Give to The One Who Asks of You

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Yesterday, while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, I overheard the tsk tsk’ing of the couple ahead of me. It was wrong, I heard them say to each other, that ‘some people’ used their government benefits to buy expensive food. They turned to me, hoping for an affirmation to their audible grumbling about low-income people who “eat like kings”

Standing in front of them was a young mom with one toddler on her hip and another child by her side. She bought two half-gallons of organic whole milk, a container of organic yogurt, and a whole chicken, and she used food stamps to pay for them.

I mumbled something about her healthy food choices.

Two weeks ago we heard the words of the prophet Isaiah, who speaking for the Lord, made it clear that it is God’s will that we share what we have with one another. That we feed the hungry—not from our surplus or with our leftovers—but from the same table we share with our families.

“If you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall become like midday;” [IS 58:10]

Lavish” and “satisfy.” To go beyond the letter of the law. And then your gloom will lift. Now that is really something.

Today, on the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A), we hear Jesus continue his teaching on doing more than the law prescribes.

“Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. [MT 5:41]

The suggestion that we go the extra mile, that we do more than what is expected,  was met with the same resistance in Jesus’ day it is today.

The kind of stinginess expressed by the couple in the grocery store shrinks and darkens our world. Indeed it is a lack of mercy which emerges from a sense of entitlement and a fear of scarcity.

Conversely, it is when we give of ourselves freely and without resentment that we experience the miracle of God’s abundance  over and over again; the light rises, we feel restored, not depleted.

Jesus told his disciples, “give to the one who asks of you.” [MT 5:42]

I recently came across the following vignette from Leontius’ Life of St. John the Almsgiver, the biography of the Saint who was a widower, a father, and later the patriarch of Alexandra (c. 560-619). It is striking for its contemporary resonance and is worthy of our prayerful contemplation.

“While there was a crowd of refugees in the city, one of the strangers, noticing John’s remarkable sympathy, determined to test the blessed man. So he put on old clothes and approached him as he was on his way to visit the sick in the hospitals (for he did this two or three times a week) and said to him, “Have mercy on me for I have been a prisoner of war.”

John said to his purse-bearer, “Give him six nomismata.”

After the man had received these he went off, changed his clothes, met John again in another street, and falling at his feet said, “Have pity on me for I am in want.” The Patriarch again said to his purse-bearer, “Give him six nomismata.”

As he went away the purse-bearer whispered in the Patriarch’s ear, “By your prayers, master, this same man has had alms from you twice over!” But the Patriarch pretended not to understand.

Soon the man came again for the third time to ask for money and the attendant, carrying the gold, nudged the Patriarch to let him know that it was the same man, whereupon the truly merciful and beloved of God said, “Give him twelve nomismata, for perchance it is my Christ and He is here to test me.”

The season of Lent is around the corner. Ash Wednesday is March 1. Traditionally, during Lent our attention is drawn to serving the poor. God’s abundance, however, is not seasonal and like the example set by St. John the Almsgiver, we are expected share it freely at all times.

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [MT 5:48]

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Readings for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, (A)

1st Reading: LV 19:1-2, 17-18
Responsorial Psalm:
PS 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
2nd Reading: 1 COR 3:16-23
Gospel: 
MT 5:38-48

Comic courtesy of www.agnusday.org, the Lectionary comic strip, where each week Rick and Ted discuss one of the assigned readings from the Common Lectionary.

Click here to learn more about St. John the Almsgiver.

You have heard that it was said

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

I’m tired of feeling angry. Aren’t you?

I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of good reasons to be angry and I’m not diminishing the constructive value of anger. Without a doubt, healthy expressions of anger hold a valid place in the human experience.

In fact, it is due to our outrage over injustices perpetuated by oppressive regimes against men, women and children, and greed-driven exploitation of the Earth that we work tirelessly to secure human rights and to conserve our planet’s resources for future generations.

As a Christian—like members of many faith traditions—I believe that humans carry the divine imprint: that we are each created in the image of God.

This belief is foundational to our faith: we bear the presence of God. I become so angry when I hear the words and witness the actions of professed Christians who seem to have a selective understanding of this belief. My anger and frustration has compelled me to add my Christian voice to the historical conversation surrounding basic human rights.

Constructively channeled anger is the driver behind our progression towards a more just society, but anger that does nothing but foment more anger is deadly and frankly, I’m pretty tired of it.

I’m talking about an unattended-bonfire-in-a-forest-of-dead-trees-on-a-windy-day kind of anger. I’m talking about anger that feeds off fear and seeks to destroy what it doesn’t understand. I’m talking about anger that is capable of causing figurative and literal death.

Anger is the core of Jesus’ saying against killing, which we hear on the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A). It is the first of six sayings about conduct, also known as the antitheses, included in Matthew’s gospel account of the Sermon on the Mount.

Each saying begins with Jesus introducing a known and accepted teaching of the law, “You have heard it said…” which he then follows with “But I say to you…” and an expanded command that requires greater attention.

 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement.”  [MT  5:21-22a]

Yes, Jesus says, don’t physically kill each other. That’s pretty basic. But he adds that the kind of anger that leads to killing, that destroys relationships and causes deadly harm is to be avoided and reconciliation between peoples must always been sought.

Anger is growing, and it is wrapping its vines around every imaginable topic. While the vicious words exchanged online between people residing thousands of miles apart may not culminate in an actual murder, verbal expressions of hate wield the power to kill a person’s spirit and to shift the social dynamic away from the good.

We see this playing out in print and on television; we hear it coming from the mouths of our elected leaders. Virtual verbal combat also takes place where we live when we entertain private thoughts that diminish the dignity of another, even if we keep those thoughts to ourselves. We’re all guilty of it, sorry to say.

