All posts for the month July, 2017

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time July 30, 2017

1 Kings 3, 5, 7-12 + Psalm 119 + Romans 8, 28-30 + Matthew 13, 44-52

St Joseph Parish, Norman, OK

“Have you understood all of this?” It’s a good question. If this Gospel is the living Word of God spoken in every age, it is being addressed to us today. “Have you understood all of this?” Matthew says that the apostles said, “Yes.” I don’t believe them. I can remember my father standing over me the first time I drove off in his car at age 16. There had been some serious instructions, warnings, and disguised threats. “Do you understand me?” he concluded. I wouldn’t be standing here today if I had said, “No.” In all honesty, when it comes to that example, I’ll never really understand because I’ve never had a 16-year-old son, but I am beginning to understand a few things about the Kingdom of Heaven, and with that understanding has come some changes in my life.

In the parable about the field and the pearl, those two people find something that is already there right in front of them but hidden. They find it because they were looking. Imagine how many others may have walked by and never noticed, or seen that pearl and ignored it or maybe after looking it over decided that it was just a rock land tossed it aside! It seems to me that these two “finders” are pretty much like the inhabitants of this world. There are some who are just living day by day as if this is all there is not particularly looking for more, and then there are those who are searching all the time hoping that there is more to this life than work and sleep in order to get up and work again. Everyone in here falls into one of those two categories.

The Gospel insists that the Kingdom of Heaven is right here in front of us. It is not something we have to earn or work for. It is not something we build either in spite of a popular hymn that suggests we are building the Kingdom of God, a proud and preposterous thought! The reign of God is already established. Jesus came to lead us into that Kingdom, to teach how to recognize and then live in that Kingdom; and he shapes the behavior of those who discover it. It is a gift: the gift of God’s presence which is right in front of us. The parable proposes that those who are looking will find it, and it describes their response to the discovery of this gracious gift.

Those whose eyes have been opened to see what God is doing in Jesus commit themselves whole heartedly in faith and obedience. They will be people of Joy. Anything that gets in the way, or keeps them from the life of service, joy, and peace that marks that Kingdom must go, be sold, or sacrificed. There is no substitute for what is found in the Kingdom of God. It is the discovery of what we were made for, what we live for, and who we are as God’s loved ones for whom all creation was made and to whom all creation has been entrusted so that God’s beauty, God’s peace, God’s love can be known and shared for all eternity.

My friends we have come here today seeking “the pearl of great price.” We find it on this altar not just in bread and wine, but in the communion of the forgiven that this sacrament establishes among us. Our joyful, hope-filled, and blessed unity here is a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven, and what we do and what we say when we leave here renewed and strengthened by another taste of the Kingdom can strengthen all others who are seeking and looking for what we have found. “Wisdom” says Pope Francis, “is the grace of being able to see everything with the eyes of God.” It is the curious look of a man in a field, or a merchant who knows a fine pearl when he sees it. It is the look of a volunteer who sees their brother in a homeless man. It is the child who embraces with excitement the grandparent who has become a burden to the rest of the family.

Jesus asks again today: ‘Have you understood all of this?”

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time July 23, 2017

Wisdom 12, 13, 16-19 + Psalm 86 + Romans 8, 26-27 + Matthew 13, 24-43

St Joseph Parish, Norman, OK

One of the punishments I suffered as a child was pulling weeds out of the garden at our home. Mom had roses. Dad had vegetables. They both of their gardens had weeds.  While down on my hands and knees in anything but a prayerful mood, I would wonder if there weeds in the Garden of Eden.  I would think: if everything God made was good, what are these weeds, and why am I doing this? Then I would remember the offence that put there, and I would get all confused and just jerk off the tops leaving the roots. Fifty years later, I would still pull weeds out of Mom’s rose garden as age made it more difficult for her to keep it just the way she liked it. It was no punishment then. It was a privilege; but still I still wondered about weeds just the way this gospel invites us to do.

Who decides what is a weed and what is not a weed? A lot of people look at dandelions and think: “Weed”. It’s got to go. People who make and enjoy Dandelion Wine would disagree and hardly be motived to pull it up, and how many of us have the big grin on a child’s face who picks those yellow booms and makes a bouquet for Mom? So, the question remains, “Who decides which plant is undesirable?” When Jesus tells this parable and then discusses it with his disciples, he talks about the world with good and evil people. When Matthew retells the parable, it is to reflect upon the church with good and evil people to make the same point. The task of weeding questionable people or the task of deciding what is a weed is not part of the disciples’ job description. The landowner insists that there is to be no weeding. Everything gets a chance to grow until the harvest time, and the disciple is not the reaper.

This world, and even our church, has a lot of people who think they know just how things should be. Those “weeds” upset what they think is the way God has planned the order of things. These people are more like the Pharisees of the Gospels than those people Jesus is forming with parables like this. To them, Jesus was a problem. He ate with sinners, worked on the Sabbath, and did a lot things that to them were like blowing dandelion seeds over the perfectly lawn. I suspect that with a smile on his face, he went on to talk about a mustard seed that grows up and shelters the birds of the air. The people of his time considered the mustard plant invasive. It tended to take over everything around it. It was to them, a weed! Image them standing there shaking their heads at these images just as we might well shake our heads over our own inconsistent behavior and attitudes. Here is Jesus confusing us suggesting that there might be something good about this mustard weed.

