Saturday, September 29, 2007

Compete well for the faith rather than wealth.

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mass Readings:
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
1 Timothy 6:11-16
Luke 16:19-31

A very popular train of thought in Christianity these days is that if you are rich then it is a sign that you are blessed by God. Material wealth is a sign of how faithful one is and how God is so very generous. I have a big problem with that way of thinking and here's why. I know a lot of very poor people who are very, very faithful to God. So what gives? Does God have a grudge against these holy people? Have these people done something so wrong that God doesn't want them to have adequate sustenance, shelter or health care? What happens if one Christian is rich while another is poor? Does this mean that God loves some people more than others?

Most people would be horrified if someone was to teach that if you are poor then God doesn't love you. Yet I find that the "Prosperity Gospel" comes dangerously close to saying that.

Our first reading today is a harsh one. The Prophet Amos is calling to the religious folk to share the wealth. The prophet even invokes the great figure of faith, David. King David was a man after God's own heart. God loved him and set him over His people to rule with justice and mercy. Unfortunately, David's heart and soul became lazy. David's great empire would fall in on itself due to greed, lust, murder and abandonment of faith. David would watch as debauchery infested his kingdom and destroyed it from the inside out. So much for prosperity! It cost David everything because it became more important than God.

Our Gospel today is a very familiar one. It makes us uncomfortable, all this about dogs licking the poor, hungry, sick Lazarus. It should make us very, very uncomfortable because that is what Jesus intended!Jesus wants us to be appalled and sickened by the scene! Jesus is addressing a group that is content in it's wealth and power and sense of superiority. The Pharisees had no problem placing burdens upon other's while they sought a life of ease and luxury. They did this at the expense of the most defenseless and poor. I think we can see how that is happening even today!

Jesus sought to remind these folk that because they have been fortunate they have an obligation, a calling to see to it that those in need are cared for. This ties in to the whole "to whom much has been given much is expected" stuff Jesus so boldly proclaimed. To have much means that much is expected. To be blessed with wealth and power means that it must be used to help the most defenseless and poor. To sit back and demand more at the expense of others, is sinful and Jesus calls it out for what it is, greed. Contrary to popular belief, greed is not good! Greed is a disease that eats away at the soul and destroys one's relationship with God.

So what do today's readings want from us? I believe that it is summed up with one sentence from Timothy. "Compete well for the faith". What could be more important than giving it all we've got to have a strong faith? We tend to work ourselves to death in order to have the latest and greatest this or that, a bigger house, a fancier car, etc., while we ignore our soul. We do so at our own peril.

Last weekend's Gospel had Jesus Telling us that we cannot serve both God and wealth. If we do, one is going to lose out and it usually isn't wealth. God becomes less important to us when we spend all of our time trying to get more and more stuff.

So what do we think would happen if we were to put as much effort in to our faith as we do getting ahead in the world? Wealth will come and go but our faith is our life. there is nothing more important than our relationship with God and relationships with one another. If we put everything in to getting rich and ignoring the things of God, we may gain the world but we lose our soul. As Christians, I believe that we must seek to make the world a better place for everyone and not just self. What good does it matter if we are rich and powerful yet facing down God's judgment for not being faithful?

Compete well for the faith my friends and may we all follow God's call to serve!

Friday, September 21, 2007

No one is an outcast in Jesus' eyes.

Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist
September 21, 2007
Mass Readings:
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13
Matthew 9:9-13

All of us at one time or another feel like we don't fit in. At one time or another we each are made to feel like an outsider, an outcast. Most of us can remember those times in school when we weren't cool enough, rich enough, good looking enough, etc. We can remember how horrible it made us feel to be left out.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist. In our Gospel text we see that Matthew was an outcast. He was a tax collector, a man who was looked upon with great disdain and disrespect. He was despised. Yet Jesus comes along and invites Matthew to become a part of his inner circle, a move that would insult the Pharisees.

Matthew invites Jesus to his home and prepares a meal for him. Along comes Matthew's friends, these sinners as the Pharisees are quick to point out. They are insulted that Jesus would dare associate with these outcasts and they let their feelings be known. Jesus gives us his famous line of how the healthy do not need a doctor but the sick do. Jesus is the healer of our soul, the Great Physician and he invited the sick, the sinner to eat with him and receive his amazing grace and forgiveness.

Matthew was an outcast yet Jesus saw through the bad to the good and made him a great evangelist, an Apostle who would give his life for the good of Christ. How's that for an outsider?!

