Why Does God Make Us Wait?


In Sunday’s gospel, Jesus healed many people at Capernaum. But the next day, though many were looking for him and wanted healings, he said to his apostles that it was time to move on to other towns. In other words he left some to wait for another day when he would return. I explored some of the aspects of God’s delay in yesterday’s blog. Today let’s get a word from the saints and further ponder the mystery of waiting on the Lord.

Indeed, one of the most common frustrations in the spiritual life is the fact that God often makes us wait. Many of our requests are made with an elevated sense of urgency. Frankly, we are in a big hurry about many things—but God is not. Although He could fix every problem in an instant, He does not, and He has His reasons for this.

While the reasons for God’s delay may be somewhat mysterious, we can certainly understand some of them. For example, any parent knows that giving a child whatever he wants precisely when he wants is to spoil him. Learning to wait is beneficial. It humbles us, keeps us vigilant, helps us to clarify our desires, and aids us in developing self-control.

St. Augustine,  beautifully describes another reason that God would have us wait:

The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire. You do not yet see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when he comes you may see and be utterly satisfied.

 Suppose you are going to fill some holder or container, and you know you will be given a large amount. Then you set about stretching your sack or wineskin or whatever it is. Why? Because you know the quantity you will have to put in it and your eyes tell you there is not enough room. By stretching it, therefore, you increase the capacity of the sack.

And this is how God deals with us. Simply by making us wait he increases our desire, which in turn enlarges the capacity of our soul, making it able to receive what is to be given to us.

So, my brethren, let us continue to desire, for we shall be filled! (Tract. 4: PL 35, 2008-2009)

St. Teresa of Avila said something similar in her spiritual work, The Interior Castle. In her reflection on the fourth mansions, she introduced the first stages of contemplative prayer:

I remember a verse we say at Prime at the end of the final Psalm; the last words are: “Cum dilatasti cor meum”—“When Thou didst dilate my heart.” … [A] person must have dwelt for a long time in the former mansions before entering these … [otherwise] all occasions of gaining merit would be withdrawn, were [the soul] left continually absorbed in God. [This is] the difference between sweetness in prayer and spiritual consolations (The Interior Castle, Fourth Mansions 1:3-5).

In effect, she is teaching that one rarely reaches deeper prayer without the necessary waiting, as God leads us through the stages of the purgative way (mansions one through three). We must wait and cooperate as God does His work to purify us and enlarge our heart to receive the gift of deeper prayer. And even once deeper prayer is attained, it cannot be all sweetness, for then merit and further growth would be lost.

God must increase the size of our heart, but this takes time. If we are faithful, waiting brings about yearning. To yearn is to increase our desire and to enlarge our heart. This prepares us for the greater gifts God wants to bestow upon us.

There are many reasons God has us wait. Allow St. Augustine and St. Teresa to teach you one important reason. Let God enlarge your heart through desire. Only then will it be big enough to enjoy the full extent of what He is offering.

Wait for the Lord.

When Troubles Rise – A Homily for the 5th Sunday of the Year


In life we face many difficulties; they challenge us and our faith. Deep struggle can lead us to question God, His love, or even His existence. The readings today speak to us of these sorts of difficulties and prophetically interpret them for us. Let’s take a look at these readings in three stages.

I.  The Disillusionment of Deep Despair – The reading from the book of Job clearly articulates the feeling we have all experienced at one time or another. Job said, Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? … I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me … then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. My days … come to an end without hope … I shall not see happiness again.

Job is weary and worried, angry and anxious, depressed and discouraged. We’ve all been there, and although we pray it won’t happen, life sometimes cycles back to difficulties even if times are good now.

Notice Job’s disillusionment. He says, I shall not see happiness again. Suffering has a way of drawing us into the illusion that things will never be good again, that we will never again be happy or content. Yet Scripture says that troubles don’t last forever, that weeping may endure for a night, but joy will come with the morning light (Psalm 30:5). This is true even for those of us who are soon to die; death opens to a new and lasting joy provided we are faithful.

Job is caught in the illusion that his life is over, that it will never be good again. This is not the case; he will once again be blessed, blessed with an even greater abundance than he once had.

We, too, can get lost in illusion when suffering sets in. A thousand questions, usually starting with “why,” beset us. And while the mystery of suffering cannot be fully explained, we ought to remember that God permits some trouble in our life so that certain purposes can be accomplished (if we are faithful). God permits trouble to

DIRECT us – Sometimes God must light a fire under us to get us moving. Problems often point us in a new direction and motivate us to change. Sometimes it takes a painful situation to make us change our ways. Proverbs 20:30 says, blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the innermost being. When our way gets too easy, we tend to stray from God.

INSPECT us – Our problems have a way of helping to show what we’re really made of. Through trials and tests in my life, I’ve discovered many strengths I never knew I had. There is a test in every testimony, and trials have a way of purifying and strengthening our faith as well as inspecting it to see whether it is genuine. Trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure. (1 Peter 1:6).

CORRECT us – Some lessons can only be learned through pain and failure. Sometimes we only learn the value of something (e.g., health, money, a relationship) by losing it. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees (Psalm 119:71-72). Before I was afflicted, I strayed. But now I keep your word (Psalm 119:67).

