My Soul Looks Back and Wonders How I Got Over – A Homily for the 12th Sunday of the Year

Lightening Storm
The gospel today is something of a storm journal, a kind of picture of the Christian life as we journey through a stormy world against winds contrary to the gospel. There are distinctive stages, beginning with the call of Jesus to cross to the other shore. But as we cross there are surely storms and difficulties that assail us. No matter, the charge to have and keep making the crossing remains the same. Let’s look in more detail at the stages of this gospel and see how the disciples get over to the other shore with Jesus.
I. It begins with the CALL of Jesus: Let us go across to the other side. This is not merely a call to cross an ancient lake 2,000 years ago. This summons echoes down to us individually today, as the call to journey to the other shore, to Heaven.
Such crossings are not uncommon in the Scriptures. The Jewish nation crossed the Red Sea, which God parted for them. They set out as pursued slaves, crossed over, and reached the other shore to enjoy the glorious freedom of the Children of God.  And then, too, they crossed the River Jordan to enter the promised land, which is a symbol of entering Heaven. Having made that crossing, they received their inheritance.
A lot of the old spirituals contain references to crossing to the other side as symbolic of the journey to Heaven:

Michael, row the boat a-shore Hallelujah!
Then you’ll hear the trumpet blow Hallelujah!

Jordan’s river is deep and wide,
Meet my mother on the other side.

Jordan’s river is chilly and cold.
Chills the body, but not the soul.

Allow this call of Jesus, Let us go across to the other side, to be your summons to follow Him to Heaven. The disciples boarded a wooden boat to get to the other side. We cross to Heaven by the wood of the cross.

Listen to Jesus’ call and then set out! Heaven lies ahead, just over on the other shore!

II. Then comes the COMMENCEMENT: And leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he wasIt is one thing to be called by Jesus to cross to the other shore. It is another thing to respond and set out with Him. And thus the second stage of this gospel depicts the required response: that one set out, or commence the journey.
Note three things that are said here about the commencement of the journey: they renounce, they receive and they respect.
A.  They Renounce – The text says they “leave the crowd.” We are called to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil. In our Baptism we renounced the devil and by extension the world, of which he is prince. Scripture says, You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:3-4). Jesus says, No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (Mat 6:24). And yet again, I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:19).
Therefore the text says that they “leave the crowd.” They forsake the wide, popular road that leads to destruction and go out on the narrow way of the cross that leads to the other shore. You cannot have both Jesus and the world; you must choose. You cannot have the crowd and its values. Jesus warns, Woe to you when all speak well of you (Lk 6:26). We must be ready to leave the crowd, forsake popular ideas, and embrace the “foolishness” of the cross.
B. They Receive – The text says that they “took Jesus with them in the boat.” That is, they receive Jesus into the “boat” that is their life. They agree to journey with Him, not the world. They let Him pilot their ship. In the baptismal liturgy not only do we renounce Satan and the pomps of the world, we also accept Christ and profess our belief in God—Father, Son, and Spirit—and in the Church, which is Christ’s Body. Now Jesus enters the “boat” of our life and leads us in the crossing to the other shore. Jesus’ command is simple, “Follow me” (Jn 12:26; Lk 9:59; Mk 2:14; Mat 9:9; et alibi).
C. They respect – The text says that they “took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was.” Even in the Greek, this text is a bit complex. What does it mean that they took Jesus in the boat “just as he was”? Many think that the text is trying to indicate that Jesus was in fact already in the boat. Thus a possible understanding is that they took Jesus with them in the boat because in fact he was already aboard.
Perhaps, but for our purposes here, let’s take the text less literally: to accept Jesus into our life just as He is means to place no conditions on His admittance. It is to accept the real Jesus, not some fake or refashioned Jesus. The real Jesus is complex. He sets impossible demands but then forgives the worst of sinners, He is kind and understanding one moment, but stern and refusing of any excuses the next. He consoles and challenges, affirms and unsettles.
Many today have attempted to remake Jesus into a kind of “harmless hippie” who told pleasant stories and went around blessing everyone. And while it is true that He blessed many, He was a stumbling block for others. Jesus was a master preacher and storyteller but He also warned in those stories that some were sheep and some were goats, some were wise and some were foolish, some were at the feast and others were cast out into the darkness, some heard “Come blessed of my Father” and others heard “I know you not, depart from me you evildoers.” And elsewhere Jesus warned, Unless you come to believe that I AM, you will die in your sins (Jn 8:24). So Jesus is complex and we must learn to accept Him into our lives “just as he is.” St. Paul lamented, For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached … you put up with it well enough (2 Cor 11:4). Learn of the real Jesus and accept Him just as He is.
So having taken Jesus into the boat, they commence the journey to the other shore. But the journey is not always smooth, for the waters of this world are choppy and the winds are contrary.
III. For indeed, next comes the CONCERN: And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. Here they are, the inevitable storms of life that will test and purify our faith. Such aspects of life often trouble us greatly.
Why does God permit such things? Why do they last so long? Why does God, who could instantly solve all things, allow trouble to go on?
He has His reasons, most of which are mysterious. However we can surely understand some of the ways in which trouble helps to purify and strengthen us. When we are in trouble we discover gifts we didn’t know we had; we gain wisdom; we learn detachment and humility. In living our questions we deepen our search and grow to appreciate the answers and the truth more. Trouble often brings maturity and helps us to hone our skills. No tension, no change. Trouble is also tied up in the freedom God allows His children. Some abuse their freedom and cause harm.
So we can get a small glimpse of why God permits trouble. Yet much is still mysterious.
Some people even notice that storms in their life increase rather than decrease after they begin to follow Christ! Well, take that as a compliment. Maybe there was a time in your life when you were traveling in a similar direction to Satan and so barely noticed him on the periphery. And then you turned around and ran right into him. Do not despair; you are still going in the right direction and Satan doesn’t like it.
Indeed another reason that those who set out on a voyage to cross the sea often encounter more storms than the “land-lovers” who stay back in mediocrity is that, frankly, there are more storms at sea.  The “sea” here is a symbol of the way of the cross as opposed to the wide road that leads to destruction (cf Mat 7:13). The way of the cross is bound to have special troubles, but the cross, though not comfortable, is necessary. Jesus says, If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. But since you are not of the world, for I have called you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:19). So again, take storms like these as a compliment, a sign you have set out with Christ across the deeper waters.
And thus this storm at sea is a picture of our life in this storm-tossed world. An old hymn says,
When the storms of live are raging stand by me.
When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.
IV. But note the CALM of Jesus that brings peace to the others: But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
In life it seldom helps to be in a panic. If you want to bring peace, you have to be at peace. Jesus is not unaware of the storm, but He is not alarmed by it. He is able to sleep through it just fine. In life, two people can be involved in the same incident and yet have very different experiences.
Some years ago I was out walking with a friend when a large dog, a Golden Labrador, came lumbering toward us. I had grown up with dogs and thus could tell the difference between a dog moving aggressively and one approaching benignly seeking merely to establish contact. But my friend had not grown up with dogs and in fact had been bitten by one as a youngster. Each of us looked at the dog approaching us. We saw the same scene but reacted to it very differently. My friend was afraid, while I was delighted. He reacted angrily and defensively. I put my hand out and greeted the dog, patting it on the head and letting it smell my hand. With my experience, I was able to bring peace to the situation. An agitated reaction might well have provoked the dog to turn aggressive.
And so we see something similar here in the boat. Jesus is able to sleep peacefully in the storm, but the disciples are panicked. Jesus knows His Father; He also knows the end of the story. Do you? Have you not read that for those who love and trust in the Lord all things work together for good? (cf Rom 8:28) Why are we so afraid? Storms will come and storms will go, but if we love God we will be saved, even if we die to this world.
If you have this peace, you too will calm storms. Peaceful people have an effect on others around them. We cannot give what we do not have. Ask the Lord for a heart that is at peace, not just for your own sake but for that of others. Because He is at peace, Jesus can rebuke the storm. How about you?
V. Finally, note the CHARGE:  “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”
And thus it is that the Lord charges them to grow in faith so as to be at peace and to bring peace to others. How do we lay hold of this peace? By growing in our experience and in our wonder and awe at what the Lord can do, and by learning to trust that God is bigger than our storms and concerns. We also learn that some of the storms are actually to our benefit; they help to strengthen us, even speeding our journey along.
Faith is a way of knowing. And thus we who grow in it are less terrified of storms. We have come to experience how God delivers us and strengthens us, often in paradoxical ways, and that none of the things of this world can destroy us if we have faith.
In my own life I have made this part of the journey to greater faith. I used to be very anxious about many things. Today I am seldom anxious because I have learned by faith and experience that God is working His purposes out. Most of the things I was anxious about in the past turned out fine, or at the very least OK. And even the stunning blows contained secret gifts, hidden at the time, only to be revealed later. This is the knowing of faith, that brings calm in the storms of life.
So our charge is to have faith.
Here, then, is a quick sketch of our life as disciples. We hear the CALL of the Lord to set out. We COMMENCE our journey with Him. Whatever the CONCERNs or storms, we learn the CALM of Jesus and let it reach us by the CHARGE of faith.

