All posts for the month July, 2023

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

July 30, 2023 at Saint William, St Agnes, & St Peter Churches in Naples, FL

This weekend we have come to the end Chapter 13 which is Matthew’s largest collection of parables. They have provided us with some curious surprises that never seems quite right, and some things to compare for the sake of our choices. We get two finders today. One of them gets something he does not deserve. It’s not his land, and therefore what he finds is not his. He sells everything even his morals to get what he finds. He’s an undeserving crook who gets his treasure even though it isn’t deserved. The other man, in contrast, has been searching, and finding what he wants, he simply pays the price even though he has to sell everything to get it, but he keeps his morals. They both get a treasure, and they both find joy.

I find it interesting that they do not become joyful until they have sold all that they have. It’s as though what they have is never enough to give them joy. So, they find something else, one by accident and another by a search. These parables leave us to wonder both what it is that they find and what it is that brings joy. Many in this world confuse joy with happiness. They are not at all the same. Happiness comes and goes, and it does not bring joy. It is the result of something that happens. Joy, on the other hand is the result of a choice we make. We are all in the pursuit of happiness. You’ve heard that said before. Yet, in the end, we have to choose joy. It is something we know. Happiness is something we feel. Today’s Gospel speaks to us about joy and about the choices we make and what we seek in life. 

There was a wonderful program series a year or two ago about a very wealthy family who suddenly lost everything and ended up living in a miserable little place in a run-down motel. The happiness of their selfish lives vanished suddenly, and they kept seeking ways to get it back. By the end of the series they found love for each other, and the joy they found in the relationships that evolved through the series not only left them with joy, but spread to many of us watching them.

The final parable today sums up much of chapter 13. That drag net which scoops up everything in its path is a reminder of how it goes with the Kingdom of God. The sorting, just like earlier with the weeds and the wheat is not ours to do. We are the ones gathered up by this net God has thrown wide. There will be crooks and scoundrels, holy men and women. 

Simply put, these little parables are ways of reflecting on the love life of a disciple. Jesus put it simply at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel with the Sermon on the Mount: “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all things will be given to you.” It is the seeking that matters. The Kingdom of God cannot be bought or owned even by good deeds. It is always an astonishing free gift available to all. It cannot be bought, yet it costs everything. We can only have it by a total self-surrender to irresistible joy. It’s an old story, not to be kept or locked in a storeroom, but meant to be told anew by those of us set free by joy.

Wisdom 12: 13, 16-19 + Psalm 85 + Romans 8: 26-27 + Matthew 13: 24-43

July 23, 2023 at Saint William Church in Naples, FL

More parables today, but that’s all there is in Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, and we have one more week of them yet to come.  Parables are a teacher’s way of surprising disciples and inviting them to compare themselves with the Father whose image Jesus has come to restore in us. So, last week he taught and amazed us over how extravagant the Father is throwing gifts everywhere and to everyone. We were challenge to see how much like that Father we are with sharing our gifts. And now, more parables to surprise us, stir our wonder, and compare ourselves again not to each other, but to the one whose life we share and whose image we bear like it or not.

It’s easy these days to look around a see nothing but weeds. I look at the small patch of flowers in my front lawn, and I see weeds long before I see the flowers. The weeds spoil my pleasure, and this Gospel calls that into question. It’s easy these days to look at the church, this country, and this whole world and see nothing but weeds, violence and greed. Meanwhile, some are busy feeding the hungry, visiting the sick or those confined to their homes. Some right here spend their Tuesdays giving hope and comfort to the homeless right here in Naples. Homeless, in Naples, Florida? Parables do invite a surprise and disturb the complacent. In a place with multi-million-dollar homes there really are homeless people just like in Haiti or any other place on this earth. It’s all about what you see or what you look for. Weeds and wheat are almost always found together. Sometimes they are even within us.

A second parable today can surprise and make us wonder over how something great can come from something small offering another comparison that invites us to acknowledge that something as small as a mustard seed can produce something big enough for birds. Something as small as phone call to someone alone, or something as small as a couple of hours out of a week joining St Vincent de Paul workers might offer amazing hope and comfort to someone who slept alone or out sight last night. Little things make a big difference.