PROTECT us – A problem can be a blessing in disguise if it prevents us from being harmed by something more serious. It might be as simple as getting stuck in traffic, thereby avoiding a terrible accident up ahead. It might be something more serious like losing our health, but along with that losing our ability to sin so seriously. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph said to his brothers (who had sold him into slavery), You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

PERFECT us – When responded to properly, problems are character builders. God is far more interested in our character than our comfort. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us, they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character. (Romans 5:3). You are being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it (1 Peter 1:7).

So Job’s disillusionment needs a little correction. God hasn’t given up on him. There’s no doubt that he is in trouble, but trouble doesn’t last forever. God is permitting it for a reason and for a season, but seasons change.

In the depths of despair, such encouragement may not seem emotionally satisfying, but the first step in improving our mental outlook is to root our thoughts appropriately in what God teaches.

II.  The Destination of Distressed Disciples – Simply put, when troubles come, run to the Lord in prayer. In today’s Gospel we are told, Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her … When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons.

Note the instinct of the people to turn to the Lord “immediately.” A few old songs come to mind:

  • I love the Lord, he heard my cry and pitied every groan. Long as I live and troubles rise, I’ll hasten to his throne.
  • What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.
  • King Jesus is a-listenin’ all day long to hear some sinner pray.

Indeed, while God may have reasons for permitting us to experience difficulties, it does not mean that He does not want us to ask for grace, strength, and healing. The Book of James says, simply, Ye have not because ye ask not (James 4:2).

In seeking the Lord, we ought to remember that perseverance is also an important aspect of prayer.

  • Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1).
  • I tell you, though [the grouchy neighbor] will not get up and give [his neighbor] bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs (Luke 11:8).
  • The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16).

Here, too, the words of a song come to mind: “If I hold my peace my Jesus will be coming for me one day, King Jesus is a-listenin’ when you pray.” Thus, in times of distress and difficulty, the instinct of a true disciple is to hasten to the Lord in prayer, to seek comfort, consolation, healing, and peace.

III.  The Doctrine of Divine Decision – We have reviewed two truths that are in some tension: that God sometimes permits trouble for a reason and for a season, and that we ought to run to the Lord in prayer when trouble comes, seeking help and relief. One teaching has us seek immediate relief from God. The other reminds us that weeping may endure for a while, but it is always for a reason, a reason deemed by God to be both necessary and productive.

In the end, the “Doctrine of Divine Decision” says that we should accept with trust that God knows what is best. We run to Him for relief and permit Him to say either “now” or “later” in response to our prayers.

In the Gospel today, we see both these teachings illustrated First, many came to Him for healing and He healed them all. But then we read this:

Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

Therefore, note that although some have remained back in the town seeking immediate healing, Jesus chooses to move on, for He is not here simply to be a medical miracle worker but rather (as He says) to preach the Kingdom and ultimately to die for our real problem: our sin. It may be difficult for us to hear Jesus say no to this town and move on. In fact, Peter indicated some frustration at Jesus’ having left the town to pray and then ultimately moving on. Nevertheless, for those back in Capernaum, Jesus said to some of them, “now,” and to others, “wait.” This is His decision and He knows what is best.

Consider this: either way we are blessed. Either we experience healing now and then have a testimony to give, or our faith is strengthened because we receive the Good News that that everything is going to be all right. Scripture says,

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love the Lord, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

In other words, even the difficult things in life, by God’s grace, work unto good; they bring some benefit. God permits the struggle for now because he knows of the benefit. Scripture also says,

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6).

Thus our sufferings have a purpose: to strengthen and purify us.

The Doctrine of Divine Decision leaves things up to God. Whether now or later, everything is going to be all right if we trust in God. If there is a delay, it’s because He has His reasons, and even if these reasons are mysterious and irksome for us, the decision is God’s.

Here, then, are some directions for disciples when dealing with difficulties. Briefly put, reject disillusionment, run to Jesus, and respect His decision.

The words of this song say,

You don’t have to worry
And don’t you be afraid
Joy comes in the morning
Troubles they don’t last always
For there’s a friend in Jesus
Who will wipe your tears away
And if your heart is broken
Just lift your hands and say
I know that I can make it
I know that I can stand
No matter what may come my way
My life is in your hands

On a Strange and Horrible Biblical Story and the “Bad” Memory of God.

We are reading from Hebrews 12 in the Liturgy this week (Monday  of the 4th Week) which mentions, among the heroes of ancient Israel, Jepthe. More on that in a moment.

But one of the most strange and horrifying stories of the Bible is the story of Jephthah  (Pronounced “Jeff-tha” and alternately spelled Jepthe) and his ritual murder of his daughter. It is a tale of faith and piety gone terribly wrong and a teaching of what happens when error and false religion are substituted for the true faith.  It is also a tale of how God can work even with the worst of us to accomplish his ends. Let’s look at this “fractured fable” of a story.

The story of Jephthah  is told in Judges 11. He is described as a mighty warrior and would one day be numbered among the Judges of Israel. As the chapter opens we are told:

Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute.  Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.” So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him. (Jdg 11:1-3).

Jephthah the Ganger – Tob is a land to the extreme east of Jordan. Having been dispossessed of any personal resources Jephthah became ranked among the roving bands of dispossessed youth who had little to lose. While the text above says describes Jephthah as gathering “adventurers”  around him, many translators render the Hebrew as “worthless men” or “ruffians.” In effect Jephthah is a gang member, the head of a group of marauders who allied themselves with local inhabitants who felt over-taxed or had other grievances against local rulers. They sustained themselves by raiding caravans or towns and enemies of their friends.