The Cross Wins, It Always Wins. A Meditation on the Gospel of the Fifth Sunday of Lent

The Gospel today is, to the world and to those who are perishing, utter madness, utter foolishness. For Christ, in effect, declares that dying (to this world) is the only way to true life. While the world’s so-called wisdom declares to us that the way to life is power, prestige, possessions and popularity, Jesus says, die to all that and you’ll find true life.

The word “paradox” refers to something that is contrary to the usual way of thinking. And the true gospel, (not the watered down, compromised one) is a real insult to the world.

Indeed, most of us struggle to understand and accept what the Lord is saying. But the Lord can give us a heart for what really matters, a heart for God, for love, and for the things waiting for us in heaven. But the way to this new life is through the Cross. Jesus had to go to the cross and die to give us this new life. And we too must go to his cross and die with him to this world’s agenda in order to rise to new life.

To those who would scoff at this way of the Cross there is only one thing to say, “The Cross wins, it Always wins.

Let’s examine the Lord’s Paradoxical Plan to save us and bring us to new life.

I. The Plan of Salvation that is Acclaimed: As the Gospel opens we find a rather strange incident. The text says,  Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

What is odd is the apparent “over-reaction” that Jesus has to the simple fact of some Greeks wishing to speak to him. From this seemingly simple and unremarkable (to us) fact, Jesus senses the stunning fact that his “hour” has now come. Yes, now the time for his glorification, that is, his suffering, death and resurrection, to take place. He goes on later to say, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

Yes, all this from the simple fact that certain Greeks, i.e. certain Gentiles wish to speak to him.

Even more remarkable, is that nothing in the text indicates that Jesus in fact goes over to speak to them. Having given this stunning soliloquy and announced that the drama was to unfold, there is no evidence that he eagerly goes to the Greeks to evangelize them. We will see why this in a moment.

But first let us examine why this simple request throws the whole switch on for Holy Week to unfold. In effect, the arrival of the Gentiles fulfills a critical prophecy about the Messiah wherein He would gather the nations unto himself and make of fractured humanity one nation, one family. Consider two prophesies:

  1. I come to gather nation of every language; they shall come and see my glory. just as the Israelites bring their offering to the house of the Lord in clean vessels. Some of these I will take as priests and Levites says the Lord….All mankind shall come to worship before me says the Lord. (Is 66:18, 23)
  2. And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, every one who keeps the Sabbath, and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant– these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Is 56:6-7)

Thus we see that one of the principle missions of the Messiah would be to save, not only the Jewish People, but all people and to draw them into right worship, and unity in the one Lord. Jesus explicitly states elsewhere his intention to gather the Gentiles:

I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:14).

And so it is that this apparently simple request of the Greeks (Gentiles) to see Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, carries such significance for him (and us).

But why not run and greet them at once? Simply put, the call and salvation of the Gentiles must wait for the death and the resurrection of Jesus to be accomplished. It will be his atoning death that will reunite us with the Father and with one another. A simple sermon or slogan like “Can’t we all get along” isn’t going to accomplish the deeper unity necessary. Only the Blood of Jesus can bring true Shalom with the Father and wit one another, only the blood of Jesus can save us.

Consider this text from Ephesians:

But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both {Jews and Gentiles] one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Eph 2:13ff)

Thus, nothing but the Blood of Jesus can make us whole, can save us or make us one, either with the Father or each other. There is no true unity apart from Christ and he secures it by his blood and the power of his cross. Only by baptism into the paschal mystery do we become members of the Body of Christ and find true and lasting unity, salvation, and true peace.

So the door has opened from the Gentiles side, But Jesus knows the way through door goes by way the Cross. His apparent delay in rushing to greet the Gentiles makes sense in this light. Only after his resurrection he will say, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.... (Matt 28:19) for now there is the power through baptism to make all one in Christ. The Price of our salvation, our new life, our peace with each other, and the Father, is the death and Resurrection of Jesus. And thank the Lord, Jesus paid that price. An old songs says Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan! Oh, the grace that brought it down to man! Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span! At Calvary!

II. The Plan of Salvation Applied – Jesus goes on to say Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.

Now while it is true that Jesus pays the price for our peace and unity, with the Father and which each other, it is also true that he sets forth and prescribes a pattern for us and applies it. Note that Jesus says, Amen, Amen I say to YOU….and again he says, Whoever serves me must follow me.

Thus the pattern of his dying and rising to new life must also be applied to the pattern of our life. And if we seek unity and peace and to enjoy this new life with the Father, we must die to rise again. We must follow in the footsteps of Jesus. If we want peace we have to be willing to accept the pattern of dying fro it and rising to it.

How must we die for this? Well we have to die to:

  1. Our ego
  2. Our desire for revenge
  3. Our hurts from the past
  4. Our desire to control everything
  5. Our sinful and unbiblical agendas
  6. Our irrational fears rooted in ego and exaggerated notions
  7. Our hatreds
  8. Our unrealistic expectations
  9. Our stubbornness
  10. Our inflexibility
  11. Our impatience
  12. Our unreasonable demands
  13. Our greed
  14. Our worldliness

Yes, we have to be willing to experience some sacrifices for unity and to obtain new life. We have to let the Lord put a lot of sinful and unhealthy drives to death in us. New life does not just occur, Peace and unity do not just happen. We have to journey to them through Calvary. We too must allow the Lord to crucify our sinful desires and thereby rise to new life.

But remember, the Cross wins. It always wins.

III. The Plan of Salvation At day’s end. – Jesus speaks of a great promise of new life but presents it in a very paradoxical way. He says: Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

In other words, if we are not willing to follow the pattern he sets forth above of dying to ourselves and to this world, we cannot truly live. And if we go on clinging to our worldly notions of life and live only for ourselves, and for power, possessions, popularity, and prestige, we are already dead. For indeed, if we live only for the things of this world (and many do), ours is a cruel and laughable fate, for we die and lose all. Yes, total losers.

But if we allow the Lord to help us die to the this world’s agenda, to its pathetic charms, then, and only then do we pass increasingly to real life, to true unity with the Father and to deeper unity with one another in Christ.Only then does a newer, deeper life dawn upon us and do we see our lives dramatically transformed day to day.

Jesus had to die to give this to us. And in order to have it bestowed on us, and we must be configured to Christ’s death to this world in order to live in him and find this new life. We die to a sinful and overrated world, to live in a whole new way in a life open to something richer than we can ever imagine.

Note too, Jesus calls this new life, “eternal life.” But eternal life means far more than to live forever. Rather “eternal,” while not excluding the notion of endless length,  more deeply means “to become fully alive.”

And for those who know Christ, this process has already begun. At age 50, my bodily life has suffered setbacks. But spiritually I am more alive than I ever was at 20, and wait till I’m 80! Our bodies may be declining, but our souls are growing younger and more vibrant, more fully alive, if we love and trust Christ. Yes, I am more joyful, more serene, more confident, less sinful, less angry, less anxious, more compassionate, more patient, more alive!

But all of this comes from dying to this world, little by little and thus having more room for the life Christ offers.

What is the price of our Peace and our new life? Everything! For we shall only attain to it by dying to this world. And while our final physical death will seal the deal, there are all the ten thousand little deaths that usher in this new life even now. Our physical death is but the final component of a lifelong journey in Christ. For those who know Christ, the promise then will be full. For those who rejected him, the loss will be total.

An old song says, Now I’ve given Jesus everything, Now I gladly own Him as my King, Now my raptured soul can only sing Of Calvary!

Yes, the promise is real, but it is paradoxically obtained. The world calls all this foolishness. But you decide. Choose either the “wisdom of this world” or the folly of Christ. As for me, call me a fool, but make sure you add I was a fool for Christ. I do not mind. The cross wins, it always wins.