These parables must make us wonder first about our own lives. If there are weeds to pull, let them be attitudes and behaviors within us. We all have plenty of weeds to pull, and perhaps the first is the weed of judgement about others; our quick decisions about who is good and who is bad, who belongs here and who does not, who is an alien and who is not. The Gospel today asks us to reassess all of this with the reminder that we are called to plant not to weed or reap. If there are weeds in God’s garden, there is always the chance that we planted them. Our best hope is that we are something like the mustard plant that grows to provide shelter and comfort for others in God’s creation even if some might think we are weeds because we do so. Sometimes our failures and our sins would merit us being pulled up, but the good news here is that the owner is willing to wait for us to get it right before the harvest. I have an idea that in the Garden of Eden when all was perfect there was just a lot of diversity and refreshing variety; and a “weed” was just a name for something waiting for someone to discover wine.

The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time July 16, 2017

Isaiah 55, 10-11 + Psalm 65 + Romans 8, 18-23 + Matthew 13, 1-23

St Joseph Parish, Norman, OK

Jesus told this parable to reveal something about the Father’s extravagant generosity since his mission was ultimately about the revelation of God. Matthew probably included this parable urging the church of his time to examine how they had received the seed or the “Word” of God. Moving around within the parable to examine each of the elements is a good way to open our hearts to the power of God’s Word in the scriptures. We could examine what kind of ground we are like the church of Saint Matthew. In other words, how receptive we have been to what has been sown in us. We might examine the seeds reflecting on how God has scattered us through this world with the expectation that we would bear fruit and flourish no matter where we are. We might even wonder if we have been like the birds who have become the cause of no harvest grabbing up God’s gifts, and then simply taking off to look elsewhere for more.

There is still another position with which we can open our hearts to the challenge and message of this parable, and that position is the sower. As a people made in the image of God there is something here to reflect upon, something that might bring us to more perfectly reflect that image to this world just as Jesus did.

This extravagant and generous sower becomes for us the very model of what we must be as images of our creator. Generous with forgiveness, extravagant with our gifts and resources, we spread the joy and the peace of the Kingdom everywhere and anywhere. There is no concern about whether or not it will do any good, or whether or not anyone deserves it. Our concern is not that it bears fruit. Our concern is that we mirror the likeness and behavior of God revealed to us by the Word. We do not pick and choose, we not hold back, and we do not worry about the harvest. It will come in due time in proportion to the nature of the one who receives it. We can sow seeds of kindness and mercy, and God will bring it to the harvest. We can sow seeds of compassion and understanding, of patience and joy to everyone everywhere even to the hardest of hearts and to the most dry and closed minds.

A seed is a marvelous thing, but it is weak and vulnerable. It is the same with words. They are powerful. One unkind word spoken in anger can destroy a lifetime of friendship and affection. Whispers of gossip and suspicion can sow seeds of doubt and ruin the reputations and dreams of the innocent never to be repaired. Yet for us, silence cannot be possible for we are a people filled with God’s Word which must be spoken. We sow the seeds of hospitality and welcome with words of encouragement and affirmation, advice and guidance, comfort and consolation because someone has sown those seeds in us. Those seeds bear fruit because of our faith and the attitude of openness that faith requires. Someone once spoke to us, and revealed the God who has called us. Like the one in whose image we are made, we must do the same.

My friends, what we say and how we speak to each other is a seed that holds the promise of a rich harvest of peace, reconciliation, understanding, compassion, and encouragement. Let us resolve that from our reflection upon this parable, we might become more like our creator who has sown the seeds of promise and hope everywhere throughout creation by what say and how we say every day and everywhere.

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time July 9, 2017

Zechariah 9, 9-10 + Psalm 145 + Romans 8, 9, 11-13 + Matthew 11, 25-30

St Joseph Parish, Norman, OK

It’s time for a little Greek lesson today, because there is a word in this Gospel passage that Matthew uses only twice. It was used earlier in the Beatitudes, and now it comes up again. The word in Greek is Praus. It is a strong word that is used to describe the taming or the domesticating of a powerful animal. Horses or oxen had to be “meeked”, and so it means strength under control, and so when Jesus says that he is “meek and humble of heart” he is really talking about his strength and his power. The Greek speaking Jews at the time Matthew wrote this Gospel got the point. There is no weakness in meekness. In fact, it quite the opposite: there is disciplined strength under control.

When Jesus says, “Come to me when you get tired, worn down, discouraged, or feel like you can’t go on any more”, he wants to share his strength. When Jesus talks then about a “yoke” you can understand the image he uses. That yoke is made and fitted on the neck and shoulders of strong animals to distribute and share a load evenly. This is a teaching from Jesus about power and what to do with it.

In the verses just before this text today, Jesus has scolded the towns that welcomed the signs and wonders he worked, but resisted his teaching. Those leaders he speaks to again and again have power, and they like it. Nothing much has changed since that time. This world still has its own idea about power. It belongs to those who seize it, and they use it for domination, oppression, and exploitation. In that thinking, the only limits to freedom are the limits imposed by my appetites. In this world, arrogance and a lack of care are signs of strength. “Be tough,” says this world, “go after what you want, and let anyone who gets in the way or who objects get lost! The weak and the vulnerable are just in the way. Too bad for them. They can take care of themselves.”

To that world and to those who think that way the Gospel seems naïve and senseless. They are so full of their ideas and opinions, that they can see nothing or think nothing about any other way or anyone but themselves. Along comes Jesus who turns away from them and reaches out to those who have been left behind, to those who feel as though they can never get ahead, to those who are like the children, dependent, and unable to make it on their own.

Power is among the greatest of temptations. Thomas Aquinas warns against it. “Learn from me” says Jesus, “For I am meek and humble of heart.” We have to become students, and learn from the master Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, he said: “The meek will inherit the earth.” From God’s viewpoint, the meek can be trusted with the goods of this world, because they are not going to exploit or abuse. Their relationship with the world and created things is not about power, but about wonder and awe. The meek have been invited to enter into the intimate loving relationship that Jesus shares with the Father; a relationship that promises life and gives hope because the master shares the load with us. So, the meek become the source of hope and optimism in the face of helplessness.