It is quite a remarkable thing that the likes of Jephthah would rise to Judge Israel for six years. Judges were those who, in the years prior to kingship in Israel, served as charismatic leaders. They usually rose to power in response to some crisis or need.

And, sure a enough, a crisis did arrive that would catapult Jephthah to power. The text says,

Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob.  “Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.”  Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?”  The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.” Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me—will I really be your head?”  The elders of Gilead replied, “The LORD is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.” So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them (Jdg 11:4-10).

The Israelites needed a warrior and Jephthah had gained the reputation of being a skilled and fearsome warrior. He would be their man and he came to Judge (rule) over Israel. He first, as a formality,  sent messengers to negotiate a settlement with the Ammonites. In a lengthy message he sets forth both an  historical and theological basis for Israel’s claim on the Transjordan area to which the Ammonites were now laying claim. Among other things the Israelites had lived in the land over 300 years. But the Ammonites rejected all negotiations. So Jephthah prepared for war. (cf Jdg 11:12-28)

Here is where things get strange. Prior to going to war Jephthah vows a vow. It is an immoral vow, on the face of it. It is a vow that would require something wicked of him. The text says:

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, Whosoever shall first come forth out of the doors of my house, and shall meet me when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, the same will I offer a holocaust to the Lord. (Jdg 11:29-31)

This is a wicked vow. It is wrong to vow to kill some as a sacrifice to God. It is forbidden explicitly by to offer any human being in sacrifice to any god let alone Him: You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. (Deut 12:31; cf also Lev 18:21) It is murder that Jephthah vows. It is false religion that he embraces.

Some have tried to soften the vow by translating the vow as “whatever” comes out of the house, Jephthah would offer in sacrifice. Thus he could have meant an animal. But it is difficult for the Hebrew (צֵא הַ) to support this notion. The gender of the word would have to be in the feminine form to support this theory. But the form is masculine which everywhere else means “whoever” and it is coupled with the verbs  “to come out” and “to meet.” It does not usually pertain to things and animals to do this. Hence, it seems the plain meaning of this text is that Jephthah vowed to kill the first human who came forth to meet him upon his return. One may suppose he figured that a slave or servant would be the first to greet him?

What makes the vow even more troubling is that it was generally presumed that one who was called to be a judge had an anointing from God. Verse 30 does speak of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon Jephthah How could one anointed by God be guilty of such a gross violation of God’s law. We can only recall  that God’s approval of one area in a person’s life is not an approval of every area of their life. Most of Israel’s greatest leaders had serious flaws: Moses and David had murdered, Jacob was a usurper, Abraham “pimped” his wife and so forth. God can write straight with crooked lines. St. Paul reminds us that we carry the great treasure of God within “earthen vessels.” An old gospel hymn says, “If you can use anything Lord, you can use me.” God does not call the perfect, that much is clear.

The story of Jephthah then has it’s horrible twist and dreadful end:

Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon. When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.”  “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”  “You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite custom that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite (Jdg 11:33-40).

In the end, Jephthah is met by his only daughter and is “forced” to fulfill his vow to kill her as a sacrifice. But in fact he is not forced for no one is compelled to fulfill a wicked vow. Yet the plain meaning of the text indicates that did just that. There are attempts by some scholars to try and show that Jephthah really didn’t do it. But, their attempts are very contrived and, in the end, set aside the plain meaning of the text which quite clearly indicates Jephthah went through with his vow.

What happened to Jephthah? We can only speculate. But it would seem that he had come under the influence of the false religions of the pagans. In particular, he seems to have come under the influence of the Canaanite practices of human sacrifice. The Jewish people had often fallen prey to just such a syncretism. Their faith in the God of Israel was often selective and weak. Superstition often drew them to the Baals and other gods of the surrounding nations. Their straying often led them to great wickedness, sexual promiscuity, deviance and even human sacrifice. Jephthah seems to have been among their number. His rejection by his brothers in Israel and his wandering at the fringes of the land were surely factors in his religious confusion and the evil that flowed from it.

And what of us? We too do well to consider the rapid descent into evil of our culture as we have increasingly and collectively rejected the true faith. Things once thought shameful are now practiced proudly by many. Things once thought immodest are flaunted. A terrible toll of abortion also mounts as our children are sacrificed to the gods of promiscuity, contraception, illicit sexual union, career, and convenience. As God has been shown the door in our culture, and kicked to the curb, we have descended mightily in to confusion and corruption, to debauchery and decay. It begins with forsaking faith in the One, True God. This nation, though always pluralistic and non sectarian, did once have a clear place for God. Now He has been escorted to the margins. And we, like Jephthah, are increasingly able and willing to do the unthinkable.