This song says:

Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
On Calvary.

Refrain:
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
To Calvary.

Now I’ve given Jesus everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
Of Calvary!

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary!

 

Sinner Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass – A Homily for the 27th Sunday of the Year

There is an urgency and clarity about today’s Gospel that is often lacking in modern Christians, including the clergy. In this Gospel, the message is urgent, provocative, and clear: there is a day of judgment coming for every one of us and we simply must be ready. The message is a sobering one for a modern world that is often dismissive of judgment and certainly of Hell. Yet Jesus says clearly that the Kingdom of God can be taken from us for our refusal to accept its fruits in our life.

Parables used by Jesus to teach on judgment and the reality of Hell are often quite vivid, even shocking in their harsh imagery. They are certainly not stories for the easily offended. And they are also difficult to take for those who have tried to refashion Jesus into a pleasant, affirming sort of fellow rather than the uncompromising prophet and Lord that He is.

No one spoke of Hell more often than Jesus did. Attempting to reconcile these bluntly presented teachings with the God who loves us so, points to the deeper mysteries of justice and mercy and their interaction with human freedom. But this point must be clear: no one loves us more than Jesus does and yet no one spoke of Hell and its certainty more often than Jesus did. No one warned us of judgment and its inescapable consequences more often than did Jesus. Out of love for us, Jesus speaks of death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. As one who loves us, He wants none of us to be lost. So He warns us; He speaks the truth in love.

Historically, this parable had meaning for the ancient Jews that had already come to pass. God had established and cared for his vine, Israel. He gave them every blessing, having led them out of slavery and established them in the Promised Land. Yet searching for the fruits of righteousness he found little. Then, sending many prophets to warn and call forth those fruits, the prophets were persecuted, rejected, and even murdered. Finally, God sent His Son, but He too was murdered. There comes forth a sentence: He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times … Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. By 70 AD, Jerusalem was destroyed; the Temple was never to be rebuilt.

The Jewish people are not singled out in the Scriptures, for we all, like them, are a vineyard, and if we are not careful, their story will be our own story. We, like the ancients, have a decision to make. Either we accept the offer of the Kingdom and thereby yield to the Lord’s work and bring forth a harvest, or we face judgment for the fact that we have chosen to reject the offer of the Kingdom. God will not force us to accept His Kingship or His Kingdom. We have a choice to make and that choice will be at the heart of the judgment we will face.

Let’s take a closer look at the Gospel and apply it to the vineyard of our lives.

I. THE SOWING – The text says, There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.  Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.

Note the care and providence of the landowner (God) who has given each of us life and every kind of grace. The image of the vineyard indicates that we have the capacity to bear fruit. This signifies the many gifts, talents, and abilities that we have been given by God.

The hedge calls to mind the protection of His grace and mercy. Though the world can be a tempting place, God has put a hedge of protection around us that is sufficient to keep us safe from serious sin, if we accept its power.

But note, too, that a hedge implies limits. And thus God’s protective graces, though sufficient, mean that we must live within limits, within the hedge that keeps the wild animals of temptation from devouring the fruits of our vine.

The tower is symbolic of the Church, which stands guard like a watchman warning of dangers to us who live within the boundaries of the hedge. And the tower (the Church) is also standing forth as a sign of contradiction to the hostile world outside, which seeks to devour the fruit of the vineyard.

That the landowner leases the the vineyard is a reminder that we are not our own; we have been purchased at great cost. God and God alone created all these things we call our own. We are but stewards, even of our very lives. We belong to God and must render an account and show forth fruits as we shall next see.

But this point must be emphasized: God has given us great care; He has given us His grace, His mercy, His very self. As the text from Isaiah says, What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? God loves us and does not want us to be lost. He gives us every grace and mercy we need to make it. The Lord says, As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ez 33:11) This must be emphasized before we grumble too quickly about the subsequent judgment that comes. God offers every possible grace to save us. It is up to us to accept or reject the help.

II.  THE SEEKING – The text says, When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.

There come moments in our lives when God looks for fruits. Remember that He is the owner and the fruits are rightfully His. He has done everything to bring forth the fruit and now deserves to see the produce of His grace in the vineyard of our life, which is His own.

And what fruits does the Lord seek? The values and fruits of the Kingdom: faith, justice, mercy, peace, forgiveness, chastity, faithfulness, generosity, love of the poor, love of one’s family and friends, even love of one’s enemy, kindness, truth, sincerity, courage to speak the truth and witness to the faith, and an evangelical spirit.

Note, too, that the text says he sends servants to obtain the produce. Here also is evidence of God’s mercy. Historically, God’s “servants” were the prophets. And God sent the prophets not only to bring forth the harvest of justice, but also to remind, clarify, and apply God’s Word and warn sinners. God patiently sent many generations of prophets to help Israel.

It is the same for us. God sends us many prophets to remind, clarify, apply, and warn. Perhaps they are priests or religious, parents, catechists, teachers, or role models. But they are all part of God’s plan to warn us to bear fruit and to help call forth and obtain some of those very fruits for God. Each in his own way says, as St. Paul did in today’s second reading, Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (Phil 4:8-9).

Yes, God seeks fruits, and rightfully so. And He sends His servants, the prophets, to help call them forth in us.

III. THE SINNING – The text says, But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.  Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way.  Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

Thus, despite all God has done by sending His servants, the prophets, the tenants reject them all, and with increasing vehemence. Their hearts grow harder. The landowner (God) even goes so far to demonstrate his love and his will to save, that he sends his own son. But they drag him outside the vineyard and kill him. Yes, Jesus died outside the city gates, murdered for seeking the fruit of faith from the tenants of the vineyard.

And what of us? There are too many who reject God’s prophets. They do so with growing vehemence and abusive treatment. Many today despise the Church, despise the Scriptures, despise fathers, mothers, friends, and Christians in general who seek to clarify and apply God’s Word and to warn of the need to be ready. It is quite possible that, for any of us, repeated resistance can cause a hardening of the heart to set in. In the end, there are some, in fact many according to Jesus, who effectively kill the life of God within them and utterly reject the Kingdom of God and its values. They do not want to live lives that show forth forgiveness, mercy, love of enemies, chastity, justice, love of the poor, generosity, kindness, and witness to the Lord and the truth.

We ought to be very sober as there are many, many today who are like this. Some have merely drifted away and are indifferent. (Some, we must say, have been hurt or  are struggling to believe, but at least they remain open.) Still others are passionate in their hatred for the Church, Scripture, and anything to do with God, and they explicitly reject many, if not most of the kingdom values listed above. We must be urgent to continue in our attempt to reach them, as we shall see.

IV. THE SENTENCING – The text says, What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes? They answered him, ‘He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.’ Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.

Here then is the sentence: if you don’t want the Kingdom, you don’t have to have it. At one level, it would seem to us that everyone wants the Kingdom, i.e., everyone who has any faith in God at all wants to go to Heaven. But what is Heaven? It is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. It is not just a place of our making. It is that place where the will of God, where the Kingdom’s values are in full flower. But as we have seen, there are many who do not want to live chastely, do not want to forgive, do not want to be generous to and love the poor, do not want God or anyone else at the center, do not want to worship God.

Self exclusion – Having rejected the Kingdom’s values, and having rejected the prophets who warned them, many simply exclude themselves from the Kingdom. God will not force the Kingdom on anyone. If you don’t want it, even after God’s grace and mercy and His pleading through the prophets, you don’t have to have it. It will be taken from you and given to those who do want it and appreciate its help.

The existence of Hell is rooted essentially in God’s respect for our freedom, for we have been called to love. But love must be free, not compelled. Hence, Hell has to be. It is the “alternative arrangement” that others make for themselves in their rejection of the Kingdom of God. At some point, God calls the question, and at death our decision is forever fixed.

Yes, Hell and the judgment that precedes it, are clearly taught here and in many other places by Jesus (e.g., Matt 23:33; Lk 16:23; Mk 43:47; Matt 5:29; Matt 10:28; Matt 18:9; Matt 5:22; Matt 11:23; Matt 7:23; Matt 25:41; Mk 9:48; Luke 13:23; Rev 22:15; and many, many more). This is taught by a Lord who loves us and wants to save us, but who is also well aware of our stubborn and stiff-necked ways.

