of God’s love, God’s Justice, and God’s mercy because they share what they have found, they imitate what they have seen, and they give back to God the love they have discovered in their faith. These are people of Joy and people of Hope. These are the people who go home justified not because of what they have done or for that matter how they have prayed, but because of how they lived and how they have loved.

Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church Norman, OK

Exodus 17, 8-13 + Psalm 121 + 2 Timothy 3, 14-4,2 + Luke 18, 1-8

Luke’s Gospel is easily recognized because of his sensitive and gentle focus on widows. In a bigger picture, the women of Luke’s Gospel are given much more of a place in the work and ministry of Jesus than in the other accounts. This parable is one of nine parables found only in the Gospel of Luke It is perfect example of the way Luke shows the concern of Jesus of widows. He raises the widow’s son from the dead. He complains about the way Scribes take advantage of widows, and he holds widows as models because of their generosity toward others in need.

In the context of what Jesus has been saying to the Disciples during this part of the journey to Jerusalem, this text is certainly about prayer. However, it is not some abstract theory about prayer. It is a look into the way Jesus prays. A few verses earlier, and for us, a few weeks back, the Disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. As I said then, they did not want a formula or set of words. They wanted to know the secret or have some access to the real prayer of Jesus. What he gave them was a relationship, not a formula. He gave them the “Father.” He drew them into an intimate relationship with His Father that restructured their relationship to one another. Since that incident and dialogue, Jesus has been refining this kind of prayer with each conversation.

What unfolds for us at this point is one more piece of how it is that Jesus prays; why it is that he prays, and what it is that he prays about inviting us to enter into that prayer with him. This is much more than a proposal that we pray with persistence. In some ways that can end up being a mindless kind of stubbornness that in some way might be heroic,  yet also senseless, repetitive, and maybe destructive.

What inspires the persistence of Jesus, and what he would pass on to us, is a vision of the Reign of God. He has a clear vision of what that must be like, a clear sense of his Father’s Will, and because of what he believes that future will hold, he remains persistent and constant, committed and undistracted by anything else or anything less.

My own opinion is that a lack of imagination, a lack of vision, more often causes people to get discouraged, give up, and quit than any real obstacle. When the cry goes up: “Why am I doing this?” it’s all over. I sometimes think that this is what gives parents such extraordinary patience and sustains them through the “terrible twos” and the “tween years”: a vision, a hope, of what that child may and can become. When that vision is clear and always inspiring, no one gives up.

This is the role of faith which Luke invites us to explore with that cry of Jesus at the end of the parable. It is faith that provides the vision and the hope. If there is no faith, there will be no reason to persevere and persist. More interesting and more specific is the issue that this widow raises in the face of a judge who is too much like the “justice” of our day and time.  Justice is what she wants. Justice is the dream and vision of Jesus: justice for widows, justice for the poor, justice for the outcasts, helpless, and powerless of his time and ours!

There is another way of looking at this parable that I find disturbingly powerful and motivating. It is a vision that Pope Francis has begun stir in many people throughout this world. In this way of thinking, the Church is the widow. Her plea and her persistence in that plea is exactly what the church must be about in this world: a consistent and never ending insistence for justice in a world too accustomed to injustice and too comfortable to address and respond to the cry of those who wait for justice.  The Gospel suggests to the church that Justice is our mission, and only by persistent demands will justice come. The Gospel suggests to us all that a vision, a dream, of what the Reign of God will be like can keep us from becoming discouraged at it’s slow realization. That vision is a time of Justice and Peace consistent with the teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ and his Church. With that vision, we could hardly ever give up or keep quiet.


2 Kings 5, 14-17 + Psalm 98 + 2 Timothy 2, 8-13 + Luke 17, 11-19

An easy lesson on gratitude here; but way more besides. None the less, it’s probably a lesson worth a review now and then in an age when the art of writing a “Thank You” note seems to have passed. An age of privilege rarely expresses thanks except when there the hope of getting more. However, somehow this leprosy has made companions of Jews and a Samaritan. How odd and unexpected. Suffering can often bring together folks who have nothing more in common or folks who are actually (as in this example) quite at odds with one another. But this terrible sickness is not all they have in common: they are outcasts and they all turn to Jesus of Nazareth in hope.

They get sent to the priest. That’s an odd command for a Samaritan to follow. There would be every reason to suspect that the Priest should refuse to see him, refuse anything to do with him. After all, he’s two-time loser: a Leper and a Samaritan. We don’t know what happened when he went to the priest, but I like to think that the priest did what was expected and threw the Samaritan out. In sense, this story has as much to do with being “in” and being “out” as it does with being grateful. The nine get back “in” when they go to the priest. That’s what the visit was all about, being restored to the “fold” so to speak ,or to the tribe. Leprosy had expelled them. The priests recognition restored them. But restored them to what or to whom?