In the end, it’s not our job to separate or judge what is weed from what is wheat. To our surprise, to the amazement of some who would like to judge and remove the weeds, the parable works to remind us that God seems to think that this is God’s business and we should leave it alone until the harvest time making sure that like wheat we have provided for that harvest more than fuel for a fire. Our hope is to be gathered into that barn of heaven the parable speaks of.

From this Gospel today, we might be led to wonder and believe in God’s care. Believing that weeds will come to nothing, while we marvel at growing wheat, a sprouting mustard seed, the power a tiny enzyme of yeast has to bring life into life a mass of dough. It’s time to let creation sweep us into awe at what is bigger, more beautiful, deeper and more of everything than we can imagine.

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

July 16, 2023 This weekend I am away on vacation time with my family.

For the next three weekends we shall hear all of Chapter 13 from Matthew’s Gospel. That chapter has the greatest concentration of parables in the whole of Matthew’s Gospel. So, it is important to remember how parables work, and how to listen to them. This weekend, we ought to stay focused on the parable itself. Therefore, I suggest the shorter option for the day. Scholars believe that the discussion with the disciples and the allegorical interpretation that follows is likely a Matthew-added interpretation for the community first receiving this Gospel which was experiencing some stress over the growing numbers of gentile converts. The first Hebrew converts had a difficult time accepting and understanding how God could intend these gentiles to be part of the fold or the harvest. (Weeds or Wheat?)

Jesus sits for this parable assuming the position of a teacher. The opening line makes the sower the focus of the parable because that’s what Jesus always wishes to do, reveal the Father. In our times, with tractors opening up the soil, and with machines carefully and orderly dropping seeds in perfect rows, this parable’s image of a sower takes some imagination. The whole idea of throwing seed around everywhere makes no sense at all. Then the amount of the harvest is staggering, leaving us to be further amazed which is just exactly what a parable should do, surprise and amaze. Another side of parable telling is its use to compare or contrast two things. In the case of this parable, one part is obviously the Father. The other part is you and me. Forget about being the seed or whatever kind of soil you might want to think you are or should be. It’s a comparison between God and us.

As Jesus tell this parable to the crowds, he raises the question about how much we are like the Father in whose image we have been made. Sadly, for many of us, the comparison can make be disturbing. We are not always quite as generous with our gifts, with our time, or attention as the Father is who throws that seed everywhere. We like to measure out just how much we can spare or how much someone might deserve. We like to consider whether or not there will be a return on our “investment”, and if there is a risk, we are not likely to take it. And so, the purpose of this parable’s comparison is to give us pause to think again not just about how much like the Father we have become, but also to be reminded that even a little bit, or just a part of what we sow can produce an amazing harvest. It reminds us too that even though there may be failures and disappointments over the failure of what we have done or given to bear fruit, we can be sure that some will produce, and that it will be greater than we could ever imagine.

The parable then reveals something about God and calling for a comparison to check on how much of the divine presence, god-like behavior, and expectations have made their way into our hearts, our thinking, and shaped our behavior. Blessed are those who have ears to hear.

Zechariah 9: 9-10 + Psalm 145 + 1 Romans 8:9, 11-13 + Matthew 11: 25-30

July 9, 2023 at Saint William and Saint Peter Churches in Naples, FL

The most powerful man ever to walk on this earth was not macho, but he had the power of Almighty God. Yet, he is often described as a hopeless idealist thinking and teaching about nonviolence and forgiveness. These things are not for people who live in the real world. Here competition, power, and strength are what get you ahead and help you survive. Being number one is all that matters, and how you get there or how you win is irrelevant. Or is it? 

These words of Jesus, even in his time, must have come as a shock to his disciples who were ambitious and competitive for the first place in line. Imagine what they must have thought when he stopped to bless children and their mothers saying that they were the models of who would enter the Kingdom of Heaven. What happened to being smart, clever, having connections, knowing the right people and saying the right things? What he is describing here is the most effective way to live a full and successful life.