What is a healthy response to this teaching? To work earnestly for the salvation of souls, beginning with our own. Nothing has so destroyed evangelization and missionary activity as the modern notion that everyone goes to Heaven. Nothing has so destroyed any zeal for the moral life or hunger for the Sacraments, prayer, and Scripture. And nothing is so contrary to Scripture as the dismissal of Hell and the notion that all are going to Heaven.

But rather than panic or despair, we ought to get to work and be more urgent in our quest to win souls for Christ. Who is it that the Lord wants you to work with to draw back to Him? Pray and ask Him, “Who, Lord?” The Lord does not want any to be lost. But, as of old, He still sends His prophets (this means you) to draw back anyone who will listen. Will you work for the Lord? Will you work for souls?  For there is a day of judgment looming and we must be made ready for it by the Lord. Will you be urgent about it, for yourself and others?

Photo Credit: Jean-Yves Roure

This video features the words of an old spiritual: Sinner please don’t let this harvest pass, and die and lose your soul at last. I made this video more than a year ago and in it there is a picture of Fr. John Corapi preaching. Since I made it long before his recent “troubles,” please do not attribute any implication from me by its inclusion; it is simply indicative of the “age” of the video.

It is Easier to Wear Slippers than to Carpet the Whole of the Earth. A Meditation on the Gospel for the 18th Sunday of the Year

We have today the very familiar miracle of the loaves and fishes. One is tempted to say, “Oh that one…and tune out.” But, if we allow it, the gospel today contains a very personal appeal from the Lord’s lips to your (my) ears: “There is no need to dismiss the crowds, give them some food yourself.”

Immediately all the objections swim through our minds, but be still, and let us allow the Lord to instruct us and apply this Gospel in five stages.

I. THE IMAGE THAT IS EXTOLLED – The text says, When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.  The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.  When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.

The text begins with a very sad note of the death of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. We should not simply dismiss the kind of human grief he must have experienced, and the text says he wants to go apart for a while, presumably to pray and grieve. It would seem, at the pinnacle of his public ministry, he could only get apart by going out on a boat, and so he does. The text is unclear how long he was out on the water, but it implies a short time.

Approaching the opposite shore Jesus sees a large crowd, and is moved with pity. He teaches them at great length and heals the sick. And here is the image that is extolled. If Jesus has allowed himself this moment of grief, he also shows that the way out of it is love and concern for others. For it is too easy for us, in our own grief, anger, sorrow, or anxiety to retreat, to hide away. As an immediate reaction this is understandable. But it is not a disposition we ought to maintain for long. For others have need, and even in our grief and our limits, we are still called to reach out. And that very reaching out, often contains our own healing too.

That we have needs, does not mean others stop having them. Jesus shows the courage and the love to still recognize the needs of others, even in his own grief. So he goes ashore and shares love with others.

II. THE ISSUE THAT IS EVADED – The text says, When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

There is a human tendency, that when people are needy, we want them to go away, to disappear. Hence, the apostles, noticing the needy crowd, a crowd about to have a hunger problem, they want the crowd to go away before they become a problem.

We too, both individually and collectively, often desire the needy and poor to just disappear. If we see a beggar, we may cross the street, or refuse to look at him. If our caller ID indicates a troubled family member who may ask for money or want to talk a long time, we let the call go to voice mail. In society we tend to segregate the poor and needy. The “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) syndrome seeks to segregate the poor, the mentally handicapped and others to certain marginal sections of the city largely out of sight, and out of mind. The sick and the dying too are often relegated to nursing homes. Perhaps this is necessary for proper care, but the thought of an elderly relative living and dying in our homes is too much for many, even when it is possible. So, generally people go away to die.

Notice the threefold basis of the disciples evasion:

  1. They are DESPAIRING – for they say, this is a deserted place and it is already late.
  2. They are DISMISSIVE –  for they want Jesus to dismiss the crowd, to send them away.
  3. They are DETACHED – for instead of wanting to help, they want the crowd to go away and get food for themselves.

Yes, it is a sad human tendency to want to be rid of people who have problems. And so the disciples beg Jesus to send the increasingly troublesome crowd away. The Issue is evaded, rather than accepted as a shared problem to be solved together.

III. THE INSTRUCTION THAT ENSUESJesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.”

Uh oh! This is starting to get personal. Jesus is not willing to keep this merely as a problem “they” have, he wants me to do something!

Yes, he rejects their premise by saying there is no need for them to go away. And he redirects plan by saying, give them something to eat yourselves.

Refusing to accept the presence of the poor and needy, is simply not a viable option for Jesus, or for us who would be his disciples. He wants and expects us to get started with a solution, a solution that includes both “them” and us. It looks like we are our brother’s keeper.

This is the instruction that ensues when the apostles, or when we, try to evade the issue.

IV. THE INSUFFICIENCY THAT IS EXPRESSED the text says, But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”

But we can’t possibly pull this thing off, the needs are far too great! The Lord is not interested in our excuses, he just says, “Let’s get started.”

Observe two things about the five loaves and two fishes.

  1. First, as John’s Gospel notes, (6:9), the loaves and fishes came from among the poor themselves. Hence this is not mere do-goodism. The teaching here is not to be a “limousine liberal” who rolls down the window and throws money to the poor, then goes back to his mansion. Neither is it a “we’re from the government and we’re here to help you” solution. For we should not do for others what they can reasonably do for themselves. Rather we ought to work with the poor, engaging them in what they do have, in the talents and leadership they do possess, and solve problems with them, rather than merely for them. There are loaves and fishes among even the poor, there are talents and resources to be included in the solution.
  2. Secondly, wherever the loaves and fishes come from, they are not nothing, and the Lord expects all of us to be part of the solution. Simply telling God or, (these days), the government, to go and do something, is not a full or authentic Christian response.

Hence our complaints about meager resources do not impress the Lord who says, simply, bring them to me. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. And thus we go to the principle point.

V.  THE IMMENSITY THAT IS EXPERIENCED – the text says, Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.  They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over— twelve wicker baskets full.  Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.

Now this story is so familiar that you and I are not shocked by the outcome. But no matter how many times we hear it, we still do not really accept it’s astonishing truth:

  1. I can do all things in God who strengthens me (Phil 4:13)
  2. All things are possible to him who believes (Mk 9:23)
  3. For man it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God (Mk 10:27)
  4. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. (2 Cor 9:10)

Now take special note of that last quote, for this gospel is about more than caring for the poor, (and it is about that). But this Gospel is also about taking this world back for Christ.

We all know that this world is in an increasingly bad state: rampant secularism, moral relativism, and a Church with many self-inflicted wounds.  This has all led to the fact that we have a real mess on our hands. And the problems are overwhelming: sexual confusion, the culture of death, the breakdown of marriage, compulsive sin, compulsive overspending, greed, insensitivity to the poor, deep and widespread addiction to pornography, drugs, and alcohol, abortion, widespread promiscuity, adultery, corruption, cynicism, low mass attendance and on an on.

The problems seem overwhelming and our resources seem so limited to turn back the tide. What will we ever do with only five loaves and two fishes?

Jesus says, bring them to me.

Yet again, the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step. The conversion of the whole world, begins with me. As I look the huge problems before me, I (this means you) assess my loaves and fishes:

  1. I work on my own conversion. For a holier world has to start with me. If I get holier, the world get’s holier.
  2. I look to the poor I can serve, maybe with money maybe with talents, like tutoring, counseling etc. Maybe just with the time of listening.
  3. I pick up the phone and call a family member I know is hurting.
  4. I love my spouse and children.
  5. I spend time properly raising my own children to know the Lord and seek his kingdom.
  6. I exhort the weak in my own family, and with love, rebuke sin and encourage righteousness.
  7. If I am a priest or religious, I faithfully live my vocation, and heroically call others to Christ by teaching and proclaiming the gospel without compromise.
  8. If I am a young person I seek to devoutly prepare myself for a vocation to marriage, priesthood or religious life.
  9. If I am older I seek to manifest wisdom and good example to those who are young.
  10. If I am elderly, I seek to devoutly prepare myself for death, and to give good example in this, and to witness the desire for heaven.
  11. I will pray for this world and attend mass faithfully, begging God’s mercy on this sin soaked world.

It is too easy to lament this world’s condition and, like the apostles, feel overwhelmed. Jesus just says, bring me what you have, and let’s get started. The conversion of the whole world will begin with me, with my meager loaves and fishes.

And Jesus will surely multiply them, he will not fail. Already there is renewal evident in the Church, through a faithful remnant willing to bring their loaves fishes, some of the things mentioned above and more besides. They are bringing them to Jesus and he is multiplying them. Renewal is happening, and signs of spring are evident in the Church.