On the Bad Memory of God – One final thought on the story of Jephthah. It occurs to me that God has a “bad memory.” I say this because God the Holy Spirit holds Jephthah up later in scripture for our admiration. It’s right there in Hebrews 11 where Jephthah is said to be among the cloud of witnesses:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies….. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus (Heb 11:32-34; 12:1-2)

It is a remarkable thing to see Jephthah listed among the great Old Testament saints. Perhaps we can say that Jephthah repented? We can surely hope. But it is also possible to celebrate the “bad memory” of God. I hope you will understand, I mean no irreverence here. Scripture says, For I [the Lord] will forgive [my people] their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jer 31:34). And also, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more,” says the Lord (Heb 10:17) I don’t know about you, but I am depending and the “poor memory” of God. I am hoping for a poor recollection on the part of God of certain incidents and passages in my life  🙂  And if Jephthah can make the cut, perhaps there’s hope for me too!

There have been a number of musical oratorios based on the Story of Jephthah. One of my favorites is “Jepthe” by Carissimi. In this first video I have assembled some images to the story and set it to a Chorus from Jepthe by Carissimi. The song is led by the daughter and is one of the happy moments in the Oratorio. The text says, Cantemus Omnes Domino! Laudemus belli principem, qui dedit nobis gloriam et Israel victoriam (Let us all sing to the Lord! Let us praise the prince of war, who gave glory to us and Israel Victory).

 

The final chorus of Jepthe by Carissimi is a minor masterpiece and a deep lament for the only daugther of Jepthe. The text says: Plorate filii Israel, plorate omnes virgines, et filiam Jephte unigenitam in carmine doloris lamentamini (Weep O children of Israel, weep, all you virgins, and in sorrowful songs lament the only daughter of Jepthe). The final lamentamini repeats over and over as we are drawn into the deep sorrow of loss.

A Portrait of Jesus the Preacher – A Homily for the 4th Sunday of the Year

In Sunday’s Gospel Jesus models four aspects of powerful and effective preaching.

In using the word “preaching” we ought to be careful not to limit it to what takes place in a church. All Catholic parents should learn from Jesus’ example here for they have the church of their home in which to preach; they have the pulpit of the dining room table, the living room couch, and even the family car. We all must learn from Jesus’ model of powerful preaching and teaching. Note, then, four basic qualities of Jesus as preacher and teacher:

I. PERSONAL – The text says, Then they came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.

(The picture at the upper right is one of me and fellow parishioners standing in the ruins of the synagogue mentioned in this passage. It is quite moving to stand atop the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus preached both this sermon and the Bread of Life discourse. Some of the ruins are from later than Jesus’ era, but the foundations are clearly from that time. It’s amazing.)

Note that the text says that Jesus spoke “with authority.” The Greek word translated here as “authority” is ἐξουσίαν (exousia), whose root meaning is “to (speak) out of one’s being or substance.” In other words, one speaks of what one knows by experience. Jesus is not simply quoting what others have said nor is He merely quoting slogans or common sayings.

In this, Jesus is distinguished from the scribes, who were famous for quoting only one another and other reputable, safe sources. Quoting other sources is fine, but if it merely stops there, how is listening to a preacher any better than staying home and reading a book?

Too many Christians, including Catholic preachers, are content to live and preach by inference rather than experience. Too many are content to repeat what others have said rather than to speak out of what they know, have seen, and have experienced.

To preach with authority means to be able to proclaim the Word of God with personal knowledge and experience. It means to be able to say this: “What the Lord and the Church have always proclaimed, I know personally, for I have tested and experienced the Word of God in the laboratory of my own life and found it to be true. And now I speak to you not merely of what others have said but what I know and experience to be true. Out of the substance of my own being I announce this truth to you.”

This is what it means to preach personally and with authority. Jesus did not simply quote what others said; He said what He personally knew.

What of you and me? Are you able to speak with authority? Well, do you know what the Lord is doing in your life? Have you personally experienced the truth of what the Scriptures and the Church have always announced? Or are you just quoting slogans, passages, and what others have said? Of course the Scriptures and the authoritative teachings of the Church are the essential foundation of what we know, but do you personally know it to be true? How? Do you speak to your children of what you know or do you merely say, “The Church says … “? Certainly you should say what the Church says, but teaching with authority means knowing and having experienced the truth of what the Church says. It means being able to attest to it personally. This is the basis of preaching and teaching with authority.

II. PROVOCATIVE – To say that something is “provocative” is to say that it elicits a response. When Jesus preached His words did not leave His listeners unmoved. His preaching called forth a response, whether it made people mad, sad, or glad.

The text pointed out that many were glad, but there was one man who was mad. The text describes his reaction: In the synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

Every experienced, authentic preacher knows that if he preaches effectively, a response will be forthcoming from his listeners. While it is natural to want a positive response, every preacher must be willing to accept that his word may incite anger or ridicule. The Church announces good news but she is also a sign of contradiction to a sinful world. Thus every preacher faithful to the Gospel must expect some degree of negativity and even persecution, ridicule, and anger.

Jesus’ Word angers a demon-possessed man in the congregation and he confronts Jesus, blaming Him with being hateful and causing hurt, saying that Jesus wants to destroy him. (Similarly, many today react with anger and call the Church hateful, bigoted, intolerant, and hurtful—even claiming that she destroys lives.) As we shall see, Jesus does not back down.

The problem in the synagogue is not the Word that Jesus proclaims; it is the man’s inner condition. When the authentic Gospel is proclaimed, the wrath that sometimes follows does not bespeak a problem with God’s Word but with the listener’s inner condition. Note that the man is demon-possessed. That is, his heart and mind are under the influence of Satan and the sin he inspires. The greatest obstacle to our being able to appreciate and understand the Word of God is our sin; the greatest help is a docile and humble spirit, granted by the grace of God.