For Jesus, no one is an outsider. For us to demean, belittle, judge another person puts us outside Jesus' circle. We make ourselves outsiders whenever we let our pride and arrogance rule and we pass judgment on others and deem someone to be an outsider, unworthy. We do it in school when we are kids and then we do it as adults. We form cliques, we form societies that say who is worthy and who isn't. What arrogant rubbish! If Jesus doesn't do it then I feel pretty safe in saying we shouldn't do it!

No one is an outcast to Jesus. However, we make ourselves outcasts when we do not honor one another, love one another as Jesus loves and honors each and everyone of us.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

He deserves it?

Monday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
September 17, 2007
Mass Readings:
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 7:1-10

Picture it. Jesus is preaching and teaching and traveling. Pretty normal day for Jesus and the Apostles. They enter Capernaum and Jesus is approached about healing someone. Sounds good. A Roman Centurion has a slave and he is sick. Obviously this centurion cares deeply about this person. He is so dedicated to providing for this man that he calls for the elders to go to Jesus for him and ask for a miracle. But why doesn't the centurion go himself? We will get to that in a moment.

So here come the elders. They approach Jesus and ask him to provide a miracle. However, listen to how they ask Jesus to do this.

They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying,
“He deserves to have you do this for him,
for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” (emphasis added)

The religious leaders ask Jesus to do this because it is the politically astute thing to do. If Jesus heals this slave then surely the centurion will be even more generous to them! Heal a slave and get a bonus!

I always recoil a bit when I read this particular passage. The religious leaders want Jesus to heal this slave because they think the centurion "deserves" it. Would the religious leaders have gone out of their way for someone who was poor or lacked power? We don't know the answer to that question but it is an important question to ask. The religious leaders didn't ask Jesus to do this because they were concerned with the health of the slave but rather because the centurion was powerful and had been generous to the people. So. A miracle is needed and the centurion deserves to be given this?

Jesus goes with the religious leaders but I feel safe in saying that Jesus wasn't trying to score political points with the centurion. As Jesus approaches the centurions house, he is greeted with a very humble act. The centurion does not even feel worthy to have Jesus enter his house, a sign of just how respectful the centurion was of Jesus and how much he valued him. The centurion wasn't trying to score points the way the religious leaders were. There is a valuable lesson there.

Jesus is impressed by the centurion's willingness to humble himself and accept God's authority. The centurion did not place himself above others and declare himself worthy of Jesus' miracle because of his political or military power. The centurion's motives were all about his slave and getting him the care he needed. The religious leaders motives? Well, that is a different story.

How many times do each of us view ourself as so important that surely Jesus will do our bidding? Do we honestly believe that we can manipulate Jesus into doing what we want because we have an over exaggerated sense of self? There is no nation, people or individual so powerful that they can manipulate our Lord and Savior! All are deserving of Jesus' love. Power, money, influence, etc. are never, EVER influences on our Lord. Jesus gives of himself because he loves us and not because we have power.

Our responsibility is to humble ourselves before the Lord. Jesus' love is not something we deserve. Jesus' love is the greatest gift that can ever be given and our responsibility is to accept it and live it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Doing it right but getting it wrong.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 16, 2007
Mass Readings:
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one that has been the source of inspiration for many artists throughout the centuries. Paintings, statues and even plays have been created to tell the story of the wayward son.

Many of us can identify with this prodigal boy. He is selfish, greedy and wants it all right now. He is self seeking and self centered. All of us have been the prodigal at least once. Many of us even have prodigals in our families who we try to bring back in to the fold. We can understand this tale of redemption, reconciliation and restoration.

However, the prodigal is not the sole focus of this parable. Jesus is addressing a group of people who are the religious leaders of the day. These "religious" folk are complaining and judging Jesus for eating and enjoying fellowship with sinners. How dare him! Imagine that, the one who is our salvation daring to spend time with us sinners! So Jesus gives them the parables of how he is there to save the lost and that no one is outside of God's love. Then, as Jesus has them seeing the value of all God's children, he slips in a warning, the elder son.

Most times the elder son is just waxed over and never given any attention but I think the elder son is perhaps the most important part of the parable. It is easy to identify with the prodigal because he comes to his senses and we want to see ourselves that way. We do not want to see our self as the elder son.

Why do we avoid the elder son? We tend to see the elder son as the injured party in the parable. Here he has been faithful for all of these years yet the father doesn't give him the same treatment as the prodigal. Or does he?