The Samaritan has no where to go, so he returns to the one who accepted him in the first place, and in this act expresses his gratitude; and then, by that gesture, he is gathered in, restored and confirmed to be among the “saved.” The nine never hear that good news. They are content to be restored to the tribe, back into the normal life-style of the day, and as far as we can tell, they never hear those wonderful words announcing and confirming their salvation.

There is something admirable about this Samaritan just like the other one who picks up  a man left at the side of a road by robbers. He not only does what is right, he goes a little further. The nine did what they were told, and no more. The Samaritan did the same but more. Somehow that little extra makes a difference and makes a story to share about salvation, what it means, and what happens to someone who does more than just ask Jesus for something they want.

Luke writes to a church with a reminder that being included is good and brings wholeness; but we might want to consider just what group we want to be part of. Those nine seem more interested in being part of a group that is just like them; exclusive and probably considering themselves privileged. The Samaritan sought to be counted among the grateful saved.

Luke writes to a church with a reminder that just doing what you are told to do is not quite enough. That stuff makes Jesus sad. Doing a little more than is expected seems to draw one closer to the one who saves.

Luke also writes to a church with a reminder that real prayer is not just about begging for mercy and coming to Jesus just when you need or want something. It is the prayer of gratitude that shows real character, faith, and goodness. This is the prayer of the Church that we call “Eucharistic.” Absence from the Eucharistic assembly raises some serious questions then about one’s faith, one’s relationship with Jesus of Nazareth, and about just where and to whom one belongs.

It’s a good story to think about, and we probably all ought to reflect a bit on just how it is and when it is that we pray, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to think about how much more we can do than simply what is commanded of us. And finally, a little reflection on just what group we would like to and long to be a part of might not hurt either. God is Good.

Habakkuk 1,2-3,2,2-4 + Psalm 95 + 2 Timothy 1, 6-8, 13-14 + Luke 17, 5-10

My family lived in a home with a mulberry tree in the front yard. The tree was planted between the sidewalk and the street: a narrow strip about four feet wide. The developer, who obviously knew nothing about mulberry trees, probably planted them because they grow fast. In no time at all the street was a tunnel through mulberry branches; and by that time no one could not walk safely down the sidewalk because the roots of the trees pushed the concrete up and away from the street. It was a mess. As the one who had to mow the grass in that yard, I knew that the roots were everywhere right on the surface, and they were huge. So every time I hear this image, I get the point. That tree isn’t going anywhere which is probably why it was once so popular in Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain! That tree is still there after 40 years, and the concrete sidewalk as been moved three times. It would not surprise me to hear that the house was now even a few inches higher. Mulberries don’t move. They do the moving. There is a lot to think about then with this two verse saying for apostles and for an apostolic people.

This story is a wonderful example of the extreme exaggerations common to that culture at the time. “Pluck out your eye if it is a cause for sin.” is a perfect example of this kind of story telling. In this style of exaggeration then, Jesus proposes the impossible: moving a mulberry tree! His point is that even the smallest amount of faith can make the impossible possible because, and this is the point, faith relies on God. Faith does not rely on human resources alone. God could move that tree, but no man alone could move it. When we finally get that right, finally understand that faith is about relying on God, not about what we can do, then all this makes sense. Yet our world and our times think that everything has to be big and powerful. “That is the way to get things done” thinks this world. Jesus suggests otherwise. Little faith, mustard seed faith, is all that is necessary. We don’t need a lot, we don’t need big faith. We just need enough to rely upon God. That is all.

Then comes a second and much more complex story. At first, we are almost conditioned to wonder about this master who seems so demanding and unreasonable toward a servant who has worked all day. However, the master is not the point or focus of the story. Forget him. This is a story told to disciples, not to masters. The apostles ask for increased faith,. There we go again: thinking that it takes a lot, or big faith, but the response of Jesus is to propose the attitude of a “servant.” It might even help to know that the word Luke uses in Greek is the word for “slave”; a much more significant word than “servant.”

What is remarkable about this servant is that he worked all day in the field, and then assumes household duties at night preparing and serving a meal. All of this without overtime pay or any particular recognition or affirmation. For disciples who are looking for glory and fame, a particular place or seat at the banquet of eternal life, this message is important. For us who sometimes slip into thinking that we can earn our way into grace, or that things we do will provide us special recognition by God now or on judgement day, there is a very powerful and important point to this story. It seems like we are always looking for extra credit like we may we have done in school. Service, no matter how well performed is not going to get us somewhere. It will simply be evidence that we know who we are and what is expected of us as servants. It doesn’t sound too exciting. It won’t draw a lot of attention. It never seems to bring any particular rewards. It’s just a little thing, doing what is expected, but it is what is asked of us. It is the foundation of greatness. Do well with little things, and more will be given.

This is a very real and practical message to young people and old people, to students, to mothers and fathers to teachers and all of us. Learn how to do the little things well. Don’t worry about winning awards for doing what you do because of who you are. Little things matter, and little things done well with a little faith will with the help of God have great consequences.