How intelligent and sincere people have managed to get this wrong is probably a question for psychologists or historians to sort out, but it might have something to do with our culture and sometimes even our religion. The culture in which we struggle to live with joy and in peace is entirely based upon consuming, buying, and owning things. It’s like a religion based upon fear and damnation promising happiness to people they have taught to be unhappy.

Our lives get no meaning from wealth or status. Their meaning comes from relationships with one another and with God. That’s called, “Life in the Spirit.” What Jesus and our faith offer us is an easy yoke and a light burden. It is easy because we don’t have to be self-sufficient. God has given us one another, and embracing our need for one another keeps us all tender and kind. Best of all, it keeps us meek and humble.

At the time of Jesus, meekness was used to describe a slave or an ox. It was someone who had strength, but it was used to endure all things with an even temper, someone who knew they were dependent on another, and tender in spirit. It’s not macho, but it’s powerful. It works again and again to bring lasting peace. It has the power to restore friendship broken by ambition, selfishness, and greed. The meek are always open, ready to learn something new never pretending they are brilliant. You sometimes hear them say things like, “I didn’t know that” or “Thank you”, and sometimes, “Help me.” There is nothing idealistic about that. It’s real. It’s honest, and it’s the truth, the Gospel Truth.

Mt 10: 16-25

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking though you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

There is a gloomy Gospel on a bright summer weekend. These verses would certainly not encourage anyone in their right mind to sign up for this mission! However, this only comes as bad news for those who only read the words without going deeper into the message because, there is really good news here. A deeper look with some serious reflection and study can reveal some very important details that lead to a very profound instruction for us all, not just for those first disciples.

Matthew chooses his words very carefully here with purpose. When he uses the words: “hand you over”, he is using the same words that he will use to describe what happens to Jesus. When he uses the words “governors and kings”, we may start to catch on to what’s behind this. What happens to Jesus happens to his missionary disciples, and that will include the final victory for those, who like Jesus endure to the end. They will be saved. Then a little further on Matthew slips in a possessive pronoun that is very important when he has Jesus say: “ …the Spirit of your Father”. No longer is it “my” father. When disciples carry on the work and mission of Jesus, they now truly children of God.

Finally, no one should ignore the instruction on how to respond to hatred, betrayal, and persecution. “Flee” is what he says. No fighting back, no hatred, no cursing, just leave it alone, and go somewhere else. As with Jesus, there is no place for violence and no place for hatred. Disciples come in peace, and they leave in peace.

When we proclaim this Gospel in our lifetime and place, it is easy to think that this is some historical moment in the past, but to do so forgets that the Word of God is alive and speaks to us in the moment when proclaimed to those assembled for the Divine Liturgy. God does something here right now, and God says something here right now. In our culture today, there is little likelihood that what Matthew describes is going to happen to us. It’s hardly likely that we will be flogged or hauled before Kings and Governors, although some in my life-time have faced prison for their messages of peace and non-violence. 

For us, it is more probable that we will simply be ignored, dismissed as fanatics, or brushed aside by a world of indifference. Sometimes, being ignored is more painful than being attacked, and that is what we can expect to face. Rather than face persecution, we are beginning to face indifference or maybe some kind of ridicule if we are noticed at all. It’s a soft kind of persecution these days that we face while our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world do endure what Matthew describes. We can take courage from their example, and we can speak in their defense. 

Sometimes I also think that we face so little persecution because we have said and done so little to attract it so easily have we accommodated ourselves to this secular and godless culture. Nonetheless, we too have been sent like sheep not because we are helpless and stupid like sheep, but because we have a shepherd. We are sent like doves, “innocent”, he says, meaning without malice to bring peace and healing of forgiveness where ever it is needed most. We don’t come to judge, but to understand and listen. If these gifts are not welcome, we leave so that we will not be caught up in the evil that refuses what we have been given.

Like those first disciples, what we have to offer this world is the simple truth that forgiveness, not revenge, is the only way to peace and, that love is a greater power than all the weapons we may build. What Jesus would have us see is that none of us can ever get ahead while trying to get even, and the only people we should get even with are the people who have helped us. This is the kind of wisdom that our Father’s spirit will teach us.