There is an old saying that it is easier to wear slippers that to carpet the whole of the earth. Indeed it is. If it is a converted world you want start with yourself. Bring your loaves and fishes to Jesus, bring your slippers, and let’s get started.  It begins with me.

This song says,

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
If I can show somebody, how they’re traveling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

If I can do my duty, as a good man ought,
If I can bring back beauty, to a world up wrought,
If I can spread love’s message, as the Master taught,
Then my living shall not be in vain
.

Always Remember – A Homily for the 11th Sunday of the Year

Francken_Feast_in_the_house_of_SimonEvery now and then some will suggest that the Church should speak less of sin and instead emphasize positive things. After all, it is said that one can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. In that vein, we in the Church have been collectively de-emphasizing sin to a large degree for more than forty years. And in spite of the saying, our churches have been getting emptier and emptier. Maybe this is because people are just a little more complicated than the flies in the old saying.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus provides the reason our churches are getting emptier. Simply put, there is less love. He says, But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little. (Luke 7:47)

Why is this? As Jesus says, we love little because we have little appreciation for what the Lord has done for us and for the debt He paid on our behalf. And why is that? Because debt for sin is no longer preached the way it should be and thus we are less aware of just how grave our condition is. This in turn diminishes love, and a lack of love leads to absence and neglect.

Understanding sin is essential for us to be able to fully comprehend what the Lord has done for us. Remembering what the Lord has done for us brings gratitude and love. Again, to those who want the Church to de-emphasize sin, Jesus provides this warning: But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little (Luke 7:47).

That was the short version of my sermon, the “TV Mass” version, if you will. If you wish to ponder more, here is further commentary:

I. Rich Love – The Gospel today opens with a sign of extravagant love. The text says, A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.

There is disagreement as to the value of the ointment referred to in this passage. Some opine that the woman is wealthy on account of prostitution, and could thus afford an expensive ointment. That could be, but her tears were far more costly than any ointment. Her tears are the costliest thing in her life, born out of great pain and sorrow.

While many of her sorrows are likely the result of her own foolishness, that does not decrease her pain; rather, it increases it. Yes, the costliest thing with which she anoints the Lord’s feet is her tears. There is nothing more precious to the Lord than the love of His faithful, turning to Him in sorrow and repentance for their sins—no greater gift.

In Jesus’ day people ate a formal dinner while reclining on the floor, on a mat, on their left side. Their feet were behind them and they ate with their right hand. This explains the ability of the woman to approach Jesus’ feet from behind.

In this sense the woman is able to “surprise” Jesus with her love. Perhaps she is not ready to look upon His face and behold His holy countenance. She begins with His feet, the lowliest aspect of His sacred humanity. She humbles herself to serve the part of Him that most engages with our lowly earth. On his feet, even the Son of God has calluses, perhaps even a wound or two. Yes, there she sees reflected her own humility, sees her own calluses and wounds. There she discovers the first wounds that Our Savior endured for us, wounds that reflect that He knows what this world can do to a person.

She loves, sharing the incalculable gift of her sorrows: sorrow for her own sin and sorrow on account of others who have sinned against her. She finds a friend in Jesus, who, though sinless Himself, has suffered mightily on account of the sins of others and would suffer more.

Such love, such relief! And, as we shall see, her love is rooted in an experience of mercy. And her experience of mercy is rooted in a deep knowledge of her sinfulness. That experience has led her to deep gratitude for the love that the Lord had shown her. As we shall also see, her experience of the depths of God’s mercy is something we must all experience.

We, too, are called to go to the Lord in sorrow and love. What is the first thing we see when we look up from the foot of the cross? His feet. There, like the woman, we are called to love, to weep for our sins, and to remember His mercy for us.

II. Rebuke When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

This is a dangerous comparison. The Pharisee accounts himself and others to be better or more holy than she. He seems to have no idea that he is also in need of grace and mercy.

There is a great risk in thinking that we can get to Heaven merely by being better than someone else. That is not the standard. The standard to reach Heaven is to be like Jesus. If we truly internalize that, it’s obvious that we are all going to need a lot of grace and mercy to even stand a chance! Yes, to this Pharisee and to some of us, the cry must go out, “Danger (Will Robinson)!”

The danger for us is one that prevents us from experiencing God’s grace, mercy, and love. The danger is our prideful presumption that we are less needy than others who are more sinful.

While it is true that on a strictly human level some have sins that are more serious than those of others, from the divine standpoint we are all poor beggars who don’t stand a chance in comparison to God, who is perfection and pure holiness. Even if I were to have $500 while you had only $50, the true value necessary to be able to endure God’s holiness would be closer to $500 trillion! Any differences that may exist between you and me are nothing in comparison to the boatloads of grace and mercy we will each need to ever hope to see God.

The Pharisee’s exasperation is born out of blindness to his own sin. Being blind in this way, his heart is ill-equipped to love or even to experience love. He has no sense at all that he even needs it! His sense is that he has earned God’s love and that God somehow owes him. But God does not owe him. The Pharisee’s only hope is grace, love, and mercy from God.

Having no sense of his sin, the Pharisee smugly dismisses the woman’s action as reprehensible. He even considers Jesus naïve and of no account for accepting her love. Jesus is not naïve; the Pharisee ought to be rather more careful, since the measure with which he measures will be measured back to him. The Pharisee’s lack of mercy for the woman brings a standard of strict justice on him. He is badly misled, because he cannot endure this sort of justice.

III. RejoinderJesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

This is the central point of this Gospel, a point we have too widely set aside today: to appreciate the glory of the good news we must first lay hold of the bad news. We must grasp the depths of our sinfulness in order to appreciate the height of God’s love and mercy.

In this modern age, which minimizes sins and says, in effect, “I’m OK; you’re OK,” there is little understanding of the enormity of sin. And thus there is little appreciation for the glory of God’s steadfast love and mercy.

Jesus could not be clearer. Until we recognize the “bill” for our sins and grasp that we cannot even come close to paying it, we will make light of mercy and consider the gift of salvation that was earned for us with His blood as of little or no account.

How tragic it is, then, that many in the Church have stopped preaching about sin. The effect, as was mentioned above, has been to minimize love and to empty our churches. Knowledge of our sin, if such knowledge is of the Holy Spirit, leads to love. In this Gospel, Jesus points to the woman as a picture of what is necessary.

IV. Remembrance – Jesus points to the woman and says, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

Yes, behold her love, a love that is the fruit of a recognition of what the Lord has done for her. She knows and remembers that she has been forgiven much. What the Lord has done for her is fixed in her mind, and she is grateful and different because of it.

This is the heart of what it means to remember. Has not the Lord told us to remember what He has done for us? Indeed, He says it at every Mass: “Do this in remembrance of me.” What does it mean to remember? It means to have so present in your mind and heart what the Lord has done for you that you are grateful and different because of it.

This woman cannot forget what Jesus has done for her. She remembers, she is grateful, and she is different.

We, too, must be willing to go to the foot of the cross and to let it dawn on us what the Lord has done for us, to let it dawn on us so that we are grateful and different, so that we are moved to love for the Lord and for others.

Go with me to the foot of the cross and pray:

Foul and festering are my sores,
at the face of my own foolishness.
I am stooped and turned deeply inward
And I walk about, all the day in sorrow.

I am afflicted and deeply humiliated
I groan in the weeping of my heart.

Before you O Lord are all my desires,
And my weeping is not hid from you.
My hearts shudders, my strength forsakes me,
And the very light itself has gone from my eyes (Psalm 38).

It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we can begin to comprehend His mercy. It is there in the shadow of our own sins that the power of His mercy breaks through our broken and humbled hearts.

I Love the Lord for he has heard
The voice of my lamentation.
For he turned his ear to me
On the day I called to him!

The lines of death had surrounded me,
And the anguish of Hell had found me.
In my tribulation and sorrow I called on the Lord,
“O Lord save my soul!”

Ah, The Lord is merciful and just,
Our God has had mercy!
The Lord guards his little ones.
I was humbled and he saved me!

Be turned back my soul to your rest,
My eyes, from tears, and my feet from slipping!
For I will walk in the presence of the Lord,
In the land of the living (Psalm 116).

Always remember what the Lord has done for you. Go to the foot of the cross. Let the Lord show you what he Has done for you. Always remember; never forget. If you do, you will be grateful and different.

