"But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you."
Even your dust should be left behind. I can't imagine doing that - but it does seem to be the ideal way to express contempt for the hard-hearted fools that would welcome us.
The action may seem less harsh if we recognize that the disciples have been sent into towns to heal the sick, bring peace and announce the coming of the Kingdom of God. What are they to do if the townspeople would rather remain sick than to accept healing? They should simply leave. Recall that in last Sunday's gospel (Luke 9:51-56) James and John wanted to call down lightening on a town that wouldn't listen. The sad part of it is that those who would rather remain sick will find that "it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town."
The lesson to me is detachment. The question for us is to identify the dust. Once we know what dust represents for us, we can begin to detach. For James and John, the dust was resentment at a town that would not welcome them and listen to their message. For each of us it may be something else that is preventing us from carrying the message. For some it may be disappointment at not being loved in exactly the way we expected. For others, it might be that the town failed to recognize our brilliance and eloquence. Whatever it is, we need to shake it off. If not, what started as dust on our feet will soon become baggage on our backs.
P.S. Let's not forget that Isaiah 66 gives us a vivid image of God as nurturing mother.
On the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 26, 2016) the readings for Mass include the dramatic story of how James and John want to destroy a Samaritan town. The town had refused to admit Jesus and the disciples because they were on their way to Jerusalem. The Samaritans worshiped the Lord in their own territory and did not recognize Jerusalem. John and James wanted to:
“……call down fire from heaven to consume them…”
as Elijah did in 2 Kings 1:10. I can imagine that this would have been satisfying. I can see them looking forward to wrecking vengeance on the hated Samaritans.
I would have chosen a different first reading for this Sunday. We will hear the story from 1 Kings 19:16-21 in which Elisha turns his back on his former life to follow the Lord. This is one of the messages of Sunday’s gospel (Luke 9:51-62). However, since I just read the book of Jonah, I would have chosen it because his attitude was the same as that of James and John. Jonah ran away rather than preach to the city of Nineveh. When he did preach, the city repented. Jonah was angry. He wanted God to destroy the city just as James and John wanted the Samaritan town destroyed.
What happened when John and James made this request?
“Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.”
Nineveh was the capitol of Babylon - now Iraq. Today’s popular sentiment is close to that of Jonah’s - these people are evil, not to be trusted. In the words of one of our political leaders (Ted Cruz) we should call down fire, i.e. bomb them until the sand glows. Maybe the Lord has other ideas.
On a more personal level, we often meet people who do not seem to hear or understand our attempts to live and witness as Christians. Rather than get upset, we should just go to another town i.e. leave the situation. As has been said, they have their own higher power - and it is not us.
The readings for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 19, 2016) are challenging. In Luke 9:23-24 we hear: “Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily* and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
When interpret this literally we rebel. It doesn’t make sense. By interpreting the word “life” in metaphorical terms we can explain the text. This may still make us want to rebel.
In his book The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation Father Thomas Keating describes the process by which normal childhood coping strategies gradually become “programs for happiness.” While these programs are healthy in themselves they become dangerous when we are overly attached to them. These attachments come from one of three basic centers of energy or needs for
• Safety and Security • Esteem and Affection • Power and Control • All of these are good things. They become bad things when they get identified with particular programs (having power, money, affection) they become disordered attachments – to the point where they are life-threatening. The television series Hoarders exploits our fascination with the sordid aspects of disordered attachments.
These attachments can take many forms. The New York Times just ran a front page story Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price. Internet devices, the Times notes, can threaten the stability of families. Psychologist Gerald May puts it in modern terms in his book Addiction and Grace in which he provides a list of the many forms that modern attachments can take.
When the attachments become so strong that we see them as life itself, we will need to seek help. We may need to be willing to lose what we see as our life (the attachment) in order to save it. How do we become willing? If the attachment is gripping us tightly we will need outside help. Where do we get this help? We find an answer it the Psalm for Sunday (63:8-9)
You indeed are my savior, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy. My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me.
P.S. I can understand why they did it, but it seems that the compliers of the lectionary erred when they stopped at Luke 9:24. Luke 9:25 adds:“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”
Note: this posting is a revision from the posting for the 12th Sunday in 2010
The scripture readings for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 12th) pose a question: Is it better to be someone who has done wrong and admitted it or someone quick to point out why others are very wrong? In the first reading (2 Sm 12-:7-10,13) the prophet Nathan confronts David because he had ordered Bathsheba's husband killed. David admits his wrongdoing. In the gospel reading (Lk 7:36-8:3) Jesus visits the home of Simon, who berates Jesus for allowing a woman of ill-repute to bathe his feet. (This was a courtesy often given to guests who had walked long distances through the desert.) Jesus responds with a question:
“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor;
one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty.
Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.
Which of them will love him more?”
The upright and respectable Simon did not even extend the common courtesy of washing Jesus' feet. The woman, not only washed his feet, adding her tears but anointed them and kissed them. To modern eyes this seems extravagant, but this woman had been given much and had much reason to be grateful. She knew she had done wrong. The gospel does not tell us whether or not the self-righteous Simon got the point.
Even if Simon did not get the point, we should. It is all too easy to be like Simon and look down on people who are in ill-repute as a result of their own actions. "If only he would do such and such," we think, "he would not have these problems." This may be true, but just like Simon we have placed ourselves in a position of judging other. David and the woman of ill-repute have taken their own inventory and acknowledged their wrongs. We should be willing, if not eager, to do the same.
We return to Ordinary time - that time of the liturgical year when the lectionary readings go through the public ministry of Christ according to one of the gospels. From this Sunday (June 5th) through November 2tth the third (i.e. the Gospel) reading will be from Luke. The first (Old Testament) reading and psalm will reflect a theme from the Gospel for the day. The second reading will be drawn from one of the epistles, starting with Galatians.
On the tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 5th) we will hear a widow pleading for her son. In the first reading (1 Kings 17:17-24) Elijah heals the critically son. In the gospel (Luke 7:11-17) Jesus commands the young man to arise from his coffin.
We can imagine ourselves as part of the scene and broaden our perspective beyond the danger of life threatening illness. We can do this by reflecting on Psalm 30:2a
"I will praise you, Lord, for you healed me."
We all know people who need healing from something - compulsions, resentments, fears, chronic conditions or disabilities, or simple stress. We can interned for them, as did the widowed mothers in both stories. Most of us could use some healing ourselves.
As you hear the stories about Elijah and Jesus, imagine that you are there. Pretend that the sick person is someone you know - or as yourself. Take the opportunity to pray for healing.
As we get into the biblical readings for theFeast of Corpus Christi (May 29, 2016) - the Body (and Blood) of Jesus Christ, there are a number of meanings for the word “body”. I can barely begin to list them, much less write about the many subtle and profound theological discourses on each. We have:
• The physical body of Jesus, crucified and changed by the resurrection.
• The bread and wine as body (1 Cor 11:23-26), subject to multiple interpretations by Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist and other traditions. The tragedy is that what should be source of unity is a cause for division among us.
• Somehow we are all members of one body Eph 3:6 and as such are part of the body of Christ is this world. In this we may be able to regain some of the unity lost by our differences in understanding the Eucharist.
It is in this last sense, being the body of Christ on earth that we can reflect on the words “for you” in 1 Cor 11:24.What does it mean to say “…my body that is for you.”? Knowing the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection we can only read this as his giving up his body in the crucifixion. As his body is for us, our bodies can be for others. There are many ways in which we put our bodies on the line for those that we love. Husbands and wives give up their bodies every day for one another. They do this in many ways caring for one another in sickness and health and in good times and bad. Mothers give up their bodies in pregnancy and childcare. Fathers give up their bodies in many less direct ways, often working to the point of endangering their physical and emotional health. Soldiers, sailors, police and fire officers are willing to give up their very lives for others. Professionals that they are, they train to minimize the risks that they knowingly accept in order to serve others
Mary put her body in the service of her cousin during those last months of her pregnancy.
St. Francis de Sales once wrote to a young person who seemed to be wishing for a highly dramatic and heroic way of putting his body on the line – through martyrdom. His words were to the effect that we should turn our attention to the sacrifices that are in front of us and do them cheerfully, lovingly and willingly. Good words.
We do have daily opportunities to put them into practice. We can restore Christian unity in many ways that, at first glance may seem of little significance. In attending college and high school reunions we are putting ourselves in position (both physically and emotionally) to renew the love that we have for one another.
What better way to celebrate the feast of the Body of Christ than to renew our dedication t serving one another and the community at large?
(The lectionary repeats in three cycles. I wrote this on Corpus Christi 6 years ago. Maybe I'll repeat it again in three years. Maybe I'll live up to it by then.)