The elder son's motives are revealed to be no different than the younger. The elder son has been biding his time and waiting for the father to die and leave him his inheritance. Has his faithfulness been merely so he can get the money? If so, aren't his motives just as selfish and shallow as the younger son? I think the answer is yes. The elder son is an example of doing it right but getting it wrong. We can do everything by the book but if our motives aren't true then we haven't gotten it right.

The elder son is an example of those of us who may think that if we do or say the right things then all is well. However, we fill our hearts with resentments, jealousy and greed. We pile up baggage that gets in the way of our relationship with God and one another. Then, when we are faced with something we feel is unfair, we throw a tantrum just like the elder son. How dare the father be so forgiving that he take in this hooligan! How dare the father be willing to forgive and restore! The elder son stands outside of the house throwing a fit and he completely misses the joy of the father. This moment of redemption, reconciliation and restoration is lost for the elder son. All he can see is that he didn't get things the way he wanted and he cannot see that the gifts have always been there for him and all he had to do was ask.

We can strive to do and say the right things. That's good. Yet, we can strive for the externals and completely miss the internals. Doing and saying the right things become irrelevant when our hearts are filled with resentments and jealousy and our motives become selfish. The baggage we pile on our shoulders do nothing but weigh us down. The resentments and petty grudges keep us standing outside of the house and we can see the feast but our tantrum keeps us from enjoying the gifts so freely given. Why do we do that? Why do we get so caught up in being jealous and holding on to grudges and we willingly step outside of the feast in order to pout and throw a tantrum?! What a monumental loss!

Jesus concludes the parable of the prodigal with a heads up for us all. Let go of the motives that get in the way of our relationship with God and one another. Let go of the resentments, petty disagreements, jealousies and sense of entitlement we may harbor. If we don't, we may just miss out on the feast because we are too busy pouting in the back yard.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

He knows what?!

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 26, 2007
Mass Readings:
Isaiah 66:18-21
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
Luke 13:22-30

"Thus says the LORD:I know their works and their thoughts"

The Lord speaks through Isaiah and lets us know something very important. A little bit of info we need to keep in mind is that God knows what is in our hearts and minds and what we do. We can't "fake-out" God.

When we are kids we think that we can lie to our parents and they will never figure out that we are trying to pull a fast one. Well, they know. Yet when we are kids we think that we can pull anything over on anyone if we just lie or manipulate. How can anyone figure it out? Easy! Our lies and games are never that good. So the lies and games build up and become increasingly complex and harder to maintain. Then, they fall apart and we are surprised that anyone saw through them. A bit naive I'd say. Problem is that we all do it at one time or another. We are human and humans play games. Sad but true.

Eventually we begin to use the same tactics with God. We begin to try and barter with God, a quid-pro-quo attitude. We actually begin to think we can lie to God and manipulate the Father! Thing is, God knows our works and our thoughts and he sees right through our charades.

This is one reason why I find politics hard to stomach. Every politician thinks that God is on his/her side. Especially during campaigns, each politician thinks that he/she has the market on God cornered and that he/she speaks for God and everyone else is wrong. By election day I always have a migraine. Just because someone has the public spotlight doesn't mean he/she is God's servant. God is neither a Democrat nor Republican and God can't be manipulated by any political machine. God is God, the creator of the universe and is beholden to no person or group.

We do it in the Church as well. We have so many groups fighting one another because one group thinks that they have the market cornered when it comes to God while another group is seen as the enemy. Surely if we ridicule another group or person loud and long enough that proves us right? So we fight and believe that we can rally God to do what we want him to do because, after all, how can "WE" be wrong?

God is not a commodity that can be controlled and manipulated. No matter how closely we choose our words or actions. No matter how pious we strive to convince God we are. No matter how "religious" we are. No matter how right we may think we are, God will not be controlled or lied to because he knows our thoughts and our works. We cannot hide our true motives and agendas from God. God sees and knows our spirit. Nothing can be hidden from God and we only delude ourselves when we think we can fool God. The only person we fool is our self and we miss out on the glories of being fully open to God's Holy Spirit.

When we delude ourselves into thinking that we can play games with God, we lose the game. All God asks of us is to be open, honest, receptive and willing. God wants us to be open to his love and willing to answer the call he gives. It isn't so hard when you stop and think about it. Yet there we go thinking that we can pull a fast one on God and manipulate him to do our will instead of us doing his will.

The greatest gift that God has given us is love. God's love is an invitation to live a transparent life where we live in communion with The Trinity and one another. It is a joyful communion that gives life and peace. The glorious thing is that this gift is free and requires no manipulation or lies to get it. All we have to do is ask and then give ourselves over to God's will. So simple yet we make it hard when we think we need to play games with God.