Yes, remember what the Lord has done for you. That is, let what the Lord has done for you be so present in your mind and heart that you are grateful and you are different.

Always remember.

Is Christ Really Your King? A Homily for the Feast of Christ the King

blog-11-21On the feast of Christ the King, we are called to acknowledge that Jesus is in fact our King. It is one thing to say that He is our King because the song in Church says that, or the preacher says that, or the Bible says that (yes, faith does come by hearing). But it is quite another for us to personally say that Jesus is our King. There comes a time when we must personally affirm what the Church has always announced: “Jesus is Lord, and He is King. He is my king. He has authority in my life.” This must become more than just lip service. It must become a daily, increasing reality in our life.

Kings take care of us, but they also have the authority to command us. Can Christ command you or me? Or are we more like the typical modern person who doesn’t like to be told what to do? Or perhaps we suffer from the more mild form of this attitude in which we reduce Jesus to being a “harmless hippie” who just says pleasant things about peace and flowers but would never rebuke us or command us to repent.

And so, again, here is the question: “Is Jesus Christ your King?”

That brings us to today’s Gospel. Now the Gospels are not theater; we aren’t in the audience watching a story unfold that took place 2000 years ago. No, we are in the story. We are not just supposed to sit back and observe what Peter, or Pontius Pilate, or James, or Mary Magdalene does. They are we and we are they.

This means that when Jesus asks one of them a question, we cannot merely wait to see how he or she will answer. No, we have to answer the question.

In today’s Gospel the spotlight moves to Pontius Pilate. The Lord asks the critical question of him (i.e., of us). We cannot simply wait to see how Pilate answers. We have to answer. Let’s consider this Gospel in three stages.

I. INDECISION In a remarkable display of literary artistry, John and the Holy Spirit vividly depict the vacillation of Pontius Pilate. For in this Gospel passage of the trial of Jesus, Pilate goes in and out of the praetorium (the governor’s palace) more than a bellhop through the revolving door of a hotel! Indeed he goes in and out seven times. Here is the text, with the portions describing his motions highlighted in bold:

29So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” …..33Pilate [re]entered the praetorium and called Jesus…..” 39After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again, and told them, “I find no crime in him…..1Then Pilate took Jesus [back into the praetorium] and scourged him…… 4Pilate went out again, and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him….8When Pilate heard these words, he was the more afraid; 9he re-entered the praetorium and [spoke] to Jesus….12Upon this Pilate [went back out] and sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend…When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and he sat down on the judgment seat (John 18-19 selected verses).

Did you count them? Seven times, Pilate goes into or out of the praetorium! Such a picture of indecision and vacillation! He’s trying to please the crowds. He’s trying to please his wife (who had warned him to have nothing to do with that innocent man (Mat 27:19)). He’s trying to help Jesus. But he can’t decide, so in and out he goes!

Pilate is just like us. We say that we love God, but we also love the world. We want to please others and we want to please God, but we cannot do both. We have to decide. But instead we vacillate; we are Pilate. We are often locked in indecision, trying to please the world and God.

Is Pilate really so different from many of us? Faced with a crucial decision, he weighs the consequences that choosing Jesus will have on his career, his family, his loyalty to country and Caesar, and his access to power. And while we may rightfully criticize Pilate for his choice, is it not easy for us to make compromises with the world for the sake of similar things? How often does Jesus our King take a back seat to career, politics, convenience, and so forth? So easily do we stay rooted in vacillation, compromise, and indecision.

II. INQUIRY – And now, in the midst of all this indecision, comes the question.

Pilate begins with his own question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33) But Jesus, who is on trial, turns the tables on Pilate. Jesus effectively puts Pilate on trial by asking him the crucial question:

Are you saying this on your own or have others been telling you about me?” (John 18:34)

It’s a remarkable question! And guess what … You have to answer it. I have to answer it. Do not wait for Pilate; he already gave his answer and faced judgment long ago. How do we answer it?

Notice what the Lord is getting at with his question. He is asking you if you call him a King merely because you’ve heard others say it or because you personally know him to be a King. Is he really your King, or this just a slogan you’ve heard in church before? Do you believe that He is King or do you merely parrot what you’ve heard others say?

There is an old gospel song that says, “Yes, I know Jesus for myself.” But is that really the case with us? Too many of us are satisfied with a kind of inferential faith. Inferential faith is based merely on what others have said: I think or suppose (that is, I infer) that Jesus is Lord because my mother said so, or my pastor said so. This is a good beginning, for after all, faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17).

But there comes a moment when you have to say so. It is not enough that your pastor says so or your mother says so. And thus Jesus is asking you and me right now, Are you saying [I am King] on your own or merely because others have said so?

Answer him! It’s a crucial question, isn’t it? The faith of the Church is essential, normative, and determinative. But at some point you have to step up and say that you personally affirm that the faith of the Church is true and is yours, and then declare, “Jesus is Lord and King.”

What does it mean that Jesus is King? A king has authority, doesn’t he? Does Jesus have authority in my life? Do I have the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5) and base my life upon His will?

A king also takes care of his people and protects them. Do I allow the Lord to feed me with the Holy Eucharist? Do I allow Him to protect me from the poison of sin by the Sacrament of Confession and the medicine of His Holy Word? Am I willing to live within the protection of the walled city of His Church?

Is the Lord really my King? How do I answer? Is it just a slogan or is His Kingship real? Let the Lord ask one more time,

Are you saying [I am King] on your own or have others been telling you about me?

III. IMPLICATION – You have to answer. To refuse to answer is to answer.

A fascinating and wondrous literary device is employed by John and the Holy Spirit in this Gospel passage. We have already seen how Jesus, who was Himself on trial, has turned the tables and effectively put Pilate on trial. Pilate, who has the duty to question Jesus, is now being questioned by Him. It is Pilate who must now make a decision, not so much about Jesus, but about himself. He has been asked a question that he cannot ultimately avoid, and now it is time to answer. Here is where the ingenious literary device comes into play. Look carefully at this passage from John’s Gospel and see if you notice anything strange about it.

Upon this [the shouting of Crucify him!] Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend; every one who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and he sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, and in Hebrew, Gabbatha (John 19:12-13).

So what is strange here? Well, notice that when Pilate has Jesus brought out, it says that “he” sat down on the judgment seat. Who exactly is sitting on the judgment seat? You might say, “Pilate, of course!” And historically, that might be true. But the text is ambiguous as to exactly who “he” is. Most Scripture scholars argue that the line is supposed to be ambiguous.

From the standpoint of historical facts it was likely Pilate who took that seat. But from the standpoint of divine justice it is Jesus who takes it.

Jesus has turned the tables on Pilate. Pilate is now on trial and the verdict is about to be revealed. Pilate seals his own fate when he hands Jesus over to be crucified; his vacillation is over. Pilate has made his choice; he has answered the question.

In this context it is Jesus who sits silently upon the judgment seat. The verdict is in. In deciding to hand Jesus over, in deciding to favor himself and the crowds over Jesus, Pilate has brought judgment on himself.

Too many of us have cartoonish notions about our final judgment: a benign Jesus giving us a great big hug, or an angry one gleefully passing judgment on His “enemies.” Perhaps there is also some notion of a review of our deeds, both good and bad, and then the pronouncing of some sort of verdict while we cringe and wait. But Jesus is not a King who imposes His Kingdom. He invites us to enter into His Kingdom. Ultimately, judgment is about our choice, not His.

Judgment is finally this: The Lord, who suffered for us, quietly and respectfully sits on the judgment seat and accepts our final choice, a choice that is the cumulative sum of all the choices we made in life, a choice that is now and forever fixed. Isn’t that what really happens?

The Lord has asked the question of Pilate, as he does of us. The choice is for Pilate to make and the judgement is one he brings on himself. His choice is either to accept the Lord’s kingship or to reject it and watch Jesus led away while he (Pilate himself) stands alone, the judgment having been rendered by virtue of his own choice.

Yes, there are implications to whether we accept the Lord as our King or not. Today, the Lord asks us all if we will let Him be our King. And to those of us who say yes, the Lord has this further question: “Are you saying this on your own or have others been telling you about me?” Is He really our King? Think hard about it. There are implications.

The question that we must answer has now been answered by Pilate. What is your answer? What is mine?