A powerful preacher, priest or parent, preaches in order to provoke a response, whether one of joy and consolation or of repentance and godly sorrow. While no authentic preacher intends to incite a hostile response, he must be willing to accept such a reaction. When someone is accustomed to the darkness, he finds the light harsh, and calls it such. Anyone who preaches the Gospel authentically will both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable; he will both console and confront (where necessary); he will reassure but also awaken the need for healing. He will speak the truth in love.

Good preaching provokes a response and one who hears the Gospel preached with authority cannot come away unchanged.

III. PRODUCING – Powerful and effective preaching brings results. As Jesus preaches, a man is set free. The text says, Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

The aim or point of the Word of God is not merely to inform but to transform. It’s not enough for the Word of God to be attractive, informative, or entertaining. Its full purpose is to, in power, drive out demons and bring God’s grace. Good preaching works to drive out the demons of ignorance, sorrow, rebellion, and sin. It works to give godly sorrow, joy, hope, confidence, knowledge, courage, and conviction. Good preaching changes people’s lives.

IV. PERSEVERING – Note that Jesus did not immediately back down in the face of opposition. He persevered with the opposing man and, by His Word, drove out the demons that were afflicting him. We see the man go through three stages:

  1. He is mad, for he confronts Jesus.
  2. He is sad, for he struggles and convulses as Jesus works to free him by His Word.
  3. He is glad, for he is set free and is able to rejoice with the others.

Every preacher, every parent, and every prophet must persevere, not giving up easily; it is often the case that people must go through these stages.

In my own life there was a time when, afflicted by the demons of ignorance and youthful rebellion, I would cross my arms and listen angrily to the priest. I was mad. I would often scoff at the “silly priest” who was trying to tell me what to do. After some years of hearing the preaching of the Church, however, I gradually understood that I had to change. Change does not come easily, though, and thus came the stage of sad; it was a time of struggle, learning new virtues, and forsaking old vices. Now I can truthfully say that I am glad, for the Lord has brought me a mighty long way. His preached Word is powerful. When effectively preached, it has the power to transform. I have experienced transformation personally.

I am glad that the Church persevered, that my parents persevered, that good priests and religious persevered in preaching to me and teaching me. I am glad that my parishioners continue to persevere in witnessing to me and preaching by their lives.

Here is reenactment of Jesus preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum (on a different occasion).

 

The Message of the Letter to the Hebrews

Christ at the Last Supper – Duccio (1311)

This week in daily Mass, we are reading from The Letter to the Hebrews, one of the most underappreciated books of the New Testament. It has long been one of my favorites from which to teach; in it we are summoned to faith in Jesus, our Savior and Great High Priest.

The opening lines in the Latin Vulgate are exquisite, particularly to those who can read and recite Latin well.

Multifáriam, multísque modis, olim Deus lóquens pátribus in prophétis. Novíssime, diébus istis locútus est nobis in Fílio.
(In many and varied ways, God once spoke to our fathers through the prophets. In these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son.)

Though many doubt that St. Paul wrote Hebrews, I believe he did; it is here that we best see his priestly identity as an apostle, his deep knowledge of the Temple rituals and how they pointed to Christ and are perfected by Him.

The Letter to the Hebrews does not begin with the usual epistolary greetings and salutations, though it does end with them. Throughout, the text “sounds” more like a sermon. The audience of the letter is clearly Jewish Christians; the writer is exhorting them not to fall back on Jewish rituals, which cannot save, but rather to cling ever more closely to Christ, who alone is savior and Lord.

Hebrews was surely written before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. (References to the Temple speak of sacrifices as still going on there.) It occurs to me that the context of Hebrews is that of the years from 65-70 A.D., a time during which wars and rumors of wars were growing. Indeed, the tragic Jewish war began in 66 A.D. The Romans had had more than enough of Jewish Messianism and uprisings. It was a horrible, bloody war that cost the lives of more than one million Jews. During this period, Jewish nationalism was on the rise, likely even among those who had become Christians.

Politics has a strong pull, and it is in this context that the author addresses his audience. In effect, his position is that they should not return to what cannot save merely out of some sense of loyalty to a doomed nation. Jesus had prophesied the tragic destruction of Jerusalem in the Mount Olivet discourse recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13, and Luke 21). With the war clouds gathering, this was the time to cling to Him ever more!

What follows is a quick summary of the exhortation in the Letter to the Hebrews. (In most cases I have not cited chapter and verse below because I pulled from many parts at once.)

Jesus is Lord: Particularly in the first three chapters of Hebrews, the author reminds his audience of the glory of Christ.

Jesus Christ is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholding all things by His powerful word. Having provided purification for sins, He now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Christ is far superior to the angels, as the name He has inherited is excellent beyond theirs. To which of the angels did God ever say, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father,” or “I will be His Father, and He will be My Son”? When God brings His firstborn into the world, He says: “Let all God’s angels worship Him.”

Yes, God has subjected all things to Him, leaving nothing outside of His control. Christ is crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone, bringing many sons to glory. By His death Christ destroyed him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and freed those were held in slavery by the fear of death.

