Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Our mountains are near the top of the list of the things that I treasure.
In Matthew 13:44-45 Jesus tells two short parables that challenge us to value our relationship with God more than anything else in the world. A man finds treasure in a field and sells everything he has to buy the field. A merchant finds a very valuable pearl and sells everything he has to buy it. The reign of God, Jesus says, is like the treasure and the pearl.
I think of the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God, as the relationship that God has with all human beings and all of creation, a relationship that is constantly growing. Like the treasure in the field, the reign of God is hidden. I think of the other world woven into and through this world but hidden from our senses. Something happens in our lives that makes us discover the Divine. With joy we put a relationship with God at the very top of the list of the things we treasure. Like any relationship, it grows and changes as we understand better and surrender more completely.
These parables push us to think about what the pearls are in our lives. I have found it helpful to make a list of what I value and then rank what's on the list. Does our relationship with God consume us?
Friday, July 18, 2014
Our Holy Father Francis surprises us often in the people that he includes in the Church. We have been used to Church leaders excluding many people for many different reasons. Some Catholic lay people are also eager to exclude others. A woman at daily Mass told a Greek Orthodox woman that she could not take communion.
The parable that Jesus preaches in Matthew 13:24-30 warns us not to be so quick to exclude people from the reign of God. The farm workers want to pull up the weeds as soon as they notice them in the wheat, but the farmer warns them that they might tear up the wheat along with them. "Let them grow together until harvest," he says.
Tolerance doesn't come easy to many of us. It's also tricky. When we criticize a certain group of being intolerant, are we being intolerant of them? Jesus eats with tax collectors and prostitutes, shames those so eager to stone the woman caught in adultery. His example encourages us to make everyone welcome in our church. He doesn't pretend that weeds are not weeds or that prostitutes are not prostitutes.
Isn't it also possible that welcoming all kinds of people among us might help them to grow in their relationship with God? If our faith burns hot, it will set fire to everything it touches.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
An earlier view of the sunset on the previous post.
The Gospel for next Sunday is a long passage from Matthew 13. I meditated on the first eight verses about the farmer sowing seeds. Rather than plant the seeds in neat rows, it was the practice to scatter the seed by the handfuls. Some fell on poor soil, some on good. The parable can help us think about how members of the crowd accepted or rejected the preaching of Jesus.
The parable also helps me think about how freely God throws his love around. God loves every human being from the beginning of time to the end. Someone asked me recently how to explain God's loving people, like Hitler, who do extremely evil things. This parable helps me to get some understanding of that. The seed is not received the same by all the soil. God's love is not received the same by all human beings. God loves everyone equally without making them merit the love, but some people close themselves off from God's love. Some people simply cannot believe that love could be unearned and miss out.
It is most helpful to see that the good soil yields an abundant harvest beyond all imagining. I think of how God's love can make us way better than we can make ourselves and of how even good people respond very differently to God's love. Some of us are wide open to receive God's love. Some are open just a bit. We even depend on God to make us better and better soil.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Early morning sky on this Fourth of July weekend.
Reflecting on Matthew 11:28-30. The religious leaders at the time of Jesus counted 613 commandments that had to be observed to the letter. They referred to this obligation as "the yoke of the Law." Just as oxen worked and strained under a heavy yoke, the religious leaders expected the people to live their lives under the heavy yoke of the Law.
In some of the sweetest words in any of the Gospels, Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for yourselves, for my yoke is easy and my burden light." Jesus is telling the people not to take onto themselves the heavy yoke of the Law. He says to them and to us , "Just learn from me. Notice how humble and gentle I am with people, how loving and caring I am. Behave like me and you will be doing the right thing."
This is almost effortless behavior. We don't look at his gentle, loving ways and make an effort to be like him. Because Jesus lives in us, he can share with us his goodness, his sense of the right thing to do. All we have to do is surrender. Sounds too good to be true. This is a freedom even greater than the freedom that we declared in 1776.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
One of our many beautiful sunsets.
I'm reading Frank J. Matera's God's Saving Grace: A Pauline Theology. By a nice coincidence the passage that I read today was the follow up to St. Paul's rebuke of St. Peter that I referred to in my last entry. James and many of the Jews in Jerusalem who had become Christians still insisted that they had to obey many of the requirements of the Jewish Law. One that they insisted on was that they could not eat with non-Jews. When Peter was with Paul in Antioch he ate with non-Jewish Christians, just as Paul did . But when some of James' followers came to Antioch, Peter stopped eating with non-Jews. Paul says he rebuked Peter for this.
In Galatians 2:15-21 Paul explains why, "We know that a person is justified not by works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ....I died to the Law so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me....for if justification comes through the Law, then Christ died for nothing."
Paul was convinced in faith, and he returns to this again and again in his Letters, that nothing we do earns God's love and forgiveness. Obeying the Law does not win God's favor. The saving grace of Jesus Christ is free. That's what "grace" means.
Paul believes that Christ lives in him and that any good that Paul does comes from the goodness of Jesus Christ within him. By not obeying the Law Paul isn't trying to give us an excuse for being bad. He is simply saying that just obeying a law does not make us good. Only God's saving grace can do that. To absorb this attitude and make it part of the way we live, we must spend time in prayer and meditation surrendering to Jesus and to his saving grace within us.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Day lilies by the Lake in full bloom on this first morning in July.
Since "Peter" was the patron saint of two parishes that I have served and "Paul" is my own patron saint, I don't want their feast to pass without reflecting on it. They were both martyred in Rome, most likely in the 60's. This is considered the reason for the prominence of Rome among early Christians.
I am amused at their being linked in a common feast and as the name of many churches since they didn't exactly walk arm in arm. In Galatians 2:11-14 Paul tells how he rebuked Peter at Antioch, "for until certain people came from James, he (Peter) used to eat with the Gentiles," something that James thought was wrong. In Peter's second Letter near the end (3:15-16) Peter comments with regard to Paul's letters, "There are certain things in them that are hard to understand...."
I heard two people recently refer to Peter as the insider and Paul as the outsider. To stress that they were very close to each other in their religious views, one of our Scripture professors in the seminary referred to Peter as a "moderate conservative" and to Paul as a "moderate liberal." (He identified James as an "extreme conservative" and St. Stephen as an "extreme liberal."
I think it is helpful for us in our sadly divided Church to know that disagreements among faithful Christians are nothing new. This weekend I found myself more taken up with the fact that both saints, by their ministry, help us to see that spreading the faith is essential to being a follower of Christ.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
I took this peaceful scene along Route 48, the new highway in West Virginia, which I drove a friend to see this past Monday. (clicking on picture enlarges it)
I used some Scripture readings about silence and receptive prayer for today's Bible meditation. 1 Kings 19:11-13 has been a favorite for many years. The prophet Elijah is running away from Queen Jezebel who intends to kill him. He takes shelter in a cave on Mount Horeb, another name for Mount Sinai where Moses met God. God tells Elijah that God is about to pass by. The Lord is not in spectacular events like a powerful wind, an earthquake, a fire, God comes in "a sound of sheer silence."
In Luke 10:38-41 Jesus visits Martha and Mary. Mary is receptive, sitting and listening to Jesus. When Martha complains to Jesus that Mary is not helping her with chores, Jesus says, "Mary has chosen the good part which will not be taken away from her." Most English translations have "better part," but Luke's Greek does not have Jesus saying that Martha has chosen the good part and Mary the better. There is no comparison. Jesus is simply saying Mary made the right choice.
These passages encourage us to wait in silence for God to help us feel God's presence within us. If we are to cultivate a rich interior life, it is essential that we make time for receptive prayer like Mary's.