But the Word of the Lord Remains Forever! A Homily for the 33rd Sunday of the Year

"O Jerusalem" by Greg Olsen
“O Jerusalem” by Greg Olsen

As winter approaches and we approach the end of the liturgical year, we ponder the passing quality of this world and the fading of its glories. Jesus’ words in the gospel today must surely have shocked, even horrified, his Apostles. Let’s look at His stunning words and seek to apply them in our own life.

The Place of this Gospel – As we complete the liturgical year, we find Jesus standing just outside of Jerusalem. In the last two months we have followed Him on His final journey: leaving Galilee, heading south along the Jordan River, passing through Jericho, and now making the nearly 2000 foot ascent to Jerusalem.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is at the top of the Mount of Olives with His Apostles. From this vantage point, they look across the Kidron Valley to the magnificent Temple and all of Jerusalem spread out before them. The Apostles marvel at the glorious beauty of the Temple. Its large, perfectly carved, white ashlar stones, gilded in gold, gleam like the sun. Indeed, it was one of the wonders of the ancient world, so beautiful and majestic.

But Jesus challenges their admiration. He shocks them with the admonition that all the glory they see is soon to be destroyed, that not one stone will be left on another, that it will all be thrown down (Mk 13:2). Shocked, the Apostles ask Him when this will happen and what signs will precede this awful event.

In what has become known as “Mount Olivet discourse,” the Lord warns, in great detail, of the coming destruction of the Temple and indeed of all Jerusalem. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain similar descriptions of what Jesus said on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem in her glorious heyday.

Jesus warns of wars and rumors of wars. He speaks of a time in the near future when nation will rise against nation and a terrible conflict will ensue. In effect, He warns His disciples and their followers to have nothing to do with the coming wars. He tells them that when they see Jerusalem being surrounded by an army they should know that her destruction is at hand. If someone is on his rooftop he should not to go back into the house to gather his possessions; he should get out while the getting is good. If someone is out in the field he must not reenter the city of Jerusalem, but must flee to the hills. Jerusalem is doomed for its lack of faith and zealots are picking up the war with the Romans that they are destined to lose (Luke 21, Matt 24, Mark 13).

All of this leads us to today’s gospel (from the Mount Olivet discourse), which picks up in the middle. Jesus warns of days of tribulation, when the sun will be darkened, the moon not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky!

In reading a text like this, we must not fall prey to an overly literal interpretation. Jesus is using prophetic language, a way of speaking that is meaningful, but not to be understood scientifically or literally. Stars cannot actually fall from the sky.

If I were to say, “The world has been turned upside down,” you wouldn’t expect that if you looked back toward Earth from outer space you would actually see Australia at the top and North America at the bottom of your view. If I were to say, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” you wouldn’t expect to look out your window and see animals coming down from the sky and landing on the front lawn. Although I’m speaking figuratively, you understand what I mean.

And so it is with Jesus’ use of prophetic imagery. Speaking of the heavenly luminaries as being darkened or cast down is a prophetic way of saying that all the fixed points, all the ways in which we tell time, know the seasons, navigate, and find perspective will be lost to us! The world as the Jewish people know it, centered on the Temple and rooted in their liturgical calendar, is about to be swept away. To the ancient Jewish people, the Temple was like their “Big Ben.” It was both the clock of the liturgical cycle and the great visual center of all of Israel.

The Lord is teaching them that what they see as the central hub of all they do is about to be taken away. The Temple, with all of its rituals, its liturgical cycle, and its endless slaughter of animals in sacrifice for sin, is about to be replaced. These ancient rituals merely pointed to Jesus and all that He would do. Jesus is now the Temple; He is also the Lamb Sacrifice. All that the Temple pointed to is fulfilled in Jesus. Thus the Temple is at an end. Jesus is ushering in a New Covenant.

In the Mount Olivet discourse, Jesus prophesies the end of the Temple, which will take place in a biblical 40 years. Sure enough, 40 years later (in A.D. 70), the Roman Army, after having surrounded Jerusalem for a period of 3 1/2 months, breached the walls, poured into the city, and destroyed the Temple and all of Jerusalem. In this epic battle, according to Josephus, 1.2 million Jewish people lost their lives. As Jesus prophesied, not one stone was left on another. According to Josephus, so complete was the destruction of Jerusalem, that when the Romans had finished their work it was not clear that the city had ever existed.

So this is the place of this gospel, a place of epic significance in the ancient world. An era of 1000 years was coming to an end. The world as the Jewish people knew it was ending. The Temple has never been rebuilt; it has been replaced by a Judaism without sacrifice, a rabbinic, a synagogue system. In 2000 years, despite several attempts, the Jewish Temple has never been rebuilt. Everything Jesus predicted came to pass. This is the historical place and context of this gospel.

But what does all of this mean for us, some 2000 years later? Let’s consider three basic themes.

I. The Perspective of Passing – Toward the end of this gospel, the Lord says, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Note the definitiveness of this statement: this world will pass away. That is to say, all of the things that impress us at the current moment: the “biggie-wow” stuff of this world, the impressiveness of the powerful, the influence of the popular, the glory of all the glitterati; all of this will pass away.

Indeed, even now it is passing away; its destruction is at hand. Scripture says,

  • The world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor 7:31).
  • We have here, no lasting city (Heb 13:14).
  • Put not your trust in princes, in mortal men in whom there is no hope. Take their breath, they return to clay, and their plans that day come to nothing (Psalm 146:3-4).

Yes, all of the glory, even what seems beautiful and fair, is passing away. Don’t be so impressed with this world’s offerings. All of it—no matter how powerful, influential, or sturdy it may seem—is slated for destruction. It is already passing away.

Some years ago I was in a museum and in one of the exhibits saw a photograph of a family from about the 1880s. At the bottom of the photo was this inscription: “My family, as it appeared for a brief time last summer.” A poignant caption. I thought of the people in that photo and concluded that every one of them was now dead. I also knew that the house in front of which the photo was taken had long since been destroyed, replaced by an expanding city district of buildings. All is passing; nothing remains here for long.

Painful though this perspective may be, it is important and healing. It brings with it a kind of strange serenity. Like every truth, the truth that all things are passing sets us free. Internalizing the truth that, As for man, his days, or the flower of the field are like the grass. The wind blows, and he is gone, and his place never sees him anymore (Psalm 130:15-16), painful though it may be, brings a kind of strange serenity. In this truth we are reminded not to set down too many roots here so that we are not resentful when this world passes away.

II. The Permanence Proclaimed – The Lord tells us that His words will not pass away. So although the world will pass away, the truth and the Word of God will remain forever.

Too many people root their lives in passing, ephemeral things. The challenge for us is to root our lives in the Word of God, which remains forever. Worldly glories, power, access, and wealth—all these things fade and disappear. But God’s wisdom and His plan remain forever.

Consider, for a moment, the Church. The Lord has said that the forces of Hell would strive to prevail, overpower, and destroy the Church. But the Lord promised that such attempts would never be successful (Matt 16:18). The Church is indefectible, by God’s Word, by His promise. No weapons, no war waged against the Church, will prevail.

In all of this the Lord has been proven true. The Church has the Roman Empire, the Carolingian Empire, the British Empire, the Soviet Socialist Republic, and many others rise to power only to fade and disappear.

How many heresies, how many philosophies have come and gone in the age of the Church? How many have laughed at the Church, announcing that she was passé, that her day was over, and that they would bury her? The Church has buried every one of her undertakers, outlived every one of her critics. Despite every prediction of her demise, she has persevered until this very day. By God’s grace, she has a permanence that outlasts every one of her enemies. She has read the funeral rites over every single prophet of her doom. And she will continue to do so.

In recounting all of this we do not simply gloat that an institution known as the Church has survived. Rather, we announce that the Church is the Bride of Christ and also His Body. The Church cannot be destroyed not because of human ingenuity, but on account of the power and grace of God. She will endure even though at times she will suffer, be ridiculed, or be marginalized. She will outlive every enemy. She will emerge from every persecution. She will never be removed. For the Church is the Body of Christ, the living Word of God. Though the world will pass away, the Word of the Lord will remain forever!

III. The Priority Prescribed – If this world as we know it is passing away and the Lord, His Kingdom, His Church, and His Word will remain forever, what then should be our priority? The Lord says, in effect, that we know very well what our priority should be but we willfully ignore it.

Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates.

Yes, we know very well that the Day of Judgment is coming. Too easily, though, we dream on and do not follow the prescribed priority. Wealth, fame, and glory are all uncertain and clearly passing. But death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell are certain and remain forever. We too easy fiddle on with things that are uncertain and passing while neglecting what is certain and eternal. Such foolishness!