Jesus is the True High Priest: The author of the Letter to the Hebrews then goes on to describe how Jesus has a true priesthood, greater than that of the priests in the Temple.

Jesus has been counted worthy of greater glory than Moses. He is the great high priest who has passed through the heavens, entering the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. Indeed, God the Father says of Jesus His Son, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood, why would there have been a need for another priest to appear, one in the order of Melchizedek and not in the order of Aaron?

Jesus is the Perfection that was Promised: The Letter to the Hebrews is essentially an exhortation not to leave the perfect to go back to the imperfect. The Temple and what takes place there is now no more than a movie set filled with actors playing their roles. Jesus is the true and perfect High Priest, who enters into the true and actual Holy of Holies. The Temple rituals merely point to what Jesus actually does:

Jesus is the true High Priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in Heaven and who ministers in the sanctuary and true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not man. He entered the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made by hands (that is, not of this creation).

Because every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, it was necessary for this One also to have something to offer. He did not enter by the blood of goats and calves, but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption. If the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that their bodies are clean, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, purify our consciences from works of death so that we may serve the living God?

Jesus has established the New Covenant in His Blood: The author exhorts his audience not to return to the Old Covenant from the New Covenant. To this he adds this warning:

By speaking of a new covenant, He has made the first one obsolete, and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear (Heb 8:13).

Anyone who rejected the Law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think one deserves to be punished who has trampled on the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant that sanctified Him, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

Do not throw away your confidence; it holds a great reward. You need to persevere, so that after you have done God’s will, you will receive what He has promised.

What is the meaning of this letter for us who read it so long after the Jewish war of 70 A.D? It is simply this:

We are easily mesmerized by politics and cultural movements, exhibiting more loyalty to them that to our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Distracted by modern ideas and urgencies, we forsake the message of Christ. We’ll salute Christ, but only if His message agrees with our views and priorities. The Letter to the Hebrews tell us not to give our heart to what cannot save, not to return to the obsessions of a worldly kingdom of darkness now that we have been summoned to the Kingdom of Light.

Jesus deserves your highest loyalty; He alone can save you. Put not your trust in princes and in mortal men in whom there is not help (Psalm 146:3-4). If we forsake Christ for something lesser, do we not treat lightly His blood, which sanctified us, and insult the spirit of grace? Are you worthy of Jesus Christ or are you just worthy of a political party or some popular ideologies of this passing world?

 

Eyes that Are Humble – A Meditation on the Conversion of St. Paul

Today in daily Mass we read the well-known story of St. Paul’s conversion. There is a detail in the story that I have often pondered. Although I am speculating on the specifics, I think it ought not to be overlooked. Even my choice of the words “speculating” and “overlooked” (both of which refer to the eyes) indicate that we ought to “give an eye” to St. Paul’s eyes.

As you probably recall, St. Paul was not just struck down on the road to Damascus—he was blinded as well.

Saul got up from the ground,
but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;
so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.
For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:8-10).

Having persecuted the Lord, Paul was now confronted with the darkness of sin and unbelief. It is as though the Lord wanted nothing to distract Paul as he pondered his experience, neither the delights of food and drink nor the delights of the eye. It was a kind of dying and being with Christ for three days in the tomb before rising. Like the dead, Paul was unable to eat and was enveloped in complete darkness of blindness. He could do little during that time but think and pray.

And pray he did!

[The Lord said to Ananias,]“Get up and go to the street called Straight
and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He is there praying,
and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come in and lay his hands on him,
that he may regain his sight.”

… Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said,
“Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came,
that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.

Through Word and Sacrament, Paul’s eyes were healed—or were they? Surely they were, for in the years that would follow, Paul saw well enough to travel the world speaking of Christ.

I’m convinced that some vestige of blindness, some physical memory remained in Paul’s eyes for his entire life, something to remind him of his need for mercy and to keep him humbly mindful of how that mercy was extended.

As background, we do well to recall the story of Jacob, who wrestled with God one night. Jacob proved strong in that great contest, so strong that God gave him a new name, Israel, which means “he wrestles (or struggles) with God.” God also left Jacob with a permanent memory of that nighttime battle. Scripture says that God knocked out Jacob’s sciatic muscle (Genesis 32:32), such that he would walk with a limp for the rest of his life, leaning on a staff. It was a reminder to Jacob that he was always to lean on the Lord (Heb 11:21).

So, too, perhaps, for St. Paul. Although he persevered through three dark days with God and although his eyesight was restored, it would seem that some weakness remained in his eyes. Later, St. Paul would speak of an ailment, a mysterious thorn in his flesh (2 Cor 12:7). Three times he begged God to remove it but the Lord told him to endure it for the sake of humility.

What was it? What was this mysterious physical affliction? I’m convinced that it had something to do with his eyes. Paul told the Galatians,

As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me (Gal 4:13-15).

While I am speculating, it seems to me that Paul had something to akin to conjunctivitis (pink eye), an affliction that make the eyes fill with a sticky yellowish discharge and become red. It can be extremely contagious and is often repulsive to others. Indeed, it was quite difficult to endure in the era before modern medicine.

Whatever his actual affliction, it seems (if the Galatians text is acknowledged as descriptive) to have involved Paul’s eyes, the same eyes that had been healed but perhaps with a reminder left in them of the need for humility and for remembrance of how God saved him.