Trinity Sunday provides a challenge to homilists They must say something about the scripture readings, expound on this great mystery, and stay within reasonable time limits. (Note: the lectionary readings repeat in a three year cycle. This is my reflection from 2013 with an updated link to the readings for May 22, 2016)
It is tempting to take the first reading (Prv 8:22-31) and equate wisdom with a Person of the Trinity and attribute to it a feminine gender. Somehow it never quite works even though the scripture has abundant mother and feminine images of God.
I prefer to focus on this text from Proverbs:
"When the Lord established the heavens I was there,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the human race."
Somehow playfulness is intrinsic to the relationships within the Trinity. We have a God who finds delight in us. Deo Gratias.
Reflections for this Pentecost Sunday (May 15, 2016) in light of the film Spotlight let me back to my posting from 2013:
We come to Pentecost Sunday (May 19th), the end of the Easter season and fulfillment of the promise related on Ascension Sunday. At the vigil Mass on Saturday the first reading (Gen 11:1-9) tells us of the corporate effort to build the tower of Babel. This was a corporate effort to gain prestige and power. It is contrasted with the first reading for Sunday (Acts 2: 1-11) in which the Spirit comes to the Apostles when they are gathered as a body. The story of Babel is a story of a single people split into groups and speaking different languages. After Pentecost the apostles go out speaking many languages. Instead of fragmenting humanity, the languages are given in order to unify it in a single body, the Church. Even though the Spirit comes to individuals it comes to them when assembled as a body. There is a corporate dimension to Pentecost.
Back in 2006 I was fascinated with the idea of corporate spirituality and wrote this:
Institutions provide much of the resources with which we can provide service and exercise our creativity. Institutional culture also set the context for our work. A culture maybe healthy or dysfunctional. Cultures can be both dysfunctional and in denial for long periods of time. Businesses, being subject to market forces, are likely to pay the price for denial relatively quickly. Government agencies, subject only to James Madison’s constitutional system of divided powers, can survive a bit longer. My church, subject neither to market forces or citizens empowered by the vote, can maintain dysfunctional cultural patterns for centuries.
I’ve not gone quite as far as Walter Wink in suggesting that the Powers of this world are spiritual entities (Eph 6:11-13). I would agree that corporate culture is a spiritual reality – at least in the sense that team spirit is a reality.
One of the essential tasks of workplace spirituality is to positively influence corporate culture, challenging it if we must.
I've never been able to clearly state the connections between corporate spirituality and just how the Spirit strengthens us as a body. These connections are real and we bear a responsibility to the organizations to which we belong and to our employers. Part of our responsibility is to work to see that the corporate ethic is healthy and dedicated to service. If it isn't, we will need the help of the Spirit to correct the corporate spirits of this world.
In the film, the Boston Globe also acknowledges that the newspaper had failed to investigate early reports of abuse by priests. Institutional failure can occur at many levels. Corporate ethics are not just the responsibility leaders, or church leaders. We are all empowered by the Spirit and responsible for working to see that institutions run properly.
The Ascension scriptures for this Sunday (May 8, 2916) are a message of hope. At the end of our first reading (Acts 1:1-11) two men (the same who appeared at the tomb?) find the apostles standing looking at the sky:
“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
It is easy to understand why the stood there, disoriented and confused. Christ, who had been with them, charges them to go out and be witnesses and then rises into the sky. They did not yet understand that they would be given the power to become witnesses. Nor did they seem to realize that the fact that Jesus ascended in bodily flesh was also a promise that they also would ascend. The Ascension gives all of us hope: we will be witnesses and we, also, will escape death.
The lectionary reinforces this message of hope with St. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (1:17-23):
“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might:…”
Bonny and I each shared a ~42 year old memory when we looked at the scripture readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 1, 2016). We remember our joy when we heard this spiritual at the baptism of a baby girl. We had been afraid that this girl would not be born alive. The lyrics are based on the second reading for the sixth Sunday (Rev 21:10-14, 22-23):
The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain
and showed me the holy city Jerusalem
with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed
Yesterday morning, we had each - separately - sat down to look at the lectionary readings for the coming Sunday. We both had the same memory. I was surprised when we talked about it. We had a reminder of a time of hope.
As I read the news this morning and see many reasons to lose hope, I’m reminded that history will end in the City and that all are welcome. You can come from any point on the compass, north, east, west or south and be welcome.