It would be foolish to book passage on a sinking ship. Similarly, it is foolish to make this world and its demands our fundamental priority. It is wise to set our sights on, and lay hold of, the Kingdom that lasts forever.

It is sad that so many spend people their time “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” of this world. It is tragic how much time, effort, and passion we spend on things that are pass through our fingers like sand. So much of our effort is expended on furthering our career, amassing wealth, and enlarging our homes. And so little is spent on improving our spiritual life.

Parents spend more time worrying about what college their children will attend than where they will spend eternity. If their child is failing math, they will go to great lengths to hire tutors to improve his test scores. But never mind that the child barely knows the four Gospels, the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament, or even who Adam and Eve were. Never mind all that; we need to make sure they understand polynomials! It is fine that parents care about math scores and college venues, but how sad it is that eternal things often go unattended.

The greatest duty of parents is to prepare their children for eternity. But far more time and effort is often spent preparing them for passing things like a career. While education and career are important, eternal life is far more so. A son or daughter may graduate from Harvard Law School and become a famous attorney yet still go to Hell!

What are our priorities? Frankly, most of our priorities are not things that matter to God. Even if we attain the passing things we strive for, they will all ultimately slip through our fingers. We obsess over passing things like our physical health while neglecting enduring things like our spiritual health. We should care for our bodies, but even more should we care for our souls. If we would expend as much effort looking for a place and time to pray as we do looking for a restaurant and making a reservation to eat, we would be spiritual heavyweights rather than physically overweight.

In today’s gospel the Lord stands before the Temple: an impressive building, a symbol of power and of worldly glories. But impressed though the Apostles are, the Lord is not impressed with passing things. He counsels us to get our priorities straight and to focus on things that last: His Word, which never passes away, and our ultimate destiny, where we will spend eternity.

We find time for everything else, why not prayer, Scripture, fellowship in the Church, and the sacraments?

What are your priorities? Be honest, now, be honest.

This world is passing away. Far more essential for us than power, prestige, money, possessions, worldly philosophies, and the latest trends, is the Word of the Lord, which never passes away.

The world will laugh and say that God’s word is out-of-date, old-fashioned, or even hateful, bigoted, and intolerant. But in the end, time will prove where wisdom is. Long after the current critics of the Church, those who scorn the teachings of the Lord in the Scriptures and the Church, have passed on, the Church will still be here preaching Christ and Him crucified.

None of this is meant to sound triumphalist. It is simply rooted in a Word of truth that the Lord spoke long ago on a hillside overlooking glorious buildings soon to be reduced to rubble and an age soon to pass away. He said simply this: Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.

In the end, Jesus wins. I know because I checked the end of the story. You can look it up (Rev 20-23). Get on the winning team. Stop trying to amass a treasure here that you can’t keep anyway.

The Paradox of Poverty – A Homily for the 32nd Sunday of the Year

blog11-7The first reading in today’s Mass, from 1st Kings, speaks to us of the paradox of poverty. And the paradox is this: it is often our poverty, our neediness, that provides a doorway for God to bless us with true riches. It is our emptiness that provides room for God to go to work.

Yes, in our riches we have “too much to lose.” To the rich and worldly minded, the Gospel seems too demanding. But in our poverty, emptiness, and detachment from this world, there comes a strange and unexpected freedom that makes it easier to step out in faith. And stepping out in faith is the only thing that can save us.

Yes, poverty brings a kind of freedom. You can’t steal from a man who owns nothing. You can’t threaten a woman who has nothing to lose. You can’t kill someone who has already died to this world.

Are you poor enough to be free? There’s a strange blessing in poverty. Let’s look at today’s first reading to see how poverty can usher in unexpected blessings.

I. The Desire Portrayed – In the first reading, the prophet Elijah encounters a widow at a city named Zarephath, a name that means “refining fire.” In those days, Elijah the prophet went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her.

Both Elijah and the woman are hungry, for there is famine in the land. But Elijah, as God’s prophet, speaks not only for himself, but also for God when he asks this very poor woman to share her meager food. For, truth be told, God has a desire, a hunger for us. The woman, too, as many desires, but her desires need to be purified in this place called “refining fire.”

Her hunger for earthly food must be seen as a symbol of a deeper hunger, a hunger for communion with God. At some point, our hunger must meet God’s hunger—and that point is Holy Communion. It is the place where our hunger for God and God’s hunger for us meet and we find serenity. Every other hunger only points to this deeper hunger; every other food is but a cruel and temporary morsel until this deeper hunger is satisfied.

Thus, two people meet at a place called “refining fire.” It is desire that has drawn them, a desire that is ultimately satisfied only in God.

II. The Dimensions of Poverty – When Elijah makes his request, the woman articulates her poverty: “Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.” She left to get it, and he called out after her, “Please bring along a bit of bread.” She answered, “As the LORD, your God, lives, I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.”

We may wonder why God allows poverty and suffering. A partial answer is because there is such a grave risk in riches and comfort. The Lord is well aware of how hard it is for the wealthy and comfortable to enter the Kingdom of God. In riches we trust in ourselves, in poverty we can only trust God.

And it is only by trusting faith that we can ever be saved. And, as we have noted, there is a kind of freedom in poverty. The poor have less to lose. They can operate in wider dimensions and have a sort of freedom that the wealthy often lack.

Not only is it hard to steal from a poor man, but it also takes little to enrich him. A man who has lived in a great palace with cathedral ceilings and marble wainscoting may be discouraged with a humble domicile, whereas a poor man may be satisfied with a mere 8 x 10 room to call his own. A man who has had nothing to eat may appreciate sardines, whereas a well-fed man may need caviar to be grateful. The rich may miss many of life’s little blessings and suffer from boredom. The poor are less likely miss the brilliant color purple and delight even in small pleasures. The rich man’s world gets ever-smaller and less satisfying, while the poor man is more likely to have a wide appreciation for even the humblest things.

Here, again, is the paradox of poverty, wherein less is more, gratitude is easier to find, and losses are less painful. And, as we shall see in this passage, it is the woman’s poverty that opens her to lasting blessings. Having little to lose, she is free enough to accept the next stage of our story.

III. The Demand that is Prescribed – God’s prophet, Elijah, summons her to trusting faith: “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”

Elijah tells her not to be afraid to share. In effect, he teaches her that the Lord will not be outdone in generosity. On a merely human level, Elijah’s request may seem almost cruel. But from a spiritual perspective, Elijah is summoning her to the faith that alone can truly save her.

Notice that although she expresses a fear, it is easily overcome. Why? Again, because she has little to lose. So many of our fears boil down to a fear of loss. And the more we have, the more we have to be anxious about. We have grown quite wealthy in recent decades. And what are our chief problems these days? Fear and anxiety about loss, and the maintenance and protection of our “stuff.” Scripture says, The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep (Eccl 5:12). The wealthier we have become, the more we spend on psychotherapy and psychotropic drugs. We are anxious about so many things that sleepiness and stress are common problems.

We have too much stuff, too much to lose. Upon hearing Elijah’s request, most of us would call him crazy, cruel, or both. It’s a funny thing, though, this woman is free enough to take him up on his offer. How about you? How about me?

We, too, must come to realize that looking after merely our own interests will only feed us for a day. Only in openness to God and others can we procure a superabundant food, that which will draw us to life eternal.

IV. The Deliverance Produced – Having little to lose, the woman trusts in God’s Word (through Elijah) and shares her food: She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.

If we learn to trust God, we come to discover that He never fails. Of course it takes faith, and faith involves risk. This is where poverty can have its advantages. The woman takes the risk and shares what little she has. For her, though the risk is immediate, it is ultimately lower since she has less to lose.

And so the woman is free enough to risk it all. Her only gamble is trusting God, and God does not fail. Scripture says,

Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days (Eccles 11:1).

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Luke 6:38).

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward (Matt 10:42).

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (2 Cor 9:6).

Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to (Deut 15:10).

He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done (Prov 19:17).

A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor (Prov 22:9).

He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses (Prov 28:27).

Do you believe all this? Or are these just slogans for someone else? Well, you don’t know until you try! And if you don’t think you can try, maybe you have too much to lose.

Consider this woman who was poor enough to be free, and free enough to try the Lord. And God did not fail. God never fails. I am a witness. How about you?

Here’s a fun song reminding us that too much “stuff” will wear us out.