What is your thorn? What is your limp? What is your conjunctivitis? All of us have things that keep us humble. They remind us of our need to lean on God and to look to Him, not with haughty eyes, but with eyes that are humble, respectful, and grateful.

This song says, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus”

Working for the Kingdom – A Homily for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

The readings of “Ordinary Time” focus on the call to discipleship and the living of the Christian Faith. The readings for today’s Mass are no exception, as they present us with a number of disciplines for disciples. These disciplines free us to serve Christ and His Kingdom joyfully, energetically, and wholeheartedly. We can group these disciplines into three broad areas; discipleship is undefiant, unfettered, and untiring. Let’s consider each area of discipline as reflected in the readings.

I.  Undefiant – The first reading today covers the ministry of the reluctant prophet, Jonah. In today’s reading we hear only the end of the story, but as most of us know, Jonah was not merely reluctant in accepting his mission as a prophet, he was downright defiant. Recall his story:

Refusal The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it …” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish (1:1-3). Jonah defiantly runs from God; he refuses the mission.

Running – Nineveh was 550 miles east of Israel. Tarshish was 2500 miles west of Israel. Do you get the picture? Jonah was doing some serious running! Rather than go 550 miles to do God’s will, he was ready to travel 2500 miles to get away from God’s will. It’s always a longer trip when you defy God.

Resistance – As Jonah runs away from God, great storms arise at sea. The storms of defiance rage, but Jonah sleeps—and the storms affect not only him but those who sail with him as well. Yes, our moral decisions do affect others around us despite our egocentric notion that what we do is no one else’s business. Thus, for some of us, there can be great storms that come into our lives. Has it ever occurred to you that some of the storms in your life may be related to a situation in which God said, “This way,” but you defied him and said, “No, that way”? Maybe we all need to wake up and say, “What does this storm mean?”

Return – Swallowed by the great fish, Jonah is brought back to the very place (Joppa) where he sailed away from God. In effect, God says, “Let’s try this all over again.” So Jonah makes ready and goes to Nineveh, according to the LORD’s bidding. Yes, Jonah was smart this time.

The point is that disciples (we) must learn to be undefiant. God wants to “save us some mileage.” Obedience to His will is always easier than disobedience.

Consider, too, how undefiant the Ninevites are as they hear and heed Jonah’s message and notice how this saves them from destruction.

It’s always easier to follow God. I did not say that it’s easy, just that it’s easier. Sin may be more pleasurable and easier in the moment, but it brings a world of difficulties and complications in its wake. If you do not think this is so, just read a newspaper and consider how many of our difficulties are directly tied to our sinful attitudes and choices. The vast majority of this world’s suffering is directly attributable to the rebellious sinfulness of humanity.

The first discipline of discipleship is undefiance. With this discipline we remain teachable and open to God’s wisdom and are thereby spared many difficulties.

II.  Unfettered – To be unfettered means to be unchained, unshackled, free to move about. The second reading today presents a vivid and sober portrait of what being unfettered and detached looks like:

I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world, as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor 7:29ff).

This passage does not mean that we have no recourse at all to these things and people but rather that we live “as” not having them. In other words, we must seek the gift to realize that nothing in this passing world remains. Nothing here, not even marriage, is the sole reason for our existence or the sole source of meaning for us. God and God alone is the source of meaning and the lasting goal of our life. All else will pass.

For most of us, detachment form this world is the battle, the central struggle we face. Our attachment to this world hinders us from freely following Christ. A couple of passages come to mind:

Jesus, said [to the rich young man], “If you would be perfect, go and sell all that you have, (and you will have treasure in heaven) and then come and follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:22 ff).

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money … So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:24).

The world has a thousand hooks in us. We are chained and fettered; our freedom to follow Christ is severely compromised.

The battle to be free and unfettered is a process. God can give us this freedom but it requires time and obedience from us. Little by little, God breaks the shackles of this world; all its treasures come to seem as of little value to us. Slowly we come to what St. Paul said:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:7-8).

III.  Untiring – Consider that among Jesus’ first followers were several fishermen. The text of the Gospel today says, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Is there some meaning in the fact that fishermen were among His first and most prominent disciples? Perhaps so.

Consider that fishermen have some important qualities that are helpful for discipleship. Fishermen are:

Patient – Fishermen often need to wait for many hours, even days, for a catch. Disciples need patience, as do evangelizers.

Professional – Fishermen need to spend time learning about the types of fish and their behaviors, learning to observe the water and navigate, learning the right time of day and the right season to fish. They need to know the right bait and the proper use of the net. All of these traits are good for disciples and are especially helpful in evangelization, which is “job one” for the disciple. Through growing in practical knowledge we come to know our faith and learn effective ways to be fishers of men.

Purposeful – When fishermen are out fishing they are entirely focused on their endeavor. That’s all they do; everything is centered on the main task. They are single-minded. Disciples surely need more of this attitude. The Book of James says, The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). St. Paul says, But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14). Every disciple needs to be more single-minded.

Pursuing – Note that they simply go to the fish. Too many Catholic parishes merely open the doors and hope that people will come to them—that is not evangelization. The key word for disciples and evangelizers is this: go.

Partnered – Fishermen work in teams. Jesus sends the disciples out, two by two.