The other day— a particularly challenging media-saturated day—I watched a conversation between two strangers unfold into a hate-filled screed. Soon dozens upon dozens of people joined in the brawl. This kind of verbal pummeling between strangers is becoming commonplace all across the globe.

Many spirits were injured, if not slain, that day, including my own.

I took a step back and observed how anger was slowly sapping my spirit. A dark and brooding cynic with clouded vision was devouring my optimistic anything-is-possible, happy-go-lucky, creative self.

The constant reminder that the world is a mess is a self-fulfilling prophecy that like the sound of a dripping faucet can either drive us to madness or to a solution. Look, just because there is a 24/7/365 anger-inducing all-you-can-eat buffet of badness spread before us doesn’t mean we must partake in it. I think we forget sometimes that we have choices. I am choosing to push away from the hate buffet. (At least I’m trying to.)

In today’s first reading from Sirach (aka The Wisdom of Ben Sira, or Ecclesiasticus) the great sage touches upon the concept of free will—the power of choice.

“If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.” [SIR 15:15]

Ben Sira’s lesson concerns the daily choices people face and what guidance, if any, they use to make them. Isn’t it true that each day we have multiple opportunities to choose life-giving words and actions over the alternative?

The author of the much abbreviated Psalm[1] which we sing today represents sojourners like you and me who are immersed in the world, its challenges and its joys, and who strive to choose the good and who turn with hope to the Lord for guidance, strength, stamina, wisdom, and spiritual knowledge.

Our choices reflect how we view the world and all of its occupants. We mirror the divine image in the ways we treat loved ones as well as with strangers. What we put in our bodies, and what we feed our brains, what we purchase, and the ways we steward the Earth: these are not easy choices, but we put our hope in what is good and just.

Consider the death of a seed and all the secret happenings that occur beneath the soil before the first tender shoot works its way into the light. The constant shock and awe of anger and our increasingly ugly and disingenuous attempts to protect and conserve our illusions seems to want to trample any tendril of hope trying to break through. We must not allow this any longer.

While many of Jesus’ teachings were framed in eschatological (end times) language, his concern was with the way his followers interacted with one another here on earth, that they love one another as he loved them. Matthew is very clear that Jesus expected his teachings to be observed: do what the teacher says.

Hope is not a wish. It is an expression of confidence. I want to return to that hopeful side, and hold tight to the expectation that with God’s grace the goodness of humanity will prevail, and that we will continue to harness our fiery opposition to injustice and use it creatively to seek understanding, and quite literally save lives.

This is the only way for me, at least.

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Readings for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, (A)

1st reading: SIR 15:15-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 119
2nd Reading: 1 COR 2:6-10
Gospel: MT 5:17-37

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[1] Psalm 119, with 176 verses, is the longest in the Book of Psalms. A poem of 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, was sung or recited in worship with the goal of encouraging the faithful to walk blamelessly through life, to turn to the Lord for refuge, guidance and strength and to seek with praise and thanksgiving a greater understanding of God’s ways as found in the law, testimony, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgements, and promises.

God, Where Are You?

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Oh God!

Hi Susan. How’s it going?

I’m mad at you. Actually, I’m furious. And I’m nearly done with you.

Susan, why is that?

Well, for starters, where the hell are you?

I’m here. I’m always here. You know that.

Not feeling it. Not feeling it at all. Sorry.

Well. I am here with you. Trust me. What else?

Seriously? Are you kidding me? Have you been on vacation?

No. I am aware of what you are doing to each other.

And? Why do you allow it? What made you think humans could be trusted? What are you, a masochist?  What kind of Creator allows its own creation to destroy itself?  I’m done with you.

Don’t blame me. I don’t allow these things.

Yes you do, you always have.

There you are wrong. I don’t allow any of it. You do. The atrocities which you commit against one another and your intent to exploit the earth for personal gain, these are human choices. You raised up these human leaders, you gave them power. No, I do not allow these things. You, you are the ones who allow them to be. You always have. 

Why? Why does this have to happen?

I know why.  So do you.

What I know is that there is more good than evil in the world, and that there are a lot of people who believe they are doing your will.

But are they? I’ve been pretty clear about my will.

I know. Can’t you just do something?

I did. I am.  Do your part. I’m here.

I’m trying. It shouldn’t be this way, though.

Susan, I’ve been saying that forever…

“What I’m interested in seeing you do is:

sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.

Your righteousness will pave your way.

The God of glory will secure your passage.

Then when you pray, God will answer.

You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.

I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”[1]

Isaiah 58:6-12 (from The Message)

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Readings for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, (A)

1st reading: Isaiah 58:7-10
Responsorial Psalm PS 112
2nd Reading 1 COR 2:1-5
Gospel: MT 5:13-16

Scripture note:  Compare the above translation of Isaiah 58:6-12 from The Message with Isaiah 58:7-10 from the New American Bible Revised Edition [NABRE] found on the USCCB website for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A). Both quite clearly state God’s will.

For those who are unfamiliar with The Message, it is a contemporary rendering of the books of the Bible, translated from the original languages and the New Vulgate by Eugene H. Peterson (with Deuterocanonical writings translated by William Griffin). Every chapter and verse was crafted to present its tone, rhythm, events, and the ideas of the original text in everyday language.

Why not intersperse readings from The Message with your own bible translation and enrich your prayer life, add layers to your comprehension of the Christian mission, and better actualize the meaning of Scripture into your interactions with others and with all of God’s creation? Try it, you might like it.

Click here for information on The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition

[1] Eugene H. Peterson. The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition. (Chicago. Acta Publications 2013) 1243.