Persistent – If fishermen don’t make a catch one day, they’re back out the next. Disciples surely need to persist, both in their own journey and in making disciples of others.

In today’s readings there are a number of disciplines of discipleship. The green vestments of Ordinary Time remind us of growth, both our own and that of the Church. Ultimately, a free heart is a joyful heart. It is a heart that is not easily tired because it is not divided by serving two masters. It is a heart that ungrudgingly serves the Kingdom.

Here is a song that speaks of patient, purposeful, and persistent action on behalf of God’s Kingdom. It is a song that can only come from a heart that is undefiant, unfettered, and untiring; from a heart that says, “I keep so busy workin’ for the Kingdom, I ain’t got time to die!”

A Concern for a Vague Translation in the Lectionary and a Missed Moment for Teaching

This past Sunday featured a reading from 1 Corinthians 6 that was unfortunately vague in its English translation.  The text said, “Avoid immorality,” (1 Corinthians 6:18) hides the more specific meaning of the text. “Avoid immorality?” It may as well have said “Do good and avoid evil.” Nothing could be more vague.

For the record the Greek text is Φεύγετε τὴν πορνείαν (Pheugete ten porneian) which is accurately and easily translated: Flee fornication (sexual immorality). It is a powerful admonition in the Greek, and just about every other English version of the Bible, except the Revised New American Bible (RNAB). I checked twenty other translations, and they all say “Flee fornication” or “Flee sexual immorality.”

It is a clarion call to chastity that is so necessary to hear in this sex saturated culture? Sadly our vague lectionary translation misses a teachable moment.

Fundamentally there are two problems with this translation.

In the first place, πορνείᾳ (porneia) (which is a specific reference to sexual immorality) is translated vaguely as “immorality.”

Immorality can mean practically any sin. If I were to say, “That group is immoral,” I could mean almost anything from it being greedy, or racist, or violent, or just promoting some sinful activity. Frankly sex is not the first thing that comes to mind when the word immorality is encountered.

But πορνείᾳ (porneia) is a specific word referring to sexual immorality. Usually it refers to pre-marital sex (fornication), but sometimes it may be used to refer to other sexual sins, depending on the context, like incest or adultery.

So problem one is that “immorality” is so vague as to be inaccurate.

In the second place “avoid” (as in “avoid immorality”) is profoundly weak as a translation of Φεύγετε (pheugete) which means, quite simply, “Flee!” It is a present, active, imperative verb in the second person plural. As an imperative it is thus a command, and merits the exclamation point: You (all) flee!

Strong’s Greek dictionary of biblical terms defines the verb as “to flee, escape or shun.

One might argue that “avoid” captures the word “shun” which is the third meaning. No it does not. “Shun” is a strong word, “avoid” in English is exceedingly more vague. “Avoid” says, “other things being equal, you ought to steer clear of this, if it is not too much trouble.”  “Avoid” is friendly advice. “Shun” indicates a strong detestation.

Flee, which is the first first meaning is an unambiguous command of warning, one which calls for immediate action due to something that is more than a small threat.

This Greek verb φεύγω (pheugó) is used 29 times in the new Testament (see here) and in no case is “avoid” the best or proper translation. In fact to use “avoid” would yield often times unintelligible, sometimes comical results. Consider some of the following verses and mentally try to substitute the word “avoid”

  1. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream saying Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt (Matt 2:13)
  2. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism he said unto them O generation of vipers who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come (Matt 3:7)
  3. And they that kept [the pigs] fled into the city and told every thing and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils (Matt 8:33)
  4. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet stand in the holy place whoever reads let him understand  Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains (Matt 24:16)
  5. the disciples left [Jesus] and fled. (Matt 26:56)
  6. the woman fled into the wilderness (Rev 12:6)

In other words “fled” or “flee” is the first, and best translation of the Greek verb φεύγω (pheugó), followed by “escape.” “Avoid,” just doesn’t capture what is being said.

Pastorally, this is a lost moment for Catholics with the translation “Avoid immorality.” Not only is the meaning obscure, but the imperative voice of the Greek is almost wholly lost by the vague and suggestive “avoid.” Who will follow an uncertain trumpet? (cf 1 Cor 14:8). The clarion call of this text is to get way as far, and as fast as possible, from fornication. This trumpet-call is reduced to barely a kazoo by the translation, “avoid immorality.” And even if a listener does finally get that “immorality” here means “sexual immorality” he or she will hardly be moved by the word avoid.

The bottom line is that 1 Corinthians 6:18 (Φεύγετε τὴν πορνείαν. πᾶν ἁμάρτημα ὁ ἐὰν ποιήσῃ ἄνθρωπος ἐκτὸς τοῦ σώματος ἐστιν· ὁ δὲ πορνεύων εἰς τὸ ἴδιον σῶμα ἁμαρτάνει) is better and correctly translated as:

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 

OR:

Flee fornication. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but the fornicator, sins against his own body.

In other words, Run! Flee! Head for the hills! Get as far and as fast away from fornication as you can.

Do you get it? Probably not if you heard the Lectionary version last Sunday: Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Not exactly a clarion call.

This is surely something to bring to the attention of the Bishops as a new Lectionary is prepared. Rest assured I will surely bring it to the attention of a few bishops I know. I pray you might do the same.

Painting at top: St. Paul Writing at his Desk by Rembrandt